Thursday, June 21, 2012

Using old manual focus film camera lenses on Sony alpha DSLRs

                                                                Sony a200 DSLR
                                                           (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Let me guess. You just bought a Sony DSLR and contemplating on the high prices of Sony lenses and flustered by the rising prices of Minolta lenses, right? Dont worry, its perfectly normal. As a Sony shooter myself, I assure you, you are in good hands. You can congratulate yourself  that you didnt go with the flock and if you are here then it is by no means an accident. Its destiny. haha.

You better have time because this is going to be a long read.

Now lets get into the details. 

When I bought my Sony A-200 DSLR  there was huge outcry from my peers, seniors and friends, like I just murdered Christ. They were horrified at me for not choosing either a Canon or Nikon. They told me a thousand reasons - not many lenses, high lens prices, not so strong body. How could I tell them that I was cash poor and couldnt afford those brands? I didnt.

I was first impressed with Sony when I saw pics of the DSLR on flickr. I was astounded by the clean lines and dimensions which were a far cry from cameras by other manufacturers.

So coming back to the lenses part. Sony doesnt have many lenses? There are only a few lenses to choose from? Fine. How many lenses would you buy for your DSLR in your lifetime? 1? 2? 3? 5?10? An average photog needs just 3 lenses. A wide angle, a normal and a telephoto, not much else is needed. Ofcourse if you are a pro even 20 lenses might not be sufficient. Just figure of speech.

When I bought my Sony a200 I didnt have that many big plans to increase my inventory but, in the last few months I discovered during my photowalks that a kit lens wasn't a sufficient option for challenging tasks. Something crucial was missing. Or is it just me?

I started to research Minolta lenses and to my horror realized that the prices have already climbed up. Thanks to Sony's rising popularity as a DSLR brand. Good for them. Bad for me. Even on fleabay, they are overpriced. The sub $50 lenses are all gone and the beercan is going for somewhere between $150 and $300 and I am not in a position to buy something at that price.

This whole finding lenses ordeal seemed like a dead end. UNTIL NOW.

If you cant afford what they have that's not a problem. Now together lets get creative.

If Nikon and Canon are likened to religions, then where does that leave us? To help save our secular vision, some good folks out there made Adapters (ofcourse you know about adapters already). Lens Mount Adapters really open the door and into probably another dimension where only the sky is limit. How? With a proper adapter any lenses can be used on any DSLR body. Buuut, no, I am not pulling you down but...there are a few limitations. Relax no big deal. You just have to compromise on a few conveniences, but isn't that a fair trade off??? Here is why you don't need an auto-focus system in your camera: 


So I was in no way ready to buy new lenses for my Sony DSLR and was researching alternate options. I realized I had four K mount lenses in pristine condition in my shoe box which can be readily used. How can they be used on my Sony body?. Then I found adapters in fleabay that can be used to mount my K, PK mount lenses on my Sony DSLR body, viola, I am all set now. How much does the adapter cost? Just $6. 

The lenses I have are: 

1) Auto Zoom Sears Multi Coated 1:4.0 80-200mm telephoto lens (made in Korea)
2) Auto Sears Multi Coated 1:2.8 28mm prime lens (made in Korea)
3) Auto Chinon 1:1.9 50mm prime lens (made in Japan)
4) SMC Pentax-A 1:2 50mm prime lens (made in Japan? China? Korea?)

Though these lenses don't cost much, they have top billing in performance, optical quality and photographic output.

How I got these lenses is another story altogether. May be another post for another time. 

Remember no matter what mount, a lens is a lens. Some are exceptional, some normal and some not so good. There are also photogs who make great pictures even with bad lenses. Lenses are just tools, only what you want to see in your picture is more important. 

Here is why old manual lenses are better than your $1000 lens

K, PK  Mount Lenses For Sony DSLRs

K, PK lens mount was proprietary for Pentax and was introduced in 1975.
With a K, PK mount adapter you will now have access to a huge pool of manual focus lenses that are available extremely cheap both online and offline. Most of the major lens companies have made atleast some lenses in K mount. Companies like Vivitar, Sigma, Agfa, Kiron, Sears, Chinon, Soligor, Quantaray, Takumar have all made K mount lenses and they are all floating out there for the taking. At one point in history Carl Zeiss actually hired Sigma to make lenses for them in the K mount. Such was the popularity of K mount lenses in their era. There are also hundreds of lesser known companies like Beroflex, Kalimar, Cimko and Hanimex, that have made ultra performing but underrated K mount lenses. So figuratively you have thousands of extraordinary lenses to choose from.

But if you want only Minolta lenses and Minolta class optical quality, but cant afford the Minolta alpha 'a' mount lenses, you can look into some MC and MD lenses from Minolta. They are available at a little bit lesser price and sometimes at a very lesser price than 'a' mounts. You can use a appropriate adapter for the lens to mount it on your Sony body. Remember there is no auto-focus on MC, MD mounts. I personally have a 135mm 1:3.5 MD Rokkor prime lens which is sturdily built. It came with my Minolta XG-M. The optics on this lens are legendary. When I look through the viewfinder and focus on the subject it feels so magical.

The greatest and probably the best thing about manual focus lenses is that all of them are full frame. Ok you have APS-C sensor, fine, but doesn't it sound good that you have a full frame manual focus lens?. The depth of field is same as on full frame (35mm film) cameras albeit with the crop factor, which obviously cant be helped. On these manual focus lenses additionally there is no electrical frill and the probability of lens malfunctioning is almost zero because of that. Once the glass/barrel is cleaned and oiled, manual focus lenses run for decades without any hassles. Can anyone guarantee the same for the latest DSLR automatic/auto-focus/auto whatever lenses??? 

Adapters with glass elements

It is widely assumed that adapters with glass elements don't perform well. Well, that seems true as many people I have inquired both online and offline have said the same thing. The only thing they seem to be good at is macro, but then again the quality of photographic output is reportedly not so good. So better stay away from them.    

Chipped Adapters

Chipped adapters come with a fixed focal length programmed into the chip. It cannot by itself auto-focus but, when you manual focus and the subject is in focus it beeps, so you know when to click the shutter. 

Actually you can do without auto-focus. You want to become a better photographer? Ditch your auto-focus system. Instead learn to focus manually. Yes, I am telling you, you don't need it.

M42 Screw Mount Lenses

As the name suggests, this mount is built to be screwed into the camera body. Probably there are tons and tons of these lenses floating around both online and offline. The best feature of these lenses is that infinity focus is available on them. With an adapter for your Sony body, your creative options are actually limitless with M42 lenses. These days the M42 lenses are going for anywhere from $5 to $20. Some acclaimed names in M42 lenses are Olympus Zuiko, Fujinon, Helios, Carl Zeiss, Mamiya/Sekor (Sekor for Sekonic, a light meter manufacturing company later acquired by Zeiss). For M42 lens database click here.

Its not all hunky dory though. There are some points to ponder before buying lenses, mounting them on your camera and clicking pictures.

·                     Remember there is small percentage of lenses that cannot be used on your camera body. Adapters are not available for those lenses.
·                     Read the reviews before you buy any lens.
·                     Try to avoid the fleabay.
·                     You don't have auto-focus with manual lenses (you don't need it anyway)
·                     T mount is not the same as M42 mount. There's a difference in the size of the threads.
·                     You need to almost always shoot in manual mode (Which isn't so bad as you can use your brain for a change
·                     Match the aperture on the lens to what you are shooting. Check the exposure. Shoot at the widest aperture with the smallest f number or as per your convenience.
·                     Lenses can get stuck on camera bodies, so be careful while mounting and dismounting.
·                     M42 lenses cannot be used with Nikon DSLR cameras (as far as I know).
·                     The actual photographic output will depend on a variety of variable factors like lens condition, camera condition, available light, temperatures etc.  So if you make a bad picture, don't sulk. It probably is not your doing.
·                     Some older lenses have been manufactured using radio-active (no, no, not Hiroshima-Nagasaki, nothing nuclear) coatings, so better not open them or use them carelessly.
·                     Always buy clean fungus-free/dust-free lenses or you can seriously damage your DSLR. If you happen to find good lenses at cheap prices but has fungus, then first get them cleaned by a professional and only then use.
·                     Google 'flange distance' first and find your lens's. Hint: mirror mirror on the wall.
·                     Evil/Compact/Mirror-less/ cameras like NEX, Sony SLT cameras, Olympus OMD-5 are brilliantly compatible and perform excellently when used with old manual focus film camera lenses. Yes, its true. Mazeltov.
·                     Remember this whole article is intended for the poor/non-pro photographer who doesn't have much money to spend on jingbang lenses. If you can afford gear then you can go ahead and buy 'em.    

[A lot of time, energy, research (not to mention eye strain) and some money was involved in preparing this article. So on that note I would like to know if you liked this article. I don't need anything from my readers, just some acknowledgment by way of feed back or comments. I just want to know if this was useful to you in any way. That is all. Fair enough? Thank you. Have a good day.]


4 comments:

Endre said...

Thank you for your article.
I just received my Minolta MD\MA Adapter today and I will try a Rokkor 135mm lense on my Alpha A58.
I am also waiting for an M42 adapter. What brand/type of lense would you recommend for sony alpha?

Viisshnu said...

Hi Andre sorry I didnt see your comment. I know this reply might be too late. I would personally suggest using zeiss, contax, nikon lenses. Nikon to sony adapters are available very cheaply these days. I would also suggest mamiya sekor...great bargains.

michael said...

Excellent information, especially the caveat on fungus infected lenses, wow! Also have to agree on comment about lens adapters with glass elements - alas, I found out the hard way.

Viisshnu said...

Michael glad to know this article was helpful to you. Cheers and happy clicking.

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