It has been fascinating watching the emergence in recent years of Chinese makers of manual focus stills photography and cinema lenses adding their expertise to those of more established brands like Lumography, Voigtlaender and numerous others.
And then I came across Japanese brand MS Optics at Japan Camera Hunter.
Back when I was considering my first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera I looked into vintage manual focus lenses like those made by Zenit but set the idea aside when considering the scarcity and cost of buying them locally.
I had sold my Leica M-Series cameras and lenses several years before during a financially challenging period and before mirrorless cameras began making a dent in digital photography and video production.
The value of vintage manual lenses on mirrorless cameras became clear when Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT Pro dropped by our studio and kindly gave us two lovely little M42-mount lenses in 28mm and 50mm focal lengths.
After purchasing lens mount adapters from Gobe, I began using both lenses on Fujifilm X-mount and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, and later my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the latter when my copy of Canon’s notoriously shoddily-made and optically-poor Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM kit zoom lens failed just after end of warranty and the technician gave up on trying to render it usable.
The 28mm focal length in the 35mm sensor format is my standard for documentary photography and one that I favour for documentary video as well.
When adapted for Fujifilm X-mount, a 28mm lens becomes 42mm, and when a 50mm lens is adapted for the same mount it becomes 75mm.
Likewise, adapting both lenses for Micro Four Thirds effectively turns them into 56mm and 100mm lenses, great focal portrait lengths.
One of my favourite focal length pairs for documentary video in Super 35 is 18mm and 50mm, equivalent to 15mm and 37.5mm in Micro Four Thirds and 28mm and 75mm in the 35mm sensor format.
While the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R is good enough for most documentary photography work provided its optical and mechanical quirks do not get in the way, I find it next to useless for video work and have long been asking Fujifilm to at least update the focal length with a Fujicron-style f/2.0 lens if not a Fujilux-style f/1.4 lens with the manual clutch focus that is invaluable for serious movie production.
Meanwhile I have been searching for manual focus alternatives to Fujifilm’s 18mm semi-pancake lens and was almost settled on the reportedly excellent Zeiss Distagon 18mm T* f/4.0 ZM in Leica M-mount when it suddenly vanished from retailers, listed as “discontinued” and without a replacement.
An utterly stupid decision in my opinion, with no equivalent offered by any other current lens maker, especially given how much high praise the Zeiss 18mm Distagon has received over the years.
The closest affordable 18mm lens I have found online second-hand is the long discontinued Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4.0 in Contax/Yashica aka C/Y mount made by Kyocera, but I have no experience of these lenses or of the cameras for which they were designed though they are often described as “not to Zeiss standards”.
On the other hand cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT Pro speaks of his set of Contax Carl Zeiss C/Y mount lenses with affection, having adapted them all to EF mount with some filing down of the tab protrusions to allow speed booster compatibility for professional movie production on a range of cameras and sensor formats.
Mr Miyazaki’s MS-Optics lenses
I don’t know much about the limited-run Leica M-mount prime lenses handmade by Mr. Miyazaki of MS Optics save that they are clearly designed for stills photography and would be less useful for video production.
If it were not for the fact that MS Optics lenses are made in tiny production runs and are apparently not reissued after selling out, I might have considered the MS Optics Perar 17mm f/4.5 Leica M-Mount for use at hyperfocal distance settings for, say, urban documentary photography.
I have been keeping an eye on the ever-growing list of Chinese manual lens makers but so far none have shown signs of an 18mm lens in Leica M-mount or any other mount.
All one can do is hope beyond hope that Fujifilm will finally act on the reported deluge of requests made by XF-mount camera users to Fujifilm to release a radically upgraded Fujinon XF 18mm lens, one better suited to professional video and stills photography.
Outside the bounds of affordability nowadays: Leica M-Series lenses
I relied on two Leica M-4P cameras and several Leica M-Series lenses as the backbone of my kit for years of corporate, magazine and newspaper photography and while the fees were nothing like the ones I used to pay photographers when I worked in advertising in London, they were enough to help cover the cost of Leica and other gear.
While Leica manual focus prime lenses remain my personal benchmark for optical and mechanical construction, I can no longer afford them and so keep a keen eye on the growing number of Chinese lens makers.
I hope they will be emboldened to go beyond the usual standard, moderate short and moderate wide focal lengths and develop lenses such as, for example, Kipon’s Iberit 75mm f/2.4 and Iberit 40mm f/0.85 Mark Ⅱ for Fujifilm X-mount, or even an 18mm lens for the same mount.
- DPReview – Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 4/18 ZM Overview
- Fuji Rumors – RUMOR: New Fujinon X Mount Lens Roadmap with One Prime and One Zoom Mark II Lens – Vote Your Favorite
- Gobe – Lens Adapters
- Instagram – japancamerahunter
- Japan Camera Hunter – CAMERA GEEKERY: MS OPTICS APORIA 24MM F2 M MOUNT
- Japan Camera Hunter – MS OPTICAL JAPAN
- Japan Camera Hunter – MS OPTICS VARIO PRASMA 50MM 1.5 M MOUNT COLOR EDITIONS
- Japan Camera Hunter – MS-OPTICS ARCHIVES
- Japan Camera Hunter – MS OPTICS PERAR 17MM 4.5 BLACK/SILVER
- KenRockwell.com – Zeiss 18mm f/4 ZM
- Leeming LUT Pro
- Wikipedia – M42 lens mount