Last updated on September 2, 2020
I spent the weekend (8-9 August, 2020) with my old – roughly the same age as me – manual focus Canon 50mm f/1.8 on my Fuji XT3 and am now hooked on this style of “analog-digital” photography.
The first camera I ever laid my hands on was an ancient film camera that we found in a pile of junk when my father bought his house.
I must have been around six or seven years old but I can still remember the weight and metallic smell of the thing.
I shot with it every weekend for years and years, lugging it around it with me and using the crosshairs to manually focus on my subjects.
But I never found out whether or not I’d be successful with my shots as my dad was too much of a tight arse to buy me film for it.
Anyhow, my photography has come on quite a way since then, but manually focussing has never been something I’ve needed to worry about.
All my digital cameras have had autofocus, so focussing manually has never been a skill I’ve needed.
But you know how it is… As a photographer you want to feel that you are in complete control of the images you produce. You want to feel connected to your subjects via your camera.
And that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the Fujifilm X system.
My Fuji XT3 feels more or less like an old analog camera.
The tactile manual dials on top of the camera – for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation – give you the feeling that you’re more in control, and having the aperture ring on the lens itself is also a pleasurable ‘haptic’ way of shooting.
The 50mm f/1.8 lens is of course a manual focus only lens, which takes this whole hands-on, manual-everything style shooting to the next level.
The lens itself came with my old Canon A1 film camera, which I love but rarely shoot as I don’t really have the time or money to spend on developing film.
What I’ve found is that, by pairing my Fuji XT3 with the Canon 50mm f/1.8, I get the same feeling that I get when shooting with my film cameras.
I’m slower, more aware of details, more in tune with my camera and the images I am making.
It also makes you aware of just how bloody talented the greats of yesteryear were – especially the street and travel pioneers who captured ‘decisive moments’ with manual focus only. I think their genius is greatly underestimated.
It’s a real challenge to manually focus on moving subjects, even with the fantastic focus-peaking offered by Fujifilm cameras.
But when you get your subject in focus, it’s somehow much sharper – and so much more rewarding than when you rely on autofocusing.
What I’ve learned from shooting with the vintage Canon FD 50mm f1.8 on my Fujifilm XT3
1. I absolutely love focussing manually.
It’s even harder to do than you’d imagine and I wouldn’t even attempt it without focus-peaking, but when you get it right there’s just something magical about it.
2. The Canon FD 50mm f1.8 is a seriously beautiful lens for both photography and videography.
I’d highly recommend getting one. You can pick them up for around £60-70 (or around $100).
Check out this quick little video I shot to test out the Canon FD 50mm f1.8 for video (and my manual focus for video skills).
3. New doesn’t necessarily mean better.
I want more manual focus lenses and feel like my view of the (lens) world has completely opened up now that I have made this discovery.
These old lenses have such magic about them, and they’re SO much cheaper than buying new lenses.
4. Manual focus isn’t always going to be best.
There are certain times, scenes and subjects that I would trust myself to shoot with manual focus, but I would definitely want my auto-focussing lenses to hand if I were on a shoot – especially for travel/street shoots.
5. You absolutely do not need a full-frame camera to get great depth-of-field and beautiful bokeh.
I’ve been struggling recently as I’ve been wondering if I should switch from Fuji to a full-frame mirrorless camera system. I looked at the Sony A7III and also the Canon EOS R, which are a little more affordable now that new models are out. I’ve also considered buying the Nikon Z6 as I have the old Nikon D750 DSLR (which I also love) and some lovely lenses that I could adapt. But shooting with this old lens at f1.8, I have realised that you don’t really need full-frame to get beautiful bokeh.
6. I’ll be sticking with Fujifilm.
I’ve come to realise that Fujifilm is the camera brand for me. I love the analog feel and my Fuji XT3 has literally changed my life by enabling me to shoot video as well as stills. I will be sticking with Fuji and will start saving for the XT4, which will enhance my video work by allowing me to shoot handheld with prime lenses (because it has IBIS).
Make it Happen
Get your own vintage lenses: I’d recommend shopping on ebay for second hand lenses – and also checking out the many options of new manual focus lenses on Amazon.
Get a converter: Don’t forget you’ll need a lens converter to use your new vintage lenses on your Fuji camera. I recommend Gobe converters – great brand and great value. I also recommend their variable ND filters.
Get your own Fuji camera: Don’t have a Fuji camera yet? If you’re on the fence then let me assure you it’ll be a decision you won’t regret. I’ve been obsessed with Fujifilm since buying the XT20, then soon after the XT3. I’ll definitely be buying the XT4 next and would suggest you do the same if you’re thinking of joining the Fuji family.
Do you shoot with vintage/manual focus lenses?