Not so long ago I was lucky enough to be given an Olympus Pen EP-2, it was an old superseded model, but still a very fine camera. My eyes were quickly opened up to the advantages of having a small light high quality camera with interchangeable lenses and it became, and still is, my most used camera. A little while later I was having a clear out of stuff and I “found” six “orphaned” lenses from film cameras that I no longer had. They were to me so good that I could never bring myself to part with them so I had kept them with the vague notion that one day if I ever got some surplus cash I would get a film body for them. However despite my nostalgia for film the reality is that I live a long way from any lab and I no longer wish to run a darkroom so any new found enthusiasm for film would quickly evaporate because of the inconvenience. One day while perusing a forum dedicated to M4/3 I discovered the whole subculture of using adapted lenses. My interest was piqued. There are a couple of reasons to use adapted lenses. The first and most sensible is that you do so because an equivalent focal length is not yet manufactured for your camera. The second reason is that it is just good fun to use old lenses that you already own or can get very cheaply.
Olympus made adaptors for OM and 4/3, Panasonic for Leica R and M, and Novoflex and Voigtländer make adapters for older manual focus legacy lenses, but they are in the $200 bracket. If you look on E-Bay there are a myriad of adaptors all hailing from China and Hong Kong with prices starting at $12 AUD. So here is what to look for. For manual focus lenses the basic requirement is a rigid body and a well-built lens mount that allows infinity focus. I would recommend either a chrome plated brass or stainless steel mount as they are more resistant to wear. Cheaper adaptors are often built deliberately to focus beyond infinity as it means tolerances do not have to be so tight. Initially this is a little disconcerting in use but you get used to it. Some of the cheaper makes can be a bit sloppy and this makes focusing accurately difficult. Forums such as Micro Four Thirds User have discussions on how to fix this quite easily, but this can be avoided by buying better quality ones such as those made by Metabones. If you believe the sales pitch by Voigtländer and Novoflex you are risking your camera to cheap Chinese adaptors as swarf and dirt can fall onto your sensor and ruin it. The easiest thing to do is give them a wipe with a cloth and then a blast of compressed air to dislodge anything prior to mounting. In the end only you can decide on how much you want to spend, personally I took the view that this would be an experiment and I bought two $12 jobs in OM and M mount with the thought that if they were duff I could replace them and they had not cost a lot. With more modern auto focus lenses with stabilization and electronic aperture control things are a little more complicated. Firstly you will have to accept the loss of AF and IS. The cheaper adaptors also offer no control over the aperture, so the lens defaults to its widest aperture.
In day-to-day use is all this worth the hassle? Well there is no easy answer, it all depends upon whether you are prepared to accept work arounds and sometimes less than perfection. Digital capture does impose a lot of demands upon a lens as the sensor behaves very differently from film. The sensor is actually a very reflective surface and this means that modern lenses made for the digital era are multi-coated on the rear lens elements as well as the front to prevent glare. Some lenses, especially single coated ones, are also very susceptible to glare so I would definitely use a lens hood and be prepared for less than stellar images when shooting into the light. Older lenses designed for film are sharp in the centre but the edges and corners can let them down. Thankfully as of this time all the CSCs use a sensor that is smaller than 35mm film, and this means that the sensor is only using the best part of the lens. Talking of sensor size it is the crop factor of the various digital formats that causes the biggest problem for many users of adapted lenses as your wide angles cease to be wide angles. A moderate wide-angle of 28mm becomes a short standard on APS having the same field of view as a 42 mm lens on full frame, or a long standard on M4/3 with a field of view similar to a 56mm. My favourite 35mm Color-Skopar is now a short telephoto on my EP-2, and my old Olympus Zuiko OM 35-105 ceases to be standard zoom but becomes a telephoto zoom. Voigtländer made a 12mm and 15mm lenses in either Leica screw (L39) or Leica M, but their performance on smaller formats leaves lots to be desired with most users complaining of excessive smearing in the corners. So the loss of wide angles is a problem for many, but on the other hand the multiplying effect of the smaller formats also brings many benefits. My 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar becomes a very nice compact 150mm equivalent, and my Sigma 70-210mm becomes a very small 140-400mm equivalent. So if you are a frequent long lens user you will be very happy. Older manual lenses are also very suited to video usage because the focusing action has a long throw and is damped making it easy to get very precise manual focus. Throw in wide aperture lenses and your mirrorless camera becomes a very capable tool for giving beautiful “filmic’ footage. The biggest hurdle to using adapted lenses is manual focusing. I am at that age where my arms are not long enough to use the rear LCD screen for focusing so an electronic viewfinder that allows me to magnify the subject is a must. Thankfully the EP-2 and all the later variants can all take one. An alternative to an LCD viewer is a loupe designed to go over the rear LCD screen. The brand named one is by Hoodman and sells in Australia for about $110, if that is a bit steep for you there are plenty of cheap Chinese knock offs for the $20 mark on E-Bay.
All in all my own personal conclusion is that it has been great fun to re-visit some old lenses I’d already got and use them in different ways. Plus there is the added fun of trawling through websites such as E-Bay and Gumtree looking for cheap interesting lenses. The other thing in its favour is that if you are a little financially embarrassed and you want to explore digital photography as a hobby then using old lenses maybe just the ticket.