35 mm Photography on Nicephore Niepce’s Territory

35 mm photography with a vintage manual lens. Now you’re talking!

Yesterday we went to Bièvres, a small “country” village south of Paris. It is famous for being the hometown of Nicephore Niepce, who invented Photography in 1824. Thank you, Nicephore! (Boy! I like that first name, I wish I’d named my son after him). In Bièvres, you will find his museum and the world’s oldest photo lab. A new and bigger museum will soon be built. But we didn’t go there in order to visit the museum. Instead, I benefited from the myriad vintage cameras on display (like these old Nikkormat camera per below) in order to buy a … fixed focal 35mm f/2 Nikkor O lens!

35 mm Photography on Nicephore Niepce’s Territory

35 mm Photography on Nicephore Niepce's Territory
35 mm photography with a vintage manual lens. Spoilt for choice in Bièvres

In Bièvres, you will also find the yearly second-hand market for photographic equipment. This (above photo) was my first shot with the “new” 35mm lens while I tried it before buying.

35 mm photography

The lens in question, taken with another beauty, the 105mm f:2.8 Nikon macro lens.

Playing with focal length on Mickey Mouse. f/2 on the left and a very narrow depth of field and f/4 for extra sharpness as well as the nice bokeh in the background. Who would tell this glass is 60 years old?

From left to right (f:2 too blurry and too small DOF, I lose some of the details – f:4 perfect shot with maximum crispness, 2 stops above maximum aperture and a beautiful bokeh at that), I shot this Mickey mouse for a test of the 1980s manual lens [following Joel Burt’s comment per below, I have to add that this lens is from the 1960s rather; evidence of that can be found here, the lens was manufactured from 1962 onwards. It is therefore, almost my age!].

Even on a brand new digital camera

Even though I used it on a brand new digital camera, it worked beautifully, the image is crisp and you can tell the lenses are beautifully crafted and still intact. The price is … well unbeatable. I got this beauty for €130 for I bought it while the salesman was packing his stuff; it was worth €170 on the opening.

The only thing I miss is the original metal lens hood, so it will cost me an extra 10-15€ (just have a look at the prices for these ugly plastic things!). I am definitely in favour of fixed lens photography. Any time I used my fixed lenses I am very happy with the result: images tend to be crispier (look at the macro shot of the lens above, it’s a beautiful shot too! and no artificial lighting at all was needed).

Fixed-focal craze

I am not the only one to like fixed focal lenses and recommend these old second-hand beauties. They are all made of metal, beautifully crafted, they force you to engage with your subjects a lot more than zoom lenses. All in all, I find that I spend more time thinking about my shots and this is beneficial too.

OK! You will not benefit from the autofocus; but I always shoot in manual mode anyway, and I hate what the autofocus is doing because it seems to be living a life of its own; hence my using it in “single” mode only).

35 mm photography
A Super sharp Mickey Mouse

Above is Mickey mouse in a larger format so that you can admire the details, and namely, that little black dent in the yellow glasses. Needless to tell that this is a test shot and is not meant to show off my artistic talent.
35 mm photography

I am also thankful to my friend Olivier Saint Léger for recommending that lens to me. Above, a portrait of Olivier in a shot taken with another fixed lens favourite: the Nikon 50mm f1:4 fixed focal lens. Olivier and I have “founded” the Paris Photo ‘non-club’ in order to organise photo outings in Paris. There will be one next Wednesday, join us if you can!

Yann Gourvennec
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  1. Hi there, that lens is from the 60’s not the 80’s. It has been converted to ai with a factory kit. The “o” version is the earlier single coated version and it is prized for portraits and b+w photography.

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