Going Old School - Purposefully Working In Manual Focus Lenses (Image Heavy)

Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew

Nikon Df / Nikon 20mm f/3.5 AIS
1/320, f/8, ISO 800

I've done a lot of soul searching over the last 31 days. Starting Oct 1, 2018 I purposefully disconnected myself from social media sites, forums and a bulk of the internet for 31 days.

I kept my business posts going by using schedulers and had all that I wanted to publish ready to go.

Over that 31 days, I've learned a lot about myself, where I want to go and who I want to be going into the future.

Let me start of by prefacing this with one thing. I'm so sick and tired of the know it all pundits, click bait articles and YouTube videos. I've not missed the online forum arguments where the trolls come out and pick fights or those that don't have a clue claim to be experts.

I'm one person with an opinion sometimes. Opinions are good as they give you perspective into the way that others think. Opinions about anything can be done respectfully or they can be represented in absolute douche-baggery. Not going to lie, I've fallen into all those traps before - either victim to them or perpetrated them myself.

Those days are over, my friends! After the last 31 days, I know that I am going to divest my life from the noise and find that awesome, low level under current of fellowship and knowledge. I'm going to seek that out and offer it up.


Olympus EM5 Mark II / ZhongYi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/125, f/1.2, ISO 500

With that being said, the title may have you wondering. No, I'm not going to tell you that working with manual focus lenses is the "only way to learn" or that "doing everything manually" is "true photography". Too many judgments are associated with those kinds of thinking. I'm going to share with you my journeys and experiences and allow you to glean from them what you will.

Also, along the way, we may not always agree. I make this pledge that even if we disagree, that I will disagree respectfully. We can have debates and disagreements - but we should never let anything that we disagree upon put us in a position that we cannot have a civil discourse about it. This is, after all about photography. It is about an art form that can be at times very scientific in how it is approached (objective) and at the very same time very subjective and up to the likes, dislikes or biases of the viewer.


Nikon Df / Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AIS
1/125, f/8, ISO 2000

Alrighty...soul bearing stuff out of the way, lets talk about manual focus lenses. Yes, you've read it right - I purposefully decided to work one full day making images with only manual focus lenses and prime lenses at that as well.

I'll get into more of that detail later. This article is also going to discuss manual focus photography in general.


Olympus PEN-F / Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Macro
1/320, f/4, ISO 200

Starting off, the WHY.

OK, why?? Why not!

Let's look at price. I've had the good fortune of having 2 very well respected camera stores near me. they have great selections in vintage SLR lenses. Having Nikon f-mount cameras and adapters for our Micro Four Thirds cameras, I can take advantage of some great values.

My most expensive purchase on a manual focus lens so far has been $270 on a Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AIS lens. My least expensive lens has been $30 for the Nikon 55mm f/3.5 macro lens.


Olympus PEN-F / Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2
1/500, f/4, ISO 200

Even for pixel peepers, the Nikon 180mm and 55mm macro are superbly sharp and worth the money even looking at them against modern lens designs. If you are shooting macro or portrait, you can often get great images without the need of auto focus.

Now, let's get into desire. Why would I want to work in this way. Honestly, for me it is another way of approaching photography. We already have so much automation, of which I am very thankful for, that sometimes I find the whole process very sterile. Camera picks the exposure, you place the AF point over the subject and click the shutter. Lather, rinse, repeat. Did that sound like I was complaining? On the contrary!! Again, perspective. If I am working a shoot for a client, I may only have a certain amount of time to work and the automation helps keep things moving along. It makes getting the images that make me money easier to get.

Olympus PEN-F / Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Macro
1/400, f/5.6, ISO 200

Thinking different sparks imagination. It makes you solve problems in other ways beside what you are normal. All these things cause you to grow as a person and a photographer. Growth is life, stagnation - death.

Image quality and rendering are another aspect we can look into. I find that there is just something about the rendering of images from these lenses. Could be the older coatings on the glass elements or the lack of coatings that make a difference. Optical design is another consideration we do not want to leave out of the equation. Some lenses just have a certain look to them, and if you find them appealing it is usually much easier to get what you want at the time of capture than trying to reproduce it in Lightroom or your post processing programs of choice.

Olympus PEN-F / Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2
1/500, f/4, ISO 200

If adapting these lenses to Micro Four Thirds systems, you also get the benefit of being able to use the in body image stabilization!

Now, let's get into the HOW.

Working in manual focus makes you think differently, we've established that previously. No longer are you always placing the AF point on a subject, letting the camera track it and pressing the shutter with 99% success rates.

You need to pre-plan how you are going to capture the focus. Sometimes you can capture right on the subject, if they are not moving too fast for you to keep up. Other times, you'll want to try and find a place in the area you want to capture the subject, pre-focus there and when they come into that area or zone, you actuate the shutter. What also helps in this is using a sufficiently deep depth of field, so that there is a good size area for the subject. Razor thin depth of field makes this technique a challenge.

Olympus PEN-F / Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Macro
1/100, f/3.5, ISO 1000

Manual focus assist systems are also another thing to consider. Back when the norm was manual focus, camera makers would make the focusing screens/ground glass in such a way that helped you know when something was in focus. With the advent of auto focus and it being the dominant method of focusing, less expense and time is placed on these focusing screens in SLR/DSLR cameras.

What you do have is auto focus confirmation systems that assist you. Like on the Nikon DSLRs, there is a yellow dot in the viewfinder display that tells you when it thinks the image is in focus based on where the current focus square is located in the viewfinder. If you have a higher end camera, you also get some assist arrows that let you know which way you should be turning the focus ring to get to proper focus.
 
Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew

Olympus PEN-F / ZhongYi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/8000, f/0.95, ISO 200

Using these lenses on adapted cameras, like Fujifilm, Sony or Micro Four Thirds, you get even more options. You can surely try and eye ball the focus on the EVF. However, knowing that the mirrorless cameras would be popular choices for adapting older manual focus lenses, there are other options. The most popular are focus peaking and punch in zoom.

Focus peaking allows you to pick a color and when that color outlines items on your EVF, those are the sections that will be in focus.

Punch in zoom gives you the ability to select a section of the scene and zoom in, allowing you to see exactly what is in focus. Some cameras have more than those and others allow multiple varieties at the same time. For example Micro Four Thirds cameras allow for focus peaking and zoom in punch together.

Olympus PEN-F / ZhongYi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/6400, f/1.2, ISO 200

Finals Thoughts.

Not only do you get to try out many different kinds of legacy lenses and see what they are capable of...you also get to try something different. There is something very satisfying to me about being able to use a lens made in Japan by Nikon from 1977 and dazzle people with the image. Unbeknownst to them that the lens used may be older than they are!!

Personally, I like the workflow. For me, photography is about the image...surely....but I often tell people that the journey we take is often just as, if not more so, important than the destination. I enjoy the entire photographic process. From selecting lenses, checking the cameras exposure and making subtle tweaks to editing selections and post processing.

Manual focus cameras and lenses are just another way to go about something. Doesn't make it right or wrong. It is just different.


Olympus PEN-F / ZhongYi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/800, f/4, ISO 200


Olympus PEN-F / Zhongyi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/2000, f/1.4, ISO 200


Olympus PEN-F / Zhongyi Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95
1/100, f/1.2, ISO 640


Olympus PEN-F / Laowa 7.5mm f/2
1/100, f/2, ISO 5000


Olympus PEN-F / Laowa 7.5mm f/2
1/1250, f/4, ISO 200


Olympus EM5 Mark II / Laowa 7.5mm f/2
1/200, f/4, ISO 200


Olympus PEN-F / Laowa 7.5mm f/2
1/100, f/4, ISO 1000


Olympus PEN-F / Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AIS
1/400, f/4, ISO 200
 

KillRamsey

Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2012
124
Hood River, OR
Kyle
I enjoy the shooting experience on XT1 + Rokinon 12 or Minolta 55 1.7 more than any of my AF lenses, most of the time. I'm with you. The AF lenses win when there are subjects changing distance constantly. Otherise, I love the direct drive of helical gears moving lens elements, and that the focus stays put, camera off or on, period.
 

ionian

Regular
Nov 25, 2016
28
They are great pictures no matter what lens used. Many of them have a very old school processing style that suits them, a look I really love.

I too enjoy the feel of manual focus lenses - my favourite on micro four thirds was a minolta 58mm f1.4 with a speedbooster, giving a roughly 82mm f1.0 viewpoint. I haven't spent any time with manual lenses on my Sony since my AF lenses arrived, but I love the way it slows you down.

I'm thinking of doing something similar with regards to online social interactions. I've managed to get into several heated rows online recently which is unlike me generally. We have to look after our wellbeing, whatever it takes. Reading your posts has been very interesting.
 
Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew
They are great pictures no matter what lens used. Many of them have a very old school processing style that suits them, a look I really love.

I too enjoy the feel of manual focus lenses - my favourite on micro four thirds was a minolta 58mm f1.4 with a speedbooster, giving a roughly 82mm f1.0 viewpoint. I haven't spent any time with manual lenses on my Sony since my AF lenses arrived, but I love the way it slows you down.

I'm thinking of doing something similar with regards to online social interactions. I've managed to get into several heated rows online recently which is unlike me generally. We have to look after our wellbeing, whatever it takes. Reading your posts has been very interesting.
Definitely taking a break was one of the best things not only for me, but for the family as well. I'm glad you've found some value in the posts.

I've not had the pleasure of working with a speedbooster device yet, but that may be something I can look into in the near future.

Thanks, also for the kind words about the images, it is much appreciated.

I highly enjoy using my Manual Focus lenses but there are times I am glad I have Auto Focus lenses.
Definitely. I think right now, I'm on 2 sides of the spectrum. My work gear is all Nikon D500/D750 with f/2.8 zooms and fast burst rates, while everything else is starting to migrate more toward the slower pace of manual focus and extremely deliberate work with the Nikon Df and Oly PEN-F.
 
Jan 31, 2011
164
Newcastle, Australia
Sue
Thank you for your well considered post, Andrew. I love manual focus lenses, its all I had prior to going digital, and now, I only have a couple. I'm so lazy... I grab AF all the time, and the manual lenses are left languishing, in spite of their being excellent quality. Now, I feel the need to use manual again :)
 
Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew
Thank you for your well considered post, Andrew. I love manual focus lenses, its all I had prior to going digital, and now, I only have a couple. I'm so lazy... I grab AF all the time, and the manual lenses are left languishing, in spite of their being excellent quality. Now, I feel the need to use manual again :)
Well, if you get them out of retirement, make sure to share some of the images!!
 
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tonyturley

Hall of Famer
Nov 24, 2014
124
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Tony
Nice images, Andrew. For a long time after I picked up my first digital ILC, legacy lenses were all I used. Got a lot of great images, and I do like the old school rendering of the old lenses. I still have a few I keep on the shelf mainly for display, but pull them out from time to time just for a play.

However, as I've gotten closer to my 60th year, I found my keeper rate has declined a bit. I suspect I may not be as steady as I once was, and I don't always use a tripod. I also enjoy the convenience of a more modern lens, but I think learning how to do photography the old school way has made me better.
 

donlaw

Hall of Famer
Sep 14, 2012
124
Texas
Don
Really nice set of images. MF lenses are a great way to explore, and today’s cameras can bring new life to them.
Thanks for sharing.
 

rayvonn

All-Pro
Jan 19, 2015
124
Even on my AF cameras, the very best images seem to come from using MF lenses. For me it's because I have to think more. There's something about a 58mm F1.4 lens (APSC/ FF camera it, doesn't matter) which makes it so damn easy and enjoyable.
 
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davect01

Hall of Famer
Even on my AF cameras, the very best images seem to come from using MF lenses. For me it's because I have to think more. There's something abut a 58mm F1.4 lens (APSC/ FF camera it, doesn't matter) which makes it so damn easy and enjoyable.

The many options in lenses and yes the slightly slower reaction time in Focusing have made some of my favorite images come from MF lenses.

I do enjoy that I can AF and get 20FPS, review them on the spot and delete the crap. Making sure I get the shot and being able to reshoot if I need to are valuable tools.

However, there was something about having 24 frames per role, having to send them off to the developer, opening up that envelope several days later and the excitement at the keepers and disappointment at the losers.
 
Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew
The many options in lenses and yes the slightly slower reaction time in Focusing have made some of my favorite images come from MF lenses.

I do enjoy that I can AF and get 20FPS, review them on the spot and delete the crap. Making sure I get the shot and being able to reshoot if I need to are valuable tools.

However, there was something about having 24 frames per role, having to send them off to the developer, opening up that envelope several days later and the excitement at the keepers and disappointment at the losers.
I know what you mean. I'm kind of experiencing that now a bit with the controversial Yashica Y35. While not limited to just 24 or 36 frames, the inability to review the images immediately and I need to wait to transfer them over, bring me back to that time when I was shooting my Nikon N90s. You did your best to hope that you got it right, but had to wait for the roll to be developed before knowing for sure.
 

davect01

Hall of Famer
I know what you mean. I'm kind of experiencing that now a bit with the controversial Yashica Y35. While not limited to just 24 or 36 frames, the inability to review the images immediately and I need to wait to transfer them over, bring me back to that time when I was shooting my Nikon N90s. You did your best to hope that you got it right, but had to wait for the roll to be developed before knowing for sure.

Which as a professional must have been unnerving. My mother tells of her cousin back in the 70's who had her wedding done by an up and coming professional. Something went wrong at the processors and three entire rolls of film were wasted.
 
Feb 6, 2015
124
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew
Which as a professional must have been unnerving. My mother tells of her cousin back in the 70's who had her wedding done by an up and coming professional. Something went wrong at the processors and three entire rolls of film were wasted.
Heck, its unnerving now! lol One of the reasons I stopped shooting weddings. There are once in a lifetime moments that you have to get, even with digital and immediate review, if you miss that moment. EESSHH!
 
Aug 27, 2013
124
Talent, Oregon (far from the madding crowd)
Miguel Tejada-Flores
Nice series of images, Andrew. My favorites, for a number of reasons, seem to be the ones you have taken with the Pen F and the Laowa, a fine combination.

I realize this dates me, but I spent years and years (and years) shooting mainly with old Pentax (analog) SLR's, and back in those relatively dark (technologically speaking, for some) ages, the notion of autofocus lenses verged on either unattainable or the stuff of fanciful sci-fi. Fast forward several decades to our present era where manual focus lenses are, or seem to have become, at least in some circles, either an anomaly, a curiosity or, occasionally for some (many?) a museum-quality dinosaur. But other contemporary photographers whose work (and occasionally, whose words as well) I admire (Kirk Tuck springs to mind) have long had a fascination and appreciation for the many, many (many) virtues of shooting with certain pieces of older glass and optics. I don't know if using excellent autofocus gear has spoiled me or made me lazy, but shooting with older lenses almost always tends to make me more conscious, of many things. Of the process of taking a photograph. Of what I am about to shoot before, during, and after I press the shutter button. Of...well, of a lot of things.

As a related corollary - or simply a question - to some of the points you have raised - I can't help wondering, aloud, to myself at least, about the experiential difference between shooting with manual focus lenses on mirrorless cameras, equipped with EVF's - and with the same lenses on older DSLR's which make use of some form of pentaprism or pentamirror viewfinder. Though for no scientific or logical reasons, I am halfway convinced that the process of focusing via the slightly older mirror technologies of a DSLR - may in fact be different than doing the same thing via an EVF or a LCD screen. Part of it may simply be that I am used to seeing a lot of other information in or on an electronic screen or EVF - whereas with a pentaprism or pentamirror, there is a lot less visual clutter interfering with me and whatever it is I'm trying to frame and focus on. Which, come to think of it, is much more the way it used to be, way back when, in the analog age.

Thanks again for your thoughtful ruminations. They're making me think too. And making me reach for the focus ring on some lenses, again :)
 

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