Manual lenses: types, characteristics, selection tips

Many people believe that manual lenses are a fashionable trend that will soon go into oblivion. But there is another opinion. There are people who say that manual lenses are devices for real pros in their field. What is the correct opinion? In our article today we will try to understand and understand thoroughly in this matter.


Manual lenses do not have an automatic mode, they always work strictly in manual mode. Focusing is carried out by mechanical manual rotation of a special ring on the lens.

Previously, there were no options other than manual lenses. Today, there are automatic lenses, but non-autofocus ones do occur. And most importantly, these are not only those old specimens that have been preserved for a long time, but also modern models produced to this day.

The first non-autofocus lenses "Nikon", "Nikkor"

The history of non-autofocus lenses can be seen in various examples. We will focus on the manual Nikon and Nikkor lenses. The company "Nikon" at one time very actively promoted such lenses. Let's take a closer look at the evolution of such devices using the example of lenses for Nikon cameras.

The history of Nikon non-autofocus mounts from Nikon begins with the non-Ai model, after which there were two more modifications (Ai, Ai-S). These designations indicate the type of measurement connection between the digital camera and the lens.

The first non-Ai (pre-Ai) Nikkor lens was released back in 1959. "Communication" with the camera took place through a special pad. To better understand the situation, you need to fully decipher the name of the lens. Ai is Automaic Indexing. The non prefix is โ€‹โ€‹information that the connection is not fully automatic, that is, some manual mechanical movements are required to mount the lens on the camera.

I must say that this very block of measuring communication, although it has undergone some changes, has survived to the present day. It is mounted on Nikon's rare manual lenses, which are still in production. I am glad that production still exists, although the choice of models is not very large, as are the manufacturers.

By the way, even on the aperture ring of modern Nikkor autofocus lenses, there are special notches that designate specially designed screw holes. This means that it is possible to install measuring connection blocks even on them. This is done in order to fully work with similar lenses on professional models of film "SLR" Nikon F and Nikon F2.

Manual lens for Nikon

Ai lens

Such models of manual Nikkor lenses appeared in 1977. The mechanism for interacting with the camera has been changed. Now all the functions of the measuring connection pad were performed by a special cutout on the diaphragm ring. In addition, one additional row was added to the aperture ring, which had special aperture values, they were needed to indicate the installed aperture in the camera viewfinder (for example, Nikon FM). This new product was given a special name - ADR (Aperture Direct Readout).

Ai-S (Automatic Indexing-Shutter)

They came out in 1982, from the Ai series they were distinguished by the presence of a special recess (semicircular shape) on the mount. That is, in the bayonet of the cameras that worked with these new products, a special additional pin appeared. It was conceived that the position of the aforementioned recess, the camera itself had to determine the focus distance of the lens. This feature allowed the camera to select the correct parameters, such as shutter speed in program modes, for example.

Nikon Series E

In 1979, the manufacturer introduced the world to its new line of lenses called the Nikon Series E. Earlier models in the line met Ai specifications, and later lenses Ai-S. These models differed from Nikkor brand lenses in a slightly simplified design. Some of the lenses also had noticeably simplified optics, in addition to these lenses there was no special block for measuring communication, but if necessary, it could be installed as an additional option.

Refinement of lenses

Non-Ai lenses can be converted to the Ai model. This is done by replacing the diaphragm ring. Such an operation is easily and quickly performed by masters in special service centers. A lens with such a rework is called Ai-d. But some craftsmen remake it themselves using a file or on a machine.

Soviet lenses and cameras "Nikon"

Such a scheme of work is possible, it is actively used by amateur photographers of different levels of professionalism. But there are some nuances. For example, if you are working with a Nikon F-301 camera (N2000) and some other models, then you should cover with cold welding (or something else) the slots that are designed for screws for attaching the lens mount. If this is not done, then the lens can simply jam in the camera mount. This happens due to the fact that the camera mount pin (needed to read the focus distance information) exactly falls on these same screw slots.

It is important to note that many photographers (even world-class professionals) believe that the best manual lenses were made in the USSR. Itโ€™s very flattering to hear, and itโ€™s a pity that there is no lens production at this time in Russia or in any other country that was part of the USSR.

The best manual lenses for Nikon

We will list those devices that are worthy of your attention and cost up to ten thousand rubles. The top three models of manual wide-angle lenses:

  • Nikkor 20mm f / 4.
  • Nikon Series E 28mm f / 2.8.
  • Nikkor 35mm f / 2.

All of these lenses have a focus distance of 24 mm and a CRC (Close Range Correction) system. This system is designed to provide optimal images when focusing at any distance.

The best manual lenses for Sony

It is worth saying about the lenses for cameras from the Japanese company Sony. We also highlight several models that are suitable for these โ€œSLRsโ€ and do not hit you too far in terms of finances.

Manual lens for Sony

If we talk about manual Soviet lenses for "DSLRs" from the Sony company, then we need to highlight:

  • Jupiter 37A (135 / 3.5).
  • Helios 40-2 (85 / 1.5).
  • Zenitar-M (50 / 1.7).
    Zenitar manual lens

There are other interesting models, but we decided to choose these. In parentheses are the focal length of the lens, as well as an indicator of maximum aperture. It must be said that we chose these models, but they lose to their modern counterparts for portraiture. In addition, a special adapter is needed to install such lenses. Because Soviet models are attributed to the M42 manual lenses. The adapter is not too expensive, and it will be useful to you, especially if you plan to buy several lens models from the USSR.

The legendary Rockcore lenses should not be overlooked. If you name the best three models for Sony DSLRs, these will be:

  • MC Rokkor 58 f / 1.2.
  • MD Rokkor 135 mm f / 2.
  • Rokkor 17 mm f / 4.

I would like to add to this list also the Rokkor 7.5 mm fish-eye. Very interesting option.

Rokkor Manual Lens

Auto Focus Lens for Canon

It would be wrong if we lose sight of a manufacturer like Canon. Therefore, we present for this manufacturer the most interesting non-autofocus lenses.

But first you need to say that in order to install a manual lens on a Canon DSLR, you need to find out what mount your non-auto focus lens is designed for. Usually it can be either M42 thread, or N mount, or in the rarest cases, M39 thread.

For M42 threaded lenses, you will need an adapter from M42 to Canon EOS. The adapter has a thread. With its help, it is wound on the lens. After that, the lens can already be easily mounted on the camera.

With H-mount or M39 thread, you need to proceed in the same way, that is, buy the necessary adapter. To mount lenses with H mount, you need the Nikon Mount F - Canon EOS adapter. No need to be surprised, because the N-mount is exactly the same as the Nikon camera system. For the M39 thread, you will need an M39-EOS adapter, or two M39-M42 and M42 adapters - Canon EOS, which are installed in series. It is noteworthy that there are two types of lenses with M39 thread. It can be lenses from SLR cameras and lenses from mirrorless cameras. Normal operation on the Canon system will only be with lenses from SLR cameras with M39 threads. It is worth knowing.

Manual lens for Canon

Interesting non-autofocus lenses for Canon:

  • "Helios-44m-X".
  • Mir-47N
  • Jupiter-9.

It is worth saying that there are many worthy of excellent expensive lenses. The average amateur photographer will have plenty of those that were considered by us in this article. If these lenses are not enough for you, then you are a professional, and then you already know everything yourself.

Manual Mirror

How to shoot

The peculiarity of shooting with a manual lens is only in its manual focus adjustment. Everything else is very usual and familiar. That is, any photographer can master shooting with a non-autofocus lens in just a few minutes. Only the result depends on your skill. It can be ordinary, or it can be very impressive. Can you find through the camera something that is only available with a manual lens? The answer to this question is known only to you, your eyes and hands.

In any case, everything will come with experience. Even if you photograph very decently on a regular (automatic) lens. You need to get used to the manual, gain relevant experience and learn all the nuances regarding how to shoot on manual lenses.

Manual lens

Where can i see

They can be seen at any photographer. Also, such lenses are found in some photo shops. With such lenses work everywhere. One category of amateur photographers loves such lenses. The other part is trying to avoid them.

You can buy such lenses on thematic forums, various resources with announcements, in thrift stores or directly from amateur photographers. Currently, a fairly large number of manual lenses are on sale. This applies to both Soviet models and foreign ones. Problems when you want to find yourself the right lens do not arise, as a rule.

Sometimes the problem is of such a plan that the seller and the buyer can not converge in price, but this is a slightly different story. In any case, there are a lot of offers on the market, for this reason you can find the option you need at an affordable price, just sometimes it takes more time than originally calculated.

Lens Features

If you look at the question from the side, then in the old lenses there is nothing special, except that many models are extremely cheap. On the other hand, there is a category of professional photographers that believes that old lenses were more vibrant. Now these are no longer doing. And the best shots of professionals, they said, were made specifically for non-autofocus lenses. Perhaps there is some truth to this.

But out of a hundred people with SLR cameras, only twenty are photographers, and of these twenty, only one will be professional. But more than half of this hundred people with a camera will have a manual lens. It turns out that non-autofocus lenses are a tribute to fashion and hype? This is a rhetorical question, and each of the hundreds of people with cameras in their hands will have their own hundred answers to this question and one hundred reasons for buying a manual lens.

How to choose a lens

You need to choose based on your needs and requirements. All parameters are always indicated on the lens. It is difficult to advise someone, for example, a wide-angle lens when a person is looking for a fisheye.

Professionals believe that manual lenses are best suited for the role of "portrait painters". But this opinion is subjective, albeit competent. After all, perhaps you are a beginner professional, and you will find something of your own in non-autofocus lenses and show it to the whole world through your photo. And soon your opinion will be authoritative. You should not go in cycles, the photo is an art, and in art rules are minimized. The most popular and purchased models of manual lenses we have listed above, the choice is always yours.

The only thing that can be advised is that if you choose a similar lens to save money, then keep in mind that the price of the device is not the final expense, you will still need adapters if your โ€œSLRโ€ is not from the era of Soviet lenses. The number and type of adapters will determine the final spending.

You can also advise you to watch video reviews on an interesting lens before you buy and see examples of work that was done using this model. This will help you form an objective opinion about a particular lens. Good luck and superb shots!


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