Since I haven’t received my Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) yet at the time of this writing most of this guide is conjecture – the result of relying on information provided by Panasonic, educated guesses and my personal experience and analysis based on the work I’ve done with the GH4. It is only a starting point, from which you will hopefully continue to research and find what best suits your workflow. The information provided here might not be accurate or relevant. You are solely responsible for your decisions and actions.
This guide covers everything from how to select the right lenses and accessories for the Panasonic GH5 to workflows in production and post production to get the best out of your footage. The main menu which links to all sections can be found here.
In the last part we covered native lenses and their benefits for the GH5. In this part we’ll dive into third-party lenses and adapters.
What is a third-party lens?
Third-party lenses (for the purposes of this article) are designed for other camera systems (not Micro Four Thirds, MFT) but can still be used on the Panasonic GH5 via an adapter.
E.g., you can use lenses from Nikon, Canon, etc. on the GH5. However, not all third-party lenses can be used.
How do you know if a lens can be used or not?
First, you need to know what the flange focal distance is.
Here’s information on each mount, in increasing order of the focal flange distance:
|Mount||Focal Flange Distance in mm|
|E Sony E-mount||18|
|MFT Micro Four Thirds mount||19.25|
|M Leica M mount||27.8|
|FT Four Thirds mount||38.67|
|FD Canon Manual FD mount||42|
|EF Canon EOS EF mount||44|
|EF-S Canon EOS EF-S mount||44|
|A Minolta/Sony A-mount||44.5|
|K Pentax K-mount||45.46|
|F Nikon F-mount||46.5|
|R Leica R-mount||47|
|PL Arri PL mount||52|
I have highlighted the MFT flange focal distance in blue. Any lens designed for a camera system that has a greater flange focal distance can be used on the GH5. From the table above, anything below can be adapted. On the other hand, Sony E lenses cannot be adapted.
So you can use Canon FD, Canon EF, Nikon F, Arri PL, Leica M and R, Pentax K and even older Four Thirds lenses on the GH5. And a lot more.
How do you use third-party lenses on the GH5?
Third-party lenses come in their own lens mounts. So you need some sort of adapter that comes between the lens and the camera. This adapter does two things:
- It connects two mounts that naturally don’t fit together, and
- It makes up for the flange focal distance.
The typical lens adapter does only these two things, so there’s nothing in the adapter, no lens or optics. It’s just hollow inside.
Important information regarding lens adapters:
- Some lenses have protruding elements at the back that might not interface correctly with the adapter. Look for certain wide angle lenses that have this problem.
- Modern lenses don’t have aperture rings. You change the aperture via the camera body. If you take away the camera body and replace it with the GH5, you need some way for the camera to talk to this alien lens. So for lenses without aperture rings you need adapters with gold contacts that allow you to manipulate aperture:
- However, not all adapters let you talk to the lens. E.g., with Nikon G lenses, you get adapters with physical aperture rings that you must adjust manually:
- Some adapters allow you to autofocus with third-party lenses, though they never work as well as using native lenses. For video especially, as I’ve mentioned in the last article, if you need autofocus, then stick to Panasonic lenses.
- You might want to turn off image stabilization in the lens, and sometimes it won’t work as well because it might not be getting the necessary power from the camera body/adapter. Use the internal stabilization of the GH5 with third-party lenses, always.
- Adding an adapter adds one more point of contact for the lens, which is also one more point of failure. If the adapter is not well made the lens might fit too tight or have play, both of which are undesirable.
- Cheap adapters are not machined precisely, so they don’t make up the flange focal distance accurately. E.g., they might be off by a few millimeters, and this will affect infinity focus on the lens. Expensive adapters come with shimming kits that you add between the adapter and camera body to make up for any manufacturing defects. Cheap adapters are a crap shoot.
- Also, cheaply machined adapters don’t have the mechanics to support heavier metal lenses.
- If the internals aren’t done well, beware of light leaks and internal reflections.
- Lastly, adapters add bulk to your camera setup, and need to be supported underneath. Third-party lenses are typically made for large-sensor cameras, so the lenses are heavier and bulkier. Overall, your system will be more front heavy. That’s why you see some adapters with their own ‘bases’ which help support the lens.
Which is the best lens adapter for the Panasonic GH5?
There are a few brands making adapters, and I’ve found one brand that consistently performs well is Metabones (Amazon, B&H). Other brands I’ve heard good things of are Novoflex (Amazon, B&H) and Voigtlander (Amazon, B&H). The consistent thing about these brands are the price. They know they’re good, and they are priced accordingly.
A lot of people think the cheaper brands are good enough, and spending more for one of the top three are a waste of money. I don’t agree. It’s like eating a fat-fueled diet all your life. It feels fine when you’re young, but once the problems start they’ll never go away. Cheap adapters walk and talk like the real thing, but they’re ruining your experience in ways you won’t know until it’s too late.
Having said that, there’s no reason why a cheaper adapter can’t exist. So if you find one that works for you, no problem. More power to you.
What’s this Speed Booster thing everyone keeps raving about?
The Speed Booster is a lens adapter, expect it has an optical element inside it. So if there’s a lens in it it stands to reason it must accomplish something specific.
The name “Speed Booster” is from Metabones. There are other companies making similar designs, and this optical design is called a focal reducer. However, because Metabones was the first one out, and the one with the best pedigree, I recommend only Metabones (Amazon, B&H) – unless you are short of cash. In which case look at other options.
What does a Speed Booster do differently?
The Panasonic GH5 has a crop factor of 2x. So, e.g., if you use a Canon 50mm lens on it, you’ll get an equivalent of 100mm. If you want a wider angle of view, you need wider lenses. The problem is, let’s say you buy a 14mm wide angle lens (which is pretty wide for full frame) and adapt it to the GH5. On this camera, you’ll only get an angle of view equivalent to about 28mm, which is not that wide.
As we’ve seen in the previous chapter, there are wide angle lenses available for the GH5, but not many.
This is where the Speed Booster shines. It does two things, both seemingly miraculous:
- It re-widens a lens (not completely, but not bad either)
- And the miracle part: It increases the light taking ability of the lens! This is possible because it compresses more light into a tiny area. These two things are essentially what a focal reducer does.
What numbers to look for in a Speed Booster or focal reducer
When you look at the specs of a Speed Booster or similar focal reducer, you’ll see some numbers like this:
- 0.64x or 0.7x or similar
- 1-stop or 1.3 stop increase, etc.
The former tells you how much wider your lens will get. E.g., with the same 50mm lens, with the 2x crop factor you get 100mm. Now with a 0.64x focal reducer, say, you get 0.64 x 100 or 64mm. Not as wide as 50mm, but still good.
The latter tells you how much of a light increase you get. This increase happens as an aperture increase. E.g., if the 50mm lens is an f/2, and you get a 1 stop increase, now the lens is effectively an f/1.4. With a 1.3 stop increase it’s effectively an f/1.2.
So does this mean you can widen any lens and increase the aperture to zero?
No to both.
Ultimately, the insides of the adapter will limit the final angle of view. So there are lenses that will vignette on the Speed Booster. Wide angle lenses have this problem, depending on how the focal reducer is designed. You’ll see an example of this in the next section.
Secondly, if you use a lens with an aperture of f/0.95, you’ll get about f/0.7, but that’s about it. If you use a lens with a native aperture of f/0.7, you won’t get f/0.5. They physics has a limit. Each focal reducer has its own aperture limit. Some are f/0.9, some are f/0.7. Know this before you invest.
Lastly, adding an optical element between the lens and the sensor will degrade image quality. It’s not a question of if, but by how much. And more importantly, how much image quality are you willing to sacrifice for the benefits? For most web-based work I don’t think it’s a big problem, but for high-end productions the quality loss might be an issue.
Which Speed Booster should I get for the Panasonic GH5?
There are two Speed Booster versions available for the GH5 (not in all mounts):
- XL (0.64 and +1.33), and
- Ultra (0.71 and +1)
Unfortunately on the Metabones site they haven’t updated the information as regards to the GH5, but both seem to be compatible with the GH4 (Though Metabones recommends XL). The most important reason we can’t extrapolate that to the GH5 is because with the GH4, in 4K, the sensor had a further crop. The GH5 records 4K with the full sensor width, so the area has increased somewhat. Some people have reported vignetting with lenses, but to date the XL is the version to get.
Is the Speed Booster worth it?
Only if you already have Nikon/Canon or other lenses that can be adapted. Here are some ideas for you to ponder over:
- Speed Boosters are not cheap, so if you only have one or two lenses from a third-party it’s better to spend that money on a decent Panasonic native lens.
- Don’t buy Speed Boosters for shallow depth of field alone. You can achieve the same with the Voigtlander lenses I referenced in the last article. Even if you need autofocus, it’s not going to work very well for video.
- Don’t buy Speed Boosters just for the wide angle. There’s a limit to how wide you can go anyway, so the native lenses mentioned in the last article might be a better option overall.
The bottom line is, you only buy the Speed Booster to adapt existing lenses that would otherwise go to waste. With it you get a close angle of view and good aperture performance, so it’s worth it. For the rest, forget focal reducers.
Best third-party lenses for the Panasonic GH5
There’s no such thing. Any lens is good if it meets your purpose. Even the best lenses are crap if it doesn’t get you the image you want. So, if you have to ask this question, then the problem is you. The best advice I can give is, if you don’t know which lens is good for you, then it’s not time to buy any lens yet. Get some experience, shoot a lot and slowly the right lenses will be made evident to you. And guess what? At that time, the money you didn’t spend will still be available. But this time for the right lenses.
Which lenses do I prefer?
Nikon F/G is the only mount that ticks all boxes:
- You want aperture ring and image stabilization? No problem.
- You want to use cheaper lenses or more expensive ones? No problem.
- It has a flange focal distance that makes it adaptable to even Canon cameras if the need ever arises in the future.
- Great prime lenses are available for cheap. Thankfully, Nikon has hardly changed their SLR mount, and you’ll never have a shortage of lenses.
- Not only do Nikon primes come in all focal lengths, you have various choices of year (like wine!) and model. Lots of new and used options going back decades.
- Adapters are a dime a dozen, though beware of the cheap ones.
There are three kinds of adapters for the Nikon mount:
- Nikon F to MFT – F lenses have an aperture ring and are mostly manual focus only.
- Nikon G to MFT – G lenses don’t have aperture rings so the adapter has one instead. You’ll need to use that to set aperture.
- Nikon G to MFT Speed Booster XL 0.64x
I recommend the G to MFT adapter. Even if you’re using F lenses, like I am, you can set the adapter aperture to wide open and just use your lens instead. But you have the option of G lenses if you ever need it. The price difference isn’t that great so it’s not an issue.
Recommended Nikon prime lenses for the Panasonic GH5
Here are recommended prime lenses from the Nikon stable:
The lenses marked in bold are my favorites. The ones in green are what I own. Don’t forget, you can buy many of these Nikon lenses used in great condition. I’ve only listed new prices. Feel free to use the search boxes below to find lenses and adapters. It won’t cost you extra:
In the next chapter we’ll look at external recorders and data wrangling.