Lens Adapters for Sony E-Mount CamerasLast Updated on March 10, 2021
What are Lens Adapters?
Lens adapters join lenses with a given lens mount to a camera body with a different lens mount.
How it works
Back to basics. Interchangeable lens cameras have a bracket for attaching lenses called a mount. Lenses designed for a particular mount will have a complimentary bracket that locks onto the mount of the camera. Modern mounts also offer electrical contacts allowing the camera to control the lens.
The flat outer ring of the the mount is called the flange. The flange is an exact distance in front of the sensor; this is called the flange focal distance, FFD or just flange distance. Lenses designed for a particular mount will focus light at this distance. If the lens is a little too far away, it will not focus at infinity as marked on the lens. If the lens is too close to the sensor, it will not focus at the near end of the focus range marked on the lens.
In SLR/DSLR cameras, the flange distance is quite long. This is to accommodate a mirror mechanism between the lens and sensor. The Canon EF mount, for example, has a flange distance of 44mm. In mirrorless cameras, the lens can be much closer to the sensor, resulting in a very thin camera profile. Sony E-mount has an 18mm flange distance.
This offers an opportunity: A lens designed for a longer flange distance can be mounted on a camera with a shorter flange distance, as long you account for the difference in flange distance, using the appropriate mounts on each end. This is called a lens adapter. Since the Sony E-mount system has one of the shorter flange distances, there’s over 100 years of exceptional (often inexpensive) lenses that can be used with the right lens adapters.
Why use vintage lenses?
For photography, modern, precision-cut, multi-coated, auto-focusing, self-stabilized lenses are amazing. They are also expensive and tend toward a common, precise, clinical look. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Instagram was founded on the notion that people prefer some “character” in their photos. Older lenses often have a unique character; a combination of pleasing qualities that might otherwise be considered “defects” in modern lenses. Vintage lenses like the Russian Helios 40-2 can produce some amazing results. The bokeh is swirly, the flares are dreamy, but the image is sharp.
For narrative filmmaking, detailed focus control is critical. Modern auto-focus lenses can be problematic, as most AF lenses do something called “focus-by-wire”. This makes for fast, silent auto-focus, but makes manual focusing unreliable. For filmmakers, a $100 vintage manual lens is a great alternative to a $10k cinema prime. Paired with a image-stabilized, focus-peeking/magnifying enabled camera like the Sony a7SIII, even these lenses from another era become very useful, and a whole lot cheaper. My old Canon FD lenses sat in a bag for almost 20 years, until given new life on mirrorless cameras.
You don’t have to sacrifice auto-focus, either. With the right adapter, your old AF lenses can AF on your mirrorless camera. There’s even one adapter that will give manual lenses auto-focus powers.
Give it a try, you might like it.
There are a mess of adapters for the e-mount system now. As such, I’ve put together this guide to help you find the right adapter for the lenses you have, or want to find. I have listed the adapters alphabetically by lens mount on the left of this page. For each entry I have listed the adapters alphabetically, and by type:
- Manual Focus Adapters: Adapters without extra glass, features or electronics; basically just a metal tube.
- Special Adapters: Adapters with special features like focal reduction, tilt/shift, macro helicoid and more.
- Auto-Focus Adapters: Adapters with electronics so the camera can communicate with an AF lens.
Price & Quality
You will find that there are large price differences between some adapters. The truth is that price is not necessarily indicative of quality or durability. My personal rule of thumb – if it’s a manual focus adapter (just an empty tube, no glass or electronics), I generally prefer the cheaper options. As soon as glass or electronics are involved, I tend to go with the more premium options.
You will find that the same adapter is sold under many brand names, that’s how a lot of Chinese generics work. For example, Beschoi and K&F Concept often sell identical, re-badged adapters. Same goes for Fotga/Neewer and many others. I try to find unique examples of each adapter to display here.
There are also premium 1st party manufactured brands like Metabones, Kipon and Novoflex. These tend to be quite expensive, and sometimes they are worth it, particularly where special features or adapters with internal optics are concerned.
There are also some odd ducks. Fotodiox Pro and DLX, for example, are typically 1st party manufactured, while they also sell Chinese generics under the plain Fotodiox label.
Adapter manufacturers have been quite creative. Kipon, for example, makes an adapter that converts a Nikon lens to Sony and also adds tilt/shift capability at the same time. Tilt/Shift lenses are few and often expensive, so while you may think a $300 adapter is expensive, you may find it is a whole lot cheaper than the alternative, and may offer you something you can’t get any other way.
Another special adapter is the Focal Reducer. These are for APS-C “crop sensor” cameras like the a6500, a63000 and a6000 only. What they do is take a lens design for a full frame camera and squeeze the image down to APS-C size. So instead of a 35mm f1.4 acting like a 52.5mm f2 on your a6500 (1.5x crop factor), it will perform exactly like a 35mm f1.4 would if mounted on a full frame camera like the A7R II. Focal reducers can hurt image quality (vignetting is common at a minimum), but on the upside you gain a stop of light. So not only does that 35mm f1.4 act like a true 35mm f1.4 in terms of focal length and depth of field, it will act like an f1.2 in terms of brightness.
If you don’t understand any of that… don’t worry, I’ll post videos. In the mean time just search Google.
Lens Adapter FAQ
A lens adapter joins a lens with a given lens mount, to a camera body with a different lens mount.
The most common detectable defects are a loose fit, incorrect flange distance, and de-centering.
Loose Fit – A tiny bit of rotational play is fine, but if an adapter is loose enough to create a slight tilt or shift, it’s not right.
Flange Distance – Many adapters are designed to be ever-so-slightly too long. This will cause the lens to infinity focus slightly before the infinity marking on the lens. This is normal. If an adapter is too short, the lens cannot focus at infinity at all. Slightly too long is better than slightly too shot. This can be measured with calipers.
De-centering is an issue where the lens does not sit dead center in relation to the sensor. To test, take a picture of a flat surface with some clear texture/marks in the corners. The camera needs to be perpendicular to the surface – Use the mirror trick. If you aim a camera at a mirror and align the center focus point with the center of the reflection of the lens, you know you’re perpendicular to the mirror. Position some colored tape marks on the wall the mirror is on so they show up in the corners of the picture. If the resulting picture shows that things are more blurry on one side than the other, top/bottom, etc, then either the lens or the adapter is de-centered.
This can make lens changes a lot faster, but you’re adding a little weight to your camera bag, and it would be prohibitively expensive if you wanted a special adapter like a focal reducer for multiple lenses… those are pricey. Having a standard adapter permanently mounted to a lens you use frequently is perfectly rational.
Absolutely, and in some cases, recommended. For example, the TechArt Pro adapter, which adapts Leica M to Sony E, has a motor in it that gives your lens limited AF abilities. Using an additional adapter, you can use any lens that you can adapt to Leica M.
Note, however, that small defects in alignment can multiply with multiple adapters.
Internal reflections can be an issue, particularly on longer adapters. Look for an adapter that has a texture, fabric or grooves on the interior of the adapter. This helps break up internal reflections.
A focal reducer is a special adapter that contains a lens element for squeezing the light from a larger frame lens down to smaller frame sensor size. For example, you can go from Medium Format to Full Frame, or from Full Frame to APS-C… and so on. As long as the adapter is long enough to contain the lens elements, one can reduce any larger format lens to a smaller format sensor. It does not go the other way.
Using a focal reducer for Full Frame to APS-C has the notable effect of reducing or removing the “crop factor”. So a full frame 50mm f1.8 lens acts like a full frame 50 f1.8 lens on an APS-C body. However, the resulting image will be roughly 1-stop brighter, allowing for reduced ISO. The best analogy is like using a magnifier to concentrate sunlight. The smaller the area you focus on, the brighter the spot appears. A focal reducer does the exact same thing.
PS – “Speed Booster” is a branding phrase for a focal reducer popularized by Metabones.
A reverse lens mount is different from a typical lens adapter in that the lens is flipped around and mounted by its filter threads instead of its actual mount. This can create some extreme macro abilities. A reverse mount can be as simple as a metal ring, however, there are autofocus options. As an example, using a Sigma MC-11 EF to Sony adapter along with an electronic EF lens reverse mount, the Canon EF 40mm pancake lens can become a powerful autofocus macro.
A couple notes
There’s little or no way for me to test all of the available lens adapters to determine which is “best”. For standard adapters, I have often found the the cheapest option is good enough for my purposes. For adapters with electronics and especially those with focal reducers, I do tend to recommend the higher-end options.
Sony E Mount Lens Adapters (NEX) by Lens Mount
Last update on 2021-04-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API