Can I use low-tech lenses on a high-tech camera?

November 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm  •  Posted in Q&A by

I saw an ad on the Internet for an adapter that is said to allow you to use any old lens on any high tech digital SLR camera and any new lens on an entirely different brand of camera. So, could I use an old manual focus lens or a Nikon AF lens on my EOS T3i or Lumix G3?
—Rick N.

Several accessory manufacturers do market adapters of this type in the U.S., Rick. In Canada, only one brand is stocked by many photo retailers in stores and on their websites for about $140 to $250, depending on the exact model. This series is made by Novoflex in Germany, a company with an excellent reputation for quality. Unlike some inexpensive adapters, Novoflex adapters maintain the full range of focusing right up to infinity. You can find a compatible Novoflex accessory for many camera/lens combinations at www.novoflex.com/en/products/adapters/adapter-finder/ or at www.novoflex.com/en/products/adapters/ but be sure to buy one from a Canadian retailer.

Many Novoflex adapters are available for mounting a lens (like this old Leica M model) of any popular brand onto a high-tech DSLR of another brand. However, since there is no electronic communication between the camera and lens, the high-tech features will not work.

So, the simple answer to your question is yes (if Novoflex makes a suitable adapter) but with one major caveat: there will be some important technical issues. Do not expect full compatibility with your camera’s high-tech features when used with an old lens or a recent AF lens from another brand of camera. In other words you won’t get autofocus of course, but certain other functions will not work either, such as most of the operating modes and the Evaluative or Matrix metering system. Center-weighted metering and Manual mode—and also Aperture Priority mode with some cameras—can be used however, and that should enable any experienced shooter to get some good photos.

Manufacturers of compact-system cameras also offer adapters that allow for certain lenses to be used with their cameras, at least those from their DSLR systems. If you cannot find the suitable adapter from your camera manufacturer, check out the much greater range of Novoflex accessories.

Because some recent lenses, such as Nikon AF, are not equipped with aperture rings, the pertinent Novoflex adapter includes the necessary control for setting f/stops. Here’s a bit of advice from the distributor, Red Raven Marketing about their adapters: “We occasionally get calls saying the camera won’t fire after I attach the adapter and a lens. [Because there is no electronic connection between the components.] That’s possible but it will work fine if you go into the menu and set the function that allows the camera to fire when a lens is not attached.”