One of the cool things about the Sony NEX line of mirrorless cameras, which we’ve been writing about a lot on this blog, is that, with the proper adapter, you can mount almost any lens onto an NEX body, adding versatility, and for those coming from another system, it can save you a few dollars too.
Knowing this, when I decided to put all of my Nikon DSLR gear up for sale, (having made the switch to the Sony NEX 6), I kept one item: my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 prime lens. This is one sharp, fast little lens, which on my Nikon D90 as well as the NEX 6, provides a 1.5 times crop factor. So with the APS-C sensor that both of these cameras have, that 35mm becomes a very useful 52mm focal length.
There are many lens adapters to choose from and the prices range from $20 to $500+, and while this post is not intended to be a review of available adapters, I can tell you that after some research, I was able to choose a model for under $40 that has served me well. Back to that in a minute – in my case I needed an adapter that would allow me to adjust the aperture of this Nikon lens, since this is a “G” lens, meaning, it does not have an aperture ring. The aperture is normally adjusted through the camera controls. But many of these adapters, even the most expensive models, do not connect electronically to the body. That is, there is no interface of data to and from the lens – so you cannot control the aperture from the camera – you need a mechanical aperture ring on the adapter.
So the model I chose, which has an aperture adjustment ring to accommodate G lenses, was the Fotodiox NIK-NEX Nikon Nikkor Lens to Sony Alpha Nex E-mount Camera Lens Mount Adapter from Amazon. OK that’s a mouthful for such a small device. Although some reviewers complained of fit issues, mine was machined perfectly and fit on both the lens and the NEX 6 body smoothly and snugly.
Using the adapter
There’s little information provided with the adapter, but it’s pretty intuitive as to how it should attach to both the lens and body. It’s the basic line-up and twist that we’re all familiar with.
The fact that there’s no electronic interface through the adapter, means that you’re shooting manually, both in terms of exposure and focus, just like in the “good old days”… although not exactly, because the NEX 6 makes it pretty easy.
The first thing you need to do when using a lens with any adapter on the NEX 6, is go into the Setup menu – Shooting Settings – Release w/o lens – Enable. Again, since there’s no electronic interface between lens and body, the camera thinks there’s no lens mounted, and won’t operate. But anticipating, and actually promoting the use of adapters, Sony added this feature to basically say to the camera, “Trust me, there’s a lens attached”.
Next step, focus. There’s no half-press, auto-focus here, you need to focus manually. But that’s pretty simple with the “focus peaking” feature in the NEX 6. With focus peaking on, as you manually focus, the in-focus edges in the scene “peak” in the color you’ve chosen.
This was just a quick shot with my iPhone 5 of the LCD on the rear of the NEX 6, but you can see the focus peaking at work. I was (manually) focusing on the Nikon name on the lens cap. When the peaking color is at it’s max as you focus, that’s your sharpest point of focus.
When shooting at a large aperture (small f/ number) you minimize your depth of field. As you adjust your aperture manually, you can see the peaking move across the scene – yes, you can actually see the in-focus area change as you manually adjust the lens.
To turn on focus peaking, go into the Setup menu – Shooting Settings – Peaking Level. Change it from Off to your choice of Low, Mid or High. I use High for maximum visibility of the peaking. Right below that in the menu, you can choose your focus peaking color, white, red or yellow. I find that yellow is the most distinctive color and use that most of the time.
Lastly, set your exposure. You can operate the camera in Aperture Priority or Manual modes with the adapter. In either case, you’re setting the aperture with the adapter’s ring, but with no indication of exactly what aperture your choosing. (At the risk of being redundant, remember, there’s no feedback between lens and camera body when using the adapter.) So how do you choose the right aperture? With the help of the NEX 6’ live histogram. In the viewfinder, (either EVF or LCD) a lively histogram will respond to your turns of the aperture ring. I generally follow the rule of thumb of “exposing to the right”, so I adjust the aperture until I see just that, without clipping the highlights. But also, the NEX gives you live feedback on the exposure of the scene before you press the shutter button, so you can also lighten or darken as you see fit. If you’re in manual mode, then you would also adjust the shutter speed on the camera in setting your exposure.
There’s no stated aperture, either in the viewfinder or in your EXIF data. Take a look at the focus peaking shot above, and you’ll see “F—“ where the aperture would normally read. So you need to be thinking about the affect of a smaller aperture (less light, greater depth of field) or larger aperture (more light, less DOF) as you set your exposure.
A quick note – the adapter comes with a tripod mount, and should be used if you mount your camera on a tripod when using the adapter. That’s because the adapter isn’t meant to support a lot of weight. Similarly, if shooting handheld when using a long or heavy lens, be sure to support the weight of the lens with your left hand, to relieve stress on the adapter.
With some care in setting your exposure and focus, the results can be quite pleasing.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more results with the Fotodiox adapter and Nikon 35mm prime on the NEX 6. And thanks for using our links to BH Photo, as any purchases made via one of our links helps 2 Guys Photo in an itty-bitty, but much appreciated way!
Geez man, by the time you put all that together it isn’t much smaller (in depth anyway) than your D90 with that lens attached. And then you have to go through all those manual gyrations to set up the shot when the D90 would be controlling the lens, which it does quite handily. And then there is the flimsy adapter and tripod mount issue. What’s the point? I don’t get it.
I think the point may be versatility Prentis. You don’t ALWAYS have to use this set up but it is a nice option and good to know how it all goes together and the possibilities. Interesting stuff Ed. Now I wonder how it would work with my Pentax primes. :0)
Thanks. I suppose it does allow someone that has put lots of money into lenses to get some use out of them after moving to a different camera body…occasionally. It just seems to me that you have to jump through one too many hoops to use those lenses on a regular basis. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. For me the novelty of adapting foreign lenses to that body would wear off pretty quickly and I would soon gravitate to the native lenses that benefit from their automatic connections. Besides, it just looks weird.
You both hit the nail on the head. This configuration gives me a faster lens than any I had (f/1.8 versus f/2.8), and it was already “in the bag”. So it’s partially an economic decision but as LaRee said, it is kind of a special occasion lens: low light, when I’m looking to minimize DOF for max bokeh, plus I kept a few filters, including some close-ups and ND’s. Despite it’s apparent size, it’s still smaller and much lighter than the D90 set up. And really, what’s so bad about honing our legacy photographic skills? I’ve noticed a difference, as many have said, when I have to stop and really consider what I’m doing and not leave it all to technology. And of course, the more time I spent with this lens, the more second nature it all became. In the end, it’s all about options. Thanks much for your feedback.
Yup, on my D90, this lens is permanently glued, its sharp as a razor and should be a blast on your next in low light. Love the contrast as well.
Thanks Jorge. It was just too good to give up.
haha good luck with the 35mm. Looking forward to what’s next.
I have tried several Nikon lenses (20, 28, 85 and 180) with Photodiox adapter and I got splendid results. Setting up the menu is just question to follow written instructions: focus picking may remain a fix option and doesn’t need to be reset every time.
Yes, you can set focus peaking to “on” and use it all the time with any lens, with or without the adapter. I prefer the direct manual focus on the NEX 6, if works very well. Thanks for your comment Paolo. Ed
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