#PenInPractice | How To Shoot With a Vintage Lens

PenInPracticeJan_03Even before my first Pen had arrived, I was already enthusiastically checking out all the possible lens options. A quick Google and trawl through some photography blogs showed me the exciting versatility of not only the automatic Olympus lenses but third-party lenses like the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 and super low aperture manual-only German made glass by Voigtlander

But you know, they’re pricey. So what really stuck out was the possibility of buying some low aperture primes that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I became obsessed with the old OM 50mm lenses, which you can pick up (with f/1.8 aperture) quite easily on eBay for about £25. However, being a bit of a bokeh obsessive, I wanted more. I read more blogs and discovered the rarer OM 50mm f/1.2 – much more expensive now! – which took the dreamiest, soft, beautifully shallow depth of fields shot, and I knew I had to have it. EBay delivered as ever! Some fierce bidding and £250 later I was the proud owner of this legacy lens.

I had the adapter ready and waiting – Olympus have the MF2 Micro Four Thirds to OM adapter, which at £150 is quite hefty pricewise, but you can pick up cheaper versions for less than a tenner on eBay, which is what I did! Worth noting, that with it attached, plus the weight of the older glass, the camera does feel and look a little lens heavy prominent and heavy. But then this isn’t going to be an every day type of thing.


I find the lens really responded well to great natural light, and some of the first pictures I took with it were outdoors. Be warned, the quality of these pictures is not the pin-sharp clarity we now expect and get in the digital age. You get a softer, less sharp picture that can be prone to aberrations – but I have to admit this is what I love about the OM 50mm, you can end up with something completely unexpected and beautiful. One of my favourite shots is one taken of a knitting machine up close in a factory in Stuttgart!

So how to use it?

The lens will only work manually, and you won’t get any of the aperture data that you would normally. You need to set your camera to Aperture Priority. Use the aperture ring on the lens to open it to its widest aperture. Use the focus ring to focus on your subject and then adjust the aperture to your desired level. And then take your picture as normal.


As the E-PL7 is quite small for this type of lens with adapter, it’s quite good to slip on a viewfinder so give you extra support. This also helps with Focus Peaking, which is a great trick for aiding your manual focus – assign Focus Peaking to a button, press it when you are turning the focus ring and then your subject will be highlighted in white as it comes into focus. But again the E-PL7’s small body can make this quite a tricky thing to do if you are focusing with one hand and pressing down Focus Peaking and holding the camera steady with the other; the viewfinder against your face gives you extra support, making this a lot more manageable. To find out how to set up Focus Peaking check out last month’s column. And do let me know on Instagram if you are using a legacy lens, I’d love to see your work!

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  1. I’d love to learn more about lenses, please. Quick question to start with: what are the merits of pancake lenses, other than discretion?
    What would you say are the minimum requirements, lens-wise?
    Apologies if you’ve covered this elsewhere. x

      1. Ah do you mean the pancake zoom kit lens? Am afraid I don’t really use it. I only use the prime lenses because of the quality and depth of field. I think the kit lens is perfectly adequate but for me the prime lenses just give something more interesting to a picture. Depends how you like to photograph though – the zoom is much more flexible, with the prime sometimes you won’t be able to get your shot if you’re too far away… and you have to work harder to get your shot, ie move around more. I’m a bit set on my ways though 😉

  2. So glad to find your blog. Just got an OM 50mm too, but couldn’t figure out how to trigger the focus peaking. Your article has helped.

  3. Hi,
    Interesting article and just what I would have done if I was still working (I use to own The Widescreen Centre in London), but these days I have lost touch with my suppliers.

    I was trying to find out if I could use my excellent original Zuiko Pen FT lenses on the new Olympus AL8 but don’t know if there is thread compatibility? Any ideas?

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