Non-brand lenses on mirrorless cameras

One of the things that attracted me the first m4/3 cameras that emerged was the potential to use other lenses via adapters. Following on from this, I started a flicker group that posted pictures using these legacy and non-brand lenses. From those small beginnings the group now has over 2500 members and just under 60,000 pictures. So I'm not alone in fiddling about with bits of metal then!

Initially this was all about working with primarily older, manual focus lenses and there were two lens ranges that it was very difficult to use. The G Series Nikons and the Canon EF lenses. The problem here was that they didn't have aperture rings and without the electronic connection to the camera, it was impossible to change the aperture. I did try a few botch-ups including wedging a bit a card to hold the aperture open at a certain point, but it was impossible to know exactly what it was, and once put on the camera impossible to change. 

Adapters did start appearing that allowed the aperture to be changed but these had only a very small distance between wide open and fully closed down. However Metabones have taken to putting rings on their adapters which give a much better idea of the aperture you are selecting. Below are two of my adapters for Nikon G lenses and you can see that the Metabones version on the left gives a much better indication of what you are selecting. The two marks I've added to the Kipon adapter show the very limited distance between the two extremes.

While the numbers on the Metabones don't correspond to anything in particular and are still approximations, its a much better visual aid to what's actually going on. The Metabones doesn't have click stops either and it works like those T-Stop video lenses. Useful for video, and ultimately it doesn't really matter for stills since its only a guide anyway. The Speed Boosters, incidentally do have actual click stops.

So adapters like this and the Speed Boosters really do bring these modern Nikon and Canon lenses into play. They become much easier to use and much more useful, since its possible to have a pretty good idea of what aperture you are selecting. The Nikon G and Canon EF ranges have a variety of options including top of the range pro-spec lenses, so this is a great way to be able to use them on m4/3, Sony NEX, Fuji X etc. cameras.

Below are my 28mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 85mm f1.8 Nikon G primes plus my passive Metabones adapter and my Speed Booster.

They are next to my Panasonic G6, which of course has focus peaking, so this is in fact a quite versatile outfit with the following 35mm approximate equivalents. Using the two adapters.

40mm f/1.2, 56mm f/1.8, 75mm f/1.2, 100mm f/1.8, 135mm f/1.2 and 170mm f1/.8. 
Some of these don't even exist in 35mm lens ranges and if they did they would be VERY expensive. So things are a lot easier for those who like to use these 'alternative' lenses. With m4/3 there are still difficulties at the wide end, because of the focal length multiplier, but on APS-C sensor systems, using a speed booster goes some way to addressing that. On my Fuji X-E1 for example (When my Speed Booster finally arrives) I have the following 35mm approximate equivalents. 
30mm f1.2, 42mm f/1.8, 52mm f/1.2, 75mm f/1.8, 90mm f/1.2 and 128mm f/1.8. 
Again a pretty impressive lens list. 

In the past I've wondered about whether its that useful to use manual focus 'alternative' lenses and I've sometimes thought it was and sometimes thought its not. But now I'm very firmly of the opinion that it is worth it. The better design of adapters and particularly the Metabones Speed boosters have, with the spread of focus peaking, made using lenses like this, manually focused, offer a real boost to certain kinds of photography and also shooting video. In the early days, apart from the opportunity to buy some fast lenses relatively cheaply, there wasn't much of an advantage to be gained. But as you can see from the approximate equivalent lists above, using these lenses via adapters gives me something I can't get anywhere else. Very fast, high quality prime lenses. Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, Fuji and Samsung may give me the odd lens like this, but not all and they are certainly not as good value as the the three Nikon's which I bought together for less than £1000. Plus when you think that the Speed Booster is keeping the same aperture but allowing in a stop more light, then its a win win situation as far as I'm concerned.

So its not always new cameras, new sensors and new lenses that can widen our options, sometimes even small adapters and firmware updates can open up new possibilities that give us new creative opportunities and the ability to photograph and shoot video to a much higher quality than we could before. And at a relatively modest cost.

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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