Where does KEH get all these like-new *old* lenses?

The majority of lenses I buy are brand new, often because they are just coming onto the market.  I bought my 16-70mm f/4 Zeiss lens in an economical bundle with my a6000, and purchased my 70-200mm f/4 and new 16-35mm f/4 Zeiss favorites for my a7r online for delivery the day they were released.  But I like to fill in my collection with less expensive optics, often to pick up some relative bargains that I can use under tough environmental conditions on less-than-crucial shoots  Certainly I can slap a B+W filter on my most prized lenses, but why expose them to hazards when I’m just experimenting?

That’s why I’ve purchased more than a dozen lenses from KEH.com, with most of them costing less than $300, and a few for as little as $40. I picked up an older Sony A-mount 18-200 f/3.5-6.3  Sony 18-70mm f/4.5-5.6 A-mount lenses  for a pittance, and a “disposable” Sigma 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 macro zoom for $40.00.  A few of my E-mount lenses were also purchased gently used from KEH at more modest savings.  When I buy from KEH, if I choose anything above their Bargain or Ugly grades, the lenses I receive are invariably indistinguishable from new. And, in many cases, we’re talking about some fairly ancient lenses.

The secret, of course is the glut of A-mount lenses sold with Minolta badges over the years.  I’ve got a 70-210mm “beer can,” 75-300mm zoom, and a selection of other great lenses at bargain prices.  They have all worked well, with full autoexposure and autofocus features, on my A-mount Sony cameras, which have included everything from early Alpha traditional mirror models (both full-frame and APS-C varieties), more recent SLT-era models, including my latest a77 ii, and, with an EA-LA2 (which I have since replaced with the EA-LA4) adapter, on my succession of NEX and a5xxx and a6xxx E-mount cameras.

Not all of these are the best-built or sharpest lenses in the drawer, but they all do the job and cost me only a fraction of the price of the equivalent new lenses. When I went looking for a 70-200mm zoom, I wanted to buy new. But browsing KEH.com for offbeat and older A-mount (and an occasional E-mount) is a sensational way of filling in your kit for not much money.

Why I’m switching to Sony…sort of.

You’ve probably been seeing articles and blog posts about photographers who are quite a bit more famous than me – including Trey Ratcliffe – who have switched from Nikon (or Canon) to Sony in the past few months. Now, I’ve joined them – sort of.

Because of the unusual nature of my job, I’ve always owned and used a full array of cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Minolta (now Sony), dating back to the ‘60’s when I used Nikon Fs, a Canon Pellix, and Minolta SRT-101 as a newspaper photographer/photojournalist. I even used a few Pentax cameras, including the Spotmatic, a pair of Olympus Pen F/Pen FT models, and, while shooting weddings, portraits, and fashion, a Pentax 67 120/220 SLR.

More recently, my work writing camera guides has kept me diligently using a variety brands in my everyday shooting. For the past decade or so, I’ve maintained a full “permanent” complement of Canon, Olympus, Minolta/Sony A-mount, and Sony E-mount lenses. I have rotated into my “semi-permanent” collection my favorite cameras for each of those platforms, with an EOS 5D Mark III eventually replaced by the latest EOS 7D Mk II, or the Olympus OM-D E-M5 bumped in favor of the newer OM-D E-M1.

Through all that, my Nikon cameras had remained my “go-to” models that I turned to for my most demanding assignments.

Because I own roughly 30 Nikkor lenses, every Nikon SB-model flash unit, and most of the other accessories, it’s only natural that I’d come to use Nikon products more than, say Canon (10 lenses, and every Speedlite made.) Then, Sony made the transition from quirky to increasingly professional, and I was surprised to find myself using my Sony gear in preference to Nikon (or other) equipment more and more.I took a massive amount of equipment to an air show and spent a full day photographing the Navy’s Blue Angels and other performers. After a few shots with my D4s and 300mm and 70-200mm Nikkor lenses with 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters, I ended up switching to a Sony Alpha a6000 with Sony 70-200mm f/4 zoom for the next 4,200 exposures. The darn thing has lightning-fast focus, and, as an ASP-C camera, gave me the equivalent field-of-view of 105-300mm for 24 megapixel images at 11 frames per second.

A few weeks later, at a concert where “professional” cameras were considered an annoyance by the performers (even though I was an official photographer for the venue), my Sony a7r worked like a champ. Its low-light image quality didn’t match my D4s or Df in terms of noise (although an a7s certainly would have), but I ended up with some 36MP shots that I liked very much.

The a7r and Nikon Df were my main cameras during my month shooting in the Florida keys earlier this year. But, in planning for a month-long photo trip in a few weeks, decided to leave my Nikon gear at home and trust the Sony equipment to do the job. I was confident that there was nothing I couldn’t do with my new array. Everything I needed fit into one small LowePro backpack:

* Cameras. Sony a7r and a6000. I have my choice of shooting the a7r in full frame mode for 36MP images with full frame lenses, or in APS-C mode for 15MP with either full frame or APS-C lenses. If I’d rather end up with 24MP resolution, I can use any of the lenses on the a6000, with the “advantage” of its 1.5X “crop” mode.
* E-Mount Lenses. The 16-35mm f/4, 24-70mm f/4, and 70-200mm f/4 FE (full frame) Sony/Zeiss E-mount lenses comprise a “holy trinity” that’s nearly the equal of Nikon/Canon’s equivalents, and can be used on the a7r or a6000. I’m also taking several Sony APS-C lenses, including the 16-70mm f/4 Zeiss, 16mm f/2.8, as well as 12mm f/2.8 and fisheye adapters.
* A-Mount lenses. Although Sony’s LA-EA4 adapter isn’t compact and sort of counters the advantage of the tiny size of the a7r and a6000, they do let me use my full assortment of A-Mount Sony/Minolta lenses with fast autofocus. I’m taking the adapter and Sony 50mm f/1.4 full frame “normal” lens for low-light photography, and Sony 35mm f/2.8 macro lens for closeups.
* Accessories. I have the Sony RMT-DSLR 2 IR Remote, and Sony HVL-F43M flash. That’s all I really need, except for a Gitzo Traveler carbon fiber tripod.

Actually, a normal person doesn’t even need all that stuff to take great pictures. Either Sony camera and a lens or two will do the job. However, I love the fact that I can tote along a whole bag of gear (including lots of extras for experimentation) without worrying about being loaded down. I’m certainly not ready to abandon Nikon yet, but I’ve found that a part-time switch to Sony no longer requires making any sacrifices. Stay tuned.