P: Hi Sebboh, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to use manual lenses?
S: I’m a neuroscience researcher from Portland, OR. Photography has been a hobby for most of my life and I shot with my father’s manual focus film camera (Minolta XE-5) when I was a kid. I wanted something smaller when I went to college and switched to the tiniest point and shoot I could find (still film). I was pretty happy with that way of shooting for a number of years till I became afflicted with the desire to take pictures of birds. That led me into DSLRs (Olympus and Nikon). This was my first experience of AF without the giant dof of a p&s and I quickly became extremely aggravated by the inability to get focus where I wanted it easily. Landscape shots were often ruined by miss focus that I didn’t detect till after the fact and shooting people moving seemed nearly impossible if dof was small. I found I got more consistent results with my old Minolta lenses as well as having a more enjoyable experience of fuller control of my images.
Being able to zone focus or use the infinity stop for landscape and street shots drastically improved my hit rate and speed. Focusing on moving targets was slower than AF, but I had a lot fewer misses and a lot more decisive moment catches. With only a meager number of old lenses from my father, I looked around ebay and discovered that manual focus lenses offered much cheaper ways to get long focal length or high speed lenses. I began experimenting with all the different lenses I could get cheaply and found many had very distinctive looks that I preferred for one type of shot or another. Unfortunately, this has led to me having far more lenses than are necessary, many of which are seldom used except for special circumstances.
They can be very cheap, you can get a great 1.4/50 lens for $50. For most applications such a lens will give you 90% of the performance of a $1000 Zeiss 1.8/55 FE. For the $1000 you would have to pay for that Zeiss you can buy an excellent set of five lenses from 20 to 300mm.
You have a huge choice between thousands of lenses ranging from exotic ones with lots of “character” to some of the very best lenses available.
There are 30-year-old primes with better image quality than many modern lenses. Of course progress has happened in recent years but still even cheap primes are often sharper than very expensive modern zooms.
Old lenses are usually beautifully built and more reliable than modern lenses which are full of electronics and very complex designs, both of which make them more likely to fail.
They also hold their value much better than modern lenses. With some patience you can sell most manual lenses without a loss but with new lenses you can expect to lose 30% in the first year.
Manual focusing can be very enjoyable. This certainly depends on application and personality but I for example enjoy working with fully manual lenses a lot more than with any AF lens. Check out our manual photographers series to read other photographers stories.
A manual lens needs to be focused manually? Think again! The Techart LM-EA7 turns about any manual lens into an AF lens. For the extended explanation and an in-depth assessment check out this post.
Weight limit lens
Sony a7rII, a7ii, a6300, a6500
*update* Please read this thread over at FM carefully. It seems that there is a design fault which will eventually lead some wobble of the adapted lens. Until this issue is fixed by Techart I would advise against buying the LM-EA7.
When I took this picture in late August I was working all day on some papers for university, so after many hours behind the desk some sport and photography was well earned.
In the Bag
I packed my small camera bag* with the lightest lenses I could find in my cabinet: a Olympus OM 3.5/28*, Zeiss C/Y 1.7/50* and Olympus OM 2.8/100.* Since I had some strenuous cycling before me I didn’t want to carry any unnecessary weight and I knew that I could capture about anything with this little setup. Of course one is always a bit limited by just three lenses. But I think it is a good exercise to be limited and to be out there is much more important than to have the absolutely best gear anyway.
In this series we interview amateur photographers just like us, who inspire us and who share our passion for photographing with manual lenses.
Hi Dan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to use manual lenses?
D: I’m studying mechanical engineering at the RWTH Aachen. Besides my studies and my work as mechanical designer at a young high tech kickoff of the Fraunhofer ILT Aachen I take photos and make music.
I started with photography about 7 years ago. At this time I owned a Lumix FZ18 – a bridge cam. I was really annoyed by it after some time, it felt like the cam made the photos and not me. There was nothing left for me to do except framing, the auto focus just had its own will and the super zoom made it too easy. To take control of the image I used a lot of Photoshop.
At some point this did not satisfy me anymore. I wanted to create an image, to make the camera do what I wanted it to do. So about 5 years ago I bought a NEX 5N with the 18-55 kit lens. While this combination was no real change to my FZ18, I could also use some old FDs from my dad.
Using the Nex-5n with the old FDs was what I had wanted all along. No more pumping auto focus and no more miss focused images.
I started testing and collecting FDs and I do so til today. Legacy lenses were and are the best compromise between price and performance. Besides some of them do have real unique characteristics.
My 5N accompanied me about 2 or 3 years but I was complaining about bad image quality at low light situations a lot. So I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy an a7 and that’s what I did. It was indeed a boost in lowlight for several reasons.
First the sensor is bigger and therefore it is better at those situations by its own. Second my old FDs were made for fullframe and now I could use their full potential. I owned some f/1.2 and this light boost seemed pretty much insane to me. Til today I’m happy with my A7. I never anticipated to buy an AF lens and I think I never will. I shot a wedding, various model shootings, a band shooting and take everyday footage of my family… of young and wild kids.
I don’t miss any little helper besides the things my A7 already does and the only thing that a A7II could do for me would be the IBIS. Photography has becomea big part of my life and I hope to lift my hobby up to the next level in the future.
Can you give us a look into your camera bag and tell us a little about your gear?
The Minolta AF 2.8/200 has the reputation to be one of the best if not the bestlens Minolta ever made. In this review I check if it still can keep up with the Sony a7II 30 years after it’s introduction.
Just click on any image to get to the full resolution version.
Last Saturday Bastian and I met up at Photokina and had a look mostly at new manual lenses. This time there have been so many interesting new things to look at, we weren’t able to cover them all. Anyways, here is our recap.