Manual Focusing: Let’s Go Back to the Future

by | Sep 9, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

A few years ago I wrote an article for Shutterbug’s Digital Photography How-to Guide about using different kinds of lenses—other than the manufacturer’s—on mirrorless cameras and thinking about that story got me feeling nostalgic, which is a perfect segue for today’s post.

Fast forward: I’m walking down Wilcox Street in Castle Rock, Colorado carrying a Panasonic Lumix G5 with a Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Biogon lens mounted via an inexpensive Fotodiox Leica M adapter, when all of a sudden I’m 40 years younger walking the streets of Baltimore as a student at the Maryland Institute of Art working on a class assignment. No kidding, that’s exactly how this lens/camera combination made me feel. The last time I felt like this was when I was shooting my Contax G1 film camera; I’m still sorry that I sold that camera.

Why did the Lumix/Zeiss combination take me back in time? Part of it, I think is that the process of manual focusing a lens seems more involving than just point, wait for the beep and click.

Instead of shoot-and-scoot, manual focusing a lens makes you slow down and think about the photograph and its composition. One of my favorite tips is that after focusing but before tripping the shutter take a quick look at the four corners of the frame to see if there are any surprises lurking.

How I made this shot: I used a Lumix G5 (now converted to infrared) with a Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Biogon lens mounted via a Fotodiox adapter. Focus was by using (I’m pretty sure) the hyperfocal focusing method with an Av exposure of 1/1600 at f/11 and ISO 400.

The other part of my time traveling experience is the visual aesthetics of the camera body and lens package. Before you accuse me of going all hipster on you, please keep in mind that as photographers we think visually and the physical appeal of this lens/camera combination set the mood so that when I started shooting the Lumix in black & white, bang-zoom I was back in 1972.

Keeping the time travel analogy going I noticed that the same subject matter started calling to me, such as bridges and architectural details… If it wasn’t for the pain in my knees I might have I felt younger too.


Along with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.86 prices with used copies selling for around seven bucks, as I write this. The Kindle version is kind of high for some reason (not Barry and I to be sure.)