Guide to Using Vintage Lenses on Sony Cameras

Looking to play around with other focal lengths, or maybe you just want a new challenge in photography but don’t want to spend a lot of money?

In this guide, we’ll talk about what a vintage lens is, and how to use them with your Sony camera.

Helios 44m-4 lens.

What is a vintage lens?

A vintage lens is pretty much any lens from the film era that wasn’t built with modern cameras in mind. They are oftentimes exclusively manual focus with manual aperture controls. There are literally hundreds from every major brand, along with other, lesser known manufacturers.

On modern cameras, we’re able to use them due to the invention of mount adapters. For example, Canon’s old mount was called FD, so you can simply buy an FD → E adapter in order to use vintage Canon lenses on your Sony. 

It is important to note, as I mentioned before, that most vintage lenses are entirely manual focus. While this may sound intimidating, manual focus is actually much easier than most expect, especially with modern focus assists on Sony cameras. Consider reading our complete guide to manual focus if you’re interested in learning more on the subject of manual focus itself.

Another photo of a vintage lens.

Why should you use vintage lenses?

There are a variety of reasons you might want to try using vintage lenses. The biggest is cost. Most vintage lenses are vastly cheaper than their modern counterparts. Granted, the reason for this is they’re often lacking modern features, such as autofocus or image stabilization. Also, some vintage lenses suffer from more flaring and other optical quirks due to having weaker/less coatings on the glass.

With that being said, however, if you don’t need a lens that’s absolutely perfect in every way, vintage lenses are the way to go. They’re an inexpensive way to test out new focal lengths or to simply have some fun and switch things up.

A collection of various vintage lenses.

So how do I get started using vintage lenses?

The first step is the hardest, and that’s finding a vintage lens that you want to test. I’ll include a list at the bottom of this post of my top lenses. After you pick your lens, you’ll have to find an adapter. On Amazon, you can usually just search by whatever mount it is, so you’d type in “FD to E mount adapter” if you were trying to adapt vintage Canon glass, for example.

Next, you simply slot your “new” (vintage) lens into the adapter, and then mount the adapter on your camera as you would any modern lens. Then, you need to change a few settings to make manual focusing easier. We’ve detailed them in our complete guide to manual focus, but we’ll list them here. I’d strongly encourage you to read through that guide as well, as it will be a lot more thorough than this brief explanation.

  1. Enable the “release w/o lens” setting.
  2. Turn on focus peaking settings. I prefer setting it to high, and setting the color to red.
  3. Turn on the focus magnifier setting, and bind it to a custom button.
A beautiful vintage lens.

And that’s really all there is to vintage lenses. As stated earlier, there’s literally hundreds of different options that you could find either on Amazon or eBay. I’ve included a list just below of my top few vintage lenses, some of which we have reviews for on the site. Thanks for reading.

My Favorites

Canon FD 50mm F1.8 (FD —> E adapter)

Helios 44-2 58mm F2 (adapter included)

Konica AR 40mm F1.8 (adapter here, check eBay for lens)

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