Building on the Sony NEX SystemGear Talk
Sony’s NEX cameras have been taking the mirror less camera market by storm of late, coming out with models that repeatedly and substantially improve on their predecessors. And, as these models have evolved, the number – and quality – of add-ons for them have increased as well.
In this article, we’ll take a look at a few ways of building on the NEX series of cameras – which now include some fantastic video-specific offerings from Sony as well.
First, let’s clear one thing up. Sony’s NEX series of cameras, which include the NEX–5, NEX–6, and NEX–7, as well as the VG-series of video cameras, use a lens mount called the “E-Mount”. Sony also has a line of popular DSLRs, which use the older “A-Mount” system they inherited when they bought Minolta.
Sony has made a number of fantastic lenses for the E-Mount, including the 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS and the 10–18 f/4 OSS lens, both of which offer built-in Optical SteadyShot, Sony’s name for their image stabilization technology.
The stable of E-Mount lenses isn’t filled out just yet. There are a few missing holes, mainly in the area of constant-aperture zooms and longer lenses. However, this isn’t as noticeable an issue as you might think, as Sony – and a few third-party vendors – have come up with a first-rate way to compensate for the lack of a full selection of lenses. They have done so with a number of adapters that allow you to use Canon, Nikon, and Sony A-Mount adapters with the NEX system, and in this article, we’ll take a look at some of them.
From Sony to… Sony?
Let’s start with the Sony Alpha LA-EA2 Camera Mount Adapter.
This is by far my favorite way to bring non-E-Mount lenses to the NEX system. It’s a bit bulky, to be sure, but it gives you access to a number of Sony’s A-Mount lenses, including their Carl Zeiss-badged glass, which is, in a word, awesome.
Better yet is the reason behind the LA-EA2’s surprising bulk – it includes an autofocus module of its own. While there are some compatibility caveats, our testing with the NEX–7 and a number of Sony lenses, including the 85mm f/1.4 and the 16–50mm f/2.8 lenses, showed absolutely no issues. Better yet, autofocus and iris control were spot-on, and in some cases, faster than the NEX–7 with an E-Mount lens.
That’s because the LA-EA2 uses Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology and adds a Phase-Detect AF sensor, which it employs in some of its DSLRs. Better yet, it uses that Phase-Detect AF sensor for video, too (again, with some caveats), so you gain the benefit of that sensor for both stills and video. Phase-Detect AF systems are usually faster than the contrast-based systems most mirrorless cameras use, so it was natural that the NEX–7 got a bit snappier with autofocus with this adapter.
With this adapter, I was also able to focus in some low-light situations where the E-Mount lens hunted for focus for a bit. Additionally, the adapter has a socket for a tripod plate, which you’re better off using if you plan on using some heavy lenses with this camera. Bad news though – not all features of this adapter are compatible with teleconverters and some specialty lenses like the 135mm STF lens.
From Canon to Sony
This is one of those things that put a big grin on my face. Metabones, a third-party company, managed to put together an adapter that allows you not just to mount a Canon EF lens onto an NEX camera, but also to still use autofocus and electronic iris control.
This is just flat-out sweet. Being able to use Canon lenses on cameras like the NEX further expands the pool of glass available for Sony’s mirrorless system.
Of course, there is a caveat (isn’t there always?). You do get autofocus, but it’s well, slow. Really slow. To the point of being unusable. That’s because it’s using the camera’s contrast-based AF sensor, which is naturally slower, but also because unlike the E-Mount lenses, which are optimized for the NEX cameras, you’re using a Canon lens through a third-party adapter. There’s a bunch that gets lost in translation between camera and lens, so the slow AF performance is to be expected.
This adapter is nonetheless exciting to me because of one other reason – electronic iris control. That means that you can set the camera to Program, Manual, Aperture-priority or Shutter-priority, and it will transmit that data to the lens.
Toss in the capability of cameras like the NEX–7 to use the “peaking” feature to aid in manual focus and you have a sweet little system.
From Nikon to Canon
This is the “least” capable of adaptations, mostly because all it does is let you mount Nikon lenses onto your NEX camera.
Okay, that’s a bit of an understatement, but only just. There is no electronic control of the Nikon lens through the camera, but you can manually set the aperture of the lens via a mechanical ring on the adapter for Nikon’s “G” lenses, which have no manual aperture ring on the lens barrel.
The caveat (that word again – I know!) is that you won’t be able to set a specific aperture value. The ring goes from fully open to the minimum aperture of the lens, but gives you no values in-between. That’s understandable – there’s no way for one adapter to do that for all Nikon lenses – but it does mean that you’re guestimating your aperture value.
Still, despite this, this is a welcome adapter, as it is useful for video shooters using old Nikon glass, something that’s still pretty popular.
Sony’s NEX system is proving itself to be every bit as open to adaptation as the Micro 4/3 platform has been in the past. We also carry a couple of other lens adapters, including one that will let you mount cinema-quality PL-mount lenses onto the NEX cameras, which users of Sony’s higher-end FS100 and FS700 cameras will appreciate.
Sony has, in effect, created a pretty extensible system based on the NEX platform. The E-Mount is proving to be a big draw for third-party manufacturers, spurred no doubt by the rave reviews the NEX cameras, both consumer and pro-level alike, seem to garner.
So grab an NEX–7 or an FS–100, put your old Nikkor glass on it, and have a blast! As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.