The Joy of Manual Focus Lenses on Mirrorless Cameras

While testing the new Fujifilm X-E4, I had a lightning bolt of an idea: how would my Pentax DA prime lenses work on this camera? I have a 21mm, 40mm, and 70mm trio that I just love. If they worked on the X-E4, I could quadruple my optical options for it, and without spending a dime. The only catch would be manual focusing.

Manual focusing… Why do we even pause at the thought? Is autofocus really the only way to go?

Yes, there are situations when I absolutely love the convenience of AF — chasing kids around the yard, camera shy pets, and junior league soccer games are three that come to mind. But there’s life beyond those events. I’m an explorer as well, one who enjoys trekking up the side of a hill or investigating a graffiti-clad alley downtown.

Neither of those situations require an autofocus lens.

Let me present a scenario here. I keep an AF optic on the X-E4 for those quick grab shots when I rip open the backpack, fumble for the camera, switch it on, and shoot the shot (whispering prayers along the way that the subject doesn’t flee during the eternity of this process). In those moments I absolutely love autofocus. The added seconds of having to manual focus could be the difference between a great photo or nothing.

For the Fujifilm X-E4, that optic is the 27mm f/2.8 pancake. It’s a wonderful little lens that gives me a 40mm perspective on the camera’s cropped frame sensor. But man does not live by 40mm alone. (Women have confirmed this theory as well.)

Quick sidebar here — I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Pentax lenses. As a defense lawyer would say to the judge, “I’m going somewhere with this”.

The Pentax DA 21mm f/3.2 is an ultra-compact prime that widens my perspective to a luxurious 31.5mm — that’s smack dab between an often too wide 28mm, but far more roomy than the common 35mm optic. In other words, just right. It’s an autofocus lens, but cannot perform as such when mounted on a non-Pentax camera with an adapter. Fortunately, this optic has an excellent manual focus ring that’s a joy to use.

Meanwhile, the 70mm f/2.4 is one of the coolest lenses I’ve ever shot with. It provides the personality of the legendary Nikon 105mm f/2.5, but at a fraction of the weight and size. And the color rendition, oh the color, makes me flush with joy.

Did I say how these actually work on the Fujifilm X-E4? Would reunited soulmates sound hyperbolical? Probably. How about, I really like them on that camera.

(At this point, the judge is starting to lose patience with the defense.) “What does this have to do with manual focusing?” he interrupts.

“Your honor,” the defense replies, “initially I thought the only downside to this union (Fujifilm and Pentax) would be the requirement to manually focus those lenses. But as it turns out, I love that part too.”

Somehow Fujifilm anticipated this scenario. They designed not one, but four different manual focusing options through the electronic viewfinder. There’s even a simulated microprism aid like those in traditional SLR cameras of yesteryear. Although, I’m more of a Focus Peak Highlight guy myself.

Who has that kind of vision? (Someone who appreciates a finely crafted lens made by another company.)

I’m sitting here at my desk with the X-E4 in my hand. I have the 21mm mounted and am composing a picture of the office ficus through it. I probably won’t press the shutter button because, well, it’s a ficus. But it’s just so enjoyable to look through the viewfinder, turn the finely-dampened focusing ring, and see the world through that optic.

Maybe later I’ll take a walk and actually press the shutter button. Maybe not.

Mirrorless cameras have done more than allow us to use a variety of optics on them. They have also brought back the joy of manually focusing lenses.

“Your honor, I rest my case.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store