Back in April, I started out with the aim of using my Panasonic Lumix GF1 for the month.
But after an unfortunate accident with my sole native Micro Four Thirds (M43) lens rendered it unusable, I was left with my M42 lenses plus adapter.
The novelty soon wore off.
In short, whilst the results are fantastic, the extra bulk of the lens plus adapter, combined with setting focus and aperture manually, makes this a slightly cumbersome combo, and not something I would want to use week in week out.
So I put the GF1 away in my “sell/donate when I get around to it” box and returned to my Pentax Q.
Then, in a nearby town last week we passed a CEX shop, which sell second hand console games, phones, computers and photographic equipment.
To my surprise, a small lens in the window caught my eye, labelled 7Artisans 25mm f/1.8.
This is a lens I have had on a mental wish list for some time, but have not pursued as they’re only usually available imported from China.
It was a reasonable price, and M43 fit, so after a quick check of the essentials, I bought it.
The reason I’ve called the 7Artisans a hybrid lens in the title of this post is that whilst it’s M43 mount, it’s also manual focus, and manual aperture. And made of metal.
It feels like a smaller version of a number of vintage lenses, especially an Auto Mamiya/Sekor 55mm f/1.8 lens I had in M42 mount.
Whilst not as silky smooth as the Mamiya/Sekor, or lenses like Asahi Takumars or Minolta Rokkors, both the aperture and focus rings are well dampened and very pleasant to use. Very different to most plastic AF lenses.
Oh yes, and it doesn’t have click stops, just a continuously closing 12 aperture blades that stay very close a circle at all apertures.
Many aperture blades plus clickless aperture reminds me of the some of the preset aperture lenses I’ve used and loved in the past.
In practical terms this makes it easier to shoot at the maximum aperture the fastest shutter speed of the camera will allow.
So if I want to shoot at f/4 but the shutter speed is maxing out (it turns from white to red on the GF1’s screen), I can just close the aperture down gradually until the shutter speed returns to white.
This might be f/4.3, f/5.7, who knows. It doesn’t matter what the precise value is when shooting aperture priority, and gives more fine control over depth of field, which I can adjust purely by eye to my preference for each composition.
Mounted to the GF1 the 7Artisans makes it feel like a smallish classic rangefinder, perhaps a Konica C35.
It’s not dissimilar either to a Pentax M series SLR, like the ME Super or MG, with a small and fast 50mm lens.
Those manual focus and aperture rings give more tactile pleasure, and again bring me back closer to the experience of shooting with film cameras.
Or, put another way, this combo makes the GF1 feel less modern, less digital.
The focal length of 25mm equates to 50mm with the M43 crop ratio of 2x. Which is the normal length of lens I became used to again shooting film SLRs for years.
The close focus is 0.18m which in initial outings is more than adequate, especially at the equivalent 50mm focal length, where most 50mm SLR lenses focus down to perhaps 0.45m at best.
And the maximum aperture of f/1.8 is obviously far faster than the f/3.5 my now broken Lumix zoom could muster, and even that was only at the wider apertures. It dropped to a dismal f/5.6 at the tele end.
Having read about this 7Artisans lens before (they make other variants too I believe) I was not expecting searing digital sharpness and visual perfection.
Which suits me just fine.
With my favoured dynamic monochrome film mode on the GF1, it gives a less clinical and, well, less digital, look, with slightly lower contrast.
Again, this is reminiscent of older lenses, and something I really like.
So is this the lens that finally propels my Lumix GF1 into my absolute favourite cameras, after my previous indifference towards it?
Well, not really.
I really like this new lens, and it gives me more of the hands on experience of vintage lenses, without the extra bulk of those larger lenses, plus an adapter.
And as I’ve said before, if I had to list the shortcomings of the GF1, I’d be hard pushed to write anything.
The thin grey bars at the side of the screen on 4:3 mode are annoying (especially as the sensor is 4:3 – so why is the screen 3:2??).
But aside from that it really is a lovely camera, a genuine digital classic, that’s well built, easy to use, customisable, and delivers in abundance on the image front.
The Manual Focus (MF) zoom function comes into its own with the 7Artisans too. A press of a button magnifies part of the screen to aid focus, and I found myself using this often to ensure the focus was on the part of the frame I wanted, especially at larger apertures.
So what’s missing?
I can’t quite put my finger on it.
My best guess would be I just don’t connect physically or emotionally with the camera like I do with my favourites.
Perhaps it’s just because after shooting with significantly smaller AF cameras lately the GF1 feels a bit of a brick, the handling not really working, with too little to grip at the front.
It’s not exactly light either.
The GF1 body is around 360g, the lens 140g, so half a kilo overall.
Which is less than most DLSRs, but then most DSLRs have a curvaceous rubberised grip to close your fingers around and provide superb handling.
The GF1’s little sibling the Lumix LX3 with its 24-60mm zoom is around half the weight, at only 260g.
And the magnificent little Pentax Q is even less, at 245g with its 47/1.9 01 prime lens, and still only 315g with the 28-83mm 02 zoom lens.
Holding and using the GF1 compared with the LX3 or Q is a very different experience, and the former feels more than twice the weight.
Perhaps a viewfinder would help, as it does feel more like a classic rangefinder.
An option is to explore a smaller and lighter M43 body, like the Lumix GM1.
But even that with the 7Artisans would be over 400g. And I don’t want to splash out £150 or more for a camera I might not like much anyway (a number of reviews praise the size and performance but question the handling and lack of grip – you know what an issue this is for me!)
Another possibility is an Olympus M43 body, of which there are many, and their fans speak highly of them. But again, it’s extra layout for a final combo that might still not become a favourite.
And we all know I don’t need any more cameras.
In summary, the 7Artisans lens has plenty going for it, and seems the perfect hybrid of M43 size combined with old school manual focus and aperture, and a none too shabby f/1.8 maximum aperture.
I can’t really fault it.
And it cost less than half what my broken and flimsy as a yogurt pot Lumix 12-32mm did used.
The images it makes with the GF1 really are lovely, and give me much more control over (and greater, with f/1.8 at 50mm) depth of field.
But I can’t see me grabbing the Lumix GF1 time and time again and getting excited about using it in the way I do with my Pentax Q, Lumix LX3 or Ricoh GRD III.
Maybe I’m just too demanding. Maybe I’m just too far gone into the world of digital compacts.
All photographs in this post were made with the Lumix GF1 plus 7Artisans 25/1.8mm lens.
Have you come across the 7Artisans lenses? What have been your impressions and experiences?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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