7.08.2014

May-December Romance: Mirrorless Cameras with Legacy Lenses

A logic puzzle:

I am the proud owner of a pair of Olympus PEN mirrorless Cameras using the Micro 4/3 Lens Mounts. 

I have used over a dozen different lenses on these cameras.

I currently only own TWO Micro 4/3 lenses.  

Did I sell the rest off?  Did I borrow or rent lenses?

Nope, instead I have taken advantage of a clever method of fusing manual focus lenses of decades past with my mirrorless modern day camera body by means of some various lens-mount to camera adapters to make this possible.  Call it my blossoming "May-December equipment Romance" of the photographic world.

Interestingly, I stumbled onto this practice as an alternative to buying native mount lenses only AFTER I purchased the camera kit, and haven't looked back since. As a result, I have acquired a pretty nice collection of numerous various lenses for only somewhat more than the cost of a single Autofocus Micro 4/3 Lens!


With this practice come certain pros and cons, and so it helps to list them out, starting with the Cons.


  • No Automatic Focus.
  • Autoexposure only in "A" mode after aperture is set.
  • Some older lenses may have poor resolving power or contrast, or may be weatherbeaten after decades.
  • Some legacy lenses tend to loom large on small mirrorless bodies.


And the Pros:


  • It's much cheaper than buying native AF lenses.
  • Manual lenses tend to get you more involved in the composition process.
  • Again, it's a lot cheaper than AF lenses.
  • There is a wide selection available through outlets like ebay.
  • Did I mention these lenses are cheaper than AF lenses?
  • Fast primes (f/2.0 or better) can be readily found in focal lengths from 35mm to 85mm.
  • Some lenses available have incredible sharpness, and again, they are really cheap!
  • Many lenses give off a unique look to their digital AF counterparts, or may have desirable bokeh in out of focus areas.


Since I have gotten into acquiring and using "legacy lenses," I am finding that I have gone from taking all of my photos with the AF kit lenses to taking fully 90% of my photos using Manual Focus adapted lenses.  It all started with trying a simple Olympus OM-mount 50mm f/1.8, and has since grown into a diverse inventory spanning a pretty wide focal range:

Foc/L  Aperture Manufacturer Year  Mount
 24mm   f/2.8   Promaster    1975  Konica AR
 28mm   f/3.5   Konica       1971  Konica AR
 35mm   f/2.0   Konica       1971  Konica AR
 38mm   f/1.8   Olympus      1963  Olympus PEN FT
 50mm   f/1.8   Olympus      1982  Olympus OM
 50mm   f/1.7   Konica       1973  Konica AR
 50mm   f/1.8   Konica       1981  Konica AR
 50mm   f/2.8   Zeiss Jena   1960  M42 Screw
 57mm   f/1.4   Konica       1971  Konica AR
 58mm   f/2.0   Helios 44-2  1975  M42 Screw
60-300  f/4-5.6 Tokina       1989  Olympus OM
 85mm   f/1.8   Konica       1971  Konica AR
100mm   f/3.5   Minolta      1965  Minolta MC
135mm   f/3.5   Olympus      1985  Olympus OM
200mm   f/3.5   Spiratone    1966  Konica AR
200mm   f/3.5   Konica       1968  Konica AR

In time, I plan to offer a look "Through the lens" of all the Manual Focus Lenses in my collection as well as to do some comparisons of some similar and even some not-so-similar lenses.  

I have paid no more than $170 for any one lens, that being the 38mm, which is something of a sought after item.  Otherwise, I've gotten every other lens for under $100, with the average being about $25 per lens, and some, such as the Spiratone 200mm and Konica 50mm-f/1.7 being acquired for well under $20!  

Mounted to the cameras, the appearance of the vintage lenses run the gamut from the svelte in the case of the Pen FT 38mm...



to the bloated in the case of the Konica Hexanon AR 28mm...



to the downright bizarre in the case of the Tokina 60-300mm zoomed fully out...

Obviously, the biggest challenge to getting "the shot" compared to an AF lens is focusing, but on at least three Olympus models, one can shoot JPG + Raw in a LINE ART mode that emphasises in focus areas with a black outline.  (Other Sony models have a feature called "Focus Peaking" that highlights in-focus areas)  This can be very helpful when time is of the essence to getting an in-focus shot.  It isn't perfect, but it can certainly help.  Note the outlines of the text around the OLD BAY in the setup below:

And there are those situations where Manual Focus is preferable.  Ever try shooting a roosting bird with a busy background on an AF lens?  I have, and it seems 9 of 10 times, the focus will lock on the clutter in the backdrop.  Using the MF lenses with the ART mode makes the job a lot easier.  

In time, I'll talk a bit more about some of the techniques I employ at various times while using manual focus lenses on mirrorless bodies, as this write up was more of an info to introduce what is possible with today's technology.  

For me, it is indeed a blossoming May-December Romance.