|Eddie Houston, the lens doctor, used to be a guitarist who had a rather successful music career playing with bands such as Thin Lizzy (right). He then became a technical manager for Canon before he began running a rather successful family business, updating old lenses for the DSLR video age. He also sells and services old stills lenses. ePHOTOzine put a few questions to Eddie to find out more about his business and why he's rescuing these old lenses for the digital age.
How did you go from playing with bands to working with lenses?
"When I left school, I was already playing in Rock groups around the Glasgow area, so it was a natural progression to stay in the area, progress my musical career from Central Scotland. I joined GPO in those days, it is now called British Telecom, as a junior engineer, and left to join Canon as a photographic tech, and that is where my main basis for camera/lenses came from."
Why did you start this business? Did you imagine it would grow into what it is now?
"As you probably know playing with some very famous rock/pop bands has taken me all over the world, but my photographic skills and technological knowledge never left me. Many times I would find myself deep in a lens or camera on tour and at home I was often asked: 'can you repair this,' and I always said yes, keeping my technical knowledge of advancements up to speed.
When I stopped playing seriously some 10 years ago I found myself between recording and session work always in a camera or lens, and still being requested to repair customer's equipment. I was in a camera shop in Glasgow some 7 years ago and I was listening to a customer, an older gentleman, who was being told that his camera lens could not be repaired (a Zeiss) as the modern engineers do not strip down aperture systems any more, they just fit a new one and throw the older one in the bin. My ears pricked up in astonishment, I approached the gentleman and asked him If I could look at his lens, the aperture had become stuck with lack of use but it was still a perfectly good lens. I also asked the shop assistant if this was correct and an engineer came out from behind to confirm that they do not strip down apertures, and all modern camera lenses were a replacement part.
I repaired the older gentleman’s lens completely stripping out the aperture, repairing it, calibrating and sealing it and it worked like new. So this was the main reason for starting up this small business offering repair and maintenance of older lenses that the modern day camera shops do not offer.
The business was set up really as a hobby to keep myself busy from the days of rock, but with the advent of modern digital technology and my active and creative mind, the amalgamation of both older and modern photographic processes has allowed me to develop a bridge, crossing old with new and brings back to life older lenses that in most cases far out perform modern consumer lenses and give fantastic economic value.
This has led to the creation of new products being develop in older lenses and introduced to digital cameras, both in still lenses and the introduction of my Fluid Variable aperture system which can be retro fitted onto almost any still camera lens, giving the DSLR and complete and economically competitive cine lens for DSLR HD Video. This has taken the business to another level now and I'm having to get my sons involved in the business due to the growth and demand of this service, even the BBC are now using my aperture system. After fully testing it they have now installed it in all their Nikon and Leica still lenses, which up until my system installation were lying dormant as still camera lenses. They are now fully utilised every day on BBC filming using DSLR technology for HD Video and filming work.
Mr Dan Chung, The Gaurdian’s, Head Photographer, and Canon HD video consultant has also fully tested my systems and now fully recommends 'The Lens Doctor’s Fluid variable aperture system', which he has now installed in all his DSLR lenses and cameras.
The development of the business has also led to what I think was Canon's best ever range of lenses the FD, range. The problem that the modern Photographer has is that the Canon FD and Canon Digital EF/EOS are not interchangeable unlike Nikon etc. There have been adapters predominately from the Far East , made with corrective lenses and sometimes made with plastic glass that has led to a common complaint about the FD-EF adapter being very poor indeed. I did not want to lose all my FD lenses and a lot of FD, L branded lenses so I went about designing my own FD-EF adapter, utilising Hoya high quality glass and cut by an ophthalmologist, the adapters corrective glass features three lenses in two groups and has been given high acclaim in recent months. So much so that three professional photographers now use their FD lenses again with the Lens Doctor FD-EF adapter with AF confirmation. This adapter in itself is not the be all and end all, as a continued development and research, I am introducing a complete new service in the coming weeks to offer all FD lenses a permanent new rear mount to mount your old lens onto Canon EOS/EF camera, this will not be an adapter but a fully installed new rear end for all FD lenses, giving the ultimate glass on a modern digital camera, this service and mount is undergoing patent compliance at the moment."
What is your favourite lens? And why?
"I have lots of older lenses that I like, but my favourite photographic discipline is macro photography, where you do not need to go thousands of miles for your subject matter, just step out into your garden and a whole microscopic world awaits you. For this reason I love the Tokina Bokina 90mm f/2.5 1:1 macro lens but Ialso like the Canon FD200 Macro, again 1:1 ratio. It is hard to divide them but each has its own mark, the 200 you can use at a distance without disturbance and the 'Bokina' lets you investigate as close as you can go. They are two wonderful lenses, I have tried the new Canon EF 100 L I.S. L macro, but still I keep going back to the two old ladies, for pristine photographs."
What would you recommend for someone looking at using old lenses?
"Recommendations are very fickle, all photographers each have their own favourite and I'm not only talking about lenses, what subject matter they take also changes what lens they use so a recommendation of lenses is down to individual tastes. I get asked everyday what would you recommend for various subjects, but I say any of the old leaded glass lenses are fantastic - Canon FD, Zeiss, Leicas and Nikkors. I recently worked on an old Yashica, a beautiful lens. It gave stunning performance and yet it lay in someone’s cupboard for years and again I recently had a lady ask me if I could make an adapter for her old Myer Optik 50mm lens, this was given to her by her father as her first camera, lens and ld exacta. The camera had long since gone but she asked if I could adapt her lens to fit the new 7D. So I converted the lens to EF/EOS and we were both amazed at the performance of this little lens. It blew away the EF 50mm Canon and anything else you could put up against it."
How did you come to the conclusion that ED lenses were better than what we have today?
"Why are these older lenses so good? Well the main reason is they used leaded glass which sadly now is no longer manufactured, but it was and is a fundamental element in the high speed transmission of light, increased refraction, and lower dispersion giving the subject matter better colour composition rendition, much better contrast and over all, a general more life-like photograph. Sadly, in today’s lenses, you have to pay exorbitant prices to attain anything near this performance."
Do you have plans or are you already supporting other cameras, Nikon for example?
"The immediate plans are to introduce the existing Fluid Variable aperture system and a new range which will see the aperture system available as is just now to all still camera lenses (manual operation) and introduce a new system which will see a gearing arrangement with fast-medium–slow shifts and increments of 1/32, giving much more radical control over the one shift variable aperture, so that operators have a detailed and noted position of the aperture when they cease and commence filming . Also the immediate introduction of the permanent FD to EOS/EF conversion from our workshop giving customers the use of FD lenses onto Canon EF digital, while taking advantage of a better consumer or higher graded L, and utilising it onto digital and using the benefits of digital electronics at a fraction of the costs of EF lenses. We already have a customer list wanting this service including the BBC.
I suppose the natural progression would be to see if any of the smaller lens manufacturers would be interested in applying the Fluid Variable Aperture to there existing line, and add it to their range as a retro fitting."
For more information about Eddie and the work he does please visit his website - www.thelensdoctor.co.uk
. He also has a stock of lenses available for sale on his ebay store
We'd also like to say thank you to Paul Morgan for letting us know about Eddie Houston's work.