So you’ve recently found an interest in getting a vintage lens for your Sony E-mount camera?
If so you’ve come to the right place, as in this article I cover everything you need to know to get started using your first-ever vintage lens on your Sony camera and help you pick out the best vintage lenses to try.
Should you buy vintage lenses for the Sony E mount?
The Sony E mount is one of the most versatile and widely popular mounts in modern-day photography, due to the sheer size of the market share they have been able to take over from Canon and Nikon.
Another advantage of the Sony E mount is that it can easily adapt to any Canon EF lens. If there isn’t direct compatibility between a particular vintage lens mount with the E mount, it is likely available through an EF mount.
Since most lenses considered vintage are fully manual, using them on modern DSLR and Mirrorless systems require some practice to use since you don’t benefit from modern features such as autofocus or auto exposure controls. This makes Sony E mount cameras a very attractive system to use with vintage lenses as they offer significant advantages that many other modern cameras do not offer or haven’t offered until recently.
Those are features are focus peaking and zebra patterns. Focus peaking makes it incredibly simple to focus a manual focus lens, making vintage lenses on Sony cameras a no-brainer purchase for any photographer and videographer. Zebra patterns will help you properly expose your images or video footage so you can monitor if you have too many overexposed areas.
How to set up your Sony Camera to shoot with Vintage Lenses
There will be a few things you’ll want to go with your Sony camera to be ready to shoot with vintage lenses. I will be use my Sony a7r iii to demonstrate how to change these settings, but it will be similar for most Sony Alpha cameras as they share a very similar menu.
1. Release the shutter without a lens on a Sony Alpha camera
When using a vintage lens, there are no electronic connections between the lens and the camera. Because of this, the first thing you will want to do on your camera is to enable the setting to release the shutter without a lens. Without this, you will not actually be able to take a picture with your vintage lens because the camera will think there is no lens there.
To enable this, go to your in-camera menu, navigate to the second camera settings tab and go to page 4/9 to enable “Release w/o Lens.”
2. Enable focus peaking for manual focus lenses on a Sony Alpha camera
A very useful tool when using a vintage lens on a Sony camera is enabling focus peaking. This setting can be activated by going into your menu and navigating to the first camera settings tab. On page 13/14 you will find an option for “Peaking Setting.”
Going into this setting will open a new page. On this page, turn on the “Peaking Display” to On, and I recommend using a “Peaking Level” of High and a “Peaking Color” of Red.
3. Enable manual focus magnifier on a Sony Alpha camera
While focus peaking is a great tool, it does sometimes provide false negatives and you might not have absolute sharp focus. To further enhance your ability to nail your focus 100% is by enabling the manual focus magnifier. This feature will activate a togglable x6.2 digital zoom on your image which will help you dial in your focus.
To activate this feature you will need to go to your menu and navigate to the first camera settings tab. On page 13/14 you will find an option for “Initial Focus Mag.” Click on this option and select x6.2.
This feature only automatically works when the camera recognizes there is a lens connected. Since vintage lenses are not recognized by Sony cameras, you will need to map a custom button to toggle the “Initial Focus Mag.” This will help you easily access the zoom feature without accessing it from the menu every time.
To set a custom button for this feature, or any other feature on the camera go to your menu, navigate to the second camera tab and on page 8/9, and click on “Custom Key” for any of the shooting settings you want to set this up for (photo or video). After clicking through, select a button you want to map this feature to and set it yo ‘Focus Magnifier”
4. Enable zebra display on a Sony Alpha camera
To monitor your exposure and over-exposed areas, enabling Zebra is a great tool when shooting with vintage lenses on a Sony camera. To turn this on navigate to the second camera tab in your menu. On page 6/9 you will find “Zebra Setting”. Click through and turn on “Zebra Display.” I use the default “Zebra Level” of 70, but play around with it and see what works best for you.
5. Manually adjust your in-body image stabilization on a Sony Alpha camera
Last but not least, is taking advantage of the in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Typically Sony cameras can detect the lens and knows its focal length and automatically calibrates the IBIS. Since vintage lenses do not have any electronic connections, if you want to take proper advantage of IBIS you must manually select what focal length you are using.
Navigate to the second camera tab in the menu, and on page 4/9 ensure that “SteadyShot” is turned on for your IBIS to be enabled, and then move on to “SteadyShot Settings.” On the next screen select the first option for “SteadyShot Adjust” and change from Auto to Manual, and then “SteadyS.Focal Len.” to select the focal length of your vintage lens on your Sony camera.
Sony E Mount Lens Adapters for Vintage Lenses
As mentioned earlier, in order to use vintage lenses on the Sony E-mount you’ll need to get yourself the appropriate adapters. There are several brands that offer a selection of adapters, so I’ve listed out a couple of suggestions for all the different popular mounts of vintage lenses.
- FD to E-mount adapter
- C/Y to E-mount adapter
- M42 to E-mount adapter
- Pentax K to E-mount adapter
- Nikon F to E-mount adapter
- Minolta MD / SR to E-mount adapter
- Leica M to E-mount adapter
- Leica M39 to E-mount adapter
- Leica R to E-mount adapter
- Rollei QBM to E-mount adapter
Best vintage lenses for Sony E mount Cameras
When you are ready to buy your first vintage lens, you might want to figure out where the best safest and most reliable places to find a good quality vintage lens that doesn’t have mechanical and optical imperfections such as stiff gears, mould buildup or scratches on the glass.
My favourite place to purchase vintage lenses has always been eBay as they are a lot of reputable sellers that specialize in vintage lenses and I’ve rarely ever been disappointed by a product that has been delivered to me.
1. Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 Lens
The first ever vintage lens I purchased, was the Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 that I adapted on my Sony a7R iii. This unique and popular lens uses an M42 screw mount which makes it incredibly easy to adapt to the E-mount with a simple metal adapter.
This lens has a lot of unique characteristics making it a perfect first lens for photographers and vidographers to experiment with. Its out-of-focus backgrounds and bokeh have a beautiful swirly feature that makes portraits very dreamlike when used impropriety. This characteristic is very common in all of the Soviet vintage lenses from that area.
2. Canon nFD 35mm f/2.8 Lens
An old faithful, the Canon FDn 35mm f/2.8 lens is one of the sharpest vintage lenses and is widely popular among photographers and videographers. Priced around $100-150 for a quality copy of this lens, it makes it a very desirable lens for budget-concious shooters.
3. Canon nFD 85mm f/1.2 L Lens
A favourite Canon vintage lens of mine, the Canon nFD 85mm f/1.2 L lens has a similar quality and build as the famous Canon K35 vintage cinema lenses for video. While it’s not exactly the same in build as the aspherical lens element which is found in the Canon K35s, visually they are very hard to distinguish and have similar characteristics and looks.
4. Pentax SMC Takumar 20mm F/4.5 Wide Angle Lens
This M42 mount vintage lens is the widest in the Takumar family of lenses. With a 94.5° degree diagonal angle of view, it gives the images captured by this lens a superb perspective effect.
This is a brilliant wide-angle vintage lens to be used on a Sony E-mount camera. It has a minimum focus distance of 0.2m, which enables it to be used for some very unique vintage photos. It is worth noting that there are two versions of this lens. The older Super-Takumar 20mm F4.5 and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 20mm F4.5. The SMC is the preferred version, but at a premium in price.
5. Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 Telephoto Zoom Lens
A must-have in any photographer or videographer’s kit is a quality 70-200mm lens. This is where the Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 telephoto zoom lens comes in. This vintage lens boards well with Sony cameras. With an M42 mount, it is simple and cheap to adapt to any E-mount Sony Camera. The first version of this lens was produced by a manufacturer named Kiron and it was known to have great color that was very rich and saturated.
The versatility of the zoom range on this lens and its overall quality and performance makes it a great buy at a very attractive price point, typically under $100.