There is something earthy and rustic about vintage photography. When the focus is not quite right, subjects look stark or ghostly, colours are surreal. Years ago, during my time as a model I had the pleasure of working with a photographer who had in his collection an antique accordion type camera with the black curtain behind it. He'd disappear under there, ask me to remain perfectly still, and painfully I would hold the position as best as I could for what seemed like eternity. It was a 4 hour shoot that turned into something much longer, and by the time I left I was irritated and sore. But when he shared the images with me I was amazed and delighted, and began to understand his love affair with vintage cameras. The cameras see a dimension that is different from our every day one.
My experiments with extension tubes and reversal rings has broadened my understanding of how a camera works. Forcing me to work only with manual settings on my camera. This has built my confidence and curiousity, and while browsing eBay for a 50mm lens that I considered purchasing my curiousity deepened when I saw old Nikon lenses from vintage SLRs. Could these work on my digital SLR?
The short answer is yes. They will.
Of course they will be completely manual, but I feel that at this point of my journey I am ready for that. I was completely drawn in by the cameras from the 50's and earlier, but I think that those are a little beyond my comfort zone and experience just yet.
Drifting off on a side note for a moment (but not entirely unrelated), if you have not heard of Vivian Maier and her extensive street photography in New York and Chicago during the 50's and 60's using a Rolleiflex camera (square images), you owe it to yourself to explore the amazing website that features the best 100 images of her work. She never shared her photos with anyone, they were discovered in boxes that someone purchased from an auction house, many of them negatives and undeveloped film.
(A Vivian Maier self portait - image owned by John Maloof)
If you are interested in learning more, here's an extensive list of links compiled by Dmitri Samarov.
So, back to the peeking around on eBay. Like most people, I don't have unlimited funds at my disposal, so I was looking for something inexpensive that I could play and experiment with. My eye fell on this listing that came up. I'd never heard of Miida, and it wasn't a 50mm lens, but something in me kept bringing me back to that listing several times. After several hours of this I did a search and found comments about Miida along the lines of "My most valued lens is a foggy old Miida 135/2,8. Bought it for a dollar, not including shipping, which was about 40 dollars. Heh. It was a gamble. I was lucky. Optically it's a fine lens, sharp enough for most purposes, and the very-low contrast makes for enjoyable post-processing experiments." (Cato Heskestad), and "Seriously, almost any 35mm focal length lens should be of reasonable quality since, like the 50mm and the 135mm, they were the standards of their time. Everyone in the old screw mount days had those three lenses, a 28mm was considered an extreme wide angle by most amateurs and a 200mm was something to drool over. I think this lens is definitely worth trying out." (Ira - monza76), and even the very negative "The worst lens I ever owned was a Miida 25mm f/3.5, obtained with a Nikon F camera body approximately 24 years ago. I had never heard of the brand before and I haven't heard of it since. It produced negatives that were about 50% in focus and 50% out. That is, about 1/2 of each negative was always out of focus--don't remember if it was the left or right half. The only thing I liked about it was the field of view." (Lee Shively) and the unfortunately uneducated (it's made in Japan) "Looks like a Russian model.. I'd steer clear.." (yogestee).
There is actually next to no solid information about Miida on the internet, just a lot of speculation about who they were and what they brought onto the market. Very few people have experimented with their lenses. So I took Ira's advice, made the seller an offer, and was notified this morning that the lens has shipped and is on its way to my house.
If anything, this is going to be an investment in an adventure.