Body Cap Bliss
It recently came to my attention that Olympus, the Japanese camera manufacturer, has released a fixed focal-length, manual focus lens built into a µ-4/3 camera body cap. The price being right (less than $50US), I snapped one up, and this weekend had opportunity to try this lens out on my Lumix G5.
In case you were wondering, Olympus and Panasonic make cameras and lenses that are compatible to a common standard, that being µ-4/3, which means that you can mix and match Panasonic Lumix bodies and lenses with Olympus bodies and lenses. This common format was the first of the so-called “mirrorless” interchangeable lens cameras that are now all the rage, starting in 2008 with the Lumix G1, with the likes of Sony, Nikon and Fuji only getting in on the act in more recent years. However, these Johnny-come-late brands are not compatible with the µ-4/3 standard, despite what your local under-educated camera salesman might infer.
I already have a good selection of Lumix lenses to use with my G1 and recently acquired G5, but even the best autofocus lenses have some sort of electronic delay. The great thing about the Olympus BCL-15 body cap lens is that it's manual focus only, meaning instant response and, with a detent focus position for the hyper-focal distance at the lens’s fixed aperture of F/8, means that for subjects at normal distances (say, from about a meter out to infinity) it’s just fire-and-forget, no fiddling with the focus lever at all.
However, you might want to fiddle with that focus lever if you intend on getting in close to some subject, as the lens will close-focus down to 0.98 feet. What enables you to check focus easily with the G5 camera is its convenient focus-zoom feature in the electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is activated by a press of the thumb dial. A subsequent half-press of the shutter button takes you back to normal viewing mode for composing your picture prior to releasing the shutter.
This takes me to the next point I want to make, which is that I found using this Olympus 30mm-effective-angle-of-view lens while the G5 camera is set to electronic shutter mode makes for an entirely silent, instantly-responding camera experience. It fires with no detectable delay, entirely silently, right now. This implies that my SLR-like G5 camera is now transformed into an ideal candid picture-taking point-and-shoot, but one with a state-of-the-art large-sized sensor, articulating LCD screen and built-in, live-view, eye-level electronic viewfinder.
The optical quality of the body cap lens is only marginal, however, but that’s not a real limitation given the quick-acting response and compact size this lens gives a competent photographer. Off-axis chromatic aberration is noticeable to pixel-peepers, but can be corrected in post-processing, while a little bit of vignette is not objectionable, and can also be corrected if desired.
The photos I’ve posted in this article (see link below) were all processed from in-camera JPEG files in the iOS Filterstorm app on the iPad2, with no chromatic aberration correction applied. To some images I’ve actually added additional vignetting, while others were left as-is. I think you will agree that for Internet-sized files these images are completely usable.
Where the BCL-15 falls down is when used under marginal lighting situations, because its aperture is fixed at f/8 and, even with late-model cameras like the G5 that offer good-quality high-ISO noise levels, is therefore simply too slow. In those situations I’m apt to use the remarkable Lumix 20mm-f/1.7 lens, instead.
I like it when a simple, inexpensive accessory is found, like the Olympus BCL-15 body cap lens, that transforms the tool’s usage mode to further enable one’s creativity.
Post-Script: The BCL-15 can also be used while recording video. On the G5 camera, video can be recorded using the various scene modes, which means that I can shoot, using this fixed-focus lens (meaning no focus hunting, no focus motor sounds in the microphone and less battery consumption) in the Toy Camera Mode, for instance. Very cool.
Here's a link to my Flickr set using the Olympus body cap lens.