I have been asking Panasonic, either directly or through friendly staff members, to ensure that new lenses for its Micro Four Thirds system cameras have manual clutch focus built in for years now, always without positive result. Until now, sort of…
The very first M43 lens I bought for my first M43 camera was the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro standard zoom lens, and besides its many excellent optical and mechanical qualities, the biggest reason I chose it over Panasonic’s own Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II Aspheric Power OIS standard zoom was its manual clutch focus mechanism.
Coming from decades of relying on non-autofocus, non-autoexposure cameras equipped with manual-only prime lenses, I was not ready to fully commit my photography and cinematography practises to focus-by-wire prime and zoom lenses without hard stops at both ends of the focussing scale.
There have been many times in recent years when the only way of achieving fast and deadly accurate focus has been manually, with my 12-40mm M.Zuiko Pro lens most often on my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 rangefinder-style camera, in conditions where my focus-by-wire and autofocus-only lenses have let me down.
With the 12-40mm, all one needs do is snap the focussing ring towards myself, rotate it a little until the required part of the image pops into sharp focus, then shoot.
Manual clutch focussing mechanisms offer a surety of fast, repeatable, accurate focusing that autofocusing does not and, and when I was considering investing in Fujifilm’s X-System cameras and lenses, I was pleased to discover that it offers three manual clutch focus lenses.
I wish that every Fujifilm Fujinon XF and GF lens had manual clutch focus just as I wish the same for all of Panasonic’s Leica and Lumix M43 lenses.
That lack of manual clutch focus in the latter lens system heavily tipped the balance for me towards Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro prime and zoom lenses and I hope to be investing in more of them soon.
I had thought that Panasonic was impervious to the idea of manual clutch focus for any of its lenses, until perusing photographs of the first three Panasonic S-Series lenses and discovered that, lo and behold, two of the three have manual clutch focussing mechanisms.
Thank you, Panasonic!
I hope that many more S-Series lenses will follow this fine example.
Panasonic Lumix S 70-200mm f/4.0 OIS and Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 lenses, both with manual clutch focus
Panasonic Lumix S 70-200 f/4.0 OIS telephoto zoom lens with manual clutch focus.
Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 fast prime lens with manual clutch focus.
Aperture ring on the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 lens
A second welcome feature of one out of Panasonic’s three new S-Series lenses is the aperture ring on the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 lens.
My ideal lens form factor for documentary stills and video in all sensor formats would include manual clutch focus to supplement the choice of linear or non-linear focus-by-wire, and an aperture ring with the choice of clickless or clicking stops.
I chose the GX8 specially for its unique tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF) that allows me to shoot looking downwards like waist level viewfinders on some of my favourite analog cameras, or at a range of other angles.
Using a GX8 in this way permits placing the camera lower than eye level and makes it easier for subjects to ignore me.
The 25mm f/1.7 came with the GX8 as part of a promotion and it is a very sharp and well optically-corrected lens that focusses by wire as opposed to the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro 25mm f/1.2 lens that offers repeatable manual focus via its manual clutch focussing mechanism.
Another Panasonic lens to consider for this approach is the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 prime that also focusses by wire.
I processed the raw files in Alien Skin Exposure X3 using the Kodak Panasonic-X and Platinum split-toning presets, with minimal further image adjustments.
I chose to emulate the look of platinum printing as I was reminded, on entering the gallery, of the many exhibitions I have seen overseas where the photographs were printed in the platinum printing process.
“It seems every other TCSTV episode, Jordan Drake is complaining about focus-by-wire lenses. So Jordan and Chris Niccolls decided to explain what focus-by-wire is, and why you probably don’t want it if you’re shooting video.”
Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lenses – The best lenses for Super 16 video shot with Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 due to their having manual clutch focus mechanisms. Draw back the focussing ring to switch from focus by wire into manual clutch focus with the benefit of fast, repeatable focussing without the variable focussing speed of focus by wire.
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Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Ultra Wide-Angle Lens – B&H
“I told you months ago that Olympus would release this lens. And now I have the pleasure to share the very first image of this lens! The new 17mm f/1.2 pro lens will be the second super fast lens after the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 PRO….
… A third 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens is expected to be announced some times later. Stay tuned on 43rumors for more info and leaks!…”
Micro Four Thirds rumour website 4/3 Rumors has confirmed its long persistent rumour that Olympus is working on a fast, professional-quality 17mm prime lens with a product shot.
Whatever sensor size and aspect ratio in which I am working, I consider a moderate wide-angle lens an essential and the very first prime lens to be purchased.
I bought into the Micro Four Thirds system knowing it lacked a pro-quality 17mm lens, equivalent to 34mm in the 35mm so-called “full frame” sensor size, but had high hopes one would appear some day and so it soon will.
MFT’s 17mm focal length is eminently suited to documentary photography and video production when using one lens only or as first amongst a set of lenses and focal lengths.
In the absence of such a lens at the time, my first professional M43 lens was a zoom, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro, and it has impressed me more than I had expected.
Standardizing on Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lenses for video and stills
So much so, in fact, that I have resolved to standardize on Olympus M.Zuiko Pro native M4/3 lenses rather than those made by Panasonic, despite standardizing on Panasonic Lumix cameras due to their excellent qualities as MFT/Super 16 stills and moviemaking cameras.
Olympus has aptly named its professional prime lens and zoom lens range, given its many pro-quality features:
Manual clutch focus for fast, repeatable focussing when focus-by-wire is too slow and inaccurate.
Weather resistance via hermetic sealing against dust and rain.
Excellent mechanical and optical design and construction for impact-resistance and ability to handle extreme temperature variations.
Much smaller size and weight compared to equivalents in the 35mm so-called “full frame” sensor size.
Consistent maximum aperture of f/2.8 on the zoom lenses, f/1.2 on the fast prime lenses, f/4.0 on the travel zoom lens and long telephoto lens.
Filter diameter of 62mm on most lenses.
Best optical correction I have seen so far on any wide zoom lens with the M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro.
The one downside is the 7-14mm zoom’s convex front element that disallows screw-on filters. The solution is a push-on adapter and filter frame for square or rectangular tempered glass or plastic filters such as those made by Breakthrough Photography, Nisi and many other filter specialists.
Whether the extra cost of these solutions is outweighed by this lens’ impressive optical correction action is a matter of taste and need.
Personally I find the optical distortion of many wide-angle zoom lenses objectionable especially when videoing a protagonist walking through a cityscape of interior containing parallel horizontals and verticals.
Distortions like that can be corrected in image editing and raw processing software but not in moviemaking’s non-linear editing software.
More M.Zuiko Pro primes to come
Based on rumours, Olympus’s M.Zuiko Pro prime and zoom lens range is shaping up well with a 42mm f/1.2 probability and fast 12mm and 14mm lenses possibilities.
The range’s f/2.8 maximum aperture zooms are fast enough for most available light situations unsupplemented by strong LED lighting.
Its f/1.2 maximum aperture primes are excellent solutions for available darkness situations for which f/2.8 is too slow, and suit the needs of bokeh mavens for razor sharpness against milky blur.
Professional lens sets need to include All Common Focal Length Options
When I first began looking into Micro Four Thirds/Super 35 and APS-C/Super 16 format cameras for documentary photography and video production, prime lens choices were limited and much narrower than I had been accustomed to in the analog film formats I used professionally.
In contrast to those days, zoom lenses have radically evolved and there are a number available now that are approaching prime lens quality at all of most focal lengths, at the expense of maximum aperture or a single maximum aperture.
I am not a fan of variable maximum aperture zooms that offer, say, one stop extra at the wide end compared to to the one-stop reduced maximum aperture throughout the rest of the lens’ focal range.
Few if any contemporary zoom lenses are entirely without optical distortion. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro’s optical correction impressed during a quick and dirty tryout a while back, but the downside is the lens’ convex front element that mitigates against the same screw-on filters I use on other lenses.
Given a choice, I would prefer to rely on a good set of professional-quality prime lenses for my photography and video work, but given reality oftentimes must compromise with lens sets comprising fast zooms and faster primes.
One can get away with that for photography due to many raw processing and image editing software products having optical correction features, but correction in software is not possible for video footage and common optical distortions in zoom lenses can be distracting at the expense of the story and the audience’s immersion in it.
I applaud the efforts of camera and lens makers in adding extra focal lengths but a few gaps remain in the brands I use and I look forward to the day when we have choices in APS-C/Super 35 and M43/Super 16 more closely approaching those of the established 35mm DSLR camera and lens makers.
Suggested Olympus M.Zuiko Pro reduced lens sets:
17mm – not too wide and not too long, for when only one lens is desired.
7-14mm, 17mm, 25mm and 42mm – for video and stills across a range of situations and subjects with the emphasis on fast primes.
7-14mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm, 1.4x teleconverter, with one or more f/1.2 primes – for a wide range of documentary video situations with the emphasis on zooms.