Nikkor MF lenses on the Panasonic MFT bodies.
This piece will finally join the heretofore parallel lines for the Nikon D700 and Panasonic G3 systems I use. Absent the one in the iPhone 4S and an old Panasonic Lumix LX-1, I have no other cameras.
Adapters and their limitations:
Adapters, most around $25, are available to use Nikon and Canon and a host of other manufacturers’ lenses on MFT bodies made by Panasonic and Olympus. But just because you can do that, does it make sense?
For the most part the answer is a resounding ‘No’.
You have no autofocus, auto-exposure is aperture-priority only, and Canon EF and Nikon ‘G’ lenses require specialized adapters to control the aperture. Otherwise you are restricted to full aperture only as those lenses lack a manual aperture ring. Except for Olympus MFT bodies which have anti-shake built into the body, a Panny user loses that feature also. Any VR/IS in a Canon or Nikon lens is lost. The sheer bulk of most full frame lenses destroys the compact concept of the MFT body’s design and the whole idea has a rather Rube Goldberg aspect to it. Cool to tinker, useless in practice.
Still, I plonked down $23 for one of these the other day and just received it. It adds some value in specialized applications and works with Nikon pre-Ai, Ai’d, Ai, Ai-S and AF-D (manual focus) lenses. If you want to adapt a G series AF-S lens as well as all older Nikkors, buy the costlier adpater with a mechanical aperture control ring. Read on.
Click the picture to go to Amazon US. I get no click-through payment.
I opted for the Rainbow Imaging version as user reviews suggested it has a better release catch for Nikon lenses than other cheap ones. Manufacturing quality is very high, the interior is semi-matte but that’s unlikely to have any effect on image quality as the reflectivity is low. Fit of both the Nikon end and the Panasonic end is excellent. Novoflex makes adapters for $300. Save your money. The cheap ones are fine. You can see the full range of Rainbow Imaging adapters by clicking here. There are 30 adapters for MFT alone, including such odd ducks as Alpa (a superb Swiss 35mm film SLR whose quality of engineering puts Leitz to shame), movie C-mount, Contax/Yashica, Retina Reflex (!), Exacta/Topcon, Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder (!!), and many others. Fotodiox makes an inexpensive adapter for Hasselblad lenses to MFT.
Checking the flange-to-flange dimensions with a micrometer I found a maximum-to-minimum variation of 0.0001″ (0.0025mm), right at the limit of accuracy of the measuring tool. That would be tough to beat at any price. The grinding of the front flange, which mates with the Nikon lens of choice, is to a very high standard. The body of the adapter is made of very thick alloy and not about to flex, regardless of the lens fitted. The serrations on the barrel provide a decent grip for installation and removal on the camera. A small set screw on the rear flange provides adjustment of tightness of fit on the camera. Springs permit adjustment of the tightness of the front mount. Both front and rear on mine were set just right on receipt, but it’s nice to know that adjustments can be made in the event of wear.
So which lenses make sense? The MFT sensor is one quarter the size of a full frame one, meaning that you are using only the center of the image projected by a full frame lens. Thus a 50mm lens becomes a 100mm. However, the depth of field remains that of a 50mm lens. Depth of field is solely a function of focal length. A 50mm lens on a 4″ x 5″ plate camera will have the same DOF at any given aperture as a 50mm lens on medium format, full frame, APS-C, MFT, you name it.
That pretty much means wide angle lenses from full frame bodies are a waste of time. Even a super wide 17mm, with all its associated bulk, becomes a semi-wide 34mm on MFT. You are far better off using the kit zoom with all its automation, than using a gargantuan FF wide. It just gets worse the wider you go. A monster 14mm Nikon or Canon is a not so wide 28mm on MFT. Silly. If you want really wide, use something like Panny’s 7-14mm or Oly’s 9-18mm. I use the latter and it’s an outstanding optic.
Likewise, modest aperture standard or medium long lenses make little sense. The Panny kit zoom – 14-42 or 14-45 – meaning 28-90 equivalent on FF, has you covered. And if you want something really long, using a monster FF telephoto on MFT bodies makes little sense unless you need a very fast aperture. But then why bother with an MFT body when FF will deliver superior results with little aggregate change to weight and bulk? The superb Panny 45-200mm (=90-400mm) has decent apertures fully open and built-in anti-shake, making it perfectly useable at the long end hand-held. And it’s tiny compared to anything from a full frame body.
That leaves fast FF lenses and special purpose ones.
50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S on my Panasonic G3 body.
The fast 50mm makes for a fine portrait lens and permits limited DOF effects, if you can handle manual focus.
Winston. One 60 watt bulb for lighting. Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 at full aperture, Panasonic G3, ISO 1600.
As you can see from the snap, DOF is extremely limited fully open and close-up.
In use on the Panny G3:
You switch the body to Custom->Use Without Lens (go figure; I saved this to C2-2 – the G3′s custom settings allow one on C1 but three on C2, the latter selectable using the LCD rather than the top dial) to enable control of the adapted lens and here’s where one of the great advantages of the electronic viewfinder in selected MFT bodies kicks in. With the camera set to aperture priority automation, as you stop the lens down the finder brightness remains unchanged. It’s as if you were using a standard auto-aperture MFT lens! The EVF adapts as the FF lens’s aperture changes, only the perceived depth of field changes. If only the D700 came with an EVF ….
So aperture automation is not an issue, though the finder will report the aperture as 0.0 regardless of how set. You have to check the lens to see which aperture you are using. With aperture-priority automation, the shutter speed is correctly displayed in the EVF.
As for focus, Panny has another trick up its sleeve. By depressing the control wheel into the body, with the G3 you get a 10x magnified center rectangle (the magnification is variable at will), picture-in-picture, which makes manual focus trivially simple and dead accurate. (Panny’s MFT bodies do not have a focus confirmation LED). Far easier than using MF on the FF D700! Press again or touch the shutter release and the EVF returns to normal display. (In the earlier G1 the whole finder image is magnified, but the functionality is near identical). Thus, with a 50mm lens you are getting the focus accuracy of a 500mm, and even at smaller apertures the magnified image snaps in and out of focus sharply, leaving little room for doubt.
Picture-in-picture 10x focus tool in use on the G3.
For my purposes there are just a few lenses in my extensive Nikkor MF collection which make sense to use on the G3. They include the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 for their fast apertures and shallow DOF when fully open (one of the banes of MFT is too much DOF with just about any lens), the 100mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor for its close focusing ability, and the 300mm and 500mm Nikkors for extreme reach. The 300mm is sort of silly as it’s large, heavy and hard to hold at the best of times, but the 500mm (1000mm equivalent) is a real surprise. This mirror lens, with its slow f/8 fixed aperture. is an absolute pig to focus on the D700. The focus LED indicator is at the very limit of its capability (it starts checking out much below f/5.6) and the finder image is dark. With the G3, the finder image is bright as can be and focusing is a joy. No need for the 10x focus feature. The unmagnified image is easy to focus in any light. And the 500mm Reflex Nikkor, once you get the hang of it, is really a special lens – positively a midget for that focal length and sharp as can be when properly handled. Balance on the small G3 body is excellent.
500mm Reflex Nikkor on the G3.
Neighbor’s backyard test target. 500mm Reflex Nikkor, 1600 ISO, G3, 1/1000.
The above was snapped hand held through a dirty window, the ‘target’ is some 100 yards away.
So the FF->MFT adapter has its uses, even if they are somewhat limited. However, a mirror reflex on the G3 is a joy and a pleasant surprise. It’s almost as if the Reflex had to wait all these years for a body capable of doing it justice.
Using the adapter with the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 makes for a powerful combination. At closest focus you get 1:1 reproduction, compared with 1:2 on an FF body. Despite the small maximum aperture, critical focsuing is very easy thanks to the EVF, and the outfit balances nicely in the hand.
An even better body for use with really long lenses would be the recently released Olympus OM-D MFT SLR, which has in-body image stabilization, though I do not know whether the IS in that camera works with adapted lenses. However, at $1,000, this overpriced body currently costs twice as much as the G3.
A note on CPUs, processing and EXIF data:
If you have installed CPUs in your Nikon MF lenses, as I have, these do not interfere with the adapter. EXIF data in LR or whatever you use for processing will be missing any lens information, as the camera has no way of knowing the focal length used. Thus if you want to apply a lens correction profile, it will have to be selected manually. As only the central part of the image is being used, the need for lens correction profiles is lower than with FF sensors.
The 16mp G3 sensor figures to the equivalent of 4mP on a four times large FF sensor for same-sized prints. That’s perfectly adequate for 18″ x 24″ prints, as the walls around me testify, provided your technique is up to it.