I’ve written in the past about adapting old manual focus lenses to mirrorless cameras, something that I think that most everyone should try out from time to time. With the release of Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, using old manual focus lenses becomes even easier, as these lenses were designed for a 35mm frame, and so the native fields of view are intact. With the release of the Sony A7 Mark II (reviewed here), using adapted lenses becomes even more exciting, as these old lenses suddenly become image stabilized lenses.
I use my A7 II with predominantly Canon FD lenses, though I have the FE 28-70mm and will likely soon add the FE 55mm f/1.8 to the stable, but the FD glass makes for a great kit for a few key reasons, and I thought I’d share them with you. The reasons below will, in many cases, be similar for any other adapted lens system. I use Canon FD because over the years I simply happened to pick up quite a few FD lenses, so when adding the few remaining gaps, it made sense to stick with FD. Your experience would be quite similar with, say, Contax/Yashica mount lenses, or Nikon F, Leica M, Leica R, Minolta MD or Olympus OM. All of these systems had some seriously excellent glass. So, let’s cut to the chase.
One thing that is somewhat lost when moving from a Micro 4/3 or APS-C mirrorless camera to the Sony A7 series is that the lenses start getting large. The major benefits of full frame are the ability to have shallower depth of field, as well as some improved dynamic range and high ISO noise control. However, these advantages largely disappear if you are using slower lenses on the full frame kit. Sure, a 35mm f/2.8 is still a small lens, but something like Fuji’s excellent 23mm f/1.4 will still have the capabilities for shallower depth of field. Fast full frame AF glass isn’t particularly small, with even something like the FE 55mm f/1.8, which is a fairly compact lens, being still larger than something like the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 or the Olympus 25mm f/1.8. It’s simply a matter of physics. However, manual focus lenses, especially those from rangefinder systems or older SLR systems, are significantly smaller than their modern AF counterparts. The FD 50mm f/1.4 is only 235g, which is lighter than the FE 55mm, despite being 2/3 stop faster. Of course, the FE is a significantly better lens optically, but the FD 50mm is actually quite good. It’s even better than the EF 50mm f/1.4, despite being an older design. This goes for any of the other systems. A LOT of the manual focus 50mm or 55mm lenses are really good optically, with some, such as the Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 for Contax/Yashica mount, being nearly on par with the FE. Similar size reductions are available throughout the lenses.
To give an example, my daily carry for typical use covers me from 24mm wide-angle to 85mm short telephoto, with excellent image quality and generally fast lenses. I carry the FD 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.0, 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8. All four lenses are very good wide open and outstanding stopped down, and each lens is pretty lightweight. All except the 85mm f/1.8 are less than 300g, and the 85mm is only 345g. The lenses are small too, with all sharing a 52mm filter thread size. The overall feel is still of a small kit. If you’re an Olympus OM or even a Leica M shooter, you can even dramatically go smaller than this. While a native FE lens lineup with primes can be made fairly small, it’s simply nice to know that if you go the adapted route, you’ll keep the size of the kit very small.
For some lens mounts, this won’t really be an advantage (I’m looking at you, Leica), but for the most part, you can pick up excellent lenses for a fraction of the cost of a native solution. That four lens kit I mentioned above can be had for under $700 in excellent condition, providing outstanding optical quality and lens speed for a fraction of what the native lenses would set you back. It’s a great option for those who want a lot of the benefits of full frame, but don’t necessarily need autofocus.
It forces you to slow down
This may be seen as a negative by many, but I know I get my best shots when I’m using a tripod, and part of the reason is that the process of setting things up meticulously lets you slow down and really concentrate on the composition. The same is true here. You can’t just spray and pray when using manual lenses, and focusing on composition and precise focus placement and correct aperture can result in tangible benefits to your images.
Ultimately, my little experiment with FD glass on the A7 II has been a success. There are certainly many reasons to favor the native glass. Many of the native FE lenses are simply spectacular optically and have modern lens coatings and more precise design to limit aberrations. You also get quick autofocus for times it’s really needed, among others. But the ability to use these cameras as essentially a new digital mount for an old lens system is a great way to bring new life into old lenses you may have, or simply to help get great results while keeping the kit small and your pocketbook heavier.
13 thoughts on “Using the Sony A7 II as a Digital Canon FD Camera”
great article, I use the 50 1.4 and the 35 2.8 regularly with my A7 and love them to bits. The fact that you get the additional image stabilisation and better performance at high ISO is making me consider an upgrade.
I just came from a NEX-6 with Lens Turbo 2 after passing on the A7 and I can tell you..since I shoot ALL Canon FD lenses (except for the kit 28-70mm which I will probably sell), that the IBS is AMAZING. I went to the zoo as fast as I got it and basically for the first time shot over 90% with my Canon FD 400mm F4.5 handheld and was blown away at how much better the IQ was thanks to the FF, IBS allowing me lower shutter speeds with lower ISO and also allowing me to stop down as I felt was the better option.
It really opens a whole new world for legacy lenses. 🙂
I’ve been using old manual lenses including FD on my A7 since I got it.
I recently tested my Sony/Zeiss AF 55mm f1.8 against my Minolta 50mm f1.4 and f1.2, FD 50mm f1.4 and Olympus 50mm f1.8 and f1.4 and unsurprisingly it leaves the for dead. However, the old lenses are perfectly useable and have their own look and the main differences I found are vignetting, fringing and sharpness across the frame and I wouldn’t expect a mass market film era lens to compete with the Zeiss in these areas but for whole images and after processing they’re fine and they do have their own look.
You must have HORRIBLE copies fo those lenses because I have seen tests comparing to the FD 1.4 before and the conclusions were FAR away from your “leaves them for dead” statement. You have to pixel peep everywhere to see the differences and certainly not on par with the HUGE difference in price.
So really…you must be one unlucky legacy lens buyer…..
Another great article. FD mount keeps on rolling. I think some of the best value-performers are the moderate aperture (f2.8) FDn series, the 28, 35, and 100 can be found for a song and are generally superb. I think the word has been out for awhile though, its pretty tough to find a clean FDn 20mm for a reasonable price these days.
I use nothing but FDn lenses on my new A7II. 24 2.8, 35 2.8, 50 1.4, 100 2.8 for portraits. They all rock! The most expensive lens was the pristine 100 that cost me $119. Love the lenses and really love the camera. Sony keeps getting better…
Thanks for the article, I am interested in trying this too. I am wondering which lens adapter you prefer?
I’m still awaiting my Sony a7r, however have used the a7 previously with Canon FD lenses. For me, given the astronomical and ridiculous cost of the native FE lenses, the Canon FD lenses, originally designed for the 35mm SLR, are a godsend; it has taught me better composition skills, how to work with manual lenses, and has made me think more about what photography is. I don’t miss AF, and considering that the majority of what we know in modern photography came from the 35mm SLR, then I think I can substitute the FE glass with the amazing range of Canon FD lenses. Great article.
good morning i have one 50mm f1,4, and i will soon buy the a7s ii for the video, had you could test the video 4k full format with the optics fd? i have fear UNCOVERED one vignétage in video … if yes had you one link to the good adapter? many thanks
Hey was just curious if you would be interested in selling your 50-300mm! Beautiful work!
Hey was just curious if you would be interested in selling your 50-300mm! Beautiful work! Look forward to hearing from you!Logankunde@gmail.com
Unfortunately, I sold the lens years ago.