Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Aperture rings and other manual controls

Someone made a comment a bit ago that all lenses should have aperture rings, just like in the good old days.  That goes along with a buddy back around 2002 telling me how Nikon's G-series lenses were terrible because they didn't have aperture rings.

Seeing as how the FujiFilm X-T1 has really brought back manual control dials, I wondered if people would be enthusiastic to such controls on every camera body big enough to have them.

That first person was talking about the Panasonic lenses, as the Leica-branded micro Four-Thirds lenses have aperture rings but the others do not.  I thought back to the inspiration for the OM-D series--the OM-system.  They not only had aperture rings on the lenses, but just behind the lens, on the lens mount collar was a shutter speed ring, which made manual control very efficient.

Yes, the shutter speed only goes to 1/1000th

While the OM-series bodies were slippery with a heavy lens, they were the most efficient when it came to quickly changing settings.  You can also see the ASA-calibrated film speed dial, which required you to press and hold the small button next to it so you could turn the film speed dial.  As I recall, FujiFilm had a lift-and-turn mechanism to keep the film speed from being accidentally changed, as it shared the dial with the shutter speed.

Oh, here is something you might not expect.  The light meter was manually activated (you held down a switch in front, near the lens) on the Fujica SLRs to cut down on battery drain, and there was the On-Off switch on the Olympus OM-series SLRs just for the light meter.  If you were good with settings, you didn't have to worry if the battery was dead.

The ST801 certainly didn't have many controls

AZ-1 had Aperture Priority AE with minor compensation
Film speed setting occurs in the window, lift and turn
The X-T1 really is overloaded compared to the 1970s

I gave up all that when I moved to the Olympus E-1 dSLR in 2004.  The aperture ring was on one of the unmarked dials and the shutter speed was on the other.  That's all I needed to know.  It drove me bonkers the first week, and then, it was just fine.  Mostly, I just found settings that worked for the current situation and I photographed sports.  I didn't worry about film, full stop.  There was a PASM mode dial.  Of course, that dial wasn't possible or necessary in the 1970s because auto exposure was something new.  It caused Pentax to create a new mount and for FujiFilm to follow that mount, as they were both using a screw mount prior to that.
Olympus E-1, practically perfect for 2003

Having used the Four-Thirds mount Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 with aperture ring, there are times when I like the ability to control the aperture on the lens.  It is helpful when working at a slower pace, being creative.  (Photographing sports you have little time to be creative.)  The problem is that the aperture ring only works on my Panasonic GH3, through the Olympus MMF-3 adapter.  My Olympus E-1 and E-5 don't support the aperture ring in firmware, unfortunately, so I have to use the "A" setting on the ring.  I was a bit surprised to find that Panasonic supported it through the adapter.

I'm 99.9% sure that Olympus has no desire to completely relive the past.  They'd like to be quite popular again, as I'm sure FujiFilm, Pentax, and others would like also.  I remember having choices and with mirror-less camera bodies, it's become interesting again.

Update 2014.04.04: Do we need a huge number of manual controls now?  I don't.  I want to set an ISO sensitivity range and leave it.  I want a clearly-marked exposure compensation button that can be used with a general dial or alternatively, a dial just for exposure compensation.  The trouble with the specific dial is that it may not have a large enough range, and I'll still need to dip into the menus to set up the steps.

I like what FujiFilm has done with the X-T1, but I think it's more for the hobbyist than for the professional.  It's both totally wonderful and totally silly.  Once again, I'm not the casual photographer and when I try to be, I don't take minutes to set up a photo.  I check my mode, my aperture or shutter speed, my focal length, and focus and re-focus, and shoot.  That's pretty much what I do while photographing sports, with less time to think about settings.

I could wish for a FujiFilm/Olympus/Panasonic/Pentax company with design from the best of each, leaving out the various weirdness that hampers usage.  The combined company would likely wipe Sony out of the camera-making business while using their camera-component-making business much more effectively.  They'd also likely put the hurt on Nikon and Canon.  Consolidating the best players in the mirror-less market might not do too much harm, especially if they could convince buyers of their combined strength.

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