Vintage Lenses for Toy Photography

Many folks are familiar with the look and feel of vintage lenses without even realizing it.  Tons of photo editing apps are specifically designed to emulate different effects that were “issues” with old vintage glass.  Some of these old issues such as light leaks, scratches, and weird Bokeh, have been “fixed” with modern manufacturing techniques.

After seeing so many options to add retro looks, I started wondering why is this a thing? Why do we like to add back these imperfections?

I think it’s because the imperfections of old glass added a unique character that has since been lost in the pursuit of perfection.  The older manufacturing processes resulted in different characteristics even between the same lenses made at the same factory.  I have four Vintage lenses that I am constantly using in my photography mainly because of the look, feel, and character they lend to my images.  I’ll give you a bit of a rundown on each of them.

Vintage Lenses I Currently Use

  • Jupiter 37a 135mm f3.5
  • Helios 44-2 58mm f2
  • Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f1.4
  • Minolta Rokkor 50mm f3.5 Macro

The first is the Russian made Jupiter 37a 135mm f3.5 manual focus lens. I purchased it on eBay direct from a Russian seller for less than $50 shipped. My copy was manufactured in 1982 and has many unique “imperfections”. The glass has small air bubbles near the edges inside the lens element.  This was a manufacturing glitch that makes for interesting blur wide open. What really sold me on this lens was also the fact it has 12 aperture blades that make for awesome circular Bokeh. It’s a bit soft wide open but I like soft if it also includes crazy cool Bokeh!

Mr. Bean Early Blue Hues

The second is also a Russian made MF lens – the Helios 44-2 58mm f2; I have an early copy from the 50s. This lens has some unique swirly Bokeh that deforms on the edges.  I acquired mine about 18 years ago and it came with my first film camera – the Zenit-E rangefinder.  It is built like a tank.  Most vintage lenses are built out of sturdy metals and glass and were made to last a lifetime.  I guess they hadn’t quite discovered plastic or engineered obsolescence.

Hollow Hoth? A Drop Test to Oblivion
No Snow in Sight

The third lens is my fastest – the Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f1.4.  I attribute about 50% of my shots over the past few years to this one. My copy was purchased at a thrift shop for $10 and my older brother Nathan (IG @talking_tree) carefully disassembled and cleaned all the dirt out of it.  I’ve gotten some of my best Bokeh shots with this lens especially shooting toward the sun in the mornings.

Elvio Diego Josè Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz… and his Low Ride Scooter
Tar Pit Trap

The fourth and last is the Minolta Rokkor 50mm f3.5 macro.  I picked this lens up at a second hand lens shop for $50.  This lens has the equivalent of a macro extension tube that can be attached for extreme closeup – or removed for standard macro.  It’ll focus about an 1″ away from the lens – so it is perfect for tight situations.  I highly recommend having a dedicated macro lens – especially for smaller toys.

Gives it to Us Raw… and Buzzing!
Enjoying the First Snow – Sparkles and Unicorns

Overall I find myself using my Vintage lenses far more than anything else.  I do have some newer AF lenses in my arsenal that are perfect for capturing my five rambunctious kiddos, but for toy photography you can’t really beat the control and look of old glass.  For the price of one cheap new lens you could have a whole set of awesome vintage glass at your disposal.  All the money I save on lenses I get to use on toys!

~ Joecow

Do you have a favorite lens that you always shoot with? What do y’all think of vintage glass? Do you currently use any old lenses in your toy photography?

Got Dust? Here’s the Secret Weapon…

“You find me at work; excuse the dust on my blouse. I sculpt my marble myself.”

-Camille Claudel

Oh, dust. How I loathe thee.

As I’m sure is the case not only for many toy photographers, but macro photographers as well, dust can be a formidable opponent, and can even ruin otherwise perfect photos. One missed spec on a minifigure’s shoulder runs the risk of distracting the viewer and drawing unwanted attention.

Of course, the level of dust frustration will vary depending on the photographer and on the viewer. For me, it’s often a deal breaker, causing me to either spend an exorbitant amount of time spot-cleaning the dust in Photoshop or Lightroom, or simply scrapping the initial photos and trying the whole setup again. Continue reading Got Dust? Here’s the Secret Weapon…

What’s in Your Bag?

Toy Photographers is running a new series of posts to foster discussion and education on the appropriate tools for toy photography. I will be starting it here on the blog to encourage readers to join us on Google+ to see what a great platform it is to share inspiration and knowledge. Future posts can be found on Google+. Continue reading What’s in Your Bag?

What’s In My Bag – Mitchel Wu Photography

Prior to toy photography I used to photograph weddings and portraits professionally.  I was pretty well-outfitted in terms of gear because of this – with multiple camera bodies, a range of professional lenses, and multiple speedlights and light diffusing/modifying systems.  I came into toy photography pretty well set, with the exception of a few accessories that are uniquely adapted to my style of toy photography.  But the one thing I didn’t have was toys.  Toy photography for most is a direct extension and result of their passion for toys.  If toys are the chicken and photography is the egg, then for most the chicken came before the egg.  But for me the egg came before the chicken.  I was drawn to toy photography because I saw the potential to create amazing stories and images.  And this reignited my love for toys, the one I had as a kid but somehow lost as I got older.

So anyways, here’s my bag and what’s in it.  First though, full disclosure.  I am partnered with Lowepro Bags, SOG Knives & Tools and Spider Holster – purely a result of my day-to-day experience with their wonderful products.  Each plays a role in my being able to create thought-provoking imagery and engaging stories.

Bags – I use a few different Lowepro backpacks, but my day-to-day bag is this Lowepro Fastback 250 AW II.  It’s the perfect size for hauling my Canon 5D3 with a few lenses and all my toy gadgetry.  It offers great gear protection, customizable compartments, and a rain jacket that’s always on the ready should I encounter really bad weather or wet conditions, like ocean spray on a gusty day.  The construction and materials used are what I consider “bulletproof,” which is critical for the environments I shoot in.  I don’t scrimp when it comes to my camera bags – these bags will last for years.

Lenses – The lens that is usually attached to my camera is the Canon 135 f2/L – I use this combo for 99% of my photos.  But I also carry the Canon 50 f1.2L and the Canon 24-70 f2.8/L – each has unique strengths and excel in situations where my 135mm might be too long.  For example, I often will use the 24-70mm when I need a wider shot, like a Storm Trooper perched on the edge of a cliff looking at a vast alien landscape.  24mm will get you that.  And with the ability to shoot at f1.2, I can basically use my 50mm to shoot in nearly complete darkness using what available light there is.  Amazing.

Tripods – when working in the field I always have two Manfrotto tripods with me.  The super compact and lightweight Manfrotto MK393-PD as well as the Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2.  Both work well with my full-sized camera body and range of lenses, although I’m probably close to the weight limits of both tripods.  I have another heavier, built-like-a-tank tripod (not shown) I use in the studio, the Slik Pro 700DX.

The Manfrotto MK3930-PD tripod sees use whenever my toy(s) are off the ground a bit, like on a rocky ledge, in a tree, etc.

The Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2 tripod is used when the toys are sitting on the ground and I need my camera at or near ground level.

Gizmos and Gadgets – As you photograph more and more toys you start to learn what works and what doesn’t, and what can make things easier.  As a result, some of the things that always venture out into the field with me is wire in varying lengths and strengths for supporting and suspending toys in whatever poses I need them in.  Also putty and wax for holding and attaching things, tape, extra camera batteries, a wireless remote shutter release, and dust blowers (manual as well as compressed air).  Not shown is a small emergency whistle in case I find myself in a remote location needing emergency assistance.

One of my most used tools, in the field as well as in the studio, is my SOG Powerplay Multi-tool.  From cutting, crimping and shaping wire supports in the field, to quick repairs of toys and gear, to MacGyvering whatever needs MacGyvering… a good multi-tool can handle it all and is an essential part of my process.  If you’re not familiar with multi-tools, they’re basically a Swiss Army knife on steroids.

Also accompanying me in the field is one of my SOG knives.  A good blade can be really handy for whittling, carving, and of course as protection against crazed chipmunk attacks!

Unlike a LEGO photographer who can carry a day’s worth of toys in a snack baggie, I need a larger bag to carry an assortment of 6-8″ action figures.  Not to mention the occasional 17″ long Rancor!  There are a million options for this, but I’ve ended up using a fantastic shoulder bag made for carrying fishing tackle.  It has adjustable compartments and a bunch of different pockets for smaller figs and gadgets.  It is lightweight and very durable.  And at around $25.00 it doesn’t break the bank!

When I’ve gotten to an area I plan to shoot, I’ll remove my camera from the backpack and keep it on my body for the duration of the shoot.  In my personal experience, the SpiderPro Holster is the best way to carry an easily accessible camera safely and securely in rugged terrain like the areas I usually shoot in. The camera stays firmly and securely attached to my hip via the holster, but can be accessed with lightening speed like a six shooter in an old west gunfight.

When my camera is out of its holster it is held securely to my hand with the SpiderPro Hand Strap. Even when traversing demanding terrain, dropping my camera is never a concern with the hand strap, which allows me to focus on maintaining solid footing instead.

In the end it’s all about finding what works for you.  Which backpack, camera carrying system and tools one uses are all very personal decisions one has to make based on their style of shooting, equipment, body type, etc. What works for one person may not work for another.  There was a lot of trial and error (and money spent) on my journey to finding what works for me, and my studio is littered with products that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.  If you have any questions on what’s in my bag just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Mitch Wu

Whats In My Studio – Isaac Renteria

Originally this topic was called ” What`s in my bag” but because I rarely do outdoor photography; I will show you the gear I use the most in my studio. I’m not a fan of fancy photography gear so I think I have only what I really need. 

Continue reading Whats In My Studio – Isaac Renteria

What’s in My Bag? by SBPhotographs1

First off its great to be contributing to SIP again and I’d like to thank Shelly for making that happen. A huge thank you to the community for the warm reception I got to the “Why?” post I had contributed to couple of months back.

This time I’d like to share exactly what goes in my camera bag as well as my basic home studio setup.

For me choice is the hardest thing to cope with. It’s extremely difficult for me to choose what glass (lens) I’d like to carry around with me because I can never manage to say that I will only be shooting Macro or Landscape or Portrait on a given day. So I practically lug around my entire kit wherever I go.

To be honest, looking at other photographer’s bags sometimes brings out the most severe case of self-doubt and the question “Am I doing it wrong?” inevitably comes up. But as I’ve matured (at least I’d like to think so) as a photographer, I’ve come to realize that my way of thinking, and for that matter any photographer’s style and way of thinking, is very different from the next.

When I’m not practicing Toy Photography I’m an avid Landscape photographer and I absolutely love a picturesque shot of nature’s beauty.


The bag I use is a Lowepro Pro Runner 200 AW DSLR Backpack. The bag is an absolute dream and even comes with a water proof pull over sheet to keep rain water off. The camera I use is the Canon 600D (Rebel T3i) DSLR and has been my ‘go to’ camera for the past four years. While the camera is an APS-C sensor based model, I find that it has kept up extremely well against the test of time.

As for the glass, I have gathered up a fairly decent range to choose from. When it comes to Toy Photography I use a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC lens which is what 90% of my photographs have been taken with.

The rest of my kit it includes the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Kit Lens) and the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM, which is my go to lens for landscape photography.


My bag always has four memory cards: 2 – 16GB cards and 1 – 8GB and a reserve 2 – GB card. I know I should probably just get one large memory card, but I’m paranoid about trusting one card with all of my images. The next most important thing to have for me personally is  an extra Battery and a lens cleaning kit in case I decide to get the camera out there in the elements. All my lens’ have a UV filter which is of paramount importance to keep the main lens elements safe and sound from any kind of scratches and from bumps and scrapes while outdoors. As for the figures I carry, I always have a mix of Lego and six inch figures. The Lego mini figures I always have are four Stormtroopers, C-3PO, R2-D2, Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia. I also make it a point to have at least one male and one female generic Lego mini figure with a bunch of faces with different expressions. As for the six inch figures I always have my Ashigaru Sandtrooper and/or the Ashigaru Stormtrooper and Ronin Boba Fett from the incredible Tamashii Nations Movie Realization Star Wars series.


In case you plan on shooting through the day you should definitely have a bunch of Gradient, Polaroid and ND Filters for at least one lens in your kit. For me it’s the 10-18 which has these extra lens elements to modify the amount of light I get across the sensor.

While at home I’d either shoot in my home studio or near and around the area of my residence. My home studio is made up of a light table, an Elinchrom D-Lite RX One setup with 2 flashes along with 2 Portalite soft boxes and one 5 way reflector. It’s the best toy photography set up that you could get and it isn’t even that pricey and super reliable.

That’s about it for What’s in My Bag and Studio, should you guys have any question feel free to ask!

Thank you once again Shelly for this opportunity and a big thank you to my parents who’ve helped me to assemble the epic kit that I spoke about above.

Shahzad Bhiwandiwala (@sbphotographs1)

We all have our personal must-have items in our photo bags. What are yours? 

What’s in My Bag

I enjoyed Me2’s post the other day about what was in his photography bag. There was just so much photo goodness in that one little bag, it was overwhelming! But just like there are different styles of photographers, there is more than one way to stock a photographer’s bag. Personally, I prescribe to the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method of photography. Continue reading What’s in My Bag