Team Player or Last of the Independents?

A photographer I know once wrote an excellent piece on the way huge companies try to impose their brand into all aspects of our lives. Apple are a great example of this. With your iPhone, iPod and iPad integrating smoothly with your iMac using iLife, you can live the Apple Mac lifestyle without ever thinking that there might be something else out there. There was even a television programme where a family was challenged to source everything in their life from food to transport to mortage via Tesco. It rather alarmed me that they succeeded. 

As far as your cameras, lenses etc. go, do you mix and match or stick with one brand? Cameras, lenses, flashguns, straps, cases et al bearing that same logo. I'm sure these companies would love us all to be members of Team Nikon, Team Canon or Team Panasonic. The latter would probably like you to go a step further and purchase their TV's, Hi-Fi's, phones and computer gear. Integrating my camera with their hair dryers or microwaves might be a problem though.

We've all seen the posts from Nikon and Canon Man and the scorn they pour on those who dare to stray from the path. 

Personally I've never been a team player. Just ask the teams I've worked with!! There's something about using a commercial brand as a uniform that I find distasteful. Its also not necessarily the way to get the best from whatever you're using. One of the nice things about the spate of recent announcements about various 3rd. party companies starting to provide alternative products for m4/3 and Sony NEX, was that specialisation is not completely dead. Unfortunately the big corporations don't necessarily agree that more choice is a good idea, as Olympus proved with their "non-lens announcement" the other day.

When people started sourcing adapters and using all kinds of lenses on m4/3 cameras, I always wondered whether this was something that Panasonic and Olympus were aware of from the start. They have either embraced it or accepted it, I'm not sure which and indeed have put items on their stands at Photographic shows to demonstrate it. Panasonic even make a Leica M > m4/3 adapter, though Leica are an occasional partner. However every time someone buys an alternative or legacy lens for their camera, then either Panasonic or Olympus loose a sale. 

This is not a new thing. SLR manufacturers have had to put up with companies like Sigma and Tamron for years. Though this has mostly been to provide lenses that cost less than the marque products. While some of them are excellent products, the general consensus is that they will be slightly inferior, though in many cases this is very marginal.

But what if these companies find themselves in a position whereby the alternative choices can equal or better the native factory product? Zeiss have made a variety of lenses for Canon, Nikon and Pentax and are generally regarded as being very good indeed. Both these and m-mount lenses do come at a price however. The situation for both Olympus and Panasonic is also helped by the fact that these are all manual focus lenses. 

It will be interesting to see what Sigma come up with since they will make AF lenses for the system.


After much experimentation and moving back and forth between m4/3 AF lenses and MF prime "alternative" lenses I have come to a situation where I'm mostly using the MF primes on my Panasonic cameras. To be specific this usually involves just two lenses. The Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 m4/3 mount lens and Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar m-mount lens via a Novoflex adapter. I've written before about the marginal increase in quality that I've got from m-mount lenses on cameras with the Panasonic 12MP sensor. My conclusion was that in most cases it was not enough of a difference to warrant going out to buy lenses specially. Both of these lenses however do demonstrate a significant improvement on the "factory" branded lenses, not only on the GH2 which I've written about before but on the GF1 and GF2 also. 

Yesterday I went out with the GF2 and the same two lenses, primarily to shoot some video, but I also took the opportunity to shoot some stills. The example below was shot with the Zeiss 50mm.


If you look at the full sized version on flickr, you will see a very high level of sharpness and also a complete absence of CA and fringing. 

Since this is something I can't get with any of the m4/3 lenses that Olympus or Panasonic make I have been using this twin lens combination for a while now. I'm pleased that they work so well on both the GF's as I like using them very much.

So a team player, No. Independent - Yes, though hopefully not the last. I've always been prepared to experiment and try out different combinations and put up with the inconvenience of prime lenses and manual focus if it produces better results. In this case it does and going back to the AF lenses, while they are indeniably useful, will now seem a compromise on quality for me. There are many situations when AF will be the best option, and it would be nice to have the quality and convenience, in the same lens. However it hasn't happened yet and I have doubts as to whether it ever will.