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jimkurta Aug 6, 2006 6:12 PM

Here's the story. I'm sure it's a familiar one. I have an old OM-1 I bought when I was in college. I love the camera and it is still in excellent condition so I don't really want to buy another one, but the time has come to make the jump to digital photography.

I went to the local electronics store and looked at the SLR digitals. All of them. I was very disappointed at the quality of the lenses. They were lightweight, cheap plastic pieces of junk that reminded me of my first camera. The Olympus lens (18-45) was actually stamped as a digital lens.

I came back home, found this forum and read the article that was referenced for using the old lenses on a new digital SLR ( That didn't make me feel too much better, especially the part about lens resolution. So where do I go from here?

I like Olympus cameras, so I'd prefer to buy an Olympus digital SLR. Do I forget about using my old lenses and learn to live with these digital things? Do I buy the MF-1 adapter and live with the trade-offs? I'd like to use the camera for high quality photography, and was hoping to use the full range of my old lenses--macros, zooms and telephotos. I've also heard of somehthing that sounds good, but I've never seen it. I was told that there are digital camera backs that replace the camera backs on the film cameras. The film plane of the film camera is duplicated by the digital camera back, which contains all the electronics. If true, I would think that since the digital back was made for a particular camera everything else would stay the same in terms of resolution, focal length, field of view, etc. My old OM-1 has been used for just about everything--art photography, photojournalism, astrophotography investigative work and family events. I'd like to use the digital SLR for the same things. If it comes to it, I'd even be willing to look at other brands of digital SLR if they come closer to meeting my needs.

Any input into how to approach this would be appreciated.

Brent Gair Aug 6, 2006 7:40 PM

Yeah, it is an old story and a familiar one. I had a couple of OM-1's dating back to the earliest days of the system. I bought the first one whenI was in high school (maybe 1975 or so). Eventually, I sold them and wound up with a Nikon F3 among other cameras (which I still have). I have an E-500 now so my transition from the OM system to the E system wasn't direct. By the time I got the E-500, I had Nikon lenses and I wasn't too concerned about getting them to fit.

A few things to consider. Although the lenses may not have the heft your familiar with, the idea that they are, " cheap plastic pieces of junk " simply isn't true. My 50mm Macro has 11 glass elements including one with ED low dispersion glass...just like the old days. The lenses probably seem lighter because, as with any autofocus lens (in my experience), there's a lot of space inside the barrel asembly to accomodate electronic functions. They aren't as "dense" as the old lenses which required nothing more than metal and glass. As appealing as metal is, it doesn't serve a needed purpose for most of the lens barrel.

"The Olympus lens (18-45) was actually stamped as a digital lens." Well, it was stamped as a digital because the Olympus E series lenses are designed soley for use on digital cameras. They aren't adaptations of older designs. The Olympus lenses are designed specifically for use on digital cameras using the 4/3 size sensor. You can buy the most expensive E series lens and will still be stamped as Digital. The most expensive lens I've ever bought was for the E system...and it's stamped digital because that's what it is: a digital specific lens for the 4/3 system.

Regarding digital backs: yes, they do exist. My research has indicated that they are generally outrageously expensive for the non-professional. I would hope that, one day, we will have interchangable sensor modules so we can upgrade our digital cameras...the same way we could change backs and viewfinders on our old 35mm equipment. As it is at the moment, the digital backs for 35mm cameras are in an entirely different price range...a price range that I don't visit.

I recently bought a photoprinter that could do 8x10's. I've printed about fifteen 8x10's in the last month. That's probably about the same as all the color 8x10's I did with my OM-1's. The quality is outstanding at 8x10. There is NO indication of anything digital. An 8x10 from the E-500 looks pretty much like any other 8x10. What if I want a 16x20 or 20x30? I don't know. In 30 years, I've only had about half a dozen super enlargements made and those were from my Bronica medium format camera.

My bottom line: I got the E-500 about three months ago. Before I made the switch, I decided that I would give little weight to my legacy lenses. Of course I would love to be able to use my exisiting lenses. I'm not made out of money. But I also accepted the fact that I was moving into a completely different technology. I was making the most radical change I'd ever made (I owned two enlargers and a dozen film cameras). I determined that if was going to take this great technological leap, I wasn't going to base it on the adaptability of my 30 year old film lenses.

I was willing to make a clean break from film. Some guys aren't and I understand it. I still have the F3, the Bronica ETR and others (plus my enlargers). It breaks my heart to see these jewels wasting in a drawer. Although my heart may be broken, the fact is that the E-500 serves me perfectly. It focuses faster and more accurately than I ever could. I've taken almost 1700 shots and every one has been exposed perfectly. I went to a car show and got 180 beautiful photos on a memory card...imagine how much that would cost if it was Kodachrome (and I'd still be waiting for them to arrive from the lab).

I guess, to sum it up, I'd say "Don't worry". If you want to make your old lenses work, there are ways to do it. If you make a clean break from film, you'll probably be happy (eventually). Going digital is kinda' like going to the imagine it to be much more painful than it really is.

Mikefellh Aug 6, 2006 8:14 PM

The 17.5-45mm is a BASIC, economy kit lens, the bottom of the lens road map. You can't compare it to a high-end lens. Like everything else you can buy there are the bottom of the line, the so-called kit lenses, and there's the high-end lenses. You can't compare the quality of the top of the line Audi with a bottom of the line VW Beetle.

There's the half-decent 14-45mm kit lens, but there's also the high quality 14-54mm lens.

Same with the 40-150mm kit lens, there's also the 50-200mm high quality lens

ALL of the E-system lenses ARE stamped as digital because they are meant for the digital mount and body (compared to the old OM lenses which are not digital). Also the E-system lenses are electronic, again digital. The Olympus FL flashes (except FL-20 which is stamped with the C-series Camedia logo) are also stamped with the E-system "DIGITAL" logo.

Suggest you read the rest of the Wrotniak site rather than the one page you mentioned, starting with the list of available lenses at:

jimkurta Aug 6, 2006 8:40 PM

Thanks for the reply. I guess I'm one of those people who associate heft with durability. I remember having several cameras hanging around my neck, banging into each other and the lenses were never damaged. When I looked at the lenses on the digital SLRs they seemed as if they would break in a strong wind. I also noticed in the reply that followed yours that there are higher quality lenses out there. I've still got my dad's old Leica from the 1950s, and the lens on that baby is the best I've ever used.

As for the "Digital" stamp, my assumption was that it meant the lens used a digital, not an optical zoom function. If it is a true optical zoom, then that makes me feel a lot better.

If the digital backs are that expensive, I'm guessing it is because you really do get the advantages of using a film body with little or no trade-offs. When you say "outrageously expensive", what price range are you talking about? If it's two or three times the cost of an E-500 I'd still consider it. I learned long ago when buying tools that it is usually better to spend the money up front, i.e. you get what you pay for. I also prefer to purchase tools, cameras, vehicles, etc. in terms of what I will grow into and need in the future, not what I need in the present. I could see myself doing work as a stringer down the road, and I would hate to have to buy a new camera just for that purpose. If the digital back is 10 times the cost of an E-500 then that's a different story.

For what it's worth, I've been putting off buying a digital camera for 5 years now because they keep improving so quickly and the price is dropping. I guess I've been waiting for the technology and quality to plateau so my purchase isn't obsolete in 3 months. Maybe I'll just have to bite the bullet and jump in regardless of what happens. In regards to being able to change out and upgrade the digital SLRs, I wouldn't hold my breath. I get the feeling all the manufacturers would rather sell you a new camera system every few years instead of you being able to jump from 8 to 12 megapixels for a fraction of the cost.

Thanks for the help. That clears up a lot, though I can't say I'm thrilled with the options. I may just have to dump a couple of grand on a new system and live with it. Do you know if you can buy just the camera body, without lenses at all and for a good price, or is it better to buy the package deal and purchase additional lenses afterward?

Brent Gair Aug 6, 2006 10:31 PM

A 10MP digital back made for 35mm by Leica can be had for less than $6,000.00 if you can find one at a big online retailer. I'm not up on other current prices because these things are rather rare and, honestly, I haven't seen a lot of info for 35mm digital backs recently. If you owned a medium format camera, you could find backs in the $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 range.

I think you get the idea :).

Don't make assumptions based on the appearance of the construction. The ED 50mm F2 is one of the premium high quality lenses and it's got just as much plastic as any other lens. It's just something you have to get used to. I used to be a metal worker (in fact, I still have a hobby machine shop). Understand that, sure, metal is tough but that has it's own drawbacks. Metal transfers shock very easily. A bang on a metal barrel will transfer right to the glass lens elements and the cement holding them together. I'm not saying plastic is better...but metal is not the be all and end all of construction materials. Metal has it's place in mounts and moving parts but I don't think it is particularly superior for all of the barrel construction.

"As for the "Digital" stamp, my assumption was that it meant the lens used a digital, not an optical zoom function."

Realize that DSLRs are an entirely different breed of camera than digital point-and-shoot. I had about 5 P&S digitals before getting an SLR. Things like digital zoom don't really have a place in the world of interchangable lens DSLRs.

"I learned long ago when buying tools that it is usually better to spend the money up front, i.e. you get what you pay for. I also prefer to purchase tools, cameras, vehicles, etc. in terms of what I will grow into and need in the future, not what I need in the present."

That's why I went into an interchangable lens DSLR. So that the money could be invested in LENSES that will have a long life. The idea of camera body that will last 15 or 20 years is no longer valid. No matter how much you spend on a computer, you know it will be obsolete in a few years. Same with a camera body. I would use the Olympus E-1 as an example. It's a magnificent, tough as nails, professional quality body. Three years ago, it was just about the best DSLR made by anyone. But it has a 5MP sensor that is now hopelessly outclassed by the competition. So if anybody spent money on an E-1 thinking that it would take them 5 or more years into the future, they probably spent too much. I love my E-500 but I know that I will probably unceremoniously dump it in a couple of years. Here's hoping that Olympus introduces a new pro camera in the 10mp range (hoping, not predicting).

Sure you can purchase a camera body separately. It's no different than buying a 35mm SLR. In the case of Olympus, the lens kit packages are generally among the very best in the business (though be wary of the bottom-of-the-line 17.5-45 lens). The two lens package for the E-500 is such a good deal that it's very hard to pass up. You have to do some comparison pricing to see what fits your needs. If I was buying a non-Olympus product, I might be tempted to go with the body only...some of the Nikon and Canon kit lenses don't impress me. But I really like the Olympus stuff and the price is (IMHO) unbeatable.

jorgen Aug 7, 2006 1:13 AM

You can still use film and scan in the negatives. I am thinking about doing it myself occasionally with B/W, as love the feel of my OM cameras and their lenses. However, I can't see myself going back to film. The advantages of digital are just too many.

Here are some examples:
large format->digital:

I have a Canon 500F scanner with film holder which is OK for playing with, but it is slow if you take many pictures. Dedicated film scanners like the ones Brown and Butzi uses are fast and will provide far better results. Note that the scanned negatives are large so buy a H-U-G-E hard disk at the same time.


jimkurta Aug 7, 2006 4:07 PM

I've thought about sticking with film and scanning the negatives. But that's akin to digitizing your records so you can burn them as CDs. For all but the rarest and most prized exposures it would be too time consuming. I now realize that I'm probably going to have to make the jump from film to digital. But when I made the jump from records to CDs I traded sound quality for audio clarity, something with still grates on me to this day. If you've ever listened to side by side comparisons of a CD and record you know that digital music doesn't come close to the quality of music on records or reel to reel tapes--it's thin, without depth and the only quality advantage is the lack of background noise and pops. I would hate to find the same trade-off for photography, which is why I was interested in ways to use the lenses or camera body of a film camera. Thanks for all the replies and advice.

jorgen Aug 8, 2006 11:04 AM

I am sure you will find differences. Some motives are probably better suited than others for analogua and vice versa.

However, this is not an either-or matter; you can do both if you get a film scanner or pay someone to scan the film.

adamwarp Aug 9, 2006 4:18 PM

Quality is a subjective word - I view it as what you get for your money. The kit lenses are high quality as are the more expensive Zuikos.

I think that when you associateheft, its with good quality pictures. Heftusually means lots of glass and a metal body... Olympus makes very nice hefty lenses and they are weather sealed and have enough glass for shooting lower f-stops.

I have both the light kit lenses 14-45, 40-150 as well as the nicer 14-54, 50-200 lenses. The quality of the images is not that different, its the ability to shoot at lower apartures that is better and slightly better optics. But the quality of the cheaper "light" lenses is very high for their price. They are well built and very crisp.

And I finally understand your fear about the "Digital Lens" the lens is purely optical and there is no "digital zoom" function lowering the res. Teh digital means it focuses the light onto a 4/3 chip rather than onto a 35mm film. There is a huge size difference there.

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