Scribbles and Snaps

Using Manual Focus Lenses with SONY NEX Cameras

With a relatively inexpensive adapter, your SONY NEX camera becomes an admission ticket to the wonderful world of manual focus legacy lenses. And you are not limited to a specific lens maker, either: there are adapters that allow you to use practically any lens from Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Minolta, and other manufacturers. This article provides a few pointers on using manual focus lenses with SONY NEX series cameras.

Choosing a Lens

Which lens to choose depends largely on your personal preferences, as there are plenty of excellent legacy lenses at reasonable prices available on the market. Obviously, lenses from respected manufactures like Nikon and Canon are always a safe bet, but there are plenty of other third-party lenses — like those from Tamron and Sigma — that are worth a try. If you are not sure which lens to pick, the MFLenses and All About Photographic Lenses websites provide a wealth of information that can help you to find the right lens for your needs.

When choosing a lens, keep in mind that due to the camera sensor’s crop factor you have to multiply the lens’ focal length by 1.5. So if you choose a 24mm lens, its effective focal length on SONY NEX is going be 36mm (24×1.5=36).

SONY NEX-3N with a FOTGA adapter and Nikon NIKKOR 24mm f/2.8 non-Ai lens

Choosing an Adapter

Once you have a lens, you need to pick a compatible adapter for it. All adapters can be roughly divided into three types. The simplest adapters are basically metal tubes that increase the flange focal distance (the distance from the mounting flange to the sensor plane). These adapters don’t contain any optical elements, so they don’t affect lens performance. You can find an affordable no-name brand adapter on eBay, or you can opt for a rather expensive adapter from manufacturers like Novoflex. I bought a FOTGA NIKON-NEX adapter on eBay, and I have no complaints: the build quality is good, and the adapter has no play. These cheap-and-cheerful adapters don’t work with newer Nikon lenses that don’t have an aperture ring, though. For these lenses, you need a different type of adapter, like the one from Fotodiox that has its own aperture ring. Finally, you can opt for more advanced adapters that are often called speed boosters or focal reducers. These adapters range from crazy expensive (e.g., Metabones Nikon G Lens to Sony NEX Camera Speed Booster) to reasonably priced (e.g., Zhongyi Mitakon Turbo II Focal Reducer Booster). Additional optical elements in these adapters are used to reduce the effective focal length. This makes it possible to use a manual focus lens with a SONY NEX camera at its original focal length.

Camera Setup

To make your SONY NEX camera play nice with manual focus lenses, you need to adjust a few settings. Mount the lens, turn the camera on, press the Menu button and switch to the Setup section. Configure the following settings:

Peaking LevelMid

Peaking ColorYellow (you can experiment with other colors, too)

MF AssistOn

Release w/o LensEnable

Basic Usage

To have full control over exposure settings, you might want to shoot in the manual mode. Alternatively, you can choose the aperture-priority mode which automatically adjusts exposure settings depending on the current aperture.

Focusing the lens is done manually by peaking color. As you turn the lens focusing ring, the area of the image in focus is highlighted by the peaking color. The MF Assist feature makes focusing easier by magnifying the image. This function must be enabled manually by pressing the soft button labelled MF. Pressing the button twice increases magnification. The MF Assist feature is disabled automatically when you press the shutter release button.