Takumar 50mm f/4 Macro lens with Fotodiox M42 to m4:3 adapter

Ever since I first started learning about the m4:3 system, I’ve been hearing how easy it is to adapt virtually any range of existing DSLR lenses to work on it, via adapter. Now I’ve gone down the MF lens route once before, almost two years ago with my Canon EOS cameras. It seemed like a cheap way to pick up some sweet glass. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointment as manual focusing on the EOS cameras, with their basic optical viewfinders, was almost impossible.

Thankfully, the E-M5 changes all this with it’s EVF. Manual focus is not only possible, it’s even pretty easy – easy enough that I was able to do it all through Memorial Day weekend (and even under the influence of some adult beverages). How good is it? I’d put manual focusing on the E-M5 at 100% easier than on the EOS cameras, and at about 70% as good as the old A-1 film camera (which had a triple-method focus screen built in). Details after the break!

At the moment, I’m shooting with a pair of Takumar M42 lenses and a Fotodiox M42 to m4:3 adapter. I’ve got a 50mm f/4 macro and a 135mm f/3.5 and, to be accurate, I’m shooting mostly with the 50mm. It’s brand new to me and I’m just loving it – fairly fast, sharp, and the dual macro/portrait abilities are great. At an equivalent 100mm it’s manageable hand-held, whereas the 135mm (which bumps up to 270mm) is a little unwieldy.

First off, I have to give credit to Fotodiox for their adapters, which are incredibly well made. They’re a little pricy – $20 for the M42 adapter wasn’t bad, but the $40 I dropped on a Canon FD to m4:3 version seemed a little steep. Then the M42 arrived and I saw just how nice it was, and I was sold. They’re not cheap because, well, they’re not cheap.

And unlike using MF on auto lenses, where the focus rings vary from m’eh to downright awful, the MF rings on these old lenses are just excellent, with very fine focus control.

Macro image straight from camera – click to view larger

So here’s how it works on the E-M5: attach the lens to the adapter and mount it to the camera. There is no “Shoot without a lens” setting on the E-M5, it just runs with the adapted lens in A or M modes. There’s no aperture or focal range readouts, but the shutter speed adjusts automatically via the meter.

You will, however, need to set the focal length in the ISO mode menu (via the Super Control Panel). The IS system knows that there isn’t a auto lens attached, but the option to set the focal length manually is now available (with auto lenses its grayed out). Enter an IS focal length nearest to the value printed on the lens. (I originally thought I’d have to double the lens focal length due to the 2x crop factor, but the manual specifically says to use whatever focal length is printed on the lens itself.)

Most of the time I’m able to focus right in the EVF’s standard view, but sometimes there isn’t enough fine detail, or I just can’t tell for sure, so I activate the MF zoom window. I have this programmed to the Record button on top of the camera – one press activates the MF zoom box (which you can drive around the screen using the arrow keys) and a second press engages the zoom, giving you a full-screen look at the area within the box, for fine focusing control. When it’s sharp, just shoot. (A half-press of the shutter clears the zoom view.)

I used the Takumar on Sunday until it got too dark for holdable shutter speeds, then switched to the Leica 25mm for the faster aperture. My keeper rate was pretty good, and increased the longer I shot with it, to where it was nearly as good as when using AF lenses.

I’ve got another MF lens on the way – a Canon FD 35-105mm f/3.5 – and the necessary adapter. After this initial experiment, I’ve got a good feeling about the Canon. I’ll have to see how well I can juggle MF and zoom at once, but I can say for sure that shooting the Takumar 50mm, I’d have no qualms about using it in both studio and environmental portrait sessions. (And there’ll be some of that coming soon!)

Overall, it’s damn nice to finally be able to use these legacy lenses again and get good results without struggling. Adapted MF won’t be for everyone, and isn’t always practical, but it is a lot of fun – and satisfying in a way that AF isn’t always. If you’ve got a few legacy lenses kicking around from your film days, it may be worth the price of adapter just to play with them again (and remember why we liked them so much then!).

[Processing Info: all these images were run through the VSCO Film emulator, hence the slight color casts – it’s not a processing error, just a style choice that seemed appropriate for picnic photos.]

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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