55mm Micro Nikkor lens. On two adapters.
I am uncomfortable calling older lenses "legacy lenses." I don't really know what that means but the common usage in photography circles is meant to convey that these are lenses left over from something---usually the film days. They are being re-purposed on cameras for which they were not originally designed. However uncomfortable I am with the nomenclature I am comfortable with the practice of using older lenses on newer cameras. That's one of the (fulfilled) promises of the new wave of mirror less cameras. The lens flange to sensor plane distance is so much shorter than the distance on cameras with mirrors that just about any lens can be easily adapted while maintaining infinity focus.
As a portrait photographer there are a couple of focal lengths that I find comfortable and "just right." I like the angle of view that matches an 85mm lens on a 24 by 36 mm camera but sometimes I find it too short. That's why I'm hesitating in buying the Nocticron with its 42.5 mm focal length. It's right at the edge of almost too wide for me. I bought the Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens and I think it has very good performance but when I shoot on the 4:3 format I find myself wishing the lens gave me just a slightly narrower angle of view. But by the time I get to 60 mm's, and especially 75mm, I feel like I'm getting a lens that's just a bit too long. Goldilocks and the Three Bears strikes again.
So I've been playing around with something in the 50mm to 55mm focal length range. I did a job a while back in which I shot all the portraits with an older, manual 50mm f1.4 Nikkor lens and it was pretty good. A totally different feel that the modern lenses. The colors felt heavier. The images were technically sharp but something was off.
Last weekend I was out and around and I found a 55mm Micro Nikkor (f2.8) lens, used, at Precision Camera. I remember that lens well because back in the film only days we got a lot of good use out of it. I remembered it as being very sharp. And one of the ideas in choosing lenses for smaller formats is that they need to be both sharp and of high resolution in order to fill the hunger of those little pixels.
I had always remembered the 55mm as being very sharp, even wide open and I was intrigued by the focal length. The price was modest (under $200) and I already had an assortment of adapters back at the studio to test it with. If it passed I might invest in a dedicated Nikon lens to M4:3 adapter just to cut down on the number of parallel surfaces in the mount.
I am happy to say that the lens does well on the body. I've been using it wide open on a few portraits and by f4 it's pretty amazing (but really, what good, modern lens isn't amazing when it's shot two stops down?). It has a different color rendering and a different tonal character than my more current lenses but I've started thinking that the lens character is something we often confuse with the difference between digital and film---wrongly. It may be that a good part of what makes images from film cameras look different from digital cameras is the way the two different sets of lenses are designed.
A big problem in early digital imaging is that many of the lenses designed in the film days didn't have the right coatings on the rear element as it faced the sensor. This allowed the light coming through the lens to be bounced off the somewhat reflective sensor and return to the back element as flare or as a hot spot. But there may be other more subtle effects to different lens design that all add up to a different look. Most sensors now are coated with their own anti-reflection coatings and some of the initial problems have vanished. Some lenses have such a weak rear element coating that they still make trouble for sensors when strong light sources are near enough to the lens axis to have light rays touch the front elements. It's still a matter of trial and error.
Even in digital designs there are differences between manufacturers. It's a known problem to use the Panasonic 7-14mm lens with some Olympus bodies, including the OMDs. The encroachment of any strong light can cause hot spots in the images. This doesn't happen with the Panasonic bodies. I'm sure then coatings tell the story but, of course, all the information is proprietary to each maker so we'll probably never know exactly what the disconnection is.
So far the Micro Nikkor exceeds my expectations but be warned that I haven't walked around pointing it at the sun (yet). For studio work with soft and gracious lighting it provides exactly the focal length I was looking for along with a little "bite." Next up? Probably my fourth or fifth go around with a 105mm f2.5 Nikkor. They are plentiful and I remember every one I owned as being really nice. Too long for the m4:3 (at least the way I shoot them) but wonderful on a full frame Nikon body---should one catch my eye.