DPReview: Open letter to Panasonic: Innovations in manual focus could make Lumix S a winner for cinematographers

https://www.dpreview.com/opinion/3202272540/open-letter-to-panasonic-long-overdue-innovations-in-manual-focus

“Jack Lam is a cinematographer based in Beijing and Hong Kong. His body of work includes TV commercials, seasonal TV drama series and theatrical feature films. His commercial clients include Cathay Pacific, Lenovo, Airbnb, Alibaba, and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He also works with DJI as a design consultant for their cinema products….

… As a working cinematographer, I am super excited by Panasonic’s announcement of the Lumix S mirrorless camera system. The Panasonic GH5 is so well-designed, it has become a reliable workhorse for many video shooters. I have no doubt a full-frame version of it will be amazing, and everything I read about the S1/S1R confirms that.

However, Lumix S has the potential to become much greater that what we see in this product launch. With this brand new camera system, Panasonic has a unique opportunity to create the perfect small camera system for professional cinematographers. But doing so requires Panasonic to address a long-standing problem that is overlooked by all other camera makers, as well as some rethinking of conventional ideas on camera design.

This missing feature – one that can become a potential killer feature for Panasonic – is good manual focus control for video….

… I want MF control that is simple, accurate, reliable, repeatable, predictable, measurable and ergonomically sound. It should also be wireless-capable and highly integrated as part of the camera (so that we can keep the camera small and don’t need to add six other accessories just to pull focus). Do you know of any small (DSLR/mirrorless) camera in the market that fulfills all of the above requirements? I have found none.”

panasonic_lumix_dc-s1_01_1024px
Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 35mm sensor mirrorless camera with Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro OIS standard zoom lens.

Commentary

olympus_m.zuiko_primes_square_17_25_45_1024px_60%
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro professional prime lenses with manual clutch focusing, brilliant for shooting video or stills where accurate focus is absolutely critical.

Please note that Jack Lam’s open letter was written late 2018 before the official launch of the Panasonic S1 and S1R cameras and lenses, before detailed specifications were released.

The elephant in the room of mirrorless and DSLR hybrid cameras is manual focusing, and it is pleasing that Mr Lam has addressed it in depth.

The autofocus capabilities of modern mirrorless cameras have been steadily improving for use in stills photography, but I often find myself flipping over into manual focus whenever starting off with autofocus when shooting video, no matter how much innovation has gone into each camera’s video autofocus functions.

The problem of manual focusing limitations in cameras is further compounded by the manual focusing and focus pulling limitations of the lenses that are made for them, with their reliance on non-linear focusing control rings or lack of focusing rings altogether.

Whenever possible I invest in lenses that have manual clutch focus mechanisms and hard stops at each end of the focussing scale, but these lenses can be far and few between in any camera system.

fujifiom_fujinon_xf_14mm_f2.8_r_01_1024px_80pc
Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R prime lens with manual clutch focus, equivalent to 21mm in the 35mm sensor format.

Lenses manually focused via control rings are more common, whether the option of switching from non-linear to linear operation is offered in cameras’ firmware or not.

Given a choice, I will always select a manual clutch focus lens over autofocus-only or control ring-only lenses, but then there is another factor, the all-too-common lack of an aperture ring.

The ideal lens for me has both, with a switch for clickless and clicked operation of the aperture ring being the best option for riding exposure in variable light.

I write about this stuff as often as I can but I am nobody and no camera manufacturer pays attention to what I have to say.

It may be a different matter for Jack Lam.

I hope that Panasonic is not the only camera and lens maker that may read Mr Lam’s open letter.

I want Blackmagic Design, Fujifilm and Olympus to read it and act positively upon it too.

olympus_om-d_e-m1x_20_1024px
Olympus O-MD E-M1X camera with fully-articulated LCD monitor. I relish having fully-articulated monitors on my Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras and use them constantly for photography and video. I am not so enamoured of the two-way, three-way and non-articulating monitors that have been appearing on recent cameras by other manufacturers including Fujifilm, Sony and now Panasonic in its S Series cameras. Full articulation, please, camera makers. 

Manual focus and focus-pulling for video with mirrorless hybrid camera should not have to suck.

I am beyond tired of it sucking on the cameras that I try out and consider for purchase.

I am tired of having to mention it all the time in my articles in the hopes of things changing for the better.

I am sure that my contacts at the camera and lens companies are tired of me and reportedly many others asking them to lift their game.

Mr Lam makes a number of other excellent suggestions on page two of his article as published by DPReview, or you may wish to read it at source, at Mr Lam’s The Right Lens web log below.

For good measure, here is his list of other necessary features, all of which I agree with:

Other Good-to-have Features

While we are at it, here are some good-to-have features that I’d like to see in the Lumix-S system. But they are not nearly as important as a good focus control system.

– GH5-style Flip-out Screen. It is already so good. Don’t change it.

– High-bright Screen. Make it viewable under sunlight. I know it eats battery and heats up quick. But it really is super useful outdoor.

– Internal ND

– 4K 10-bit Log 60fps

– Build-in Video Transmitter or make it an add-on module that is highly integrated with the camera. Monitoring thru WiFi isn’t reliable enough. (I know I am getting greedy…)

– Sturdy, Positive-locking Lens Mount. For the time when we do use a cinema lens. (Just like the mount upgrade option on the Canon C300 MK2)

– Ergonomics. For the video-centric pro model, please, don’t make it too large, otherwise the whole talk about small cameras getting good focus control becomes moot. At least give us one video-centric model with DSLR-like form factor. And please, for god’s sake, don’t make it shaped like the Canon C100 / C300. They have the worst ergonomics.

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Lensrentals: Veydra Cine Mini Prime MTF Optical Bench Tests

https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2018/03/veydra-cine-mini-prime-mtf-optical-bench-tests/

“I have my preconceived notions, just like anyone else. A long while back the video techs told me we were stocking Veydra Primes in multiple focal lengths for m4/3 mounts. I just rolled my eyes and passed on by. Another boutique lens that would have poor resolution, ridiculous copy-to-copy variation, and a shelf-life-until-broken measured in weeks. Not interested.

But I noticed we were stocking more and more of them because they rented well; and added them in E-mount, too. I also saw they rarely came to repair. Then I did a little checking and found that our techs, who can check out any gear they want for their weekend shoots (it is an excellent perk, isn’t it?) were taking Veydras home pretty often. So I figured it was time to test them….”

veydra_7_lenses_composite_new_1920px_60.jpg
Veydra Mini Prime colour-matched, geared manual-focus cinema prime lenses, from left, 12mm T2.2, 16mm T2.2, 19mm T2.2, 25mm T2.2, 35mm T2.2, 50mm T2.2 and 85mm T2.2 for Micro Four Thirds and APS-C sensor cameras. Just one thing prevents me from investing in a kit of these, the lack of anything wider than 12mm which is a focal length I rarely use instead preferring 10.5mm aka 21mm in 35mm sensor equivalent or wider.

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  • Veydra Mini Prime ciné lensesB&H

Olympus Announces 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 Fast Professional-Quality M.Zuiko Pro Micro Four Thirds Prime Lenses, Perfect for Video

Olympus has announced the next two prime lenses in its M.Zuiko Pro collection of top quality zoom and prime lenses, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro. 

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens, first fast professional quality prime lens with manual clutch focus to appear in the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens collection, now joined by the 17mm and 45mm f/1.2 prime lenses.

The 17mm and 45mm high maximum aperture optics join their fast prime sibling the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro in the soon-to-be 9-strong M.Zuiko Pro lens lineup.

The M.Zuiko Pro collection currently includes 7-14mm, 8mm, 12-40mm, 12-100mm, 25mm, 40-150mm and 300mm focal lengths, or in 35mm sensor equivalent terms, 14-28mm, 16mm, 24-80mm, 24-200mm, 80-300mm and 600mm focal lengths.

Apart from the 8mm full-frame fisheye and 300mm long telephoto lenses in the lineup, the M.Zuiko Pro collection’s fast primes will soon number three that are equivalent to 34mm, 50mm and 90mm in 35mm sensor format terms.

Until the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro lenses join its ranks, Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional quality lens collection will remain at its current strength of three prime lenses and four zooms. Left to right: 7-14mm f/2.8, 8mm f/1.8, 12-40mm f/2.8, 12-100mm f/4.0, 25mm f/1.2, 40-150mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/4.0. Images not to scale.

Add the 21mm or 24mm equivalent focal lengths of 10.5mm and 12mm to those three and you have an excellent though lean core set of  colour-matched primes capable of repeatable manual focus via their manual clutch focussing mechanism.

Add the 28mm equivalent focal length of 14mm and you have a complete set of wide through to medium long focal lengths able to handle most anything that comes along, whether documentary stills or video.

Focus-by-wire is a right royal pain

As the guys at Calgary’s The Camera Store often point out, focus-by-wire lenses suck when shooting video and manual clutch focus lenses in the M.Zuiko Pro and other Olympus collections are preferable by far.

Manual clutch focus is also useful in achieving fast, accurate focus in stills photography, especially when using fast maximum aperture lenses in longer focal lengths.

I hope that these three fast M.Zuiko Pro lenses – 17mm, 25mm and 45mm – are just the start of a growing prime lens subset.

The start of a core matched set of high-end video production primes? From the rear: the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, all with focussing ring retracted to switch on manual clutch focus.

They don’t all need to be as fast at f/1.2.

A maximum aperture of f/1.4 is fine for wider lenses so long as they have the same construction quality, colour rendering and optical correction as the rest of the M.Zuiko Pro collection.

I can get by without 14mm for the time being.

The 14mm focal length (28mm equivalent in 35mm sensor size) is the default setting on my Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro zoom lens for documentary photography and video – I rotate the lens’ focal length aka zoom ring to the 14mm mark when extracting my GX8 or GH4 out of my camera bag.

Robert Capa’s saying that “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” holds true in the digital age and a reasonably wide default focal length like 14mm forces you to get up close, personal, immersive and emotional in contrast to 25mm’s surrealist distancing or 17mm’s neither-fish-nor-fowl though often handy moderate wide-angle compromise.

Don’t underestimate the joys of a matched lens set…

I learned about the many pleasures of matched sets of prime lenses when I first encountered the Leica M-System. Most of my lenses then were made in Germany, and each manufacturer instilled very distinct colour, tone, resolution and micro contrast renditions into their products. Later I discovered Japanese prime lenses had their own set of tone, colour and other optical characteristics. Imagine the needless labour required to match footage shot with different primes made by different makers.

… and never underestimate the usefulness of the 17mm focal length.

The Leica M-System’s pre-aspheric Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens was the very first lens I had for my first Leica M rangefinder camera when I was a young photographer.

When I discovered the Leica M-System during the analog era, the only lens I could buy locally was a Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens, the “compact classic prime”.

The 35mm focal length, 17.5mm in Micro Four Thirds, is the perfect compromise if carrying just the one lens.

Not too wide for portraiture and especially suited to environmental portraiture, not too narrow for getting deep and intense inside a rapidly moving mass of people such as a demonstration, protest or rally, the moderate wide-angle 17mm focal length is a versatile compromise and the one I always recommend to beginning photographers whether in its M43 17mm form, APS-C 23mm equivalent, 35mm sensor 35mm equivalent or 45mm for Fujifilm’s GFX 50S medium format camera.

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens mounted on an Olympus Pen F rangefinder-style camera.

Until the arrival of the M.Zuiko Pro 17mm f/1.2 lens, the only other M43 17mm lens will have been the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8, perfectly suited to small stills-oriented cameras like the rangefinder-style Pen F though less appropriate, according to users, for shooting video due to its noisy internal focussing motors.

Like many others in the various Olympus lens collections, the 17mm f/1.8 has manual clutch focus, a crucial feature that should be built into all lenses, especially those intended for use by moviemakers.

Primes or zooms?

As many wiser heads than I have pointed out over the years, relying on a set of prime lenses as opposed to zooms has a number of benefits despite the convenience of having a number of focal lengths in the one lens.

I would love Olympus to add the 10.5mmm focal length (21mm equivalent in 35mm sensor size) to the M.Zuiko Pro collection for scene-setting shots for which 12mm is too constricting, especially when shooting DCI 4K and other aspect ratios and resolutions.

No other lens maker has come up with a truly professional-quality M43 manual and autofocus native 10.5mm lens and I am sure Olympus has what it takes to do it.

Olympus does offer the 10.5mm-inclusive 7-14mm f/2.8 zoom lens in its M.Zuiko Pro collection, and from the all-too-brief in-store tryout I had when a mid-sized camera store existed nearby, the lens’ one downside is its large protruding convex front element.

Independent cinema lens maker Veydra is an inspiration in the optical and mechanical quality of its matched prime lens collection for Micro Four Thirds and Sony E-Mount cameras. Veydra was on its way to adding a wider lens at about 8.5mm or 9mm in focal length but abandoned the idea when cost and size considerations became an issue. Pity though that the company did not look into developing a 10.5mm lens, equivalent to 21mm in the 35mm sensor format, my preferred focal length at the widest end. I was seriously contemplating buying a set of Veydra Mini Prime lenses until that decision. I find 24mm less than wide enough at the wide end of the scale. My preferred Veydra set for M43 would be 10.5mm, 16mm, 19mm, 25mm, 35mm and perhaps 50mm.

Not such a problem when shooting stills, though I do feel better installing a top-quality protective or UV filter in front when working on location.

Way more of a problem when shooting video due to the size and expense of top quality lens adapters and big square or rectangular ND filters for the 7-14mm M.Zuiko Pro such as those found in recently released filter kits like the Formatt Hitech 165mm Firecrest Elia Locardi Signature Edition Travel Filter Kit for Olympus 7-14mm f/4 [sic] Lens.

Olympus deserves praise for keeping the filter diameter of its non-convex front element M.Zuiko Pro lenses within reason at 62mm, 72mm and 77mm.

That might help rationalize the number of brass-mounted UV filters and brass step-up rings needed, as well as Xume magnetic filter system components.

“Too big, too expensive, too heavy”?

I chose the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 camera in Compact Camera Meter then selected the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro lenses to compare relative size. They look well-balanced to me. I use my 12-40mm zoom on my GX8, GH4 and have used it on a review loaner GH5 for video and stills, and have no complaints.

Neither the 45mm f/1.2 nor 17mm f/1.2 are available yet and have only been tried out by a handful of users, mostly Olympus Visionaries.

Despite their early praise, some potential buyers chatting on online fora seem to believe that these two lenses plus the 25mm f/1.2 that appeared over a year ago are too large, too heavy and too costly.

So, I did a quick test on the Compact Camera Meter website in order to compare the dimensions of my most-used M.Zuiko Pro lens with the three  fast M.Zuiko Pro primes, placing them on the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5.

They look well-proportioned in relation to the camera to me, and all are about the same size.

As with most items of hardware, you get what you pay for and if the few photographs made with these lenses that have been released so far are any indication, these three lenses look well worthwhile.

I asked cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One fame what native lenses he would use on his GH5 for making feature films.

“Olympus would be my pick if I was using M43 lenses”, he told me.

Mr Leeming currently uses Metabones Speed Booster-adapted Zeiss Contax manual prime lenses on his GH5, attaching his ND filters with the Xume magnetic system.

Product Gallery

Product shots and sample photographs kindly supplied by Olympus Australia and Olympus USA and their public relations agencies and staff.

Conclusion

The addition of the 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 lenses to Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional Micro Four Thirds lens collection is an exciting development and offers the hope that more such fast prime lenses will be forthcoming.

When I began looking at Super 16/Micro Four Thirds as a serious documentary moviemaking and photography platform some years ago, my biggest concern was the apparent lack of an extensive optically and mechanically matched set of well-spaced prime and zoom lenses as we long have been accustomed to in other sensor formats.

The prospect of having to assemble a lens set comprising different brands and different optical and mechanical characteristics and qualities was not an attractive one.

That concern has now been largely allayed.

I will be even less concerned if Olympus adds a reasonably fast 10.5mm to the M.Zuiko Pro collection as the widest offering in its core prime lens subset.

I bought into the Super 16/Micro Four Thirds system when needing to shoot more video than stills, and while waiting for Fujifilm to come up with what finally turned out to be the X-Pro2, which was being spoken of back then as a Super 16/APS-C 4K-capable stills camera with accurate film simulations for video and JPEGs.

With the GH5, Panasonic has soared ahead and Fujifilm has years of catching up to do.

Of Panasonic’s own lens offerings, I am not so sure especially as they rely on focus-by-wire, which is fine for autofocus and back-button focus for stills but lousy for manually focussing video.

After trying out the Panasonic Lumix G 12-35mm f/2.8 and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses, I chose the latter and as Olympus released more M.Zuiko Pro lenses was increasingly impressed with the direction they were taking.

The three latest M.Zuiko Primes have me really impressed, for stills as well as video.

I relied on kits of two, three or four prime lenses for each camera system I used during the analog era, often carrying no more than three on most assignments, most often one long, one wide and one even wider.

It feels like I could do the same with these three M.Zuiko primes, for cinematography and photography, so long as I have a couple of matching zooms and one prime lens on the wide end socked away.

Olympus, please give us a 10.5mm prime lens to go with your 17mm, 25mm and 45mm primes, along with your 12-40mm and 40-150mm zooms to fill in the gaps.

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Image Credits

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO LensB&H
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  • *** Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 PRO LensB&H ***
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  • *** Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO LensB&H ***
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO LensB&H
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TheCameraStoreTV: Focus By Wire: Why It Sucks (Featuring Possible Solutions!)

“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.”

Links

  • Fujifilm X lenses – Fujifilm makes some manual clutch focus prime lenses like the excellent Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R, Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR and Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R but the company really needs to add more such lenses to prove that it is serious about professional Super 35 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 23mm f/1.4 R LensB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO LensB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO LensB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO LensB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter for 300mm and 40-150mm lensesB&H
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Venus Optics: Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT

http://www.venuslens.net/product/laowa-7-5mm-f2/

“World’s Widest rectilinear f/2 lens for Micro Four Third cameras.

This lens is currently the widest rectilinear lens currently in the market for Micro Four Thirds Cameras. It gives an field of view equivalent to 15mm lenses in 35mm sensors. This allows MFT users to enjoy an impressive 110° ultra wide angle of view for a wide range of shooting needs despite the 2x crop factor. The wide angle of view and ultra-fast aperture are extremely valuable for astro-photography. This lens is super compact and lightweight for casual on-the-go use. A ultra-light version is also available for aerial photography usage….”

 

David Thorpe: A Look At Three Kowa Lenses for Micro Four Thirds Cameras

“They’re built like tanks, feature both T and F stops and have none of that new fangled data swapping between lens and camera.

8.5mm, 12mm or 25mm, take your choice. But check your bank account first!”

Equivalencies in 35mm format

  • 8.5mm in M43 = 17mm in 35mm format
  • 12mm in M43 = 24mm in 35mm format
  • 25mm in M43 = 50mm in 35mm format

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  • Kowa PROMINAR MFT 25mm f/1.8 Lens (Black)B&H