Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nikon Prime Lenses on Canon Digital Cameras

Canon Eos 5d with Nikon 50mm f/1.2 photograph by Tim Irving
Canon Eos 5D with Nikon 50mm f/1.2 - Tim Irving
Like fast cars, fast lenses make me go weak at the knees. Over the years, as my income has ebbed and flowed, I've sampled some truly exotic lenses including a Canon EF 50mm f/1.0, a Canon f/0.95, and of course the Leica Noctilux, both the F1.0 and the superior f/1.2 versions. All wonderful, if very heavy.

These lenses are sometimes described as standard, but believe me, they're not. I have been asked "What are the qualities of a Noctilux, when stopped down to f/8".  The answer is I don't know, or care. I only use a fast lens wide open or stopped down one or two stops at the most. Wide open I like the narrow depth of focus, the bokeh, the low contrast and the softness, particularly the softness.

I've written before about the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 lens, and my liking for it. Until recently this lens has been parked permanetly on my Nikon F2, it's been a happy and fruitful union. I've spoken about how the lens has a unique look that I like, probably one of my favourite lenses of all time.

For about 40% of my work I use Canon full frame DSLR's, like the Eos 5D above. They're fast and very easy to use, but I've always found the current range of Canon lenses to be rather sterile, disappointing really. I've settled on the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.8 which are unremarkable but work well.

For some time I've toyed with the idea of putting other manufacturers lenses (read Nikon and Leica), onto one of my Canon camera bodies. Two weeks ago I took the plunge, I ordered the appropriate adapter from SRB, a very good, small precision engineering company who make adapters for everything. The SRB adapter is beautifully made and fitting it to the lens is simple matter, as is fitting the lens to the camera.

Looking through the viewfinder for the first time it's instantly apparent that the lens/body combination will take some getting used to. The camera works in the Av mode (aperture priority). You set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed, which is displayed in the viewfinder, so far, so good. You can also adjust the ISO and the exposure compensation for fine tuning.

In use this combination of camera and lens is like going back in time. For me it's like using the Exacta camera I had 30 years ago. Within 5 minutes, or 10 photographs, it's obvious that focusing this lens is guess work on the standard Canon screen. I ordered a split image focusing screen which arrived next day.

Drops of Red - Photograph by Tim Irving
Drops of Scarlett - Eos 5D with Nikon 50mm f/1.2 - Tim Irving
I've been using the Nikon lens on the Eos 5D for the past week and I can report that we have our good days and we have our bad days. Using this combination, the photographs I produce have the Nikon f/1.2 look to them plus the sensor on the 5D produces a very film like look, it's produces a very pleasing, watercolour effect. Unfortunately, using the lens on the Eos is very slow. Slow to focus, slow to get the exposure correct. So on good days I use the outfit for still life, landscape and generally things that don't move. A bad day is when I meet something that moves, I'm thinking chickens here. If there is any sign of life in my subject, if it might make a sudden dash, I swap the lens back to the Nikon F2. It's handles faster, feels more natural and the whole outfit is smaller and lighter.

Overall I'm very happy with the Nikon/Eos combination, it works very well alongside my other methods. It could be easier, but nothing is perfect.


  1. Oooo ... love the scarlett drops ...

  2. I read every word! But this one is out of my league of understanding for the most part. However, like Colleen, I also love the Drops of Scarlett.



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