M4/3 with adapted lenses

This has become very popular. Not only are people buying and using m4/3 cameras to carry their old lens collections, they are going out and seeking vintage and unusual lenses to put on their cameras.

Just under a year ago I started a group on flickr. http://www.flickr.com/groups/1084614@N23/
This was to host pictures of and taken by m4/3 cameras using legacy or alternative lenses.
Currently the group has 411 members and 5,389 pictures. The applications from people to join the group continue to grow as does the number of pictures.

Its undeniably fascinating to see some of the combinations of lens and camera and using older film lenses on modern digital cameras is both fun and challenging (in a good way!)

But the other day, I was standing on a hill with my fingers going numb from the cold, attempting to focus a Nikon telephoto zoom attached to my Panasonic GH1, thinking "Why am I doing this?"

Considering that I have spent a large part of the last 10 months doing something similar, it was perhaps a strange question to ask myself. But since then its been nagging away at me. What am I doing this for? Does it offer me something I can't get with a conventional "matching" system?

When I started using adapted lenses the only m4/3 camera on the market was the Panasonic Lumix G1. There were two lenses available. The 14-45 zoom, which is a good solid performer, and the 45-200 zoom which is....... well, useful is perhaps a good description. Its not great, its not terrible either. I've used the word ordinary to describe it and thats probably about right.

When I learnt that I could use my Nikon lenses I became quite excited. The results that I got from lenses such as my 50mm f1.2 MF and 85mm f1.8D AF lenses were really quite superb. Manual focus yes, a bit fiddly to use yes, but certainly an improvement on the kit lenses.
This was however not the whole story. Lenses such as my Nikkor 24mm F2 MF and Nikkor 135mm f2.8 MF were pretty terrible. Riddled with Chromatic Aberration and fringing & very soft wide open, they were tried and quickly discarded.

Then along came three stunning lenses from Panasonic. The 7-14 wide angle zoom, 20mm f1.7 pancake and the 45mm Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 macro. All were incredibly sharp. The 20mm and 45mm are among the best lenses I've ever used.

So what advantages do I get from using adapted lenses in the light of these three excellent lenses? More to the point, what justifies all the fiddling around with manual focus, magnified views and button pushing?

The obvious advantage is speed. Wider apertures and faster lenses, useful for limited depth of field and working in low light. But to justify this advantage the lenses have to perform well wide open. So do they? The answer to that question is regrettably no. I have a Voigtlander 50mm F1.1 Nokton, Nikon 50mm F1.2 and 85mm F1.8, all of which I have used on m4/3 and all of which have problems wide open. Slightly soft & with the usual problems of CA and fringing.
This might be acceptable to me if I wasn't using the 20mm F1.7 which is stunning wide open. Very sharp & with virtually no CA or fringing.

If I need fast lenses for low light I will use my Canon 5D MkII with 28mm, 50mm & 85mm - all F1.8 lenses. The Canon beats m4/3 hands down for low light/high ISO work anyway. These are all AF lenses & quicker and easier to use than adapted MF lenses on m4/3.

So what do I use m4/3 for? Well, mostly landscape and location work in good light, to take advantage of the reduced size and weight. I virtually never use lenses wide open in this context.
So where do these adapted lenses fit in? Certainly when I'm away on location shooting, with only limited time and options to get the picture, I almost always use AF lenses anyway. A trip to Devon last summer saw me take about 3 pictures using adapted lenses out of over 1000 that I shot on m4/3. So when I'm under pressure to "get the shot" I tend to switch to AF anyway.

There are situation when these lenses come into their own. When shooting video on my GH1 I use manual focus adapted lenses a lot. A very high percentage of our wedding videos are shot using the Nikon 50mm F1.2 on a GH1 for example. Video doesn't tend to show up lens problems as much as stills anyway.

The other problem is long lenses for m4/3. The aforementioned 45-200 is the only alternative at the moment, though I did use an Olympus 40-150 4/3 zoom with an adapter for a while, which was significantly better than the Panasonic. It did AF too, but was still pretty slow.
There's a Panasonic 100-300 coming out later this year, but again its quite slow. It has image stabilisation but that doesn't help when you need a higher shutter speed.

So why AM I using these adapted lenses? Well mostly because I enjoy it, though this is certainly beginning to loose its appeal. Cold days fiddling with long lenses don't help.
I won't stop doing it, but my feeling is that I will be doing it less in the future and with fewer lenses. In terms of wide-angle to standard lenses there's not a lot of alternatives anyway. With the m4/3 crop factor there are very few adapted alternatives below 20mm. Wide angle C mount lenses, with the vignetting, have no appeal for me whatsoever.

I suspect that, for stills, I will be restricting my use of adapted lenses to my Voigtlander 50mm f1.1, 75mm f2.5 and Nikon 85mm f1.8, all of which give me options I can't get anywhere else. Add in the Nikon f1.2 for video and thats about it.

As ever this is a personal commentary and like the rest of the posts here, not intended to influence or criticise anyone else's personal preferences.

Words and Pictures D