In a recent newsletter, P+S Technik Managaing Director, Alfred Piffl, felt it prudent to bestow a bit of knowledge upon cinematographers keen on having some vintage lenses re-housed – something that I feel is necessary coming from one of the largest lens re-housing operations. There’s no doubt about it; vintage lenses have made a huge resurgence in the motion picture world. It’s not a fad that I have a solid explanation for. Perhaps it’s the fault of modern cameras being so crisp and sharp, a rather clinical look in a world of romance and beauty. Or maybe it’s just the hipster trend to use an old lens that would otherwise be off limits. Regardless of the reason, vintage lenses are being refurbished and re-housed in large numbers. But users expectations must be brought back down to earth and kept reasonable.
We see it all the time. A customer hunts down a set of vintage lenses, they are sent to P+S Technik or another lens shop for re-housing or even just re-mounting. They project is completed. But the customer doesn’t like the performance of the lenses. Why?… Usually they’re not happy with the optical performance which is not something that can be changed. The entire purpose of using these vintage lenses is because of the “look” they provide. You are going to see vignetting. You are going to see focus falloff. You are going to see fringing, etc. You simply can’t expect Master Prime performance out of a vintage lens.
The next hurdle comes in the form of mechanics. Some of these lenses that are being re-housed are upwards of 50 years old. Mechanical design and manufacturing simply wasn’t very complex back then. The focus helix or iris drive of a given lens may have been a poor design. Most companies that are re-housing lenses do so by working around these original inner components. This means that some of the original design and parts are still maintained within the lens and a sort of simpatico between the new and old must occur. The only way around this is to re-design the entire lens, using just the glass. No easy feat without having the original lens schematics.
All of this is very expensive for a lens shop, especially if you’re just looking for one single conversion to keep all for yourself. Companies like P+S Technik choose conversion that can be done hundreds of times over to lower the cost to the end customer. This makes much, much more sense than doing a single lens conversion. The cost for custom, “one off” conversions can be extremely expensive. …unless you go to China. Everything’s cheap in China. Here’s a few excerpts from Alfred’s piece. You can see more on their vintage lens re-housing projects here.
For more than 3 years we have been rehousing a wide range of Vintage lenses. We started with the Cooke Speed Panchro. In 2013 Super Baltars and Kowas were added to the portfolio and in 2014 we delivered the first rehoused Kinoptik lenses. In the upcoming weeks, the first Schneider lenses in their new housing will be delivered.
This is a major challenge for our designers and the development department. They have to fit extremely different lenses into modern standards.
Some small lens blocks need to be so close to the sensor plane that they – including mechanics – have to be fitted inside the PL mount itself. At the same time the design has to hold up with modern lens motors (hard stops) and keep a manageable overall size for use with clip-on matte boxes.
On the other hand, in many lenses a large and heavy glass block must be moved as a whole when focusing the lens. Back then the idea of floating elements for focusing wasn’t born yet; instead the entire lens system was moved.
You can read the entire post here. I do plan to write up a more in depth post regarding expectations in regards to image quality of both new and vintage lenses. Subscribe above to stay up to date.