Saturday, 15 May 2010

Future use of MFT lenses

One of the fun things with the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format, is the short flange distance (20mm), which enables the possibility of making adapters for a number of formats. There are cheap, abundant adapters for many legacy formats, e.g., Nikon F and Pentax K, to name a few.

When MFT becomes legacy

However, the flip side of the coin is that some day, inevitably, MFT is also going to become a legacy format. What happens with your gorgeous, and expensive, MFT lenses then?

Let's say that the worst case scenario is that, due to competition, the MFT system loses so much volume that it is abandoned by Olympus and Panasonic. It doesn't seem likely now, but stranger things have happened.

You can still use your old cameras and lenses, of course, but at some point you will want a newer camera, due to new features and better image quality. Can you still use your MFT lenses on some camera from another system?

If Samsung NX becomes dominating

The Samsung NX format is one of the competitors in the mirrorless system category. Let's say this format becomes dominating. Can you use your old MFT lenses on this format through an adapter?

In short: No. It's not possible. The Samsung NX format has a longer flange distance (25.50mm), meaning that even if you made a very short adapter, the MFT lenses would not be able to focus to infinity. You could only use them as short focus macro lenses. Which is not very useful.

If Sony E becomes dominating

The Sony E format was introduced for their new NEX series. It has a flange distance which is 2mm shorter than the MFT format. This is good news, because 2mm, while pretty short, is probably enough to make an adapter for using MFT lenses on Sony E. The Sony E format also has a wider flange diameter, which makes it easier to design an adapter.

However, the MFT lenses are pretty useless without the possibility to operate the focus and the aperture. And both are operated electronically, controlled by the camera. So an adapter must have the relevant software to interpret the Sony E signals, and translate them into something that the MFT lenses understand.

This kind of electronic communication might sound easy, however, it is probably far from trivial. And at best, your autofocus would probably be very poor, both the speed, and, possibly, also the accuracy.

For a comparison, let's consider the Canon EF system. There are adapters for using Canon EF lenses on MFT cameras, but none of them can control the aperture or the focus. So the probability of getting future adapters that provide this feature for MFT lenses seems pretty slim, given that there are many magnitudes more Canon EF lenses out there than MFT lenses.

Conclusion

The conclusion is that if the MFT system is abandoned, your lenses are more or less useless.

On the other hand, there are some rumors now that the modular Ricoh GXR system will include a Micro Four Thirds mount/sensor module. If launched, this will enable mounting a MFT lens to the Ricoh GXR camera, with an adapter mount/sensor module.

Update December 2010

Since I wrote this article, an adapter for using MFT lenses on Sony E cameras (NEX) has actually emerged.  However, since it has no electronic contact, it can not control neither the focus nor the aperture.  So you're stuck with a focus around infinity, and the max aperture.  You can, however, use it with the Cosina Nokton 25mm f/0.95, which is a completely manual lens, with a mechanical focus ring, and a mechanical aperture ring.

6 comments:

  1. hi, nice review, maybe you should consider if sony and samsung becomes legacy, and m4/3 becomes dominating.

    oh, sorry, it already happened :D

    cheers

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wouldn't say that Micro Four Thirds has won the competition just yet. Samsung NX has gotten a poor start, except, possibly, in Korea. But Sony NEX is doing quite well, especially in Japan, as you can see here.

    ReplyDelete
  3. hi,
    can you please tell me where you found the "adapter for using MFT lenses on Sony E cameras"...? I also had the idea of using the adapter for the Nokton... ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'd love to be able to use the O.I.S. from the Lumix MFT line on the new Sony FS-100.

    Are there NEX lenses with image stabilization in the lens? If so, and if the NEX OIS were as competent as the Panasonic O.I.S., I would abandon MFT and switch to using PL mount cine prime lenses for more stable rigs, and the O.I.S. equipped lenses for the more extreme shots.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Most Sony NEX E mount lenses have OIS. For example, the 18-55mm and 18-200mm zoom lenses.

    ReplyDelete