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March 8th, 2011 Pablo Chaterji

I think I can claim with assurance that mine is not an addictive personality – with the exception of the utterly lascivious world of the jalebi, of which I am a slave. Place before me a box of fresh, crisp jalebis, with a translucent, saffron hue and a propensity for splashing your mouth with bursts of sugar syrup at every bite, and I take leave of my senses. I am a man possessed. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m normally not given to addictive behavior – and that I have just found another jalebi-like world into which I find myself being irresistibly drawn. It is the world of old, manual focus, ‘legacy’ photography lenses, and I lay the blame for this addiction squarely at my colleague Aneesh’s feet.
It all began innocuously enough, when Aneesh walked into the office brandishing a battered, manual focus Nikon 35mm f2.8 lens that he had bought for a song. Using an adapter, he had mounted it on his Canon DSLR, and the results were outstanding. I was intrigued, but the matter retreated from my consciousness soon enough. Then, a while later, he announced the purchase of a Russian 58mm f2 Helios lens, from a seller on Indian ebay based in Surat. Now I was more than a little intrigued – I put thought into action, logged on to ebay and bought a similar lens (with a Russian Zenit camera from 1965 attached to it) for a paltry sum. That was the beginning of the end, as it were – when the lens arrived a couple of days later, looking all retro and just begging to be put through its paces, I was well and truly hooked.
Since that fateful day, I have developed behavioural traits that effortlessly qualify me for the photographic equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous. I began by immersing myself in internet research about lenses, in general, and the use of manual focus lenses on digital bodies in particular. Every spare moment of my time was spent staring at a computer screen, absorbing such legendary names as the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.2, the Yashinon ML 24mm f2.8, the Leica Summilux 50mm 1.4 and the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5. I learnt that my beloved Carl Zeiss lenses (some of the best pieces of glass ever made), which had criminally fallen into disuse because they didn’t fit any other camera body except my film-only Contax G1, could now be used on a Micro 4/3 format digital body with the help of an adapter. It was literally the work of a moment for me to contact a friend in America and have her buy me a used Micro 4/3 camera body off ebay, for a reasonable pile of cash, just so that I could put those lenses to work again. While I was at it, I also ordered an old Pentax 24mm f2.8 lens, and a whole bunch of adapters that would allow me to use various lenses on the m4/3 body and my existing Olympus 4/3 DSLR.
It didn’t end there. I registered myself on various photography forums that are dedicated to the use of old lenses on DSLRs, and began to have animated discussions with people in St Petersburg, Cambodia and Israel, to name just a few places. I bought four more old lenses, swelling my lens collection to 12 in a matter of a few weeks and considerably weakening my bank balance. I began to literally dream about lenses. I put away my new, autofocus lenses and began to rediscover the delightful art of manual focussing and prime lenses, where to zoom in and out means having to step forward or back, and where you take your time over the process of ‘making’, rather than merely ‘taking’, a picture. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – my name is Pablo Chaterji and I’m an addict, and I’ve never been happier.

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