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Manual focus lenses on a digital SLR

Jason Cheng , May 04, 2004; 02:31 p.m.

I've been a long time user of 35mm manual focus SLRs. I've never been impressed with the need for autofocus for my style of photography. However, I would like to get a digital SLR body. My question is what is the best digital SLR body to use with manual focus lenses? I have a number of Tamron SP Adaptall 2 manual focus lenses which I could use with any digital SLR that accepts manual focus lenses. I've tried them on a Fuji Finepix S2. I'm okay with the absence of in camera metering although it is a bit annoying (I often use a hand held meter anyway) but find the focusing image quite small. My 20+ year old manual focus 35mm bodies are much easier to focus accurately. How about using the lenses with some of the Nikon digital SLR or the new Pentax D*ist bodies? Any comments? Thanks.



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Greg Chappell , May 04, 2004; 02:35 p.m.

BUT, the screens in the these new DSLR's are not the best for manual focussing. Best one for manual focussing? Without a doubt either a Nikon DSLR or Pentax since they both have the mount for it. As you said, I don't think either will meter with manual lenses, but you need no accessories/gadgets to make a lens fit.

Ellis Vener , May 04, 2004; 02:40 p.m.

the meters in the Nikon D1 & D2 cameras work fine with manual focus lenses

Bob Atkins , May 04, 2004; 03:20 p.m.

I've used manual focus lenses on an EOS 10D without too much trouble. I also often use a 500/4.5L with a 1.4x TC and a 2x TC, a combination which turns off AF so I have to use manual focus.

In general I don't find manual focus a problem, it's just slower than auto focus. My eyes are pretty normal and I use reading glasses, but the built in diopter on the 10D enables me to see the screen in sharp focus.

I've done focusing tests (mostly with telephotos) and I find that given time there's really no difference in accuracy between AF and my manual focusing. It's just that AF takes a few tenths of a second and I take maybe a couple of seconds to optimize focus.

David Nevin , May 04, 2004; 03:35 p.m.

The *istD will meter (center weighted) with manual focus lenses. . .it will use all Pentax K-Mount lenses (and Screw/m42 mount with adapter) in manual mode. It works well.

Andrew Robertson , May 04, 2004; 03:45 p.m.

With an EOS body you can mount pretty much any manual focus lens aside from the old Canon FD mount. Nikon, Pentax, Leica R, Contax, M42, and so forth all mount with adapters that contain no optics (no optics = no image degradation from the adapter) and preserve infinity focus. You have to meter 'em in stop-down mode, but that's not a huge problem. This is possible because the EOS system's lens mount is physically closer to the film than most others (44mm for EOS IIRC). Other camera systems aren't nearly as capable in this capacity, as their flange backs (the distance between the lens mount and the focal plane) are physically longer.

The consensus is that if you want to use a variety of different mount lenses with a single body EOS is the only way to go. If you have lenses from one system only, perhaps a new DSLR from that manufacturer would serve you better.

All current AF lenses also focus manually. The more expensive ones feel about the same as a good MF lens (the focus is well-damped). The cheaper AF lenses feel pretty cheap when focusing manually, but they do work.

AF lenses are distinguished from their MF forefathers not just by the motor inside, but often by improved optical formulae and especially coatings. It's to the point now that a new, middle range zoom lens can equal or exceed the quality of a prime lens made in the 70's (REALLY!).

The only thing to remember is that most AF cameras only have a matte screen without any focusing aids. I don't know about Nikons, but Canon only offers interchangeable screens with focusing aids for their high-end bodies. The other cameras have a fixed screen.

Jim Tardio , May 04, 2004; 03:49 p.m.

This has been one of the debatable topics concerning the consumer-prosumer DSLRs. No one can really answer this question but yourself...you just have to use it for awhile to decide.

I use a D70 and don't have a problem with manual focus...others do. I can say for sure that telephoto lenses are much easier than wide angles. The D70, Fuji S2, and the D100 viewfinders all pretty much look the same to me...small. But you get used to it.

Mark Pav , May 04, 2004; 08:15 p.m.

The Pentax *ist D has the biggest, clearest viewfinder of any DSLR in its price range. I use old screwmount lenses on it and focusing is as easy as it is with my old Spotmatic.

Greg S , May 04, 2004; 08:22 p.m.

I used a chipped 600mm f/5.6 AIS MF lens on an S2 for a year, and got along well all things considered. I wouldn't have wanted to manual focus a wide angle lens though an an S2 or any other similar viewfinder sized DSLR... at least as a mainstay approach. Even with the telephoto prime I needed to 'bracket' for focus (re-focus several times to make sure some of the pics were perfect).

My old 600mm AIS has been set aside and replaced with a 500mm AF-I and I have been loving it (eliminates that concern/issue and can concentrate on the other settings).

js bc , May 04, 2004; 09:19 p.m.

Personally I think manual focusing on a D-Slr is a pain, not only is the ground glass different, but often the screen is darker and the visual field is smaller owing ot the crop factor.

That said, I use manual focus on my EOS-3. Close then lens down to F8, and I can still discern the plane of focus. So I suppose manual focus should be asy on the 1Ds and perhaps 1D. For a 1.5x crop D-slr, typically you would find F2.8 lenses dark and difficult to focus.

As a result, the number of cases where the manual focus shots are out of focus are quite numerous, it is worse for the telephotos.

Teh D70 in some sense, even though it does not meter with the Nikon mount MF lenses, are better since it has an electronic rangefinder. Dunno about D*ist. I have a MZ-5 which was quite easy to focus on account of its bright viewfinder, but the electronic rangefinder only works with Pentax autofocus lenses. So dunno the case about the D*ist.

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