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Terry Godlove Converts Stunning Vintage Lenses to New Camera Mounts

Terry Godlove Converts Stunning Vintage Lenses to New Camera Mounts

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“There are lots of readily available adapters—but I find they offer no advantage over a standard helicoid and mounting plate”, says Terry F. Godlove. A professor of philosophy and religion at Hofstra University, Terry loves tinkering around with vintage lenses, to makes their mounts compatible with modern mirrorless cameras.

My tryst with Sony’s mirrorless cameras was short-lived but thoroughly enjoyable (except when I had to navigate the menus). I snagged a good deal for an A7ii on eBay, and what attracted me the most to this system were two things. Firstly, the size and weight savings over my DSLRs, and secondly, a plethora of available adapters for vintage glass. Minolta, Contax, Yashica, Voigtlander – you name it, and a company in China had made an adapter for it already. Coupled with focus peaking, the ability to use mint condition, classic manual focus lenses on a modern camera was thrilling. It didn’t matter that I was a sports photographer using blazing fast autofocus, day in day out. There’s a certain character to the out-of-focus areas in the images produced by vintage lenses from decades gone by. No modern lens and post-processing preset can match these aesthetics. These lenses made you slow down the thought process behind your photography and made you value each click, just like when 35mm was commonplace. Terry’s gone one step further and eliminated the need for a 3rd-party adapter for some of these lenses. With some clever modifications to their base mounts at his makeshift lab at home, he’s able to directly use them on his Nikon Z6.

The Phoblographer: Tell us about how you got into photography and what sort of photography you enjoy doing

Terry F. Godlove: I suppose I come by it naturally. My father always had a rangefinder lying around the house, and then in the early ’70s, a Bell and Howell Auto 35 SLR showed up. I mostly enjoy family-related photography — portraits, vacations, etc. Lately, I’ve been photographing the garden and also some street scenes around NYC.

The Phoblographer: When was that lightbulb moment when you first realised you could adapt vintage lenses to the Nikon Z cameras?

Terry F. Godlove: In 2016 I had a vacation coming up, and, on the advice of a photojournalist down the street, I bought into the Nikon 1 mirrorless system: two V3 bodies and the 6.7-13 and 70-300mm cx lenses—all used, of course. In full-frame terms, that’s 18-810mm—an extraordinary range for so small a kit. In good light, I think that combination has few equals even today. One of the sellers had included the auto-focus FT-N adapter, so I was able to use some of the Nikon glass I had accumulated over the years on the V3. 

The Phoblographer: Adapters could host old lenses on mirrorless cameras for a while now. F mount lenses were being adapted on Sony’s A-series cameras for some years. Why did you enter the mirrorless world with the Nikon Z6 and not earlier?

Terry F. Godlove: I suppose it was playing around with the FT-N that first brought the notion of a dumb adapter to my attention. Anyway, the thought was already planted when I advance-ordered the Z6. At that point, I was shooting more low-light subjects, and I was ready to go full-frame.

The Phoblographer: What was the first (non-Nikon) lens that you adapted by yourself? Take us through the process that you go through, and also why you picked this particular lens, to begin with

Terry F. Godlove: That would be the Yashinon DX 45mm f1.7, which I extracted from a Yashica Electro 35.  That was the range-finder my father had laying around in the late ’60s. So, I suppose the initial impetus was something like filial piety. But that lens gets a lot of good online press, and deservedly so, so the fates seemed to be pointing there as a good place to start. In terms of process, let me defer to Mike Lee. I already had the tools ready to hand; the camera was $25 from eBay.  Low-risk, right? 

The Phoblographer: Nikon’s Z lens lineup is far from being complete at the moment however, Nikon has many decades of film F mount lenses available. What differences do you see between these and non-Nikon lenses when you adapt them for your Z6?

Terry F. Godlove: Actually, the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 Series E AIS, on Nikon’s FTZ adapter, is small, fast, and inexpensive with excellent IQ. The Yashinon is a bit lighter, brighter, and wider, but—absent the filial piety and the satisfaction of saving the vintage lens from land-fill—the Nikkor would be a great choice.

An image shot using a Yashinon DX 45mm f1.7 on a Z6

The Phoblographer: What all factors do you take into consideration when deciding to pick a lens to adapt? Is there a long list already?

Terry F. Godlove: I’ve been focusing on vintage range-finders with fast glass. The Hexanon 47mm f1.9 Konishiroku in the Konica Auto S has, to my eye, extraordinary 3-D rendering. Another is the Minolta Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.7, pulled from the Hi-Matic E, and yet another is the 45mm 1.9 from the Canon Canonet. Along with the Yashica, these lenses hold up well on the Z sensor. Not Nikkor S-level IQ—I take it that goes without saying—but well enough.  Since Nikon’s been taking its time delivering the Z pancakes, I’ve also spent a little time trying to optimize weight and IQ. There the current champ is the Rokkor 38mm f2.7, pulled from the Minolta HI-MATIC F: just 111 g x 33.3 mm tall.  Basically a thick lens cap.    

The Phoblographer: Why go through the time consuming process of swapping out lens mounts, when you could use readily available adapters for using these lenses on various mirrorless bodies?

Terry F. Godlove: Right, there are lots of readily available adapters—but I find they offer no advantage over a standard helicoid and mounting plate when it comes to modifying extracted lenses. 

The Phoblographer: Can you explain the challenges you face when adapting other mount lenses to your Z6? How straightforward (or not) is the process? Take us through what you use to achieve these conversions.

Terry F. Godlove: For most cameras, the extraction process is well-documented online. It requires a set of JIS drivers, a Dremel, and a willingness to inflict pain on a precision but otherwise unsalvageable instrument. Once the lens is off the camera, the mounting process is fairly straightforward. Besides the lens, you need a focusing helicoid, a baseplate, and a way to permanently join the three. I have no financial relationship [with] the 3M Corp., but I am a big fan of their Marine Adhesive Sealant 5200 (in black). It forms a water-tight bond; never had one fail. It also takes almost a week to dry, which means you can make micro-adjustments as necessary. Finally, it can be applied in layers—sculpted and shaped to account for this or that imperfection or gap.

For the Z mount—and for most other mirrorless mounts—an inexpensive 17-31 mm helicoid will do the trick.  For some, you can get away with a smaller one. If you don’t care about nailing infinity, you’re done.  If you do, then ensues a process of trial and error: you place a shim inside the helicoid, then, depending on the outcome, a slightly thinner or thicker one, etc.  I started out thinking I couldn’t live without stopping at infinity.  I have become less principled.

The Phoblographer: Which was the toughest lens that underwent this process by you and why was this the hardest to adapt?

Terry F. Godlove: The Rokkor 40mm f1.7 from the Hi-Matic E. I’m no engineer, but it looks to me as though the range-finder coupling mechanism is extremely robust in this camera.

The Phoblographer: More people these days have an appreciation for vintage glass. In your opinion does the credit for this lie solely with their adaptability on mirrorless cameras, or are there other factors too?

Terry F. Godlove: No doubt the advent of mirrorless cameras plays a large role. But I think the pervasiveness and consequences of electronic media—blogs, user groups, auction sites, etc.—figures in as well. If I want to see an example of the bokeh of the 12-blade CZJ 58mm f2 on a range of cameras, it’s no further away than my phone. Similarly for its delivery to my door.

An image taken using the Minolta Rokkor 40mm f1.7 on a Nikon Z6

The Phoblographer: EXIF data obviously can’t be saved to the image files when using such adapted lenses. Have photographers today become too obsessed with parameters like this which can detract from enjoying the art of photography?

Terry F. Godlove: Hard to say. I know I’ve learned a lot from studying EXIF data. Whether photographers who’ve never been without EXIF data are better off than not when they come to vintage lenses — I guess that’s hard to know.

The Phoblographer: What is that one lens you still haven’t got your hands on (to adapt to your Z) which you think would be the crown jewel of your lens collection? Tell us what makes this lens so special.

Terry F. Godlove: The Yashica Lynx-14E 50mm f1.4 has a large following out there. I don’t know about the crown jewel, but it’s certainly an intriguing prospect to pair it with the high ISO capabilities of current generation full-frame mirrorless cameras

The Phoblographer: Aesthetically speaking, what does an old school lens do you for your images that a modern one combined with post processing cannot?

Terry F. Godlove: Another difficult question. Certainly, when displayed on a small screen, I sometimes can’t tell the latest iPhone imagery from an adapted Canon 55mm f1.2 FL. I suppose at that point we’re talking about the different sources of satisfaction, aren’t we—about what difference they make to aesthetic experience. What about the ability to set the CZJ Biotar within the context of the bombing of Dresden? So to say what the old-school lens “does for” an image make take us well outside the conceptual space of pixels and flange focal distances.

All images by Terry F. Godlove. Used with permission. Visit his eBay page to check out the modified lenses he has for sale