Panasonic GH3 - Metabones Speed Booster - Nikon Lenses - The advantages for m4/3

All images Panasonic GH3 - Metabones Speed Booster - Nikon 28mm and 50mm f/1.8G Lenses

I've always had an ambivalent attitude to lens adapters and legacy / non-brand lenses on m4/3 cameras. It was the discovery that I could use Nikon lenses on it that started me getting serious with my G1 a few years ago, and I've been doing it on and off ever since. And much as I (usually) like the results, there are other times I just think its too fiddly. 

Also I don't think that many m4/3 users are bothered about it either. Most want AF and (relative) simplicity. Messing around with old manual focus lens may keep some of us fascinated, but its far from universal. Its not as though you necessarily get better results. There is no real point in buying expensive M-mount Zeiss. Leica and Voigtlander lenses to use on m4/3 as firstly there are lots of superb Olympus and Panasonic choices anyway and secondly its often hard to tell the difference. In the early days of the system these 'other' manually focused lenses plugged a lot of holes in a newly emerging camera system, but these days there are far less of those. 

And then there is the Metabones Speed Booster. To call this just an adapter is like saying a Ferrari is just a car. This isn't simply a way of getting x lens onto y camera, this is a seriously useful tool for those who want to take control over the way that they photograph, who want to explore options and who want (in this case) to push the m4/3 system to see what its capable of.

Plus there is this!

The somewhat ludicrous price differential between lenses that are 1/2 stop faster, means that in many cases the Speed Booster, expensive though it is, actually saves money. Though it is important to realise that it doesn't actually change the maximum (or any other) aperture. Just the amount of light gathering. So if you set the above f/1.8 lens to wide open, the aperture in terms of picture taking remains at f/1.8. The speed booster however lets in an extra stop of light more than using an ordinary adapter so in light gathering terms it exhibits the same properties as an f/1.2 lens. But as well as this aid at the wide apertures it works just the same at narrow apertures. Say you want to take an image that requires f/11 to get the amount of depth of field you want. However you are handholding and you are right on the edge of what you can safely use. By using the speed booster you get an extra stop of light, the same as you would get if you selected f/8. So you would still be getting an aperture of f/11, but the light gathering properties of f/8. Using the same example, to keep your aperture of f/11 and a hand holdable shutter speed, you may be forced to change the ISO setting. With the speed booster you don't have to.

Here are a couple of examples from yesterday of the depth of field differences between the two extremes of my Nikon 28mm f/1.8 lens via the speed booster.

This is of great benefit to m4/3 cameras. These cameras don't perform as well at higher ISO's as many APS-C mirrorless cameras. But at low ISO settings they are the equal, if not sharper than many of their competitors. Particularly cameras like the GH3 and OM-D. 

Here's an example. I shot the picture below with a Fuji X-E1 and a Panasonic GH3. At ISO 3200 the Fuji is clearly less noisy, but the GH3 at ISO 1600 is much more on a par with what the Fuji produces.

So as well as giving an extra stop of light and depth of field, using a speed booster gives an extra ISO stop too. 

I'm often amused reading some comments by people who still cite the better high ISO noise performance characteristics af APS-C as affecting their choice and then reveal that they are using a 'kit lens'. Well you are going to need that better high ISO performance if you are using a kit lens with apertures usually running from f/3.5 to f/5.6. By using a run of the mill 50mm standard lens and a speed booster you get a 3½ to 4½  stop speed advantage over these kit lenses. The difference between using ISO 400 and having to use ISO 5000 or 9000. 

So provided that you are happy using manually focused prime lenses, and of course not everybody is, then the speed booster offers advantages in two significant ways The speed / depth of field / high ISO one stop boosts as indicated above and also in widening the field of view. This is also something that also benefits m4/3. Legacy and non-brand lenses are all very well but the 2x crop factor means that wide-angle options are difficult to find. The speed booster brings this into line with APS-C sensor cameras. My Nikon 28mm is an approximate 56mm (in 35mm  terms) on m4/3 using an ordinary adapter, but with the speed boosters 0.71 crop it becomes what to me is a much more useful 40mm (in 35mm  terms) which as regular readers will know is my favourite focal length. Add in the fact that I get the light gathering properties of an f/1.2 lens and you can probably see why I'm so enthusiastic for it. There is also the other possibility of going out shooting with two different adapters, one of which is a speed booster. A two lens outfit then becomes a four lens outfit by simply carrying an extra adapter, which doesn't take up much room or add a lot to the weight.

As mentioned at the top of this post, I've talked about the pros and cons of using adapted lenses many times and I've waxed and waned in my enthusiasm for using them. But the Metabones speed booster is something else. This now gives clear advantages to using manually focused lenses on mirrorless cameras. Ultra fast lenses are expensive, big and heavy. By using a speed booster which is actually quite compact and light you can get the same advantages that those lenses have at often a fraction of the cost and weight. 

A while ago I used to use a Nikon 50mm manual focus f/1.2 lens for stills and video, mostly on m4/3 cameras. It was fast, but heavy and expensive and produced somewhat strange results wide open. I can now get better results than that with my much cheaper and lighter 50mm f/1.8G lens + the speed booster, which is very useable wide-open. I can also use the GH3 at the ISO settings it works best at and take advantage of that excellent low ISO quality. Plus I can use my superbly sharp Nikon primes to produce images at their 'sweet' apertures without having to stop down or choose a higher ISO setting. And yes I have to do a bit of 'fiddling.' And since the GH3 doesn't have focus peaking it takes a bit more time, but at the moment it is worth it to me. I don't have to react instantly to events as the bulk of my photography is slow paced, so its ideal really. 

Finally my supplier has informed me that the Nikon G > Fuji X adapters should be arriving this week, and I'm beginning to think that I won't be able to resist one of those. 30mm f/1.2 and 52mm f/1.2 equivalents on my X-E1. Hmmmm.................

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