T.Stops Blog

102 year old lens on 5D mkII

Something old meets something new. Photo-Nerd Porn ensues…..

Several months ago, i was charged with shooting a project that needed some visual “character”. Being a “get in camera/shoot for look” kind of guy, i decided to shoot the project on 4X5 film. I visited my friends at panorama camera center to see what they had available in the 4×5 realm. Now, you see, i am a big believer in owning equipment. Yes i could have rented a 4×5, but wheres the fun in that, plus i wont learn anything using a camera once…. Anyhow, what resulted was that given the budget of the project and the time and learning curve associated with all the experimenting necessary to get the desired effect, shooting on 4×5 would have been cost prohibitive.

What i did do was buy a hand full of old M42 mount Russian Zenit and Japanese Asahi Takumar lenses, and a M42 to Canon EOS EF adapter. The lenses seemed to approximate the kind of visual texture i was heading for… A little Flare, a little vignetting, sharp in places, soft in others.

some examples:

The first being a 28mm Asahi Super Takumar “yellow Glass”. There are optics in this lens that is actually slightly radioactive and thus the optics yellow over time.

The second image is from a Helios 44-2 58mm F2.0 Lens.

Some weeks later, on September 17th, My friend, a brilliant Russian lens technician and owner of Panorama Camera Center, called me into his shop in NYC. He reveals a tiny, brass knob with a spot of glass in the middle. It looks like the eyepiece of an ancient Microscope. He proceeds to tell me he found it in a box, hidden inside another lens. He says its a ~35mm Wollensak Cine-Velostigmat F5. The kind of lens used on a hand cranked cinema silent movie camera. By his best estimates he dated the lens “turn of the century”, but said maybe 1908 to be safe. He says to me…. ( in the thickest Russian accent ever) ” I can make this fit EF you know….”


The curiosity of what a centuries old lens would look like overtook me. So i agreed, and commissioned him to build the mount…. We had NO idea what the lens would produce until we put it on a camera. Would it be razor sharp? would it have a neutral look? would it have character? Well…


After a couple of hours of grinding, cutting, and sweating later ( mostly me sweating hoping we dont ruin the lens), The finished product is something special.


This is the end result: None of these photos have been altered in ANY WAY whatsoever, they are straight Jpegs from camera.



There is Video coming this monday from the lens. Here are a few Video stills to hold you over….

The way this lens treats light is unique. Some shots, come out with deep rich contrast, sharp and with a heavy vignette, and others over exposed, washed out and completely soft. One factor is the vignette, under perfect controlled circumstances the lens has great contrast, and clarity. Since this lens was developed for 35mm Motion picture which has a smaller film plane than full frame film/digital, the center is a “hot spot” with illumination falling off towards the corners. If you expose for that bright center, you lose all the detail in the corners, and if you expose for the outer edges you wind up with a brightly blown out center. What winds up happening is you have to expose in the middle, give a little on the top end for the middle, and accept a little under exposure for the edges of the frame. (This over exposed information is recoverable in RAW files from photoshop if you REALLY need it, but i still feel shooting this lens unmodified in post is the fun part) Remeber what i said about “perfect Controlled circumstances”… well, all of that controlled exposure, watching out for the exposure in the middle, while protecting the shadows mumbo-jumbo goes out the window when the lens flares. Then you’re on your own. The internally reflected light completely changes the way the exposure occurs. It can flare from a person who is brightly lit by the sun to your back…. Umm, yea. That can flare the lens. So can a Street Lamp, a flashlight, a headlight, or a bright bodega. BUT, sometimes, it refuses to flare. Sometimes direct sunlight has minimal effect. I think it has more to do with to do with the angle the erroneous the light enters the lens, not the intensity. To complicate the exposure calculation even more, the aperture is a HUGE factor in predicting its exposure. When open, flaring is more apparent, thats nothing new, but it changes as you stop down. At wide open, F5, nothing is particularly sharp, and there is almost no contrast. Stop down to a F8, and suddenly its a new lens. Razor sharp, contrasty, and beautiful. Come down to an F11 or F16 and its suddenly hazy and soft again but this time with a far more pronounced vignette.

See the portrait of the model Bhavani in the Indian garb. Shot around F8, The photos is contrasty, sharp and with great color, but still tons of character (see 100% crop below from a 5DmkII 21.1 MP image). Where as the night shot of the building with the street light in frame is washed out because its shot wide open, and the Green light is flaring the lens.


So Exposure aside, the lens is Very small. Focusing, is a helluva problem. I find using the old fashioned Cine-AC trick of focus distance guesstimate while stopped down to a F8 usually does the trick. Hard to believe but the focus marks are actually accurate. When i cant use that trick, like for portrait work, i use the Live view and zoom into the image and do my critical focus from there. This certainly isnt a run’n gun type of lens. you need to be a bit more methodical in using it.

If anyone has Questions, please post em, and i will respond as quickly as i can!


This is a mix of natural lighting, cine style lighting, hand held, dolley and tripod work. Much of this was shot to see what this lens can do in real conditions, and where its strengths and weaknesses are. What it adds, what it loses is in my opinion what makes this glass unique. This motion test is a precursor to an upcoming film project. enjoy….

***There is NO color correction or footage manipulation what so ever***

This Video was Edited by the amazing Thomas Wong. www.thewongcut.com


Thank you for reading…



Special thanks Bhavani Lee for being a great model…..

Some New Photos!


The Project I built this for:
More information here : Click here

Photo essay of the pilgrimage in Karbala Iraq.









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13 years ago

Awesome stuff. What picture profile settings did you use on your 5D?


13 years ago

Do you have any tips for making the mount? I’d love to be able to fiddle around too!

13 years ago

Contact a good tech. it was custom built.

Try Olden camera, Panorama camera center, and Panavision for custom camera gear.


13 years ago

I would imagine that a 1908 lens would have very minimal anti-reflection lens coatings if any. I know some early coated lenses used magnesium fluoride coatings, which was flammable. (grin) How clear did the optics of the 1908 cine lens appear? Interesting comment about the “yellow glass”. I started out with Pentax 35mm SLR equipment, and had a mix of Super Takumar and Super Multi-Coated Takumar lenses. The Super Takumars typically featured amber and magenta reflective highlights when angling the front of the lens in light even when they were knew, while the SMC lenses tended towards the green and… Read more »

13 years ago

AMAZING and just so beautiful!!!!!! I want one! May i speak to Victor Frankenstein??? Please email me his contact 🙂
Nazar Melconian

13 years ago

Wonderful stuff! I’m contemplating using 4×5 for a series of portrait of healthcare professionals and would like to hear about your specific concerns with that format; what exactly made you choose not to use it?

And may I ask what it cost to modify one lens for your Canon, just to get a sense of whether this would be a viable option to buying and learning to use a 4×5.


13 years ago

man, i love the video

13 years ago

@ bob,

The production required many location changes and quick setups. I don’t have the experince on 4×5 to comfortably say I could provide the neccesary speed to the client. Plus, it would mean shooting on film, and the costs of polaroids, film, development etc. It just would have been too much for a that job.

13 years ago

I would love to find a lens similar to this… where in the world can I find a lens that can produce these kinds of pictures?

13 years ago

Congratulations for your project. It is specially interesting the relationship you’ve found between aperture and flare. I have the same problems with my hacking projects in http://www.hackcamera.com but I never thought that aperture and flaring were in relation, I thought it was due only to the (non) use of lens hood

13 years ago

hi Pedro,

i checked out your site, its really cool! keep up the good work!

13 years ago

What a great look! Very nice photography on the video and stills.

I once read about a single element stills lens dating back to the early 1900s that used some kind of rotating fan in the center of the lens to reduce the hot spot. The photos looked great. I can’t find the link, but the fellow specializes in repairing old fluid heads.

13 years ago

John that sounds incredible! If you ever find out about that lens please contact me. Timurcivan@gmail(dot)com

13 years ago

Those pictures are amazing. THe depth and the clarity they show…something that modern lens cannot hope to recreate. The video..now that is something altogether different. I would love to see more of that. The lens puts a “flair” on the scene that is un-copy-able.

13 years ago

is anyone else reminded of style used for the opening to the HBO show ‘True Blood’?

Very neat project!

13 years ago

IF you are reffering to the Video…. Well yes!

I was at the end of watching 2 seasons back to back of True Blood when i shot that test.

13 years ago

What a piece of glass…great in many ways.

Loves the video too, what song is it?

11 years ago

Fima from panorama?

11 years ago
Reply to  SAS

Yes, thats him.

11 years ago

This tutorial is indeed useful. I have just downloaded it. Thanks againcustom video productions

11 years ago

I find many useful things herewithVideo Animation