Micro Four Thirds and Manual Focus Lenses

Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar Zeiss 21mm Biogon

Delayed by a day because of bad weather I finally got round to my planned trip with the Olympus E-PL1 using manual focus lenses yesterday. It was one of those glorious autumn>winter days with clear light and blue slies. Everywhere was still & though cold, with no wind, it was a pleasure to be out.

Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar

My feeling that the E-PL1 would be a good camera to use with manual focus lenses was borne out on location. The layout of the camera does make it a simple and quick procedure. The magnification aid located at the top of the back of the camera is easily accessible with my thumb to switch on and off for focusing & I can do this without removing my finger from the shutter button. This in contrast to the E-P2 which is a good deal more fiddly.

So a good result there, but it does raise the question of "why bother?". Some people are bewildered by this fascination of using old design, manual focus lenses on micro four thirds cameras. Its not as though there aren't good AF lenses available for the system, there are, so the question of why do it is a valid one. Indeed, I've questioned it myself in the past, often wondering why?, but I always seem to be drawn back to going out with a couple of manual focus prime lenses.

Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar

Part of it for me is undoubtedly the combination of camera history and aesthetics. I do like retro looking cameras. To me the modern DSLR and most of the compact cameras on the market are soulless plastic (sorry - polycarbonate!) boxes. I get great pleasure from using something that looks and feels different from the current run of the mill. Using the two Zeiss lenses pictured above with the E-PL1 is a very enjoyable experience. Though small, their metal construction gives them a good solid feel. While I realise that the camera is the dreaded polycarbonate, it neither feels or looks like it, and the two lenses match it very well.

Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar Zeiss 21mm Biogon

Whats has this got to do with creating pictures? you might ask, and the answer is nothing really. Its just personal taste. We all make our choices in terms of the car we drive, the clothes we wear and how we decorate our houses. These choices are determined partly by functionality and economics but also include a large element of personal preference. This may be influenced by many things and may exclude common sense, practicality and consistency. The decisions we make may not always be the right and sensible ones and may be influenced by seemingly trivial criteria, but if we don't allow ourselves these expressions of individuality, then we deny our own unique identity.

Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar

Going back to MF lenses, the question is often asked as to whether these alternative lenses provide better image quality. My answer to this is that its pretty marginal. I don't think many photographers would query the quality of Zeiss lenses but using them on m4/3 doesn't mean you get instantly better image quality. It does happen but its far from universal.


The answer as to why I use these is simply, I like using them. It is difficult to put into words all the reasons why I do it. They are much more difficult to use and the whole process is slower, but its something I'm prepared to put up with. Photography is my job and my hobby and I try to make both as enjoyable as possible. Using manual lenses contributes to that and whatever the reasons thats good enough for me.


Words - D
Images - D & A


Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar


Olympus E-PL1 Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar