How to Use Vintage Lenses with Mirrorless Cameras
PC Magazine|August 2020
When you buy a camera that can change lenses, you’re actually limiting your choices when it comes to choosing lenses. For the most part, Canon cameras work with Canon lenses, Nikon lenses with Nikon cameras, Sony lenses work with Sony; you get the idea.
JIM FISHER

If you’re willing to put an adapter in between a lens and camera, however, you can change things up. It’s not a new concept—in the old days, it was easy enough to put medium format lenses on 35mm SLRs—but the move toward mirrorless cameras has made things even easier.

The reason is one of physics and optical design. Lenses are made so they can focus on far objects, as long as they are the proper distance from your camera’s image sensor. Mirrorless cameras have a very short space between the lens mount and sensor, making it simple to engineer adapters to support lenses from other systems; the most basic adapters are light-proof tubes with the proper mounts on both sides.

So with a mirrorless model, you can move beyond lenses that are purpose-built for your camera. There are first-party options, most with some degree of autofocus support, as well as a number of third-party choices.

Today’s mirrorless cameras include models with sensor sizes and prices running the gamut. Electronic viewfinder technology is mature to the point where you’ll have an easier time focusing manually using an EVF than an old-school SLR pentaprism. Digital tools, including peaking highlights and frame magnification, eliminate guesswork.

FIRST-PARTY LENS ADAPTERS

Camera makers that have moved or are in the process of moving from SLRs to mirrorless systems tend to offer adapters, which makes the process easier for existing customers.

Canon offers adapters for both of its mirrorless systems (the APS-C EOS M and full-frame EOS R), so you can use its SLR lenses with full autofocus and aperture control. These adapters also work with compatible third-party glass from brands like Sigma and Tamron.

Nikon has the Z system, with one mount for both full-frame and APS-C camera models. Its FTZ adapter brings full support for autofocus and aperture control to most lenses that are compatible with its F-mount SLRs. The adapter doesn’t support autofocus for very old lenses that require a screw to drive focusing elements but is fine with modern lenses with internal focus motors.

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