Experimentation is the spice of something. Adventures in narrow depth of field with m4:3 cameras.

I've had such good luck with the Panasonic GH3 in the video realm that I am now trying out zany lenses to shoot with and I've come to like shooting with some of the same lenses for my conventional photography. On Monday this week I was making portraits of architects and while I wanted images with defocused backgrounds I just wasn't into carry around the bag of full frame Sonys and all the lenses. We weren't shooting studio style, I was shooting environmental portrait style. That means that I didn't mind supplementing the existing light but I wasn't going to set up backgrounds and soft boxes and flashes either.

I've had good luck using adapters to mine the rich vein of the manual focus Olympus Pen FT lenses such as the 60mm 1.5 and the 40mm 1.4 but I wanted something just a bit short and equally fast. My other option in the Olympus drawer was the Pen 38mm 1.8 but that lens is a bit flat and flare-y and really on gets acceptably sharp from 3.5 on down. Not what I was looking for in this instance.

I looked around the studio and decided to try the behemoth Rokinon 35mm 1.5 Cine lens. I had a Sony Alpha to m4:3 adapter just sitting there looking pretty on my (actual) desktop so I put it all together and attached it to the front of a waiting camera. Do the quick math and what you end up with is a 70mm equivalent that opens up to t-stop 1.5. Nice----if it's sharp enough.

I shot a number of wider, environmental portraits with it and I like what it does to the backgrounds and the tonalities in general. While it's sharp enough wide open it does better at f2 and better still at 2.8 where it is just about perfect.  Of course, by then you're starting to give up some of the benefit of the narrow depth of field. But overall, wide open it is sharper than the Pens.

The portraits look pretty darn cool. I also tried the Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens on the adapter and then I was really happy. The center part of the lens (the part I really care about) gets sharp really quickly and the equivalent of 100mm is just exactly in the sweet spot of my portrait lens taste profile.

Long enough to get close but not so long as to exclude all detail. It's a well done lens. Even (or especially) for micro four thirds. I can only imagine that the new version is that much better.

I am interested in hearing from m4:3 shooters about their favorite lenses for doing narrow depth of field. I presume everyone has a "go to" portrait lens but I'm especially interesting in reading about adaptations of older (and newer) lenses that are being re-purposed away from their original format targets. Whaddaya Got?


  1. When I got my Pany G1, I also bought adapters for Minolta and OM mount. For about a year, I shot with a variety of old 50mm or so lenses. They were ok, but I never felt I got the level of sharpness I wanted. The price was right, and I was having fun, so no complaints.

    After I got the Olympus 45/1.8 for M43, I've stopped using my old manual lenses. For my kind of photography (on the go portraits of my (young) kids), this lens was just always better (and not just for the autofocus).

    My manual focus lenses were not the stars of their day, so perhaps getting the best of the old stuff would get you farther. For now, I'm happy to pass on these lenses and save my pennies for my next modern lens.

  2. I've been using a 1954 collapsible 50mm Summicron on my E-P3 (I found the lens in the bottom of a box of give away darkroom supplies). The lens is decentered, incredibly hazy, and the aperture ring is broken and serves only as a mere suggestion of the actual working aperture. The combination of this lens and my Olympus is so far from sharp in a way I find liberating, though. The pictorialists may have been on to something...

  3. I've recently been playing with the old Nikkor 50mm f/2 that I bought with my Nikkormat Ftn with the money I got for graduating high school in 1969. It seems almost perfect for portraits in a controlled situation where I have time to carefully focus using the magnification in the electronic viewfinder of my Pany G5. It was a sweet lens then and is, in many ways, even better now in this application. It's sharp at f/2 and liable to cut you at 2.8.

  4. The 45/1.8 is pretty unbeatable for its price. Next will be the 60 macro mostly for my wife, but I'd also love to try the 75mm.

  5. I only own the Oly 1.8/45, and use it often. Does one need anything else?

    Kirk, I'm surprised you haven't taken the Oly 1.8/75 for a spin. Seems to be right in your wheelhouse for creating stellar portrait work? Though, affordable is not one of it's many glowing attributes.

  6. I love the look of my photos shot with the OM 85/2 lens. The out- of focus areas are very nice.


  7. Voigtlander 40mm f2 (nikon fit) and Zeiss ZF2. 35.mm 1.4 either with a straight adapter or metabones speedbooster. The Zeiss is studio only (too heavy for field really) but the little Voigtlander is the go to on my GH3 for video. Sold the 800E.

  8. My current narrow depth of field favorite is a nearly 50 year old manual focus Pentax K-mount lens - the semi legendary (among Pentaxians 50mm f/1.7 - not quite as fast as its f/1.4 and f/1.2 brethren (which incidentally are also fine lenses) - but when it comes down to those little nitty gritty things like IQ and resolving power, is almost literally second to none.

    I use the camera on a GX7 body which is a nice match. The GX has enough heft to make the lens feel comfortable and almost 'just right'; but the best part is the GX7's built-in focus peaking which works beautifully with manual lenses.

    Here's a shot I recently took wide open (at f/1.7) which shows not only narrow depth of field but also some classic 'bokeh'.




  9. 135mm f/2.8 Rokkor
    250mm f/5.6 fixed aperture Rokkor mirror lens
    Modern lenses - the 20 f/1.7 Panasonic, the 45 and 75 M. Zuiko

  10. I use the Sigma 60mm 2.8 on my Sony Nex 6. It is a stellar lens and available in m43 mount, so a 120mm equivalent field of view on your Panny. Little more than $200 brand new.

  11. A Vivitar 24mm f/2.0 with Fotodiox Canon FD to M4/3 adapter (since I can't afford Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 right now). The length, size, weight & all manual - seem out of place. Like putting a cassette player in a 2014 car. It works, but really feels better on the Canon F-1 it was designed for.

  12. Cheers Kurt,

    My go-to lens has been the mZD45/1.8 but as I just got a 75/1.8 I'll allow as to the chances it might elbow its way to the front of the queue. Other than some purple fringing issues wide open it's a phenomenal and nearly flawless lens.

    Perhaps more interesting for portraits are the 45/2.0 Planar from the Contax G system and the Contax/Yashica 50/1.4 Planar. Not as razor sharp as the Zuikos they bring some soul and character sometimes lacking in our clinically perfect modern lenses. Confess I love the buttery focus action on a classic SLR lens, and the OM-D EVFs more than make up for any eye deficiencies when focusing.

  13. For sharp yet affordable longer M43 lenses, I've had good success with the Olympus 75/2.8 M43 and older Olympus 50/2 macro with full-auto MMF-3 adapter, as well as the Sigma 60mm/f.28 DN and adapted Leitz 135mm/4 Tele-Elmar.

  14. My very old Nikkor 50/1.4 is nicely sharp on an E-PL1:


    And I am also experimenting a bit with a Summicron 40/2.0:


    Tough to focus, but I assume that my soon-purchased E-M10 will solve that :-)

  15. I've got an old Konica-Minolta 52mm f1.7 that does really well on MFT. I haven't had luck with any old Canon FD or Pentax 50mm primes. Still, I usually prefer the Olympus 45mm. My goto lenses for thin DOF are the 25mm 1.4 Panasonic and the 50mm f2 macro lens. I love the rendering of both of those lenses. The 50-200mm four thirds lens is also great when you get it right. Very nice bokeh for a zoom lens.

  16. Olympus 50mm f1.2
    Dreamy wide open which can be lovely for portraits and sharp as hell at F2.

  17. The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 is a favorite because its buttery smooth focus ring. This train video , however, was taken with a Rokkor 50mm f/1.4, some in ETC mode.

  18. Mine is an OM 50/1.4. It's as rough as guts, with a pitted objective lens, a camera shop gave it to me for free. But it works great for portraits, especially for folks on the wrong side of 40!

  19. All the love for the 50mm plays right to my heart. The 50mm is the all time universal lens in my book and the camera companies have been making great ones since the 1960's. Makes me want to run out and buy a couple more...

  20. I have a 35mm f1.8 Rokkor and a Vivitar 35mm f1.9 that I like. 35mm is an interesting focal length on m4/3. I never owned one back in my film days.

  21. My Nikon 50mms (both the AFD and new AFS) are not my favorites. Busy bokeh to me. The 85mm AFD f1.4 on the other hand, swoon... Most recently shot some interviews on green screen with my GH2 and the 85mm. Sweet.

    I sometimes use my Nikon 2.8 zooms on my GH2s. Bright and sharp, as it should be using the primo central area of the image circle. But, I know that these lenses deliver in my FF Nikons, so a MetaBones Speed Booster will be on order soon.

  22. Old: adapted Olympus OM-System 50mm f1.8 (Very Good)
    New: Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 (Excellent)


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