Manual Primes

I think it’s time to talk about gear again. It’s been a bit of a while. Lately I have found myself fielding quite a few questions from other m4/3 users about what lenses to use for video. Often, they come at the question by only considering a few options. Most start out thinking that they absolutely need a Panasonic or Olympus m4/3 lens. Generally, they’re hoping that they can get away with only owning one or two lenses which will cover all of their needs.
While there are certainly zoom lens options out there which will cover just about all your bases with only two lenses, most people (rightly) want to have the fast apertures that prime lenses can offer.

One of the great things about m4/3 is how many lens options you really have. I personally haven’t tried using lenses designed for image circles smaller than m4/3, but many people use 16mm lenses and various c-mount and 2/3 inch lenses with ETC mode and have great success. A simpler route, which I decided to walk, is the (relatively) wide world of manual 35mm prime lenses. They provide a variety of focal lengths, a sharp, high-quality aesthetic, and solid build quality for very little cost.

There are many brands and mounts to choose from, all easily adaptable to m4/3 – Canon FD, Nikkor F-mount Ai and Ai-s, Olympus OM, Pentax, Minolta MD, and more. It is best to stick with one mount and brand because color characteristics will stay more similar throughout your collection. I chose Minolta MD because they had a good reputation, were readily available, and were a little cheaper than some of the other options. For the amount I would have paid for one Panasonic prime lens, I was able to purchase an adapter, 28mm f2.8, 35mm 2.8, 45mm f2, 50mm f1.4 & 135mm f2.8 on eBay, used. These focal lengths tend to offer the best bang for your buck amongst used manual primes because they were made I’m greatest abundance and were cheapest when new. 24mm f2.8 lenses are available, as are 85mm f1.4-f1.8 lenses. These however tend to be significantly more expensive. Being able to own 5 lenses that all match reasonably well for less than $500 and allow you to shoot in challenging lighting conditions is a very good deal. I use the 50mm f1.4 for weddings all the time, where its fast f-stop and long focus throw allow me a lot of creative choices to complement my workhorse zoom lenses.

There are so many different options available to m4/3s users these days, from an excellent and growing selection of Panasonic mount-native primes and zooms, to the excellent, if pricey, options from Voightlander and SLR-magic, to every 35mm lens ever made, and more. Do your research, consider your application, and buy the right lenses for you.

To finish up, take a look at this short film I did using my Minolta lenses in 2011. It’s rough around the edges because its a 48hr film. It’s called Twist, enjoy. Twist on Vimeo

4 responses to “Manual Primes

  1. Hi.
    I have a question as I’m about to embark on the 4/3 journey with the GH3.
    I am very concern over stabilization of the image especially with non OIS lens. Do you use any software in post or is it only from your rig?


    • Hi Sebastien,
      Excellent question. For a very long time I have wrestled with this very issue. The main concern you will have to deal with is focal length. I would say that past 100mm on a lens, OIS becomes a necessity – unless you are willing to put the camera on a heavy tripod, point it the right direction, and then not touch it at all. Under 100mm, Warp Stabilizer in After Effects cleans up shakes very effectively. I’ve been using it more and more. It won’t work on every shot though – the best policy in any circumstance is to try for smooth camera movements in the first place.

      • Which one of your prime lens do you find yourself using most often?

        • I think right now my 20mm f1.7 Panasonic prime and my 50mm f1.4 Minolta MD prime get the most use. The 20mm is a very sharp lens and is great for wide-angles of a ceremony. The 50mm I use at receptions quite a bit, getting detail shots and dance footage.

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