Using Adapted lenses - an overview

Above - Canon 5Ds with Nikon 55-200mm APS-C zoom via cheap unbranded adapter


Above - Panasonic GX8 with Canon FF 24mm f/2.8 via KIpon Passive adapter


Above - Panasonic GX8 with Canon FF 24-105mm f/4 zoom via Kipon passive adapter


The idea of a complete branded camera / lens system is a newish one. In the earlier days of photography there used to be much more mixing and matching. One company would make cameras, another would make the lenses. These days with the shorter lens mount to sensor distance of mirrorless etc. cameras it is once again possible to use 'alternative' lenses having different mounts on these cameras using adapters. Plus it has always been possible to use Nikon lenses on Canon DSLR's. Below is my current collection of cameras, lenses and adapters that I use for this lens brand > camera 'cross dressing.' This includes m4/3 and Leica T mirrorless cameras, my Canon 5DS, Nikon, Canon, Samyang and Voigtlander lenses and various adapters from Metabones, Kipon and Novoflex plus some cheaper unbranded ones from eBay.

I also have various other adapters for Fuji X and Sony E mount should I ever return to using those systems.

So is there a point to all this complication and manually focusing lenses not designed for the systems I use them on? And since I'm far from the only one to do this, why do we all bother?

For me there are many reasons why I bother.

  • When systems start up there are few lenses to choose from. Adapted lenses fill the gaps. Fuji X, m4/3, Sony e-mount and now the Leica T mount have all at one time or another and even now, had very few native lenses on offer.
  • Third party, alternative lenses can provide cheaper and faster alternatives to whats available in a system. The fact that old MF lenses on ebay can be bought very cheaply is an added bonus.
  • These lenses are often an advantage when shooting video. Serious video that is. Tripod mounted, aperture and manual focus rings can actually make the whole process easier than auto everything, focus by wire AF lenses and eliminates that camcorder 'happy holidays' 'popping focus' look.
  • Crop factor sensors - m4/3, APS-C, offer different focal lengths for prime and zoom lenses. This is an advantage for telephoto lenses that get longer, but a problem for wide-angles which loose their width.
  • There are different 'looks' and 'character' from many of these adapted lenses. Often it's nice to get away from the 'production line look' of many 'native' lenses. Photography is supposed to be a creative process after all.
  • Working in an 'old-school' way with MF and aperture rings brings a different kind of sensibility into play. For some of us that means we explore different ways of working. See Photography is supposed to be........etc.
  • It's fun

A TALE OF TWO 85's

Above are two 85mm lenses I currently own. They are a Samyang 85mm f/1.4 (Nikon F Mount) and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8. They are fitted to my two Panasonic GX8 m4/3 cameras using three different adapters.

Firstly the Samyang is fitted with a 'passive' adapter. No aperture control and the lens ends up with the 2x crop factor common to m4/3. This means that (approximately) it 'mimics' the result of a 170mm f1/.8 lens on a 'Full-Frame' / 35mm film size sensor camera.

I also fitted the Samyang using my Metabones 0.64x Speed Booster. This reduces the crop factor to 1.3x (approx.) and gives an extra stop of light. This approximately 'mimics' a 128mm f/1 lens. Though in actual fact it's still f/1.4, but I get an extra stop in terms of the shutter speed or ISO setting I can use. 

Finally, I fitted the Canon EF to one of the GX8's using a Kipon passive adapter. Because of the nature of EOS AF lenses, these have to have their own separate iris, which fills in for the stopping down capability of the Canon lens, which unlike Nikons is controlled totally by the electronics in the camera. Cheap versions of these are terrible, with horrible vignetting and a very dark fisheye image when stopped down completely. However, the Kipon actually works properly. It's more expensive, but the cheap ones are pointless.

THE QUALITY 'MYTH'

Now some bloggers / reviewers will attempt to convince you that adapters reduce the quality of the lenses you are adapting. Usually the ones who attempt to convince you to buy your gear via the adverts on their site, for which they get a commission. They obviously make nothing out of ebay which is where all those old MF classic lenses are for sale and also where we in large parts of the world have to buy our adapters. Some, including the excellent Metabones range are available via dealers, but most aren't and they are usually cheaper on ebay or direct from the manufacturers anyway.

These naysayers will also tell you that these adapted lenses are inferior to 'native' marque lenses as well. And that you are going to all that trouble for inferior results. Well, treat this with extreme suspicion, because it simply isn't true. Sure you can get bad results, but that's usually the result of the poor quality of the lens rather than the adapter. I've used a range of adapters, both cheap and expensive and while the cheaper ones can give rise to all sorts of fitting issues (I've had a couple 'weld' to my lens and prove extremely difficult to remove) they won't reduce image quality unless they are actually badly made or faulty. If you stick with Metabones, Fotodiox, Novoflex and Kipon then you are very unlikely to encounter problems. But just as a precaution I always do my initial tests with my cheapest and most expendable lens.

And the benefits can be well worth it. I've had some astounding results from cheap old lenses and overall ever since I started doing this when m4/3 appeared, I would guess that around 1/3 of all the images I have taken in that time are with some kind of adapted lens fitted to the camera I used. I shot a lot with my Sony A7r and something like 3/4 of the images I shot with that camera and it's 36MP sensor were via adapted lenses manually focused.

Below is a gallery shot with my two 85's.

Now all of this is not to say that using adapted lenses is a better or worse option than using 'native' lenses. Certainly for the m4/3 cameras I used here, there are lots of fine options available. But adapters extend those options and in 35mm sensor / 'Full-Frame' comparisons you can get some amazing options. Ultra-fast telephoto lenses being the obvious and most attractive one to photographers. And next week I have a Kipon adapter arriving which apparently communicates with my Canon EF lenses allowing me AF, Aperture control and even engaging the lens IS. And there is an (expensive!) Metabones version that does all that for Canon AF lenses plus gives a 1 stop light boost AND reduces the crop factor from 2x to 1.5x for 'Full-Frame' lenses. So these adapters, at the top end, are actually pushing the boundaries of what we can do with our lenses. And in the coming days and weeks I'm going to be following the general article with more specific examples of what can be achieved by adapting lenses, both in terms of manual as well as auto focus. 

One day, Metabones or Kipon is going to do a deal with a camera company and release a model that has one of these speed booster / turbo type mounts as standard. Maybe a camera sold with Nikon, Canon and Leica mounts in the box. Because apparently there is a distinct possibility that someone will come up way to autofocus Leica M lenses and I've just seen an adapter that will add AF to Nikon G lenses, something that has only been available for Canon AF up to now. And I see this as a wholly good thing. A good lens is a good lens and it would be great to be able to 'mix and match' and 'cross dress' much more. For example I've always wanted to see how Fuji X lenses worked in front of other sensors than the soft, noise reduced X-Trans version that Fuji seem to like so much. Many Sony and m4/3 users are already using these options on a regular basis, though possibly more for video than stills currently. It's also true that many Canon DSLR users quietly fit Nikon DSLR lenses to their cameras (it's really easy with very simple adapters) and get great results. I know of one British landscape photographer of some regard who has been using a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom as virtually his standard lens on his Canons. 

Because this is creative, it widens our choices and it can result in some incredible quality. And it stops us being 'trapped' by a brand. As mentioned before, it's almost obligatory if you use Sony e-mount or Leica T, otherwise you have VERY limited (and very pricy) options only. Adapted lenses aren't going away, in fact every week seems to see the announcement of new improved versions that 'cross the bridge' between brands and lens mounts and save us having to buy into new lens systems. Now the camera manufacturers, the fanboys and the brand besotted don't like this at all, but then if that isn't a great reason to champion adapting lenses I don't know what is!!!