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Why You Should Be Investing In Fully Manual Lenses

Noam Kroll
By Noam Kroll
By Noam Kroll

Most DSLR shooters are accustomed to working with electronic lenses, but there are a handful of great manual lenses out there (old and new) that can provide even better results with added benefits.

Prime Lenses
So before you go out and buy your next automatic lens, here are a few reasons why you should at least consider going manual:

Manual Lenses are More Cinematic

The first and arguably most important item on this list deals with the actual quality of the image that manual lenses produce. Although there are some exceptions to this rule, in my opinion most manual lenses traditionally have a more filmic and cinematic look to them when compared to more modern electronic lenses.

This isn’t a direct result of the glass being manual (as opposed to electronic), but more so a reflection of the fact that many manual lenses are also vintage lenses and as such have a lot of character to them, which is a nice change from the cold, overly sharp and clinical electronic lenses of today.

Another consideration is that manual lenses force you to work in a way that is much more in line with the old days of actually shooting on film. Granted, if you’re shooting with a manual SLR lens, it’s not quite the same as an Arri Prime with a PL mount, but fundamentally they are more similar than you might think. The way that you work with each lens is virtually the same, and both offer a closer and more physical connection to your image making process.

There’s something about the mentality of shooting/exposing with fully manual glass that puts you in a slightly different mind frame than shooting with electronic glass. Sure, you can take beautiful images with both types of lenses, but psychologically the manual glass helps to get you in the headspace of shooting in a cinematic way, and the fact that so many manual lenses have very cinematic and film characteristics to them helps a lot too!

Manual LensesImage from oldlenses.blogspot.com

Manual Lenses are Less Expensive

Manual lenses, and specifically manual primes, are the best bang for your buck lenses that you can buy. If you’ve already bought your share of electronic lenses, you likely already know that primes cost a lot less than zooms, even though primes provide a superior image quality. And with manual primes, you get even more value for your investment. Since there are no electronic components, very high quality manual lenses can be purchased at extremely low costs. For instance, one of my best and sharpest lenses was also my cheapest – a Nikkor 50mm 1.4. This lens (which only costs a few hundred dollars brand new) is sharper than some $2000+ electronic lenses that I have shot with. And there are some manual Nikkor lenses, or Canon FD lenses that you can pick up online for even less that will give great results too.

The point being, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get a really fantastic manual lens kit, and you get so much for your money considering the quality of the lens you’re purchasing. In the end, your money is going to the actual glass as opposed to the electronic components, and personally speaking I would much rather have my money spent on the glass itself.

Manual Lenses are More Adaptable

The main reason I started buying manual lenses was because I now own multiple cameras (all by different manufacturers), and I wanted to start investing in lenses that could be used on all of them. With electronic glass, it can be difficult if not impossible, to adapt to other lens mounts. For instance, if I have a Canon EF lens, I have very few options if I want to mount it on my Lumix GH4. The GH4 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, which means it is highly universal and can adapt to almost all lenses, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy. The EF lens would either need to be attached to the MFT mount with a dumb adapter (that doesn’t pass through the electronic signal to control the lens) or with a very expensive electronic adapter that requires it’s own power supply or battery. Not all lenses are this challenging to adapt – it just depends on the specific combination of lens and mount that you are trying to match.

That said, you never know which camera you’ll end up getting next week or next year, so why invest in lenses that may not be useable on future cameras of yours? If I wanted to adapt a manual Canon FD lens to that GH4 instead of the electronic EF lens, there would be no problem. I wouldn’t need electronic pass through, so I could just buy a $20 dumb adaptor, and use it with the manual lens. And I could also just as easily mount that same lens (with a different adaptor) to a Sony A7S using the E-mount, a 5D using it’s EF mount, or nearly any other camera for that matter.

Give Manual Lenses a Chance

If you’re shooting anything that should have a cinematic look, whether it’s a short film, documentary, narrative feature, or otherwise – you should really consider manual glass. Not only will the images that it produces for you have more character, but you will also work with the lenses in a way that is more traditional and therefore more authentic to the art form. Not to mention you can save a lot of money by using manual glass and your investment will have much more longevity, as you are able to adapt your lenses to just about any other camera you buy in the future.