Who cares that Olympus and Panasonic have released relatively few lenses, mainly slow zooms, for the micro 4/3′s cameras? Adding m4/3 mount adapters to your bag opens up a bevy of hundreds of lenses. What you gain in variety though, you may loose in automated functionality.
With an inexpensive adapter, your m4/3 lens arsenal will open up all the while fine tuning your technique. Most adapters are capable of infinity focus, but check before purchasing. Due to the fact that most all of the adapters disable electronic communication between the lens and m4/3 camera body, you will be responsible for two things, adjusting your aperture and manually focusing. Manually focusing! Can you remember life before cell phones? How did we get in touch with each other if we weren’t at home near our phone? Remember life before mp3s? Having to juggle a phonebook sized folder full of CD’s, or shoebox of tapes while driving with one knee (let’s not even go to the backbreaking milk crates full of vinyl, and yes I intentionally left out 8-tracks.) Waiting as your VCR rewound your VHS or BETA tape? Okay, I guess what I’m getting at is our interactions required more foresight, patience and intentionality. By forcing myself to manually focus (out of requirement in this case) it has helped me create a more intentional image. Sure, autofocus doesn’t stop anyone from composing and focusing an image to their liking, but having to manually focus has helped me slow down, and sometimes I need a good slow down. Like shooting a roll of film nowadays, I really think about each frame, where with digital, I’m more prone to being sloppy, lazy or rushed knowing that one of the 75 shots I just took of my kid awestruck by the button on my shirt will have wielded at least one keeper. It has been fun intentionally slowing things down a notch. (here’s a newer article showing use of a micro 4/3 cam with Legacy Lenses)
When using 3rd party lenses via adapters on a m4/3′s camera (in my case the GF1), you will need to go into the camera’s menu and allow the camera to “shoot without lens” which is telling the camera to function when it doesn’t have an electronic connection to relay information. Setting the camera to shoot in Aperture Priority will allow the camera to adjust your shutter speed to account for the light hitting the sensor. You can also adjust your exposure compensation by spinning the thumb wheel to fine tune your exposure as the metering can be challenged I’ve found. Following are some images captured using my GF1 and my Canon EF lenses. The beauty with getting to use my existing lenses is that most of them provide ranges and apertures not available to me in a m4/3 lens offering. That, and I don’t have to reinvest in an entirely new lens collection. I’ll start by showing you how to manually adjust your aperture for lenses that do not have an external/manually adjustable aperture ring.
We’ve figured out how to adjust our aperture for those of us without a physical aperture ring on the lens, now it comes down to the shooting technique. If you’ve spent time with a rangefinder and manual focus lenses for instance, or remember cameras before auto focus systems, then you’ve got a built in advantage. One big difference I’ve now noticed having to manually focus my EF lenses, is that they’ve not been built with as much attention when MF is used. Using a lens that has been built to be manually focused, like the newer Zeiss optics, or Leica lenses for instance, the MF operation is easier to fine tune as you have more movement in the focus ring. In this case, it is a little awkward to get used to when your lens is larger and heavier than your camera and the focus ring’s range of movement is more geared to quick AF operation. Not using an EVF (electronic viewfinder) I am forced to use the rear LCD to focus. This keeps the camera away from my body where as on my DSLR’s I have that extra stabilizing point of contact (both hands and it’s pressed firmly against my face) which I miss out on, so it makes it a bit shakier. This all adds up to a challenging MF experience, for me anyway, but I may just be out of practice.
The 1 (if not 2 or 3!) over the effective focal length rule should surely be considered here. The 1 over focal length rule for those not familiar is the rule of thumb stating that to get “sharp” images, keep your shutter speed equal to 1/your focal length. So if using a 50mm lens, keep your shutter speed at 1/50sec at least. I use 1 over the Effective Focal length because most sensors are not full frame sensors as this rule was developed for 35mm film format cameras and as the image circle is cropped, it can amplify hand shake in the viewfinder akin to what a longer focal length would. The cropping on a micro 4/3′s sensor effectively crops the scene which equates to the same field of view (FOV) as twice the actual focal length. Keeping in mind that the effective focal length on the m4/3′s cameras is 2x combined with holding the camera away from my body, I found myself actually needing to triple my shutter speed in relation to the focal length for consistent results (1 over 1.5x the effective focal length in this case where my effective focal length is already doubled.) Make sense? Your mileage may very well vary. For me, tripling my shutter speed to actual focal length seemed to fit the bill, but there were many times that I just couldn’t properly expose using this rule, so do what you can when you can and just brace yourself and work on your breathing technique while shooting. It’s great practice.
You can throw out the idea of non micro 4/3′s lens’ optically based stabilization as the stabilization mechanism requires power from the camera body which isn’t transmitted from these adapters (the adapters I’m aware of anyway.) Hence the lack of any electronic control from the camera. This is where in body/sensor based stabilization can really come in handy. +1 to the Olympus camp here. I think that this would be one of the big arguments for an Olympus m4/3′s camera over a current Panasonic m4/3′s camera as the Oly’s all have sensor based stabilization effectively “stabilizing” any lens attached between 2-3 stops by most reports. If you have yet to buy a micro 4/3′s camera and plan to use a lot of 3rd party glass, this may be a good thing to look at. For me, well I’ve spent the better part of my photographic life using cameras and lenses built way before the concept of lens or sensor based stabilization was even a pipe dream, so it’s not so big to me. (I certainly wouldn’t mind sensor based stabilization in the next version though… Panasonic, are you listening? ) So, it has been really good for me to work on my technique. I find that tucking my elbows to my ribs helps and after I achieve focus, I breath out and hold my breath as I push the shutter button. Again, I need to approach each frame with a bit more intention and concentration. I’ve been enjoying that. Now one very handy feature on the GF1 is the magnification focus assist. Press the thumbwheel to the top right on the back of the camera and it will zoom in aiding in getting a sharp manual focus. You can also spin the thumbwheel for an even closer view.
Easy enough right? Okay, so now that we know how to adjust our aperture, and we’ve thought about our capturing techniques, lets look at how the EF lenses perform on the GF1. Most of these images have had some level of adjustment. These aren’t “straight out of the camera” but I have not de-noised other than what was processed in JPEG compression in camera, or now that I’m finally able to use Aperture to convert the GF1 RAW files, during the RAW conversion. But who doesn’t do some level of processing to their final images right? I want to show real world examples. If you’d like to look at color reproduction charts and noise measuring tests, there are quite a few sites out there offering those comparisons. For me, I want to see what I can do with the image files (within reason in this case.) The initial capture, regardless of the lens, is only the first step and I’m more concerned with what the image file is capable of no matter which lens it has been shot with. That said, I am not going to post severely processed images to try and unnaturally boast performance.
Let’s start with the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM (70mm Effective Focal Length / FOV)
This lens is quite possibly my very favorite lens. It is solid, sharp wide open and the color and contrast it provides are beautiful. I’m a fan of the 35mm field of view on a full frame as my (slightly wider than) standard lens. (the Panny 20mm f/1.7 is as close to this lens in micro 4/3′s world in a dedicated mount which would explain why I feel so comfortable with it, and no I don’t consider the Oly-17mm f/2.8 to compare as it is two full stops slower than my 35 which is huge to me.) At an ‘effective focal length’/crop factor of 70mm on the GF1, it offers a nice candid frame for portraits and general shooting.
And here is a 100% crop:
Now with a wide opened aperture, my DOF was pretty narrow. My attempted point of focus was his dominant eye (viewer’s right). It is close to being sharp, but his other eye is starting to get soft and his ear is falling out of the plane of focus. This is more due to my inability to steady myself enough during capture combined with a razor thin DOF, than it does with the lens’ performance. I am happy with the way that this picture came out, so for me, it’s all good. I added the vignette, the lens was bright, and sharp to the corners as one would assume when we’re substantially cropping the image circle on a lens built for full frame cameras.
Here’s another with the 35mm shot from a moving car through the window. Aside from a slight saturation adjustment, it’s untouched…
The EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (170mm EFL/FOV)
I’ve neglected this lens. It’s never really gotten a fair shake in my lens lineup, mainly because I tend to prefer different focal lengths. It’s not provided me with as much “wow” factor as a couple of my other lenses. That said, I’ve been impressed looking as closely at it as I have playing around with it on the GF1. I even figured I would plug an extension tube on it for a little impromptu closeup/macro fun. Being that it adds up to an EFL of 170mm, it could give me a good working distance for close up work.
Here is a shot of the Lumix 20 f/1.7 lens using the 85mm and extension tubes to allow for closer focus. I’d stopped the lens down to f/8, using the DOF Preview button method described above, to get a little deeper DOF.
The EF 135mm f/2 L USM (270mm EFL/FOV)
Next to the 35 /1.4, this is my most enjoyed lens. I love the compression and shallow depth of field which can create some very pleasing bokeh, in my mind anyway. This lens on the GF1 more than any other Canon lens I used, created a difficult challenge when it came to keeping my plane of focus where I wanted it. This was largely due to the dampening on the focus ring coupled with my burgeoning manual focus technique. While on my full frame cameras, it’s not as pronounced, but to crop it and effectively halve it’s fov while narrowing the depth of field to what seemed like a fraction of a millimeter with close working distances, it became apparent that it isn’t the best MF’er (manual focuser, get your mind straight.) The 70-200 at the long end was tricky too, it’s MF dampening as well as balance in my hand was superior by my experience, but we’ll get to that lens next. When zoomed in during the focus assist, it looked like I’d just put down a pot of coffee and mainlined some high fructose corn syrup. The image on the LCD jumped around quite a bit making it hard to focus. Again, not having that third point of physical contact with the camera made for a more difficult manual focusing experience. So what did I do? I put a 1.4x teleconverter/extender on there to compound the problem :) With the 1.4x teleconverter and the 2x EFL multiplier by way of the sensor size produced the equivalent to a 378mm fov f/2.8 lens (you lose one full aperture stop with a 1.4x TC)! The first image was taken wide open without the TC and with the TC attached, I stopped down to f/4 just to try and give myself more than a few millimeters of acceptable sharpness.
In true 135mm f/2L fashion, any background elements are obliterated. The lines in the top of the frame below are not banding, they are our fence slats about 12 feet behind the point of focus. With good light and a fast enough shutter speed, it is capable of good sharp focus, which is never a problem for it on the Canons.
Here’s a human shot. Even at f/4 with a decent working distance, the compression between the focal length, 1.4x extender and 2x EFL crop factor, the dof was still thin enough to really create a challenge to get the shot in focus. Here’s Mrs. Squeeze playing the patient, good sport and providing an example:
And finally one last shot with the 135mm of the Mrs and little baby what’s his face.
The EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM (140-400mm EFL/FOV)
With a 1.4x tele-extender and 68mm worth of extension tubes, weighing in at an effective cropped focal length/fov of 196 – 560mm f/4 lens and an almost uncontrollable area in focus, it’s the most ridiculous combination I am able to achieve with my gear! Well, at least it looks funny.
Just for kicks, here is a handheld shot with the above combo:
Where I’d had some issues with the focus ring on the 135, I have to say that the 70-200′s focus ring had a much better feel to the dampening for manual focus. At the long end it made for a very, very difficult manual handheld focusing task as this lens weighs nearly 5 times the weight of the GF1 body. On a tripod it can be entirely possible, but this is a large, heavy lens and when attached to the GF1 it is pretty far away from being even remotely balanced. That said, with the tripod collar attached and used as a hold point in my left palm, I was able to operate the MF ring pretty well (I do have larger than average hands and long fingers though.)
While the shot above of Delilah came out soft and a little noisy, it was a good test for me to try and focus with a long focal length, on a moving subject and shallow dof.
Finally, here’s a quick little bugger. He must have been either protecting or warning others as he was vocal and very aware of where I was. So I shot him, photographically of course.
While it’s not as sharp as I’d have liked, and the bokeh (and background in general) is a bit distracting, I was happy that I was able to catch him before he went jumping from tree to tree chirping bloody murder.
In conclusion, using my EF mount lenses on the GF1 has proven to me to be an enjoyable challenge which I approach in a more deliberate way. Where I’ve gotten so used to relying on my cameras and their AF systems, I’ve been able to reconnect with the medium from a fundamental standpoint which I’d almost forgotten and certainly taken for granted over the last few years. While I probably won’t be spending the majority of my time on the GF1 or any future m4/3 camera using manual focus lenses, I will certainly continue to hone the technique and play around with MF lenses whether they are lenses that I already own, or lenses that I will look to acquire in the future. My big hopes for the future, that realistically have already been addressed with the Olympus cameras, is that I’d like to see and in body stabilization and high quality electronic viewfinder come in a Panasonic flavor. The easy answer is to just get an EP-2, but I still feel that the menu interface and higher quality LCD screen on the Panny’s are higher on my list right now. Coupled with the ability to purchase a kit with the 20mm f/1.7 lens, I still think that my decision was the best for me. The next camera purchase will certainly be looked at more closely though.
I hope that this has been even remotely as enjoyable to read through as it has been to document. I’ve obviously been using my Canon EF lenses, but there are adapters for tons of different mounts and if you have a bevy of lenses that you use for a different system, it may just be worth it to you to pick an adapter up. Check with Novoflex or search on E-bay, etc. Shop with caution and make sure you’re getting the proper adapter for your lens mount, there are many out there, some of which are better than others. If you’ve been sitting on the fence waiting to purchase an adapter for your 4/3-standard, Canon EF, Canon FD, Leica M, Leica R, Minolta MD, M42, Nikon F, Olympus OM, Pentax K, Sony Alpha, Contax/Yashica (and probably just about any other) lenses, I’d say go for it. It is a small investment in the way of an adapter to gain access to your lens collection on a compact system camera with quality results. Until Olympus and Panasonic start to offer high quality AF options as proprietary alternatives to some of these trusted and true offerings from other manufacturers, it is a great way to diversify with very little investment.
For more reading on Micro 4/3 cameras, try these articles: