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How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium’s OneZero. Read more.

Mirrorless cameras aren’t the future, they’re the present. If you’re switching from an older DSLR, though, the obvious thing to do is just buy an adapter so you can keep using your old gear.

The Advantages of a Lens Adapter

The biggest advantage of lens adapters is pretty clear: they enable you to use your existing collection of lenses on your new camera. With many mirrorless cameras starting at over $1,000, anything that offsets the cost of switching is much appreciated. After all, mirrorless lenses cost as much as the new camera body.

For most photographers, simultaneously switching systems and replacing all their DSLR lenses with their mirrorless equivalents would cost more than they can justify spending.

So, as the upside of a lens adapter is pretty clear, are there any downsides?

Why Lens Adapters Are Necessary

Mirrorless cameras aren’t just DSLRs without the mirror—they’re a totally overhauled platform. Both Canon and Nikon took the opportunity to radically redesign their decades-old lens mounts, and with good reason. Canon debuted the EF mount in 1987, while Nikon’s F mount has been around since 1959.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraThe adapter is actually wider than the lens because the new R mount is bigger. Canon

The most noticeable change is that the lens mounts are now bigger, and the rear lens elements sit closer to the image sensor. Of course, the actual mount connection has changed, too.

This means lens adapters are necessary because the lens mounts on mirrorless cameras are entirely different from the DSLR mounts they succeed. Canon’s RF mount isn’t just an updated EF—it’s new.

Lens Adapters Add Size, Weight, and Hassle

Lens adapters add physical size and weight to your lenses. It’s not a huge amount, but if you’re buying a mirrorless camera because you want a smaller, lighter setup, this is something to consider. For example, Canon’s most basic EF-EOS R adapter adds an extra inch and four ounces to any lens you use. Nikon’s FTZ adapter adds a bit more weight and bulk because of its tripod mount.

In addition to the size and weight penalty, a lens adapter is simply one more thing you have to remember to take with you on a shoot. If you forget it, you won’t be able to take any photos.

Compatibility Issues

If you switch from a Canon DSLR to a Canon mirrorless camera, and also use a Canon lens adapter, things are pretty sweet. You should be able to use all your lenses happily. If not, though, things get a bit more complicated.

Even if you switch from a Nikon DSLR to a Nikon mirrorless camera, and use a Nikon lens adapter, there are some compatibility issues. Most newer lenses should be fine, as they have built-in autofocus motors. However, because the adapter doesn’t have one, Nikon’s AF and AF-D lenses are manual focus only.

With some older lenses, there’s also no automatic aperture control, which means no electronic metering, automatic exposure modes, or EXIF data.

And that’s even if you stay with the same brand. If you want to mount a Nikon DSLR lens to a Canon mirrorless camera, you’ll need a pricey adapter to get even a fully manual experience.

With Canon, though, there are EF-to-other-brand adapters available for pretty much every platform. Photographer Ken Rockwell even claimed he’s had better results using Canon’s DSLR lenses instead of Nikon’s on his Nikon mirrorless.

Put simply, though, just because an adapter exists doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy (or pleasant) time switching—especially if you’re mixing brands. Generally, cheaper adapters will give you only manual control. They can also prevent features like image stabilization from working.

Make sure you research the specific trade-offs you’ll have to accept before committing to a new system.

Autofocus Might Be Slower

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras autofocus a bit differently. DSLRs have dedicated focus sensors, while mirrorless cameras generally rely on sensors built into the imaging sensor. Naturally, mirrorless lenses are designed to work with the focus on mirrorless cameras, while DSLR lenses are designed to work with DSLRs.

This means if you’re using a lens with an adapter, you might notice it autofocuses slower than it did on your DSLR or with an equivalent mirrorless lens. This is especially noticeable when you’re trying to focus on fast-moving subjects or action shots.

Of course, it’s always ideal if you can replace your DSLR lenses with the equivalent mirrorless lenses for your new mirrorless camera. Unless you’ve got a lot of cash to burn, though, a lens adapter can definitely be a worthwhile trade-off.

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Do you want a sharp and well built lens? Of course you do. Everyone does. Think you can’t afford great glass? Think again. You may not be looking in the right place.

If you’re like me, browsing through latest high-end lenses can be a little depressing. The cost of luxury grade glass can easily peak in the thousands of dollars. What if I told you that you could have excellent lenses without breaking the bank?

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Recently I learned about a method for retrofitting older film lenses to function with our modern cameras. The possible bad news is that these are mostly manual focus prime lenses so your autofocus and metering won’t work (with one exception we’ll talk about later). The great news is that the majority of these lenses are built like photographic tanks and possess extremely capable optics. These lenses are also readily available and affordable on most any budget.

So how is it done? How can you make a twenty, thirty, or even forty year old piece of gear work with today’s advanced camera bodies? Believe it or not, the answer is deceptively simple. For virtually every lens and camera combination there is an adapter that will enable you to use any lens with any camera – regardless of manufacturer. Here’s an example:

I have an old analog Nikon F3 that was given to me by my father along with a couple of lenses: a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

The entire kit remained mostly forgotten in a camera bag, and in storage for years. One day I stumbled across some information about how a few photographers were using old M42 Zeiss screw-mount lenses with their DSLR’s using adapter rings and producing outstanding photographs. That got me thinking – if it were possible to find adapters for these old M42 lenses, could there also be manufacturers who produced similar adapters for other lens types? Almost instantly the old Nikon leaped from some distant corner of my memory. My main shooting body is a Canon 7D MkI. Could I possibly use those thirty year old Nikkor film lenses on my 7D Canon? Shockingly, the answer was yes! All I needed were these unassuming aluminium adapter rings which I sourced on eBay for about $12 USD each.

One side of the ring matches the Nikkor mount.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

The other mates with the Canon body.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

The entire process is very simple; the adapter simply snaps onto the lens.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera
Without the adapter.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera
With the Canon adapter.

Then it’s business as usual attaching the adapted lens to the camera. Just line up the indicator dot with the mounting dot on your camera body.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

The adapters are also removable if you choose to do so later by depressing a small spring catch (most brands have these).

As I said earlier, these are completely manual lenses. Meaning that you adjust your aperture by hand as well as focusing the lens.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Personally, I enjoy the deliberateness this action forces. You have to think about your composition so much more, and you get to experience the effects of aperture adjustment literally first hand.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera
The impressive aperture blades on this beautiful Nikkor 85mm.

Don’t worry if this manual operation doesn’t appeal to you. The exception concerning the adapter rings I spoke of is that some are now being made with focus indicator chips built into the adapter. While this chip doesn’t enable you to use autofocus, it does allow the lens to communicate to the camera when the selected point of focus has been obtained. This is complete personal preference. I opted for the non-autofocus indication adapters because I wasn’t comfortable using aftermarket electronics of that type with my camera. Again, this is a completely subjective.

Please Note: Neither the author nor Digital Photography School are responsible for any damages to your camera or lens as a result of using aftermarket devices. Please be an informed photographer prior to attempting any modifications to your precious gear!

Now, here are some images produced through a little Frankensteinish innovation.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

So you finally made the jump to mirrorless! You’ve got that sexy new Sony/Nikon/Canon/Fuji/Panasonic and you’re itching to get cracking on some awesome portraits! It’s about then that you realize that the kit lens isn’t going to cut it and you didn’t quite budget as well as you’d thought for some shiny new system lenses. What’s a photographer to do? Buy some cheap, old glass to get you going!

Shooting mirrorlessly offers a myriad of perks. You can’t throw a rock and miss an article about eye-autofocus, body size, or low-light performance. But one of the coolest aspects of mirrorless that often gets overlooked is the ability to adapt legacy glass. I know, I know, why bother upgrading (or cross-grading) if you’re just going to shoot with inferior lenses? Well here’s the thing: A lot of those old lenses aren’t nearly as bad as you may think.

Ease of Manual Focus

Manually focusing with a DSLR is possible, but nowhere near as easy as with a mirrorless camera. Magnifying your viewfinder to allow easy focusing is intuitive and efficient with most mirrorless bodies. With my A7III, I put the cursor where I want it, tap my focus assist button, focus, then snap. Even though the viewfinder and LCD on the Sony aren’t best in class, they are more than good enough for attaining accurate focus. Focus peaking is fine when you’re working at smaller apertures, but when shooting closer to wide open, I find that the colors just get in the way. For you, it may not be an issue at all.

Born to Turn

Physically turning the focus ring on most modern lenses isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world. Most manufacturers have moved on from the world of manual focus, and rightly so! The focus rings are stiff, focus by wire (the ring doesn’t physically move the lens, making focus unpredictable), and feel like they’re mostly there as an afterthought. Manual focus lenses, particularly from before the nineties, were built to be manually focused all the time. Therefore they are usually much smoother and more intuitive to use.

The Quality Argument

Although many may scoff at using decades old glass on a new camera, much of it is of very high quality. Of course, there are dogs out there, but a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know about an old lens. For this article, with the generous assistance of my neighbors, I used a Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD and a Canon 135mm f/2.8 FD. Of course, these lenses are not as sharp as a mid to top tier modern lens, nor do they have the latest and greatest coatings to prevent ghosting, flaring, or chromatic aberrations. But here’s the thing: once you stop down a bit, much of the advantage of modern lenses evaporates. These lenses can definitely hold their own. Even stopping down one stop improves image quality on most legacy manual lenses dramatically. If you want top quality performance wide open, these lenses are definitely not for you. But then again, 90% of modern lenses don’t perform well wide open, either. There’s a reason Sony’s 135mm f/1.8 is so expensive. You get what you pay for.

Of course, the true advantage of shooting with old manual glass is really felt by your wallet. Both of the lenses referenced earlier can be found for $50 to $100. A cheap adapter is all you need to attach it to your camera. I use this one for my Sony. Granted, you probably aren’t going to use these old lenses as your main kit. But if you need something while you save up for that dream lens, this could be just the ticket. They’re also fun for a little walk around town. There’s something satisfying about manually focusing. I can’t explain it, but I recommend you try it if you haven’t.

Drawbacks

Not all is roses for these old babies. If you’re dealing with moving subjects, manually focusing can be frustrating at larger apertures. There’s a reason for the old saying, “f/8 and be there.” Manually focusing while a moving subject prances out of your frame can result in many missed moments. If you’re not content to stop down to maximize your chances of nailing moving subjects, these lenses aren’t for you. Also, the aforementioned ghosting and flaring can cause an extremely hazy image. Shooting backlit may be a recipe for disaster if you’re close to wide open.

Although I’ve chosen to keep a couple of cheap Canon FDs, there are many great old lenses out there. What are some of your favorites? Any tips for manually focusing? Let us know.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

When I first started out using speedlights for flash photography, there weren’t many options aside from Canon and Nikon. As a result, I’ve amassed a large collection of Speedlights (and Speedlites), but now that I also shoot mirrorless bodies, are my SB-700s and 600EX-RTs any good?

The answer is a definite yes, though with some caveats.

Give It a Try

If you browse the Internet trying to find an answer about flash compatibility across brands, you’ll hear horror stories of fried electronics and voltage issues. While that may be true if you’re using a decades-old flash, most modern flashes made in the last 10 years or so will probably be fine. I’m writing particularly about Nikon’s SB-700 and Canon’s 600EX-RT flashes in this post, but I’ve had more or less the same functionality I’ll describe in this post with older SB-900 and 580EX II models.

The first thing to remember is that Nikon and Canon (as well as other first-party brands such as Olympus and Panasonic) always program their flashes to work best with their own cameras. You can get fancy features such as TTL capability, high-speed synch, rear-curtain sync, and built-in radio flash capabilities in some cases. Many of these flashes also can cast infrared patterns to help assist with autofocus on the company’s DSLR systems. If you can afford to go the matching-brand route, that’s always going to be best.

Second-best is to use cross brand-triggers, such as a Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver, which can add some of this functionality across different models from different companies, though the downside of this approach is you are introducing a third brand to the mix, more batteries, and an extra piece that could potentially fail in a key shoot.

What to Do in a Pinch

What do you do if you only need to use this setup occasionally for a little extra light without the expense?

In a pinch, you won’t actually need anything, despite what internet fearmongers will tell you. You can stick that Nikon flash right onto the hotshoe of your Fujifilm X-T3, and you’ll be just fine. Likewise, that Canon won’t fry your Olympus E-M10 Mark II (see above, the camera’s fine, I swear). The only major catch is you won’t be able to shoot the flash in TTL mode (essentially, automatic). You’ll have to take manual control, but that’s something that’s not a bad practice anyway when shooting portraits. You’ll also have to be mindful of the maximum sync speed on your camera. You won’t be able to shoot faster than that, and so, while you may be able to work within that limitation indoors, you will likely need neutral density filters or shaded areas to compensate for the lack of higher shutter speeds to use with your light when outdoors.

In the case of this image of my daughter, my maximum sync speed of my Fujifilm X-T1 is 1/180 (as denoted by the “x” next to that number on the dial). By adjusting the power of the flashes, I was able to dial in the right settings to get the picture I wanted. As a bonus, by using Nikon SB-700 flashes, I was able to turn the flashes into optically triggered remote flashes, meaning I was able to stash one behind the chair to light the background, and it was triggered by the hotshoe-mounted flash on the camera. Nikon offers the ability to do this by setting the flash to “SU-4” mode in the remote menu, but unfortunately, Canon’s flashes are locked to Canon’s proprietary system when it comes to any sort of remote capability. Some companies have created triggers that can essentially hack it, but again, this adds complexity. Optical triggering needs line-of-sight, but doesn’t require extra tools at least.

Summing it all up: Most flashes will work with most systems, as long as they have the same basic hotshoe design. You’ll just have to adjust power manually and work within the maximum sync speed limits of your camera.

If you have a mirrorless camera and want to dip your toe into the waters of speedlighting, use what you’ve already got. You’ll get the job done.

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How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Bear with me now. I promise there are photos after all this preamble. I’m going to try to keep the camera talk to a dull roar on this post even though it is principally about lenses.

Over the last 6 weeks, I’ve had a fever… a fever that has but one cure… more old Minolta lenses!

Prior to this sickness, I had been using the newest Zeiss lenses that are purpose-made for the Sony full-frame mirror-less cameras like the A7, A7R, A7S, and the new A7 Mk II. Specifically, I was using the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 and Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. These are fine lenses commanding a respectable price of $1,200 and $1,000 respectively.

I was curious though to find out if they’re as good as some of the older lenses made by Minolta back in the film days. You might be tempted to think that with the rate of technological advancements in photography over the past 20 years that this might be a dumb question. Fair enough, but consider that most advancements have been made more in the tool we use to capture the light coming through the lens more than the lens itself.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Digital cameras have revolutionized photography to the point of even exceeding the old analog process in some areas (carefully worded: “some areas”). The science of optics, however, has moved forward at a more glacial pace.

Lens design, materials, and glass-coatings have all experienced some manner of change over the years, but when you look at them from a basic perspective, you can go back 60 years or more and find very strong similarities. Thus my curiosity with the old lenses. Can they be as good as a modern lens when they’re attached to the latest cameras?

I went to my local camera stores and purchased the following lenses to experiment with:

  • 1985 Minolta 70-210mm f/4 – Price paid: $100
  • 1986 Minolta 100mm f/2.8 Macro (1:1 reproduction ratio) – Price paid: $275
  • 1985 Minolta 50mm f/1.7 – Price paid: $50
  • 1985 Minolta 28mm f/2.8 – Price paid: $95

In addition to the lenses, I had to buy an adapter that would allow me to mount the lenses to my Sony A7; they’re different style connections. I paid $13 for this. The adapter I bought is just a dumb piece of metal. That means manual focus of the lens and manual control of the lens’ aperture (f-stop).

At first I thought that the manual focus bit would be a pain in the butt and result in missed shots and lots of frustration. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Sony A7 was blessed with an awesome feature called Focus Peaking. What this does is show you in the viewfinder what is in focus by highlighting those areas with a scattering of red dots. If you see red scatter in and around the thing you’re focusing on, you know you’ve got it.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the Sony A7 is quite clear and high enough resolution to make this very easy to see. You can even set one of the programmable buttons on the camera body to zoom in to 100% image size in area of your choosing if you’re doing some super fine focus adjustments like in Macro Photography. Manual focus on these cameras is simple.

In fact, it’s so simple that I now prefer it over autofocus. With autofocus, even with my big Nikons, sometimes it just selects the wrong feature to focus on and ruins the shot (camera set to center focus spot – focus then compose). I’m very picky about what’s in focus especially when you have a fast lens which have very shallow depth-of-field when used wide open; so fine that you could have eye lashes in focus while the eye is not.

I’ve digressed… Manual focusing these Minolta lenses has been a dream!

What I want to do now is give the writing a rest and just show you photos made with each of these lenses over the past few weeks. In the caption beneath each image I’ll list which lens was used for that shot.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/320th | ISO 400 How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 100 How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 320 How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 400 How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 800 How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraSony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 1000

Not bad for “outdated” lenses eh? Since shooting manually with these lenses, I’ve found it requires a little more attention to the process of getting the shot. This results in more attention being paid to the image itself; composition, lighting, and perspective all get a little more consideration too because I’m taking an extra moment to think about what I’m doing. I like this a lot!

The past few weeks spent shooting with this collection of Minoltas has rekindled my enjoyment of photography in a way I haven’t experienced in years. I have recently sold my Zeiss lenses and committed myself to using these Old Timers for the foreseeable future.

About the author: Tom Leonard is a photographer who travels the world 30 days at a time. He shares photographs from his journeys over on his website Out for 30. This article originally appeared here.

I haven’t talked much about digital mirrorless cameras in this space for the simple fact that I haven’t had much experience with them. I’ve read about them and even held one in my hands but that’s it.

Mirrorless cameras were first introduced around 2008 and by 2018 they accounted for nearly half of all camera sales. While Canon is the leader in total camera sales, Sony was the first to dip their toes into the mirrorless waters and still leads that segment of the market. The other companies, including Canon, were late to the game and are playing catch up.

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are similar in layout and function and both incorporate interchangeable lenses. Image quality are nearly indistinguishable between the two.

First, a primer on how a DSLR works. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. The basic design harkens back to the old film Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras. The way they work is light comes into the camera through the lens. In the camera body a small mirror bounces the incoming light and image straight up. The light is then bent again in the pentaprism, that big bulge at the top of the camera, and out where it can be seen through viewfinder. When a picture is taken, the mirror quickly swings up and out of the way, the shutter opens and the light strikes the film. In today’s DSLRs it’s much the same except the film and film transport mechanism have been replaced by a digital sensor, electronic circuitry and algorithms.

As the name suggests mirrorless cameras eliminates the mirror and pentaprism resulting in camera that’s smaller and lighter than a DSLR. Its size is somewhere between a point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR. The small hump at the top some mirrorless cameras house a small digital monitor in the viewfinder.

Frame rate, or how many frames per second a camera can shoot, is important to sports photographers. As you might suspect a mirror/shutter physically can only travel so fast. The Canon 1Dx’s 14-fps is probably close to that mechanical limit. Sony’s Alpha 1 mirrorless electronic shutter can shoot up to a phenomenal 30-fps.

You’ve probably heard the clicking of cameras while watching a news press conference on TV. Much of that sound is what’s known as mirror slap in a DSLR. A mirrorless camera eliminates much of that sound. In fact, many mirrorless cameras can be completely silent, an advantage when shooting in quiet courtroom or funeral situations.

The lenses are not compatible between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. And, because mirrorless cameras are relatively new, their selection of lenses are limited when compared to DSLRs, so far. However, most manufacturers have made adapters to that you can use your old lenses with the new mirrorless bodies.

Early models reportedly suffered from “viewfinder lag” resulting from processor lag and slow display refresh rates. This meant that the images seen in the viewfinder lagged slightly behind what was actually happening. Newer cameras have improved so much so that this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore.

Mirrorless cameras’ smaller size can be a boon for those with small hands, but photographers with big mitts can find the small cameras too small and controls hard to manipulate.

Mirrorless cameras have challenges with battery life. Because the sensor is constantly on, mirrorless batteries don’t last as long between charging as DSLRs do. I can go for more than a week before charging up my DSLR. Depending on the model, mirrorless cameras can shoot from 300 to 700 frames on a charge. That may sound like a lot, but I can shoot more than 700 frames during a single sporting event.

Mirrorless cameras are very popular and many photographers are ditching their DSLRs for them. So, why haven’t I switched over? I’m of the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy. My DSLRs are working perfectly fine. I don’t find their added weight bothersome. In fact, I like a camera with a little heft to it. It helps with balance when using a large, heavy telephoto lens. But for those who are looking for something not too much bigger than a point-and-shoot camera with the flexibility and controllability of a DSLR, a mirrorless camera may be something worth looking into.

Despite the ceaseless technological advancements that have become a hallmark of the digital photography industry, there remains a segment of photographers of all skill levels who enthusiastically keep at least one foot in the analog world. One example of this phenomenon can be seen in the steady resurgence of all things film related. Another example is the use of vintage lenses with modern digital cameras. This apparent clash of technologies may not make much sense to the uninitiated, but rest assured that there are those who swear by this intermingling of old and new. If you’ve ever thought about putting a legacy lens to use on your DSLR or mirrorless camera, the following tips will help you find success in getting the most out of such a setup.

Vintage Lenses Are Manual Focus Only

Vintage lenses are…old. They come from a time before autofocus was a thing. Knowing how to focus manually and accurately was once a fundamental skill, a skill that has understandably been lost on the generation of photographers that has only known digital gear. But if you intend to use an older lens on your digital camera you should definitely spend some time working on your manual focusing prowess. Or you can just take advantage of your camera’s focus assist options such as focus zoom and focus peaking. There’s still a learning curve but these aides will definitely help you get the job done.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraPhoto by Jason D. Little | Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50mm f/1.4 + Fujifilm X-T1

Vintage Lenses Must Be Adapted To Your Camera

Old lenses typically do not fit directly on modern cameras. There are a small handful of exceptions such as Nikon’s F Mount and Pentax’s K Mount that can fit directly on current Nikon and Pentax cameras. Otherwise, you will need to purchase an adapter. Just look for an adapter that matches the lens mount of your camera body and the brand of lens you want to mount. Want to attach an Olympus OM lens to your Sony a7II? There’s an adapter for that. Got a Canon FD lens you want to pair with your Fujifilm X-T2? There’s an adapter for that. You will discover that adapter for mirrorless cameras are in greater supply and cover a greater range of lens and mount options as compared to what’s available for DSLRs. In short, this comes down to the fact that compact system cameras have a short flange back distance (since they don’t have a mirror), which gives these cameras a significant advantage over DSLRs in this area.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraPhoto by Jason D. Little | Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 + Fujifilm X-T1

Communication Is Limited

Digital cameras and their native lenses pass all sorts of information back and forth as you use them — metering, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus mode, focal length. Nothing is left out. Once you put a legacy lens on your camera, however, there is no communication between lens and camera. The camera will still register parameters like shutter speed and ISO, but don’t expect to get a full array of exif data.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraPhoto by Jason D. Little | Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50mm f/1.4 + Fujifilm X-T1

Shooting Mode Options Are Reduced

If you’re accustomed to having a full range of shooting modes to choose from — aperture priority, shutter priority, program, fully automatic and fully manual — understand that the automatic and semi-automatic modes are out of play (though you can essentially use aperture priority). Being forced out of a high degree of automation could actually help you master exposure, so I don’t consider this a dire consequence of using vintage lenses but it’s something everyone should be aware of going in.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraPhoto by Jason D. Little | Minolta MC 135mm f/2.8 + Fujifilm X-T1

You Still Have To Account For Crop Factor

The vintage lenses that most people are interested in were made for 35mm cameras, the equivalent of what we refer to these days as “full frame.” If you intend to use one of these lenses on a camera with APS-C sensor you still have to consider crop factor; so a 28mm legacy lens will provide the field of view of a 42mm lens on a camera with a crop factor of 1.5.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraPhoto by Jason D. Little | Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50mm f/1.4 + Fujifilm X-T1

Final Thoughts On Using Vintage Lenses With A Digital Camera

Vintage lenses are “old” but not obsolete; they’re affordable, small and capable of producing great (sometimes quirky) images. Of course there are exceptions and variations to some of the points outlined here and there are certain risks inherent to buying and using old camera gear. The upside, though, is that vintage gear can spark creativity, provide a more tactile shooting experience and take care of that nagging gear acquisition syndrome without breaking the bank. Most of all, vintage lenses are fun to use.

DSLR to Mirrorless Lens Adapter

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Sony LA-EA5 Adapter (adapts Sony Alpha and Minolta MAXXUM 35mm film and DSLR lenses to Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras, 3.1 oz./88g, $248). bigger. I’d get mine at Adorama, Amazon, at B&H or at Crutchfield.

This 100% all-content, junk-free website’s biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to my personally approved sources I’ve used myself for way over 100 combined years when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Sony does not seal its boxes in any way, so never buy at retail or any other source not on my personally approved list since you’ll have no way of knowing if you’re missing accessories, getting a defective, damaged, returned, non-USA, store demo or used adapter — and all of my personally approved sources allow for 100% cash-back returns for at least 30 days if you don’t love your new adapter or if it doesn’t work with your body and lenses. I’ve used many of these sources since the 1970s because I can try it in my own hands and return it if I don’t love it, and because they ship from secure remote warehouses where no one gets to touch your new adapter before you do. Buy only from the approved sources I’ve used myself for decades for the best prices, service, return policies and selection.

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How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

I buy only from these approved sources. I can’t vouch for ads below.

This adapter lets you use old and new Sony Alpha DSLR and Minolta MAXXUM 35mm SLR lenses on your E-mount mirrorless cameras. It should work with all of them from 1980’s MAXXUM lenses to the newest Sony and ZEISS SSM lenses as the older LA-EA4 does, sadly however Sony botched the LA-EA5 and only some lens and camera combinations work. Therefore be sure that you only get yours from my personally approved sources of Adorama, Amazon, B&H or Crutchfield who offer at least a 30-day no-questions, for any reason 100% cash-back return policy so you can return it if it simply doesn’t work well with your combination of lens and body.

Some of these old A-mount lenses are good, and others aren’t, but none perform as well as Sony’s latest dedicated E-mount lenses. This adapter is for old people with a bunch of old lenses of which they they won’t let go rather than get with the program and buy all new dedicated E-mount versions.

This adapter has a built-in motor to focus 1980s lenses (something still sadly lacking in Nikon’s pathetic FTZ) and is much smaller than the older LA-EA4 — however older LA-EA4 is much more compatible with everything.

This LA-EA5 works with both phase- and contrast-detection autofocus and no longer needs the 45Вє mirror inside the LA-EA4. While the LA-EA4 actually has its own primitive AF system built-in into the bottom of the LA-EA4, this LA-EA5 uses the camera’s far more advanced on-sensor autofocus — if this LA-EA5 actually works on your body and lens combination.

So for those of you who want the newest way to use your old lenses, get an LA-EA5, raid your grandpa’s camera bag and go wild!

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Cutaway Sony LA-EA5 Adapter. bigger.

Compatibility top

It only works on some combinations of lens ad camera. Check here to see it if will work for you. Be careful, many combinations may work partially, bit won’t autofocus!

Specifications top

Optics specifications top

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless camera

Sony LA-EA5 Adapter. bigger.

It has no optics.

It’s just an empty adapter ring filled with air.

Autofocus specifications top

It uses the camera’s own on-sensor AF systems.

Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium’s OneZero. Read more.

Digital cameras use a sensor that captures light to make a photo. The size of the sensor affects how your images look, so you’ll often see photographers and tutorials referring to crop sensor and full frame sensor cameras. Here’s how to know which you have—and understand the difference.

Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor

Before digital cameras came along, the most popular film for photography was 35mm format. It’s 36mm x 24mm (1.4 inches x 0.94 inches) in size.

Full frame cameras use a digital sensor that’s about the same size as 35mm-format film. This was convenient for transitioning between film and digital, as it kept things as similar as possible. Photographers could use the same lenses and, if they used the same settings, images would look much the same.

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraMy 30-year-old 35mm film camera can still use modern lenses. Harry Guinness

However, full-frame sensors are pretty big and expensive. They’re much larger than what is necessary to take good digital photos, so most consumer cameras use a smaller, cheaper, “cropped” sensor. (For comparison, a full-frame sensor is around 30 times the size of the 1/2.55″ sensor in the iPhone 12.)

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraThe relative sizes of 35mm (pink), APS-C Nikon (red), and APS-C Canon (green). Harry Guinness

For DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the most common crop sensor size is APS-C, which is around 24mm x 16mm. The next size down, used in some mirrorless and compact cameras, is Micro 4/3, which is 17mm x 13mm.

You Probably Have a Crop Sensor Camera

If you have a consumer DSLR, like a Canon Rebel T8i, Nikon D3500, or any of their predecessors, you have a crop sensor camera. There just aren’t any entry-level full-frame cameras.

If you’ve acquired an older, second-hand DSLR—especially if it seems like a professional camera—it might be full-frame. Some of the most popular models of the last decade or so are:

  • Canon 5D, 5D Mk II, 5D Mk III, 5D Mk IV, 6D, and 6D Mk II.
  • Nikon D600, D610, D700, D750, D780, D800, D810, and D850.

If your camera isn’t on the list, the simplest way to double-check is to Google its make and model number. Unless it’s explicitly stated that it’s full-frame, it almost certainly uses a smaller sensor.

Note: There’s a tiny chance that the sensor is medium or large format, both of which are bigger than 35mm. If that’s the case, you’ve got a very expensive and sought-after bit of kit on your hands!

What Does It Matter Anyway?

Full frame and crop sensor cameras are a bit of a throwback. Sensor technology has come so far with smartphones that the size of the sensor has never been less relevant to the quality of the photos you can take. However, that isn’t to say that sensor size doesn’t affect things.

The most relevant, especially if you’re reading photography tutorials, is crop factor. Because of the way lenses work, a small sensor gets more magnification from the same focal length lens. If you put a 50mm lens on both a full frame and a crop sensor camera, you get a different field of view.

This one’s the full frame:

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraCanon 5D Mk III and 50mm f/1.8. Harry Guinness

This (seemingly zoomed-in) shot is from the crop sensor:

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraCanon 650D and 50mm f/1.8. Harry Guinness

The relationship between the focal length of the lens and the apparent, or full-frame equivalent focal length, is the crop factor. It’s normally between 1.5 and 1.6, so that 50mm lens on the crop camera is equivalent to an 80mm lens on a full frame camera.

Here’s a shot with an 85mm lens on a full frame camera for comparison:

How to use old and differently-branded lenses with your mirrorless cameraCanon 5D Mk III and 85mm f/1.8. Harry Guinness

Larger sensors also perform better in low light, although in most cases, you’re unlikely to notice. The real benefits of full frame cameras are often that they’re built like tanks for professionals and have more manual controls and options.

Do I Need a Full Frame Camera?

Most people don’t really need a full frame camera. If you’re just getting into photography, there’s no need to upgrade. Whatever you’ve got lying around—or even your smartphone—is perfect for learning.

However, if you’re in the market for a camera and budget isn’t a concern, what you probably want is a full frame mirrorless camera. For more on that, check out my camera buying advice over on our sister site ReviewGeek.