17 February, 2015

Manual focus Loxia lenses

At the State Library of Queensland, in Brisbane [click to enlarge]

There are more than a few photographers who wax lyrical about the benefits of optical viewfinders. This isn't a criticism, but I'm just saying that I'm not amongst them.

My struggles with optical finders are of long standing and pre-date the digital era. In my Olympus OM2-S, for example, I never liked the split ring (rangefinder style) focusing glass. And, I didn't like the microprism spot or matte spot either. I wasn't satisfied until I dropped in the full, matte focusing screen. It was a bit darker, but it worked for me.

I mention this bit of manual-focus history because, for a while, it looked like the auto-focus features on modern lenses had completely trumped any idea of modern, manual-focus lenses. Sure, you could do a bit of "fly-by-wire" manual adjustment on auto lenses, but it wasn't fun.

Using legacy lenses on mirrorless cameras brings back manual focusing, but with some cost in digital features.

Well, it's "back the future" with the Zeiss Loxia lenses. They are manual-focus and manual-aperture lenses. But, because these lenses communicate with the electronics of the A7 series cameras, when in aperture mode, for example, the aperture ring on a Loxia lens operates as if you were using the camera's rear dial to adjust the aperture on an automatic lens.

When you focus a Loxia, the viewfinder automatically jumps into magnification mode for careful focusing. Give the shutter release a half-press and the finder returns to the normal (un-magnified) view.

And because the lens is passing along distance information, the A7II applies five-axis stabilisation, rather than 3-axis. Cool.

No auto tracking, but no grid of phase detection points. No face detection boxes. No smile release. No green lights to signal focus. No back and forth "hunting" in low light.

Just point, focus and shoot. What an innovation.

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