5 Frames from a Vintage 18mm T-Mount Lens on a Fuji X-Pro1 – By Dave Powell

By Dave Powell

A while back, I found this Spiratone 18mm f/3.5 T-mount lens at a yard sale. It proved especially valuable for shooting real-estate photos at one memorable “house with a problem.” Over the decades, a tall dense hedge had grown up across the entire front of the building– and only three feet from its door!

The listing agent had already taken some exteriors, but could not get a decent shot of the front. So she hired me to shoot interiors and “get that front!”

Though I’d long before switched to digital, I:

  • Slapped the lens on a “full-frame” Nikon FE SLR
  • Planted myself between the hedge and wall… at a point where the lens could also see the front door
  • And shot at a glancing angle along the front wall

To keep the photo as honest as possible for the MLS listing, I cropped it to include both the building’s front and a hint of the hedge row. My client loved the result.

It Took a Pandemic

I’m ashamed to admit, though, that it took the Covid pandemic to make me think of taking the lens out for a walk in the woods! I adapted it to my Fuji X-Pro1 (where it became a 27mm lens) and headed to some nearby wetlands. The Spiratone worked fairly well as a landscape lens (though distances seemed hazy):

Wetlands landscape
I don’t remember it being hazy, so this may have been due to issues mentioned at the end of this article.

But it captured decent detail and color even in the shade:

Tree roots in shade
All photos taken without flash.

And specular highlights beyond its depth-of-field were somewhat distracting:

Specular highlights

But it can grab colorful panoramas quite close to its front element:

Weathered wood
“Woodflow” (cropped in at top and bottom).

And best of all, I could unscrew it progressively farther away from the camera body, pull its focusing range closer, and effectively zoom its macro magnification. Unscrewed a full 1,260 degrees (to the point of almost detaching from the camera), the lens turned tiny ground fungi into big hot-cross buns:

Macro fungi

A Keeper

Overall, the lens performed better than other vintage super-wides I’ve tried– including a Soligor 18mm and an Asanuma that I quite liked.

Online, I’ve read that the Spiratone 18 was listed in old Sigma catalogs, and may have been built by them. But reviewers have also noted the lens’s vignetting, barrel distortion and curvature-of-field on full-frame cameras.

That said, it seems to produce decent images on APS-C cameras (like my X-Pro1)… and might work even better on a Micro-Four-Thirds body that pulls in less distortion from the lens perimeter. But on any camera, its screw-out “macro-zoom” ability is just plain cool!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass. writer and avid amateur photographer.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Comments

Alex Hazuki on 5 Frames from a Vintage 18mm T-Mount Lens on a Fuji X-Pro1 – By Dave Powell

Comment posted: 01/02/2023

The Tokina 17mm F3.5 is my go to vintage wide angle lens for my Sony A7, also it's pretty good for infrared photography.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2023

Thanks Alex! I haven't encountered the Tokina lens (most of my gear was acquired over many years at yard/estate sales and from friends). But I checked and the Tokina is well reviewed. And for anyone interested, it currently lists on the 'Bay for as low as the $100-$150 range. So not bad. Your mention of infrared, though, makes me want to slap an IR filter on the Spiratone and see how well it handles IR on the X-Pro1. (The X-Pro1's native lenses weren't too great.) Thanks again!

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Kurt Ingham on 5 Frames from a Vintage 18mm T-Mount Lens on a Fuji X-Pro1 – By Dave Powell

Comment posted: 01/02/2023

Thanks! Those antique devices (film cameras) can still do the job. I don't know how to predict which 'wides' will do well on digital. Some of my wonderful Leitz lenses are quite awful on my Sony FF cameras, but then I have an excuse to use the M3. For your real estate 'problem' I would have whipped out my Apple 11 . It is quite annoying how good the output from phones can be
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 01/02/2023

You're very welcome Kurt! I decided to write the piece because it's sometimes hard to find vintage super-wide glass that doesn't suffer badly from one anomaly or another. And this one worked out pretty darned well! And you're right about using a smart phone in such a pinch. I had actually shot the "house with a problem" well before I owned one. But I'd certainly turn to my iPhone now. Some real-estate photographers might dispute the idea-- at least for older phones like my 6s-- due to their lower resolution. But unless things have changed in the last few years, my R-E clients only wanted 640x480 images because that was what MLS required. And... heck... my old (and still great) Olympus C-2020 has more resolution than that!

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