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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
 
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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.
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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.

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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

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

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

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

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Olympus PEN-F / Laowa 7.5mm f/2
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Olympus PEN-F / Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AIS
1/400, f/4, ISO 200
 
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Nikon Df / Nikon 20mm f/3.5 AIS
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Wonderful images!! You are totally correct about older lenses ... one of the Nikon's I recently let go was a 80-200 f2.8 push/pull that had to be 20-30 years old. The image quality was absolutely wonderful. I think after the new year I will start to look for some older Canon lenses to play with as well. I truly believe that the craftsmanship in the older lenses has not been overtaken by the high-tech manufacturing and QC of modern lenses. There's just something about the older lenses that I can see but not necessarily describe.

When I have shot in manual mode, the one thing I have missed are the focusing prisms we used to have in film SLR's. A lot easier to focus sharply!! Especially as my eyes age ... :)

Looking forward to following your journey.

Ken
 
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Wonderful images!! You are totally correct about older lenses ... one of the Nikon's I recently let go was a 80-200 f2.8 push/pull that had to be 20-30 years old. The image quality was absolutely wonderful. I think after the new year I will start to look for some older Canon lenses to play with as well. I truly believe that the craftsmanship in the older lenses has not been overtaken by the high-tech manufacturing and QC of modern lenses. There's just something about the older lenses that I can see but not necessarily describe.

When I have shot in manual mode, the one thing I have missed are the focusing prisms we used to have in film SLR's. A lot easier to focus sharply!! Especially as my eyes age ... :)

Looking forward to following your journey.

Ken

That confirmation dot on the Nikon Df is useful and so far has been very accurate for me....but I got used to the peaking aid in the Olympus bodies. It's nice to have that indicator right on the image and not have to look down at the status bar in the viewfinder.

The focusing prisms would be great, and I've heard that you can mod the Df to include one of the older styles...I've just not had the bravery to have one installed.
 
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I think it can be a lot of fun to restrict yourself to a fixed focal length prime lens. It really gets you thinking about composition.
However, I would not be satisfied with manual focus for most of my shooting. The focus confirmation dot can be helpful, but I would be disappointed if I missed the focus on an important shot.
 
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I think it can be a lot of fun to restrict yourself to a fixed focal length prime lens. It really gets you thinking about composition.
However, I would not be satisfied with manual focus for most of my shooting. The focus confirmation dot can be helpful, but I would be disappointed if I missed the focus on an important shot.

That is definitely a concern and a consideration. The more I work with the lenses, the less I miss focus. For critical work or paid assignments, I'm using the AF gear and what not.
 
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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.
Well said, Andrew, well said, indeed! (y)
 
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