As a grad film student in the 1990s, I acquired a small collection of beautiful Kern-Paillard C-mount lenses, typically used on 16mm and 8mm Bolex cameras. I’ve held onto those lenses for almost 30 years in hopes of using them again some day, so I was thrilled to discover last month that Fotodiox makes an adapter to attach C-mount lenses to Nikon 35mm film cameras.
Since c-mount lenses were designed for a much smaller film gauge, they generally can’t focus to infinity on 35mm film cameras. In fact, my 10mm and 16mm C-mount lenses won’t focus on anything at all when attached to 35mm camera.
But on my Nikon FM, my 36mm and 75mm C-mount lenses have a narrow range in which they can focus on subjects just inches from front of the lens, which makes them perfect for specific kinds of macro photography.
I took the photo of the nickel below on Kodak TMax 400 film using a Nikon FM and a Kern-Paillard Macro-Switar H8 RX 36mm f1.4. The set up has limitations — as you can see, the center of the frame is sharp, but the edges go out of focus, and there’s some shadowy vignetting. But for this photo, I love that look. The vignetting and the focus fall-off give the photo a sense of movement that really appeals to me. I was also able to get incredibly close to the subject, close to a 1:1 ratio, meaning the size of the nickel on the actual film negative is almost the size of an actual nickel.
I also tested the lenses by attaching them to a Canon EOS Rebel T3i digital SLR — using the Fotodiox C-mount lens to Nikon adapter and a Nikon lens to Canon EF adapter. Again, the 16mm and 10mm lenses wouldn’t focus on anything. But the 36mm and 75mm made lovely macro pictures.
The first tree bud image below was taken with the Kern-Paillard Macro-Switar H8 RX 36mm f1.4. As with the nickel above, you can see the focus falling off as you move to the edges of the frame. But the effect is lovely and dreamy, and we’re incredibly close to the tree bud, almost a 1:1 ratio.
And here’s the same subject, but shot with a Kern-Paillard Yvar 75mm f2.8 C-mount lens.
The 75mm lens doesn’t magnify as much as the 36mm lens and doesn’t have the same focus fall-off issues. This feels like a much more standard macro photo look. It’s absolutely lovely, but it has a bit less quirky character than the 36mm lens.
I’ve had great results with more traditional macro photography tools for 35mm film, like the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 lens or a Hoya +4 filter attached to a standard 50mm f1.4 lens. But it’s a thrill to get beautiful images from these much older C-mount lenses that have no real business being attached to a 35mm camera in the first place. I can see myself continuing to use the 36mm lens in particular for certain kinds of images because its “flaws” produce such evocative, dreamy effects.