It all came together on Saturday afternoon. Beyond lens lust.

Okay.  So it's a couple of branches.  So what?  Well it's also a wide open shot done with a 60mm Pen (film version) f1.5 lens from the late 1960's.  On a Pen EP2.

Let's get this out of the way up front:  I love the new micro Four Thirds cameras.  I think they are great and for the kind of contemplative photography a lot of people do I think they are better than traditional DSLR cameras.  There.  I said it.  Better.

Here's why:  You get to look through an electronic finder and watch as the exposure, DOF and color are shown to you in a real time preview.  Like what you see?  Go ahead and push the shutter button and you'll most likely get an image that's exactly what you saw.  It's so different than an optical finder that you have to try it out to understand how much different it is in real life.  I can hardly wait until the bigger cameras like the Olympus e30 types (and the Nikons and Canons) lose their mirrors and go all EVF.  And I predict it will happen sooner rather than later.

But there's a second reason I like the little Pens.  I can put just about any lens on them.  But what lenses work best?

Here's the same shot at around f 5.6 and a half.  The background is coming in....

You can't just put any lens on the front of these cameras and be absolutely happy because most older lenses for bigger format weren't really designed to be high enough resolution to put enough detail into the dense and condensed area of pixels wedged into these 12 megapixel 2X crop cameras.   I've tried older Nikon lenses and they work okay but they really didn't do anything that the meager collection of dedicated m4:3rd lenses couldn't do.  I have used the Nikon 50mm 1.1.2 lens but wide open the sharpness suffers.  And the bulk of the lens makes the whole camera package unwieldy.  In fact, using big lenses cancels the whole system out.  If you put a two or three pound lens in front of the tiny camera you might as well just use a big camera to begin with......

The dream for many micro EVIL users is to have a handful of small, super fast primes that were computed for the smaller frame size and can be mounted without issue on the front of a Panny or Pen.
Well, I'm here to tell you that they exist and they are superb.  Something new from Korea?  No.  How about something quite old from Japan.  I'm talking about the jewel-like interchangeable lenses originally made for the Pen F film cameras from the 1960's and the 1970's.  They are out there on the used market and they are gorgeous.  Computed to cover a half frame of film with high contrast and resolution these Olympus optics have been in my equipment drawer since the mid 1980's just waiting for the right opportunity to shine.

A street shot of my friend Emily.  Shot today on Sixth St. in downtown.  f2.8.  No lighting.

The first lens I'm testing is one of my favorites from yesteryear.  The 60mm 1.5 is small, relatively light. The manual-only focus ring is like butter.  You can set infinite intermediate aperture values and watch the exposure subtly change through the finder.  The lens is a bit less contrasty than modern lenses but seems to have greater resolution.  I'd read a technical paper about lens design in the late 1970's which basically said that you can either have very high resolution or you  can have very high contrast or some compromise between the two but not both.  I think, given the high contrast of films back when this lens was designed, coupled with the small frame target that the Olympus engineers gave the nod to resolution.  Happily we live in an age of Photoshop (tm) wherein we can change the mix between the two parameters to meet our own tastes on every shot.  I added about 5% contrast to the image above before converting it to a web sized version.

Here we're at f8 and I'm seeing incredible detail and a tenacious grasp of shadow detail. (Sounding like a wine critic today......)  Look at the detail in his hair and shirt.

Here's the other thing I like about shooting with manual focus primes,  once you focus you can recompose till the cows come home without worrying about "locking" focus.  Small, light, sharp, detailed, lack of flare,  single focal length lenses blow zooms and Rube Goldberg/big fat lenses with adapters clean away.

Do I need a caption for this?  It's the same building I seem to shoot for all my lens tests.  But every lens is different.

I learned an interesting thing about fine focusing today.  I had been setting up the display setting so that when I shot with non-dedicated and purely manual lenses I would get the screen with the green square in the middle of it.  (This is with the EP2).  If I pushed the "OK" button in the middle of the four way controller it would magnify the image up to 10x and allow me to fine focus on small details.  Excellent way to manual focus by the way.  But today I noticed that when I achieved sharp focus (without the magnification) I would see an interference pattern of the details of the image.  It would shimmer in and out as I changed focus.  If I shot on the shimmer everything was incredibly sharp.  It was a cool phenomenon and I tried the high magnification focus to check what I was seeing.  Yep.  It works.  Look for the shimmering interference pattern in the fine details and you are fine focused.

Every lens has it's own look unless it's been homogenized by its maker.  I think the combination of color and contrast from this lens references the popular look of lenses from the 1960's.  It's so "NASA".

In order to make all of this work you'll need to order a Pen F to Pen adapter.  This will fit between the lens and the body and will give you a lens that focuses perfectly, to infinity and beyond.  It will also operate seamlessly in the "A" (aperture) mode.  The only place I've found them is from a supplier on e-bay.  They run around $65.  I think they ship them from China because it takes about ten days to deliver.

Mine is all black and fits perfectly.  Not too snug, not too loose.

One of the coolest things about a lens of this speed and ths focal length is the ability to drop backgrounds out of focus.  This is the 85mm 1.2 of the micro four thirds world.  And, amazingly for a 1960's optic, it seems to be very, very sharp even when shot wide open.  I picked mine up in 1985 for the whopping big sum of $65.  I think they've gone up since then but they are still less than a quarter the price of the Canon 85mm 1.2 and, if you have nimble fingers, I bet it focuses faster too.

Thumb your nose at this new format to your own peril.  I think this is a fun view of the future.  And, in light of the desperately depressing article about the state of the commercial photo industry that ran last week in the NYT, why the heck would you want to spend more for photo equipment anyway.  The consensus is that most things are going to the web.  Do you really thing we'll see the difference there between 24 megapixels and 12 megapixels?  I think we're much more likely to see the difference between about $1200 bucks for the above described rig versus a cool $10,000 for a Canon 1ds3 and the 85mm lens............

The snarky ones out there are always dissing the limited ability m4:3rds users have to limit depth of field.  You wouldn't know it from some of my samples today.  Seems pretty convincing to me.

I whole heartedly endorse the use of the 60mm 1.5 on the EP-2 (and by extension, all the other small crop cameras in the family).  The next lens to go under the microscope will be the 38mm 1.8.  But I may need to talk about inspiration before we get back into the nuts and bolts.  I'm still feeling the reverberations of my trip to the west.

One more thing:  I heard the UPS truck roll up on Fri.  I was hoping it was free camera equipment.... but that never happens....instead it was a box full of my new book on Lighting Equipment.  If I got 12 books I'm sure Amazon will get theirs soon.  It's a pretty darn good book if you want to delve into lighting equipment.  And what red-blooded photographer doesn't?  I put a link below.  Check it out.  If you pre-order it now you won't be disappointed when it sells out and you don't have one.......(smiles...).

Hope you have a great Easter.  Or just a nice Sunday.  All the best, Kirk


ginsbu said...

The Pen lenses certainly sound intriguing. I'm looking forward to your coming reviews.

I don't have m4/3 yet, but I have enjoyed trying some OM lenses on my E-620. I've been particularly impressed with the OMZ 135/2.8 (MC). It's quite sharp wide open, which is about the only way I use it. The images just have a great look to them. Its compact size and focal length (on 4/3) make it nice for discreet street shooting. It can be had quite cheap and might make a good fit on m4/3 too.

Mike Strycharske said...

The Times article was particularly distressing, but its something that has been coming for a long time. The same thing exists in the pro video business, wherein Uncle Bob with his Best Buy camera can shoot a wedding or other social event almost as well as the pro. The only differentiator there is audio, and Uncle Bob will catch up quickly.

With more and more art directors and photo editors turning to stock companies, the competition for "original" assignments is going to get fierce (if it isn't already). I've long had a policy that if a piece of gear isn't going to make me money, I am not going to buy it (althought there have been exceptions).

It would seem that that old Chinese curse is rearing its head. Happy Easter all.

Mike said...

Just when I think that next freelance check is going to some studio equipment I need, you do this.

You're killing me, Kirk.

The photo of your friend Emily is amazing. I'm thinking the E-PL1 may be on the list for the near future.

Kurt Shoens said...

I just love the results. The focusing effect (shimmers when in focus) sounds fantastic and reminds me of a microprism in reverse. Autofocus is great and all, but I really miss the ability to manually focus accurately.

This ability to use a wide variety of old lenses is an unexpected m4/3 delight.

I will be a contrarian and say that when the NY Times calls a trend, it's likely to be over and done.

Daros Koding said...

Fabulous shots. I'm a member on the mflenses forums (http://forum.mflenses.com/) and they have a whole section dedicated to using legacy MF glass on m4/3's bodies (http://forum.mflenses.com/cine-lenses-f31.html). Some of the results are stunning.

mfbernstein said...

Interesting to compare the lenses Olympus made for their first Pen series and for it's digital 'successor'. Not exactly progress.

Bill Beebe said...

It also works with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 using the MMF-1 adapter using manual focus (just set the switch on the lens barrel to 'M'). Thanks for pointing this feature out. What's happening is moiré pattern interference between sharp in-focus lines in the image and the individual pixels of the display. As a matter of fact, it's much more pronounced (meaning easier to see) with the VF-2 than the LCD.

I have learned a lot reading this blog, but the 'shimmer focus' is the most valuable little tip out of you or anybody else I've read in quite some time.

kirk tuck said...

I love it when I trick people into thinking I'm smart.

Nathan said...

I love your "lens check building"... helps because I stare at it for 8 hours a day right outside my office window. Have you ever seen it while it is still dark and the lights are playing off of the roof structure?

kirk tuck said...

Nathan, I love the roof of that building and the way the lights change color. I've got so many images of that building in all different times of day. I think all of downtown is looking great.

neopavlik said...

Interesting about the lens characteristics.
Makes me want to buy a lens from every decade to try them out.

Finally got to play with the nikon 105mm dc last month. It's out of focus areas are superb and "better" than my 105/2.5 ai-s but I found the Ai-s considerably "warmer".

Francesco Gallarotti said...

I have been looking at 4/3 but there were a few things keeping me away from them:
1) lack of DOF control
2) electronic viewfinder
3) shutter delay
You certainly demonstrated that DOF can be controlled properly with some patience and I would actually like to go back to manual focus like the old times.
I am surprised at your very positive comments about the EVF. Can you elaborate more on that and explain why you think EVF is so much better than optical? I find it really hard to believe.
Lastly can you comment on shutter delay? Can you see it an issue in the daily wandering of an amateur photographer?
Thanks in advance,

kirk tuck said...

Francisco, I've covered the EVF in other articles but in a nutshell you see exactly all the things the camera will apply to the file before you hit the button. Amazing way to visualize an image. And it shows you the exact results of your DOF choices.

As to shutter lag, there really isn't any with a manual focus lens. Its after the shot that there is a delay going back to the live screen. There is less of a delay with the EPL. Neither is an impediment for me.

Francesco Gallarotti said...

Thanks, Kirk. After reading this post I went through other posts regarding this and understand what you talk about. It must be interesting to "see" what the final image will look like in advance.
I haven't seen any reference in your articles to high ISO performance on these rangefinders. What's the highest usable ISO you find acceptable for web purposes?
I'd love to get one of these as a go around camera to keep always with me in the car and on my bicycle wanderings :)

kirk tuck said...


It's perfect at 800 and just starting to get tiny noisy at 1600. Very usable at 1600. Better than the existing regular 4:3rds bodies.

Damen said...

Hi Kirk - Great article again (might be worth trying some of those "C-mount" cine lenses for fast primes too). Some of these have AMAZING bokeh and a nice "glowing" (spherical aberration ?) look to them. Just to be pedantic (sorry!) Amazon should get "theirs" soon, rather than "there's" :)

Damen said...

Sorry for the double post - I just realised (English spelling) that I have an actual question ! When an old Pen lens is mounted to a Micro 4/3 body, what is the 35mm equivalent ie. If I used the 60mm f1.5, would that be a 120mm equivalent (2x crop factor) or would it be about an 80mm equivalent (1.3 X crop factor) due to the old Pen lenses being designed for a smaller sensor (film) than full-frame 35mm ?? I can not work that conundrum out in my head !

kirk tuck said...

First of all, Thanks Damen. I fixed the there's/theirs mess. Appreciate the editing.

Second, focal length is focal length. The 60 acts like a 120 on the half frame---when compared to 35mm AOV. No matter what the lens is designed to cover the focal length doesn't change.