My Camera | My Story :: James Year

My Camera | My Story is a blog series that features what some of our customers are doing with their camera. This article features James Year, a local editorial photographer who focuses on unique subcultures ranging from metal-heads to juggalos, from drag shows to body modification and everyday oddities. James is passionate about visual storytelling and uses his education in Sociology to draw out the passions of others, whatever they may be. He currently freelances for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and also does freelance work and personal projects in Eastern Iowa. James is originally from a small family farm in Northwest Iowa. His service in the US Air Force took him all over the world, only to lead him to Iowa City, IA where he is currently based. You can see his work at

I’m kind of a weird guy by modern trends. Any time I look for any sort of “new to me” equipment I start in the used gear section. It isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, but the unknown is pretty scary to some considering that there’s no warranty, no guarantees with an “as is” sort of buying. But, there’s gold in them there hills!

I currently shoot with a full frame Sony A7II with a range of adapted, modern and vintage, manual focus lenses from Voigtlander, Nikon, and Canon at 50mm or wider. (Wildlife and Sports shooters you should
probably stop reading after this.)

Shooting with older vintage, manual focus lenses has several advantages. First, it causes you stop and slow down. You think about the situation, the frame, and the lighting, instead of rapidly firing 30 frames, hoping that at least one of those is good enough. What used gear may lack in features, pays off immeasurably with a lifetime of good habits. And, with the right techniques, even a manual focus lens can beat your autofocus glass.

The photo above was taken with a Nikon 28mm F2.8 AIS lens from the 1980’s. It’s sharp as a razor. I bought it for 150 bucks used and it’s my go to lens for higher risk shoots, in lieu of modern lenses that might not survive. No plastic involved. It’s built like a tank and feels like an old-school Cadillac. It may not be clinically perfect by today’s definition of red rings or gold rings but… its different. Which may be exactly what you’re going for. And ask yourself, “Who is pixel peeping my images?” National Geographic photographers don’t release their raw files. Don’t worry about it!

If you handle used manual focus gear with the right techniques, there isn’t much left to be desired. If you find yourself shooting at 85mm or below, take a peek at some vintage glass. If you’re comfortable with the idea of taking your time and dealing with a noisier autofocus motor or focusing manually, you could save a ton of money! And in the process you’re likely to learn some new tricks along the way. Try buying used. Don’t be scared. Trust me.

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