Used Camera Lens Buying Guide

Views 4 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
Used Camera Lens Buying Guide

All of the most adaptable cameras, from modern digital SLRs to vintage film cameras, have detachable lenses. Buying used lenses is a fantastic way to expand a photographic kit and to add exciting new capabilities to a basic camera body at an affordable price. Modern lenses sized for specific digital cameras are available used. Vintage film camera lenses that work with both older film cameras and some newer digital cameras are available as well, and their optics are often of stunningly good quality. Finally, the used lens market is a Mecca for hobbyists and professionals who use vintage film SLRs, Rangefinders, and studio rigs.

Cameras That Use Detachable Lenses

Detachable lenses first became popular in the mid-twentieth century. They were a response to the development of field photography, where the distance to the subject was not always under the photographer’s control. In film photography, as in digital photography, only high level cameras are designed to work with detachable lenses. The point-and-shoots that most people use to capture events and holidays usually had fixed focal lengths until recently, and now they are usually equipped with a small, dedicated zoom lens. Middle of the road cameras have better quality, more adaptable integral lenses. The newer cameras that use interchangeable lenses are almost exclusively DSLRs, or digital single lens reflex cameras.

Types of Used Camera Lens

Here is a quick break-down of lens types and what they mean. All of these are based on focal length, but not all camera lenses have the same diameter, so this table identifies them by description rather than by measurement. For example, most 35 mm cameras use 50 mm standard lenses, a wide angle lens might be 28 mm, and a telephoto might be 150 mm.



Wide angle

A wide angle lens will take in a large area from a relatively short distance. These are best for architectural and landscape photography. They allow the photographer to capture a large building from across the street or a sprawling mountain vista from a valley.


A fisheye lens is an extreme wide angle lens, to the point where the image is distorted like a flattened picture of a globe.


A standard lens has a focal length that mimics human sight. It photographs what is directly ahead of it in normal looking perspective.


A telephoto lens works like a telescope. It brings the photographer closer to a faraway subject.

Macro/Close Up

A close-up lens works like a microscope. It allows clear, detailed photos to be taken of small objects that are close by.

Another feature to look for is image stabilisation, which can reduce blurring in photos taken with long exposures and with telephoto lenses. Some detachable camera lenses have the capability to change their focal length through a zoom function, which is often controlled manually by twisting the lens. However, it is important to be aware that many used lenses have a fixed focal length. That means that the photographer must change the lens rather than zoom in or out.

How a Manually Controlled Camera Lens Works

Many used lenses will not synch with a modern camera’s automatic functions. It may be necessary to set the camera to manual control and work the lens by hand. When buying a used lens, it is essential to be aware, first and foremost, of the fittings. It is also important to understand how focus, aperture, and zoom controls work on older lenses. The fittings govern how the lens attaches to the camera. When buying a used lens, the most important consideration is that the fittings match the camera’s fittings so that the lens can be snapped onto the camera. However, that is not the only consideration. Modern cameras don’t just produce digital images. They are digitally controlled as well. Some detachable lenses will be able to take advantage of the camera’s automatic features, and others will not. That is also an important aspect of compatibility to consider. Many used lenses are manually controlled, and it is possible to use manually controlled lenses with some digital cameras. A manually controlled lens will have settings for aperture, focus, and zoom on its exterior if available. They are usually controlled by twisting various parts of the lens. Zoom and focus controls on manual lenses are very intuitive, and many photographers prefer them to controls on the camera body. However, the aperture size will need to be coordinated with the shutter speed, which is always controlled from the camera. That’s because the shutter speed and the aperture size, in combination, determine the exposure. Too much or too little light, and the photo will lack detail. A modern camera will always have a built-in light meter. However, it will also need to have a feature that displays the ideal aperture for a particular shutter speed in order for a photographer using a manual lens to set the aperture correctly. Otherwise, it will be a guessing game.

Used Film Camera Lenses That Work with Digital Cameras

When digital SLRs were first introduced, there was a strong demand from photographers for cameras that they could use with their existing, very expensive detachable lenses. That’s why many detachable digital SLR camera lenses are based on earlier, film camera fittings. Because these lenses have been manufactured for longer, there will be a good selection of them available used. However, it is important to be aware that not all older lenses can be used with the automatic functions of a digital camera. They may require the camera to be set to fully manual control, and the photographer may need to make physical adjustments to aperture and focus on the lens and then adjust the shutter speed. Before buying an older lens without automatic controls, it is a good idea to research how the camera will work with a manually controlled lens. Two types of fittings have been in use for more than 35 years: the Nikon F-mount and the Pentax K-mount. Nikon F-Mount cameras has been in use since 1959. The Pentax K-mount was first introduced in 1975, and today, it is still being used in Pentax DSLRs. Canon and Minolta DSLRs use newer film SLR mounts, first introduced in the 1980s. The Canon EF-mount was introduced in 1987, and it is still used in Canon DSLRs. It replaced older Canon mounts, which are also available used. The Minolta Alpha, also known as the A or AS-mount, also dates to the 1980s. The Alpha mount was later adopted by Sony and will fit Minolta and Sony Alpha DSLR cameras. Older Minolta mounts, such as the Minolta MD, MC or SR-mounts, require the use of an adaptor to be compatible with modern cameras. Older Canon lenses can also be used with adaptors. Four Thirds mounts are a type of standard fitting that is used in a number of DSLRs as well as vintage film cameras. For example, Olympus and Kodak cameras use four thirds mounts. Always be sure of the precise mount on the camera that will be used with the lens before buying. The guidelines above do not apply to every camera of a given brand, and many of the mounts have more than one name, often depending on the level of automation.

In Conclusion

Used camera lenses can be incredible bargains, and they can add so much value to a camera. For someone who has never used a camera with manual controls, adding a film camera lens to a digital SLR can open up new creative possibilities. Adjusting the aperture, focus and zoom right on the lens adds a hands-on dimension to photography that can bring out creative ideas and intuition. Used camera lenses also give today’s photographers access to the raw craftsmanship that went into the design and manufacture of photographic accessories before the days of fully automatic, digitally assisted, and mass produced cameras.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides