What are the potential issues with adapted lenses?
Overall, the benefits of using adapted lenses far outweigh any negatives in my opinion, but there’s no free lunch. There are a few drawbacks, and a few potential issues that you need to watch out for.
It goes without saying that adapting manual focus lenses means using manual focus, but for photographers used to today’s fast and super accurate autofocus, this can be a little jarring. In addition to using all manual focus, you also will need to control the aperture manually. When adapting some lenses to DSLRs, stop-down metering is needed, where you focus wide open and then stop down at the time of exposure so the camera can meter properly.
However, mirrorless cameras are uniquely situated to make using manual focus a pleasure rather than a chore. With mirrorless cameras, due to the auto-adjusting EVF, you can usually stop down to the desired aperture and focus there. Modern Electronic Viewfinders (EVFs) are large enough and detailed enough to provide very clear views for manually focusing, and almost all mirrorless cameras can quickly magnify a portion of the view for even more precise focus. Also, many mirrorless cameras feature Focus Peaking, which highlights the in-focus areas in a high contrast color to aid in manual focus. Due to this, I have found manually focusing easier on my mirrorless cameras than on even a modern full-frame DSLR. Still, it’s a slower workflow for many types of shooting than using with autofocus and auto-aperture.
While there are a lot of great lenses you can adapt, one thing to watch out for is increased chromatic aberration from what you may be used to, especially the type that causes purple fringing. Older lenses also generally don’t perform as well with regards to flare as modern lenses.
While some Contax/Yashica, Leica and newer Canon FD (especially the L series) lenses are well corrected for color fringing and lateral CA, lenses from the 50s and 60s are usually pretty poor in this respect. They just didn’t have the complex aspherical lens elements and high dispersion glass that came about a little later on.
This is something just to be aware of with some older lenses. It’s certianly not the case for all old lenses, and in many cases, some of these aberrations are what give an older lens that wonderful look you’re after. Just don’t expect a modern rendering with perfect correction from a lens made in 1952.
Wide Angle Color Shift
While the short register distance of mirrorless cameras allows for adapting most any lens, one thing to be wary of is adapting wide-angle rangefinder lenses with certain cameras. These lenses were designed for use on film rangefinders. The short flange distance on these lenses with a wide-angle can often mean you are bending the light at rather extreme angles on to the sensor. Depending on the sensor design, this can cause some rather extreme color shifts when using certain rangefinder lenses on certain cameras. The NEX-7, for instance, is known to color shift quite severely with certain lenses, while the NEX-5N does not.
While not a super-common occurrence, it’s worthwhile to test out a lens in person if you are interested in purchasing wide-angle rangefinder lenses.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome
Ok, not really a negative, but fair warning: adapting manual focus lenses may lead to an extreme case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS. Of course I’m joking, but once you start getting a hold of high quality lenses for next to nothing, you start looking for that next great bargain, that next great ‘look’. It can be addictive, and you may soon find yourself with a stable of old glass. Luckily, if you do this right, you may be able to do spending a minimum of money to acquire these lenses, but be warned: it’s fun!
Mirrorless cameras represent an opportunity to use thousands of great lenses on modern cameras. There are gems that cost nothing and exceptional glass that costs a fortune, but there is something out there for most every type of shooting.
Take advantage of this great capability of your mirrorless camera, and have fun shooting!
Some Image Samples
Finally, I thought I’d share some examples I’ve taken over the years with adapted manual focus lenses on my mirrorless cameras, just to give you an idea of the capabilities.
28 thoughts on “Using Manual Focus Lenses on Mirrorless Cameras”
What a beautifully written, organized and complete overview. Thank you.
Fantastically written covering so many bases and aspects; a nice dosage of fine photographs too. The joy of the little girl jumps out of the “girl on swing B/W photo”. I’ve bought a NEX-5R recently and have been contemplating getting a AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens and a Fotodiox Nikon Lens Mount Adapter for NEX. Your article has thrown more light. Even just the idea of changing aperture, shutter speed and manually focusing is taking me back to my college days and am excited to experiment that. Thanks for this neat write-up.
Great article Jordan, and that photo of your daughter on the swing is truly outstanding! Good advice for my brother as well, who is looking for some longer zoom (preferable Canon FD). Oh, and I bought the same OM Zuiko macro lens for my wife – here are some of our first test shots done with it.
I have 2 leica big guns, a 400 6.8 Telyt & it’s big brother 560 6.8. I have adapted them to my OMD with KIWI adapters…Infiniti focus is not preserved! So forget the moon shots. Will the OMD focus confirm without adandilion chip on the OMD? Jam seriously considering the Leitax adapter for the slid attachment.
Infinity ought to be preserved with any Leica to Micro Four Thirds adapter, be it M or R mount. If it isn’t, something has gone wrong. I’m using a “Kiwi” adapter to mount Minolta SR lenses on a Sony NEX without any problems with infinity.
Use Voigtlander adapter for OM micro with M lenses, no problems with infinity.
Your infinity 3-5km but not mine 8-10km or extraterrestrial.
could imagine you didnt test these. i did 8km and adapter do not reach it except: Novoflex P67-adapter system goes slightly beyond-not tested by me. some old lenses go beyond such as Noflexar 200/3-8 follow focus system. big discussions also astro in mlenses and pentaxforums.
zeiss, leica and novoflex confirmed this. all newest zeiss MFocus lenses go beyond. old lenses built for film, sensitive for IR which sensors are not. I built variable register adapters for P67 to NI, EOS and more. will prove it at sharp object at 7.8km multiple 200 and 300 or even 400 lenses here. T-noflexar 400/5.6 on both C and B follow fossing systems. also matches on older Novoflex finefocussing tube(also variable since on p6-bellows any camera attachable and covers 6x 6. i am in testing of new P67-P6(P6 and Kiev 60 they are different)adapter. many surprices. will also collimate lenses to see if they get infinity on film. all links online.
Beautiful photos and great article. It fits perfectly the experience I am having with my gear (an OM-D E-M5 and some contax/yashica lenses). Thank you Jordan
Good write up! I also have an (somehow more technical) article on my blog on flange distance laying out the pros of using mirrorless cameras when adapting old(er) lenses and links to some other references in the www:
Superb write up and fantastic images… I use Minolta and Konica lenses exclusively with my X-Pro, as you have already stated the results have been outstanding. I am compiling a list and short review of the many Minolta and Konica manual lenses I own and use on my blog so folks can get an idea of what to expect ( http://www.ikphotography.com/Blog/ )… In my opinion, they are simply worth the experience and money.
Saw your write-up in Admiring Light and would appreciate hands-on info. I have X-10/30/100 and am considering an X-Pro 1; the lens I have for it (our Craigs List lists most of them body only) is a Konica 50/1.7. In X-speak this would be a 75mm I guess.
Live view should show the exact image from this lens, but how would it be in the optical V/F?
Very nice and balanced article, I think, talking from my experience with µ4/3 cameras and the NEX-6 and lots of legacy glass. One addition maybe: Lightroom does a great job in reducing purple fringing, often up to the point of eliminating it. A lot of legacy lenses benefit from this.
Stumbled upon your blog when looking for some Fuji X lens info. Ended up reading several articles and enjoyed them all!
Then, I saw “In the Gorge” and clicked on it. Wonder of wonders!
I am originally from Zanesville and went to the Hocking Hills many times with my family and as a scout. Your photos brought back great memories traipsing all those parks in the 1960s and 1970s before I moved away to an urban life in great cities around the world. Now that I’ve settled down in rural northern New Mexico I can take pics of nature’s wonders on a daily basis again.
Thanks for the good technical info on “equivalence” and the fine photographs.
The next time someone approaches me with my Fuji X-Pro1 and asks if I am bothered by the small sensor I think I’ll simply say, in an offhand way, “Oh, it’s OK — and a nice break from the 8 x 10 view camera I usually lug around!”
(I was not able to send this note on the appropriate page “In the Gorge” as I got ERROR messages.
Hi, I had a question for you: Have you tried an FD to fuji adapter that works with a FD 50mm 1.2 lens? I have the cheapy 13 dollar one off ebay which seems to work fine for most lens, but the FD 50mm 1.2 I have won’t quite focus to infinity which is a bit vexing. I see various other versions of the adapter from different venders at increasing cost but can’t tell if they allow any adjustment or I’m going to be facing the same issue. The fd 50mm 1.2 seems to focus fine on it’s one looking through the viewfinder of an old AE-1 camera.
thank you so much for your time. very informative.
Would you have a suggestions for a cheaper marco legacy lens for a x e-1?
Thanks a lot for this great report. The best I’ve read so far about adapters on M43.
I’m going to sell a lot of Nikon lenses, but after this report definitly will try out first the 50mm/1.4 and the 85 mm/1.8
hi…firstly thanks for the information you provide in your blogs very helpful…secondly .i have many FD lenses which i use with my Fuji X Pro1 and am very pleased with the results which i use with just a cheap adapter from ebay….but with my canon FD 300mm f/4 lens the same adapter will not focus to infinity…any suggestions, do i need a better adapter or is there and issue with the lens?…thanks in advance for any help
Just wanted to say, really interesting articles and lovely photographs.
Being able to use old glass was one of the reasons I bought the X-E1. It seems to be the closest you get to “old style” photography on the digital format, and like you say can be a lot of fun.
I bought a KIWI adapter for my Fujinon glass (some I used with my ST-701 and some I’ve collected since). The aperture blade screw was misaligned, so I had to bend it in order to lock the adapter into place, but now it works fine. I also picked up an m42 adapter. I hope somebody eventually brings out a “metabones” for the old X-Fujinon bayonet mount to X-mount as I’d love to use some of the lenses at their original spec, especially the X-Fujinon 19mm F/3.5.
Enjoyed the article, read every word and some several times. well written for someone considering switching to mirrorless system.
Awesome write up. I have had in my collection a minolta 58 1.2 and after this read I’ve decided to buy an adapter for my Oly E3. Great pics too! Thanks for the inspiration.
Nice article , I have an Olympus omd em10 2 want to know what you wold recommend for wide angle on this camera
It depends on how wide you want to go. I would not recommend using manual focus lenses for wide angle with one exception: if the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is wide enough for you, it’s a good option. If you want wider, either of the two Olympus ultra-wides are great, with the 7-14/2.8 being exceptional. The 9-18 is also very good and very small. The Panasonic7-14 is also a good lens, but it has odd purple ghosts on Olympus bodies.
One quick question. Does using an old manual lens affect settings on a mirrorless camera, other than the basic exposure settings, or am I seeing different characteristics of the lens?
I’ve just started using my old Pentax K 50mm f2 on my EOS-M. I have the EOS-M set ‘flat’ for video work, and there’s a considerable difference between the Pentax image and the stock Canon 18-55mm for the same subject with the exact same exposure settings – the Pentax is maybe even a full stop brighter, colours definintely warmer and much closer to what I’m seeing in real life. I’m assuming this is the character of the lens and not a case of the EOS-M ignoring my manually set white balance/flat custom colour scheme when I use the Pentax lens in full manual mode?
I have a Meyer Optik Oreston 50 1.8, m-42 threads I am trying to mount onto a Canon RP with the RF mount. I have tried three adapters, one for RF and two for EF with Canon EF adapter. I cannot get anything close to focus, near or far. Am I trying something that can’t be done? Suggestions?