Panasonic GH3 - Review and User Experience - Part 10 - Manual Focus Non-Native lenses

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One of the reasons I got into m4/3 in a big way was the possibility to use alternative and legacy lenses on the cameras via adapters. In the early days of the system, with of course a limited lens range available, both Panasonic and Olympus embraced and publicised this. It has become quite a big thing, with people using all sorts of strange optics in front of the m4/3 sensor. Its very useful for shooting video also with the ability to manually select apertures and avoid focus hunting. 

But now we have a very wide range of native m4/3 lenses, including some top-class primes. So is this still a useful function, or has it to a large extent become redundant?

The lenses I tried are pictured above. Voigtlander 20mm and 90mm, both Nikon SLR fit and an m-mount Voigtlander 90mm. 

The first thing that has to be said is that the GH3 has no focus peaking. The feature I'm sure many people, including me, want to see added. There's also nothing like the art filter fix as in the Olympus OM-D either (which incidentally we are probably stuck with since there seems to be no firmware update coming) which does work surprisingly well. There is also no in-body IS (Image Stabilisation) on the Panasonic. 

There are however two things that the GH3 has which could go some way to making these omissions less critical. First is the electronic shutter, which eliminates all vibration, though it has to be remembered that this is limited to ISO 1600. Secondly is the seriously good OLED EVF, which is pretty much the sharpest I've ever used. So sharp in fact that the pictures below were shot without me using the magnification function, which on the GH3 you get by tapping the screen at the point to want it to magnify.

Voigtlander 90mm Apo-Lanthar M-Mount

Voigtlander 20mm Nikon SLR mount

Voigtlander 90mm Nikon SLR mount

Three images above shot raw at ISO 1600, processed in Rawker.

I must say that this is pretty good, the images snapped into sharp focus very clearly, even with the 20mm. In most cases, even with a reasonably narrow aperture, this would probably be enough and enable you to work relatively quickly. 

The electronic shutter allows some pretty slow shutter speeds as well. 1/20th. sec.seems about the lowest usable however before camera shake appears. Not as good as the IS on the OM-D for example but there is an advantage. However I was unable to get 100% reliability from this, so taking a few shots, if possible, is probably the best option. 

But ultimately, I have to say I'm not convinced. If I'm intending to go out with manual focus lenses such as these, I would choose the OM-D every time, because of the focus peaking workaround and the body image stabilisation (IS). Video might be another matter, with the time to get the focusing spot on and putting the camera on a tripod, as these advantages are not so much in evidence. 

If you don't already have a selection of manual focus lenses, then I can't really see that there would be much advantage in going out and buying some, if you have a GH3 only. There might be marginal gains in image quality, and if you are a pixel-peeper like me then that may be enough, but there are some superb m4/3 AF primes and now zooms with the latest Panasonics that will create equally sharp images. And of course there are the two amazing Voigtlander 17.5mm and 25mm f/0.95 lenses in native m4/3 mount, which are incredibly good lenses and also unique. (Though it has to be remembered that they offer nothing more than these MF lenses do, other than the fact you don't need adapters. In every other way they function exactly the same.)

If you happen to have some Leica, Zeiss, Nikon or Canon fast primes lying around, then you won't be disapponted. However, it has always been my intention to use the GH3 with autofocus lenses, since I think thats where its best use will be for me. When I start on the video review, I will probably give some a try, but for shooting stills, its not something I've got a great deal on enthusiasm for. Its just that the OM-D does this better, and since I have one there seems little point in making what I do harder and more complicated, by using the GH3.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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