How to shoot with manual lenses on the A7/r?

Started Jan 10, 2014 | Discussions thread
djp58 Regular Member • Posts: 351
Re: How to shoot with manual lenses on the A7/r?

Miki Nemeth wrote:

Here is a short description of the manual photography techniques I am experimenting with.

Old legacy lenses (Canon FD, Nikon AI/AIs, Minolta MD, Olympus OM) can be used very nicely on the Sony A7 with mostly inexpensive no-electronics adapters (FD-NEX, AI-NEX, MD-NEX, OM-NEX). Each of these MF lens has a dedicated aperture ring to set the lens opening/iris. When an MF-lens is attached via an adapter to the A7 body, an "F--" indicator is blinking on the bottom part of the A7 screen reminding you to use the aperture ring on the lens. Unfortunately, the actual aperture value will not be written in the EXIF of the image file; similarly, neither the actual focal length, lens type, and object (focus) distance will be available in the image's EXIF.

Aperture priority (A) exposure mode is not applicable with a MF lens, since aperture cannot be set with the dials on the A7. M and S modes are very usable, on the other hand, along with manual or automatic ISO.

Here are some of the most interesting settings for shooting with MF lenses:

  • Release w/o Lens: Enable
  • Focus Magnif.Time: No Limit
  • Live View Display: Setting Effect ON
  • Auto Review: Off or On depending on your preferences (in street/action photography it might be better off)

Shooting in S mode

The simplest way to shoot with MF lenses is shutter priority (S) exposure mode with automatic ISO, where the maximum ISO value can be set to a maximum value (3200 or 6400, for example). First you set the aperture with the aperture ring on the lens, then the shutter speed with the back or front dial on the A7. You can always review the calculated actual ISO value by half pressing the shutter button. For example, if you are in street photography, you set the aperture on the lens to 5.6, the shutter speed to 1/125th second, set ISO to Auto, enable focus peaking and set the Focus Magnification Time to "No Limit". Then the only thing you do is to keep your left hand on the focus ring on the lens, compose, focus and shoot, compose, focus and shoot and so on and forth. While shooting, you should keep an eye on the actual ISO, and if it increases too high, you should decrease the shutter speed are increase the aperture.

Using Magnification with MF lenses

Magnification is an indispensable function on the A7 for shooting with MF lenses. When you press the C1 button twice the screen/viewfinder changes to magnification mode and focus peaking can be applied more precisely. Pressing the C1 once more increases the magnification view, pressing again increases even more; one more C1 press brings you back to the normal (no magnified) view. You can always go back to the normal view by half pressing the shutter button. You can shoot even in magnification mode, you do not have to go back to normal view before taking a picture, just press the shutter button. If you press the C1 only once, a magnification rectangle is shown, and it can be repositioned with the arrow buttons on the back-plate dial.

Since you cannot change the aperture on the A7 body, manual (M) exposure mode can be used exactly the same way as S mode. Auto ISO works in M mode, as well, just like exposure compensation dial.

Using Flash with MF lenses

If you use your (no-electronics) MF lens wide open, focusing and using a flash is quite straightforward. When a Sony flash (HVL-F20M, for example) is attached, even when exposure simulation is switched on (Live View Display Setting Effect ON), the A7 will not change the display brightness when the shutter speed or ISO is changed, which is very handy, and smart. With an MF lens and a flash you'd better manually control the ISO, since Auto ISO would ignore the extra light coming from the flash when the picture is actually taken. This is a severe limitation of using pure, old, legacy MF lenses: fully automated (TTL) flash exposure calculation is not applicable. Practically, the flash power (with flash compensation setting for Sony lenses) should be manually set. On a non-Sony flash (Yongnuo YN 560 III, for example) the light power is manually set to the full or a fraction of the full light power. For a Youngnuo even the focus length can be set on the flash body. With the simple HVL-F20M this is not possible. Definitely, "manual flash photography" requires quite an experimenting and practicing, which is anyway very handy for acquiring creative flash techniques.


Good, helpful post.  By the way, you can use Aperture Priority, just set the aperture on the lens vice on the camera - the camera will then select shutter speed based on your ISO setting (manual or auto) and aperture setting on the lens.  I use the Aperture Priority setting for a majority of my manual lens shooting, though do find Speed Priority w/Auto ISO best for action shots.


 djp58's gear list:djp58's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-7 Sony Alpha a7R Sony E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS Sony FE 35mm F2.8 +13 more
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