DPP Home Gear Lenses Give Film Lenses New Digital Life

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Give Film Lenses New Digital Life

Lens adapters let you use an almost limitless combination of older lenses, as well as modern high-tech models, on today’s most popular DSLRs

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The Panasonic Lumix DMW-MA3R (for Leica R lenses), Novoflex MFT-NIK (for Nikon SLR lenses) and Olympus MMF-2 (for Four Thirds System lenses). The Micro Four Thirds System gives a pro the potential to have a very compact backup or a dedicated HD video body. Combined with an adapter, you can make use of your primary system’s lenses on that backup or dedicated video body, including favorite older lenses that you may hold in particularly high esteem.

The DSLR manufacturers all produce some excellent lenses for their cameras. But spend some time in professional photography forums online, and you’ll find pros extolling the virtues of older “elite” lenses many feel are optically superior to modern designs. To some of these individuals, the phrase “designed for modern DSLRs” translates to “costs and corners were cut in design and manufacturing.” Of course, many of today’s professional-level lenses are outstanding, but there are some special models from the film era that continue to hold a place high in the pantheon of photography.

The Sony LA-EA1 permits use of Sony Alpha DSLR lenses on the NEX mirrorless cameras.
Unfortunately, many of these “elite” manual-focus and specialty lenses aren’t available in mounts for modern DSLRs. Fortunately, there’s a simple and inexpensive solution: the lens adapter. Lens adapters let you attach lenses that weren’t made for your camera to your DSLR. They’re available from a number of manufacturers, and permit using a wide range of lenses—classic and the latest—on a wide range of DSLR bodies. Just attach the appropriate adapter to the lens, then attach the adapter/lens combo to your camera.

Besides letting you use older lenses on newer camera bodies, adapters also expand the range of current lenses available for new cameras. For example, the Micro Four Thirds System is fairly new, and relatively few Micro Four Thirds lenses are available. But simple adapters make it possible to supplement those with the full range of standard Four Thirds System lenses (retaining full automation, including autofocusing capability with most of them). Sony’s new NEX-series mirrorless cameras (which, despite their tiny size, contain DSLR-sized APS-C image sensors) expand the initial NEX lens offering via an optional adapter that permits using Sony’s much wider line of Alpha DSLR lenses with them (albeit without autofocusing). Because the mirrorless cameras have relatively short flange back distances, just about any SLR lens for which an adapter is available can be used with them. You’re unlikely to use a Micro Four Thirds camera as a primary body, but they make great compact backups and are useful as dedicated “still- and motion-capture” devices. With an adapter, you can dramatically increase their usefulness.

Adapters With A Twist

Well, a tilt, actually. Adorama’s Flashpoint Tilt Adapter for Nikon Lens to Micro 4/3 not only allows you to mount Nikon lenses on Micro Four Thirds System cameras, it also allows you to tilt the lens 12° in any direction, thanks to 360° rotation capability. The new Lensbaby Micro 4/3rds Composer with Tilt Transformer does a similar trick with Lensbaby or Nikon optics, providing 12.9° of tilt in any direction. As view-camera users know, being able to tilt the lens allows you to control the plane of focus and put depth of field just where you want it.

Flange Back Distance

The “flange back distance” is the distance between the lens mount and the image plane—the image sensor, in a DSLR. If the adapter is too thick, the flange back distance will be too long, and the lens won’t focus out to infinity. If the adapter is too thin, the flange back distance will be too short, and the lens will focus “beyond infinity.”

The first problem (inability to focus out to infinity) is the more serious, as it renders the lens/adapter/camera combination suitable only for close-up work. Careful manual focusing can solve the problem of combos that focus beyond infinity.

Adapters make it possible to use a wide range of treasured older lenses with this Olympus E-PL1 and other Micro Four Thirds System mirrorless cameras.
Be aware of subpar adapters! You’d think that if an adapter were sold to mount a given lens to your DSLR, it would be made with the correct flange back distance to do that. With the better adapters, this is the case. With some “bargain” adapters, however, quality control is such that a specific example actually may be a bit too long or too short. Some adapters contain glass elements to allow infinity focus when the flange back distance of the lens/adapter/camera combo is too long, but these extra elements often reduce image quality, and they cause the adapter to function as a short teleconverter, increasing the effective focal length of the lens—not optimal for wide-angle work. It’s best to get an adapter of the proper thickness for the camera body in question. And, thus, it’s best to buy your adapter(s) from a source that will let you return any that don’t provide proper focusing.


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