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Can You Use DSLR Lenses on a Mirrorless Camera?

Mirrorless cameras have indeed captured the attention of the photography world. People are slowly switching to this new variant. Why wouldn’t they? After all, these cameras have opened a never-before-seen horizon which every one of us wants to reach.

I’m not here to praise mirrorless cameras. I’m just telling you what I’ve been noticing around me. Indeed, mirrorless seems to be doing very well. But they can still go a long way, and I believe they will.

Newbie photographers often ask, “Can I use a DSLR lens on a mirrorless camera?” It’s a very necessary question because mirrorless cameras don’t have a lot of options for lenses.

Moreover, most people switch from DSLR to mirrorless, and so they are bound to have at least 2 to 3 DSLR lenses. That’s why they’d want to utilize them and use it with their new camera. Plus, lenses don’t come cheap.

More often than not, DSLR lenses don’t work with mirrorless cameras. You can’t even mount most of them. Luckily, those lenses can still be used on a mirrorless.

So, what’s the magic word? Adapter. If you have a manual DSLR lens, you can go for a cost-effective mechanical adapter.

But if you have a lens with electronic focus, aperture, and image stabilization, that same adapter will not work. Because these lenses need to send signals to the camera body, and a mechanical adapter can’t help with that. So, you need one which can convert the signals between the lens and the camera body.

DSLR lens on a Mirrorless Camera

Nikon NIKKOR Lens FTZ mount adapter

It’s pretty common for photographers to have multiple lenses and one camera body. A particular kind of lens offers a specific benefit that others don’t.

A wide-angle lens can capture more field of view, while a telephoto lens lets you get a much closer shot of a distant object.

DSLR cameras have been around for much longer than mirrorless ones. So, photographers mostly have DSLR lenses in their collection. Also, there aren’t many mirrorless lenses available at the moment.

That’s why they’d want to use those older lenses on this new camera. But then, most of the time you can’t even mount a lens of a different brand. How can you expect to mount one from a completely different camera type?

Luckily for us, adapters now exist and they make it possible to mount the otherwise incompatible lens. They’re actually a blessing. You just need to purchase one additional gear and then keep on using your old lenses with the new camera body.

If you don’t know about the flange focal distance, you may not understand the necessity of an adapter. This is the distance between the interlocking metal rings of the lens and the camera, and the image sensor plane or film.

A particular type of camera needs to have a fixed amount of flange focal distance or FFD. If FFD is not maintained, the lens and the camera will not cooperate. You’ll still be able to take photos, but they will never be accurate.

For this reason, you need to use an adapter to make sure the lens functions in tandem with the camera body. Plus, lenses need to have a certain ring type and diameter in order for them to fit a certain camera.

However, the more important matter is the FFD which the adapters help to maintain. Mirrorless cameras are structurally different and that’s why you can’t just mount a DSLR lens on it, even if it fits perfectly.

A majority of the mirrorless cameras have an FFD of 200 mm. You just need an adapter that will maintain that 200mm so that the lens can properly focus on the sensor/film plane.

What are the advantages of a lens adapter?

Imagine you have been using DSLR cameras and lenses for 5 years now. Then one day comes waltzing in the mirrorless army. You want to switch sides. But the camera alone costs more than 1000 USD. In this situation, wouldn’t it be great if you could just use your older DSLR lenses?

This is where the adapter comes to your rescue. They not only let you use your older tools but also cut the overall cost of switching systems.

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Of course, the obvious advantage is getting to use the lenses you already have. But to me, and I believe it’s the same for many others as well, the cost-cutting part is the most favorite.

To an outsider, it may seem that photographers, with their many gears, are very rich and whatnot. But we are not rich. Whatever wealth we have is invested in our cameras, lenses, and the work we do with them. That’s why anything that can help us save some buck is highly appreciated.

Why is it necessary to use lens adapters?

The first time I came across a mirrorless camera, I was surprised at how light and compact it was. It even took shots much faster than the traditional DSLRs. I needed to have one, and I did. But after paying for the camera, I asked myself “Can I use DSLR lens on mirrorless cameras?”

I can, thanks to the adapters. You may ask, are they really that necessary? You see, removing the mirror alone changes a lot in a camera. On top of that, mirrorless cameras have a lot more going on than that.

Camera giants Canon and Nikon did well to adapt their lens mounts because that has now proven to be very useful. Canon brought forward the EF-mount back in 1987.

The biggest part of this change in lens mounts was seen in their sizes, like the new R-mount. This lets the rear lens elements sit comparatively closer to the image sensor.

That is why you need lens adapters because mirrorless cameras have completely different lens mounts than their predecessor DSLRs. Take the Canon RF-mount; it’s not simply an updated version. It’s totally new and meant for their full-frame mirrorless cameras.

Are lens adapters convenient?

The short answer is yes, they are convenient. But there are actually some things to consider, and that’s the start of the long answer.

Usually, you have a camera body and a lens or two to go with it. Then comes the lens adapter, an additional gear to carry every time you go on a photography excursion.

If you ever forget to take it with you, two things might happen. You’ll either be limited to the number of lenses you can use, given you have mirrorless lenses in your collection. Or, you’ll not be able to use any lens if you only have DSLR lenses.

Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

This is something that bothers me the most. To make sure I never forget my adapters, I always keep them beside my camera and lenses.

Other than this, there are the issues about adding extra size and weight to your camera. An adapter is an additional gear, so it’s bound to add something extra. Fortunately, it’s not anything huge.

The thing about mirrorless systems is that they are lighter and more compact. So, whatever you add to them, be that just an extra inch and a few ounces, it can seem like a big deal.

Canon’s EF-EOS R’adapter adds only one additional inch and four ounces to the whole setup. Nikon’s FTZ adapter however, is a bit heavier and bulkier as it’s a tripod mount.

Are adapters always compatible?

In most cases, yes, they are compatible. But these cases are still of a specific type, and so there can be compatibility issues.

From what I’ve seen, and something photographer Ken Rockwell would surely agree with, Canon is doing a lot better with adapters. It’s buddy, Nikon, on the other hand, seems to be struggling still.

You probably think that if you use an adapter of the same brand as the camera and the lens, things will work out fine. As long as we are talking about Canon, this assumption is correct. Their DSLR lenses work perfectly with their mirrorless cameras when you use their adapters as well.

What’s really amazing about Canon is that they have built EF-to-other-brand adapters and can easily go with almost every platform. In fact, Rockwell has gone so far as to claim that Canon’s DSLR lenses perform better than Nikon’s with Nikon’s mirrorless systems.

I don’t understand what Nikon is doing. You still might face compatibility issues if you use a Nikon lens adapter to fit their DSLR lenses with their mirrorless cameras. The autofocus motors will not work, and so even their AF and AF-D lenses will end up as manual lenses.

This is mostly the case with their older lenses. The newer ones have built-in autofocus motors, so they work fine.

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Some of Nikon’s older lenses will not even let you use automatic aperture control. As a result, you’ll not be able to use electronic metering, automatic exposure modes, or EXIF data.

Now, if you think about mounting a Nikon DSLR lens on a Canon mirrorless, there’s the issue of cost. For just getting a properly working manual lens, you’ll need to spend a significant amount on an adapter. Let’s not talk about how much the price will if you want a full autofocus experience.

As a friend of mine once said, Nikon just likes to make everything a bit too complicated. It’s not that they are of bad quality or something. Nikon just happens to have a roundabout way of doing things.

To sum it up, you’ll face comparatively fewer issues as long as you stick to the same brand. But if you want to mix brands, you must prepare yourself for some extra hassle and expenditure.

Adapters are still a new type of gear, so I believe they will get much better in the near future. The cheaper ones available now mostly let you have manual control. Some even don’t allow you to use image stabilization.

However, it’s best to check all the specifications and lookup compatibility issues before you buy any adapter nevertheless.

So, which adapters should you go for?

This totally depends on the type of camera and lens you want to fit together. Yes, the lens alone isn’t the deciding factor for choosing what kind of adapter you need. This is because there are some cameras with which lenses can’t be mounted with a single adapter.

Some cameras from the 70s and the 80s used bayonet-type mounts. There’s probably no adapter that lets you fit a lens directly. Let me give you an example so that it will be easier for you to understand.

Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f1.2 58mm Lens (Second Generation MC II)

The Minolta MC 1.2/58mm has an SR mount which is of the bayonet type, and a Canon from the FD series has an FD-type mount. You’ll not find an adapter that converts SR to FD or vice-versa.

What you can do, in this situation, is fit the camera with an SR to E-mount adapter and the lens with an FD to E-mount, and then mount them together.

So, you can see, there’s no single adapter that goes with every type of camera. Each camera and lens will decide what type of adapter you should use. In fact, they will also determine how much you have to spend on your adapters.

Most of the cheap adapters do well for mounting simple, manual lenses. But if you want to use more expensive lenses, like AF ones, you’ll need a costlier adapter. It’s not that the cheaper adapters will not work at all. They will, but it will render most of the lens’ advanced features useless.

Adapters for older lenses with manual focus

The idea is that the more advanced the lens is the better the adapter needs to be. Otherwise, you’ll not be able to access all the features of that lens. It’d still work, but only the manual options. In other words, manual lenses are the easiest to mount on mirrorless cameras.

The reason is simple: you can work with an inexpensive adapter, which, in most cases, is just a ring of metal or plastic. But then, why would you need it?

Well, mirrorless cameras are different in construction and so the DSLR lenses, even if they fit perfectly, can’t maintain the flange focal distance. There has to be enough FFD so that the lens can focus on the image sensor.

So, inexpensive adapters for older manual lenses can be a good way to start when you are switching to mirrorless systems. They don’t have any electronic autofocus or aperture control, which is why cheap adapters work fine for mounting them.

Most of the lenses made before the 1980s are like this. So, all a low budget adapter has to do is maintain the necessary flange focal distance. Any of the lenses made after that time will not be compatible with the same adapter.

Things became more advanced and electronic features were introduced during the 1980s. Of course, you didn’t need adapters back then.

Two lenses made during that time are the Pentax and Nikon autofocus lenses that both have aperture rings. There’s no doubt that a cheap adapter will not work for them. But which one will – that I’m currently unable to tell you. For any lens made before them, a low-cost metal adapter works just fine.

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Smart adapters for modern lenses

When I say modern lenses, I mean those with autofocus and electronic controls. This type of lenses has several features that function by sending electronic signals to the camera body.

So, when you need to use an adapter for such lenses it needs to be able to transmit the signals properly. Otherwise your lens would either not work at all, or you’d end up with a regular manual lens.

That’s why, you need smart adapters for your smart lenses. From what I’ve seen, Canon’s EF lenses mounted on Sony’s mirrorless cameras is the most commonly seen combination. I use them together as well.

You can’t use a cheap adapter for them. It will simply not do. You are going to need a smart adapter that can properly convert the signals and transmit them to the camera body and back to the lens. The better the adapter, the better the lens functions in tandem with the camera.

Of course, anything smart isn’t cheap. So, depending on the lens-camera combination, you need to be prepared to spend some significant money on the adapter. But that doesn’t mean the cost will be too much.

Luckily for us, there are affordable options for smart adapters as well. There are lots of them, but the one I’ve been lately hearing good reviews of is the Fotodix Pro Fusion Adapter. It will work very well for mounting DSLR lenses on mirrorless systems.

Metabones Canon EF/EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter - 5th Generation - with Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

There’s also the T Smart Adapter by Metabones. It’s a Canon EF lens to Sony E-Mount adapter. This Metabones item is actually among the most expensive adapter options to choose from.

So, why are they asking for such a high price? It may seem crazy at first, but I can tell you that it’s well deserved. This smart adapter offers a number of additional features and provides you with better control over your lens-camera operations.

It’s also true that they share the same purpose, and so the additional features will not be much of a gamechanger in the long run. After all, higher quality gears mean nothing if you don’t know how to use them. Invest more in your expertise with your camera and lens, not just in their ranking.

You may face issues with autofocus

When working with mirrorless cameras, mirrorless lenses will always work better than DSLR ones. Why? Because they are made for each other, and so their functionality coincides smoothly. An adapter is simply a way of forcing two incompatible systems to work together with apparent ease.

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras function differently because they are built differently. I believe you already know this. What you may not know is that a major part of this difference is centered around how each system uses autofocus.

DSLRs use dedicated sensors for focusing apart from the image sensor. Meanwhile, mirrorless cameras work with sensors that have been built into their image sensors. So obviously a mirrorless lens is the best companion for a mirrorless camera, and the same goes for their DSLR counterparts.

So, what issue are you going to face, even after using some of the best lens adapters?

Sometimes the autofocus works slower. Yes, it’s not something that’s bound to happen. But there will always be a chance of that hindering your work. I’ve noticed that this slowing down of autofocus becomes quite evident when you try to focus on subjects that are moving at high speeds.

I know I sound anti-climactic, but it’s important that you have an all-round idea about how adapters will affect your photography experience. If you don’t want to take any chances, you can simply get a mirrorless lens. But the problem with that is that it will be way costlier than any adapter.

I hope you have got your answer

The reason why photographers ask “Can I use DSLR lens on mirrorless camera” is that pairing them seems wrong at first. Indeed, they are part of very different systems. Combining them is not only cost-effective but also a way to make use of amazing features. But of course, only with the help of an adapter.

An adapter is additional weight and expenditure, and it might make the autofocus slower. Fortunately, a few extra ounces and a cost of $50 are not that big a deal. Regarding the autofocus issue, most of the time you’ll not even notice it. It may not even happen to begin with.

So, as long as the adapter is of the right type and compatibility, you can easily use them for mounting DSLR lenses on mirrorless cameras.

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