The Franken-portrait-lens aka the LA-EA4 adapted AF Minolta Maxxum 135mm f/2.8.

A little background. I like…

  1. A bargain. Family battle cry “Never pay retail!”
  2. Combining disparate pieces to create franken lens combos (exhibit A).
  3. 135mm f/2.8 film lenses (exhibit A and exhibit B).27273345581_5556579593_o

First let’s focus on point 3 for a moment. 135mm lenses. I mention and give examples of manual focus film lenses not for some artsy fartsy love of a vintage analog aesthetic, but because modern lenses with this spec are priced in eye-watering territory. Factory autofocus Nikon and Canon 135mm variants start around $1,000. Relative newbie Sony variants, whether A Mount or E Mount, are even more dear.

So what changed?

  1. I bought a film camera that introduced me to a stellar series of autofocus film lenses that offered exceptional value. Not just any film camera, but dollar for dollar the most capable film camera I have owned. IQ wise it stands toe to toe with the most storied brands and models I have owned while offering features rivaling modern DSLRs.
  2. I knew that a) Sony had bought Minolta and adopted their lens mount for their SLR, then “SLT” digital cameras and b) Sony made AF adapters that allowed you to use their A Mount lenses on mirrorless E Mount Camera. But while researching, and almost purchasing, a full frame Sony A Mount (A850 specifically) camera to use these lenses on a full frame digital body I also found out that one of these adapters (LA-EA4, which I am having a heck of a time keeping the letter sequence straight for some reason) allowed you to use the screw drive AF Maxxum film lenses (The LA-EA3 works only with lenses that have inbuilt focus motors) I was already enjoying on E mount. Suddenly what I had seen as a high priced oddity started making a lot more sense.IMG_20180116_125732_329
  3. In addition to allowing me to use the fantastic lenses I had already picked up for a song at the local camera shop (20mm, 50mm, and 70-210mm ‘beer can’) there also existed a whopper of a bargain in the form of the Minolta Maxxum era 135mm f/2.8. Based on my experience with manual focus and the other AF Minolta film lenses I had no doubt that this would be something special.IMG_20180116_125732_308

So fine. They go together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And for the record I bought both of these combined used from KEH.com (not only write them I am a long time customer) for the fraction of the cost of the native variants listed above. Also costs around the same or less than the manual focus options available. But…

    • Due to it using the adapter’s many fewer points, center of the frame biased mirror phase detect focus mechanism to operate the necessary screw drive instead of the great corner to corner A7ii or A7Rii AF is it any good? Yes. Sweet mother McCree yes. Amazingly fast and more importantly accurate. And by some amazing dark magic it still manages to work with the camera’s face detect. I was very surprised when that green box framed a face for the first time. And did I mention fast? These two next shots of Matthew were taken back to back using focus and recompose on the fly to capture reactions to 120 slide film.Matthew viewing 120 slide filmMatthew viewing 120 slide film
    • What about low light? Given the vintage of SLT technology I was not expecting a lot here, but it performs wonderfully in low light. The two shots below of Wilson were taken after sunset with available light only using the adapter’s AF.

     

    • Is it sharp? I give you this shot of Chris by Manu in the camera shop giving it a spin for the first time._DSC5040
    • What about size and weight? The lens itself is surprisingly compact given its spec and with the adapter it is very reasonable in weight and size.
    • Does it make a lot of racket? No. Due to it being screw drive it is not silent, but it is not noisy. Makes no more noise than a native non-silent internal motor lens like the FE 50mm f/1.8. Also helps that it is a quick phase detect focuser that does not hunt.
    • Is it clunky to use given the vintage mismatch? No. All controls behave just like a native lens. Aperture is set by the camera. Focus mode is set by the camera. From the driver’s seat there is little indication that you are using anything, but a native Sony Alpha era focus lens out front. I like the Techart adapter that allows me to use the Contax G 45mm f/2 w/ AF and this works even better and is definitely more consistent. The Techart can be fiddly when mounting the lens, but the LA-EA4 is rock solid recognizing the lens right away every time.
    • What about image stabilization? The mount completely recognizes the focal length, adjusts the focal length for the in body IS, and records the same in EXIF data.

    As far as downsides I have none so far. And I have been looking.

    Other notes.

    • Lens has a built-in hood like my old film 135mm lenses. I do not know why companies stopped doing this. It is brilliant.
    • With the adapter I now have access to the Maxxum lenses I already own and a host of other highly regarded lenses. If I had known about this combination before there are some native lenses I would have passed on.
    • Some have expressed concerns about the SLT’s fixed mirror losing a 1/3 stop of light. No need for concern. Saw no degradation of IQ or noticeable impact on light gathering in real-world use.
    • Some point to the LA-EA3 which costs less, preserves the camera’s onboard AF, and does not lose a 1/3 stop of light since no mirror is needed. You may save on the adapter, but A Mount lenses cost as much as E Mount lenses defeating the whole value argument for adapting. And as I mentioned earlier SLT focusing is not an issue unless you need full, across the frame phase detect focusing for sports and the like. But if you are doing that there are plenty of other lenses that would better fit the bill.
    • What about video? Don’t know. May work. May not. Would not personally use a screw drive AF lens for video.

    That is all for now. If you have an A7ii or newer (have not used so cannot vouch for earlier models) Sony mirrorless and are looking for a 135mm lens for stills I highly recommend this adapter and lens combination. Shop used for the adapter and you can save even more like I did.

    In addition to the samples above here is a link to an ongoing gallery for this setup.

    Happy shooting.

    -ELW

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