With the emergence of digital EVIL cameras or MILC, adapting vintage lenses has become more and more popular. Many ‘adapters’ like the solid construction and excellent handling of old lenses, some are looking for that vintage touch to their pictures and others are searching for a very specific feature in a lens, that only that single old peace of glass might offer. Be it the bokeh of the legendary Minolta 58 mm f/1.2 MC Rokkor-PG or the punch of the Tokina AT-X 90 mm f/2.5 macro a.k.a. ‘Bokina’ – claimed to still be one of the sharpest macros in existence.
Adapting also offers a very cheap solution to test out different lenses and – in case of the E-mount – can be the only option to get that particular focal length or f-stop. This reason might have been one of the most important ones when Sony’s NEX cameras first hit the market. Because of the brand new mount, there simply were very few compatible lenses available. Adapting vintage lenses is also less worrisome on Sony NEX/α5X00/α6X00 series cameras than with Micro FourThirds cameras, as the crop factor is lower (1.5 vs. 2.0). This results in a smaller change of the effective focal length of the lens and in lower requirements for the central resolution of the lens (assuming that the sensor resolution is identical). For α7/α9-series cameras, this is no concern at all, as the sensor has roughly the same size as the 35 mm film most SLR lenses were developed for.
The reason that so many systems can ba adapted at least mechanically to E mount is the mounts short flange focal distance of only 18 mm. The flange focal distance (FFD) is the distance from the mounting flange to the sensor. As most older mounts were designed for SLRs, they required a longer FFD of typically > 40 mm because the mirror of the camera had to fit in between the mount and the film/sensor. The Minolta SR-mount, for example, has an FFD of 43.5 mm. Lenses with those mounts therefore only require a simple “spacer” to fit to E mount cameras.
Mounts designed for modern EVIL cameras, on the other hand, usually have FFDs of < 30 mm and some of them even have a lower FFD than the E mount. That makes it very difficult or impossible to mount such lenses on E-mount cameras without losing infinity focus. Consequently, most users adapt older lenses designed for mounts like Canon FL/FD (manual) or EF (AF), Nikon F (manual and AF) and of course Minolta A (AF) and SR (manual). The latter is also often called MC/MD mount.
My journey with adapted lenses started out with a NEX-5N and some old Minolta glass I had laying around. Namely, a hunk of glass called Vivitar Series 1 70-210 mm, which I formerly used on my Minola X-700 to cover a range that my trusty compact point-and-shoot couldn’t. Combined with a 10 € adapter from China, shooting the old lens on my NEX turned out to be surisingly fun and easy. And that’s how it all started out…
How to get started
If you’re just getting started with adapted lenses, I encourage you to give the beginners guide of Phillip Reeve a read. It covers the most relevant aspects including how to set up your camera and which lenses or mounts to start with. He recently added a short-list of affordable manual lenses, which may help you with picking your first vintage lens.
If you are familiar with the basics and just looking for info on any particular lens, a search on the net will usually turn up some more or less helpful hits. My most frequented resources are the sub-forums on MFlenses.com, followed by DPreview.com and – for third-party lenses – the PentaxForums user reviews. If a vintage lens has ever been used on digital, you’re very likely to stumble upon a short write-up about it in one of these three communities. Many more sources are listed in the links section.
I further encourage you to take a look at the pages below and – of course – start reading those reviews!