Sony E-mount

Go native or use adapted lenses?

One of the many reasons why people are switching to Sony is the ability to use almost any lens on the camera. But are there any drawbacks to this? Isn’t it better to go all native with your lenses on the Sony system?
I had a look into this with the Zeiss line-up, because I had some issues and questions about the use of non-native lenses on the Sony A7RII.

Find out by testing

The best way to find the answers is to test the lenses

After asking some questions about my current leses, I got the opportunity to test different lenses on the Sony A7RII. The lenses that I had with me were the Zeiss Loxia / Zeiss Batis and the Zeiss Milvus. I've taken pictures with the lenses and compared them on my computer. Want to see the results?

Find out

The lenses used

Zeiss
Batis

Full Frame | Autofocus | For Sony E-Mount

Professional full-frame AF lenses for mirrorless system cameras from Sony.

Zeiss
Milvus

Full Frame | Manual Focus | For Canon EF-Mount | For Nikon F-Mount

Lenses that unleash the performance of high resolution cameras.

Zeiss
Loxia

Full Frame | Manual Focus | For Sony E-Mount

Compact, full-frame MF lenses for mirrorless system cameras from Sony.

Why and how to use adapted lenses.

The why can be quite obvious. If you are switching from an other brand (like I did from Nikon) you have a bag full of lenses and you don’t want to invest a lot of money right away. You can use your Nikon, Leica, Canon, etc mount lenses with an adapter on the Sony.
But here is the thing. Those adapters can be quite expensive and not all are equally good. If you, like me, use only manual focus lenses it’s easy. Novoflex has some great adapters which you can use and they are not that expensive. But you won’t have auto focus and the camera exif will be pretty empty because there is not data from the lens available. When you want to use your auto focus and get more exif data, the adapters get quite expensive.
€400/$400 is easily spend if you want a good adapter for your lens to work on a Sony body.

So it is possible but you will have to pay for the adapters. On the other hand…. If you decide to sell all of your current lenses and go all native, you have to pay as well. So it all depends on the amount of money you are willing to spend.

But are there any drawbacks to using non Sony lenses on the Sony body?

I use my Zeiss and Samyang lenses on the Sony A7RII and it works fine (with one exception, but we come to this in a minute). I know a lot of photographers are using their Canon lenses with an adapter on the Sony bodies and are quite happy with that combination.
The only problem lies with the high quality wide angle lenses which can get you into trouble.

When I use the Milvus 21mm on the Sony, my corners get really soft and not in focus any more. The same applies when you use wide angle Leica lenses on the Sony body. The “problem” with these lenses is that they are so extremely fine tuned to the body on which they are supposed to work to achieve that amazing image quality.
The sensor of the Sony camera’s is a bit different and thus the light beams are not going where they are supposed to go. This only happens with wide angle lenses. It’s a bit of an easy explanation but this is the problem in a nutshell.

From my experience anything from 35mm and up doesn’t have this problem.
When you use less high quality lenses the problem isn’t as obvious. For instance when I use my Samyang 12mm fisheye, I don’t have such a big difference with the image borders becoming soft. I guess the image circle the lens produces is wide enough, while with the high quality lenses it’s more precisely fine-tuned for the sensory it is made for.

Why use native lenses?

When you were looking for some good Sony native lenses a year or 2 years back there wasn’t a lot to choose from. You had the Sony-Zeiss and Zeiss lenses which where good, but most photographers just choose to use their adapted lenses. Since last year Sony stepped up their game and made some good GM lenses.
Zeiss keeps updating their native Sony line-up, the Batis and Loxia lenses with new models.

The advantages are numerous.

  • Smaller lenses
  • Full exif data
  • Auto-focus
  • Make full use off all the features the body gives you

To start with the first one, smaller lenses.

A much heard reason to switch to Sony is because of the Weight and Seize of the camera and lenses. Although the high end lenses still can get quite heavy (almost as much as their DSLR sisters) most lenses can be smaller indeed. When this is your biggest reason to go for a Sony camera, you should definitely have a look at the Zeiss Loxia line-up. These lenses are small, bring you great image quality, are weather sealed and give you the freedom of manual focus.

When seize isn’t the main concern the Zeiss Batis lenses are a great choice. They are light, weather sealed, give superior image quality and have auto focus plus a distance scale in the OLED display on top of the lens. The Zeiss Batis also features a fast and accurate Auto Focus.

So when you decide to use native Sony E mount lenses, you can truly start using all features of your camera, travel light, use lenses that are made to meet the high pixel camera quality and keep the seize of your kit small. I personally love it to be just on the road with my messenger bag filled with lenses and my camera without the need to stop every half an hour because you need some pauze because of the weight of your bag.

Ok but now show me some examples!

I can give you all the information you need, but an image is always the best way to show you the differences.
These images are made from exactly the same point on a tripod and are made with the Zeiss Milvus 2.8/21, Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 and the Zeiss Batis 2.8/18

One of the first things that I saw after I had imported the images into Lightroom is that the images taken with the Zeiss Milvus are a bit warmer than the images taken with the other 2 lenses. So when all image data is available the AWB works better.
A second thing that stood out is the corner sharpness between the Milvus and the other 2 lenses.

I started with the Milvus 21mm on my Nikon and I really love that lens. It renders the images super sharp, with lovely micro contrast and they have a punch right out of camera. It is the lens that I used almost all the time. I really love working with it. But on the Sony the lens gives me soft corners and I have to crop into the frame to get rid of the edges of the frame. This is something that I have to take into account when I’m shooting with the Milvus 2.8/21.

The image quality of the much smaller Loxia 2/21 really amazes me. It comes very close to the Milvus and measures only 1/3 of the Milvus. The only drawback to me is the fact that the smaller lens also means smaller filters and my kit is build for big lenses.

Center sharpness is really good on both the Zeiss Loxia 21mm  (left) and Zeiss Milvus 21mm + Novoflex adapter (right)

Corner sharpness of the Zeiss Loxia 21mm (left) and Zeiss Milvus 21mm + Novoflex adapter (right).
As you can see there are problems in the corner of the frame with the Zeiss Milvus 21mm.

The Batis also comes close to the Milvus in regard to image quality. It’s a fantastic lens and is super light. I had it with me to Iceland and I love the images it gives me and also to be able to choose between manual focus and auto focus.

There is only one thing that I truly dislike about the Sony system and some E mount lenses and that is the on the fly focus. The digital focus is something I really hate. You have no clue where the focus is when you just pick up the camera and turn your focus ring.

With conventional lenses (and the Loxia as well !! ) you have a manual focus ring which has hard stops at the minimal focus distance and at infinity. When I pick up such a lens I immediately know where my focus is when I turn the ring. The advantage of the Zeiss Batis to this regard is the added OLED screen in which you can see the focus distance.

I also have a 24-70/f2.8 GM Sony lens and it doesn’t feature a distance scale or OLED screen. I have to turn the focus ring and just see what happens. It might be something to get used to but I highly prefer the focus ring with hard stops as found on the manual focus lenses.

Zeiss Milvus 2.8/21mm

Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21mm

Zeiss Batis 2.0/18mm

Above you can find 3 images made from exactly the same point.
In lower resolutions you won’t see a lot of difference but at 100% (as you could see earlier) there is a slight drop off sharpness on the wide angle non native lens.
There are also problems with the Leica wide angle lenses on the Sony system, where the corners get less sharp.

Below is an image made with the Zeiss Milvus 2.0/135mm APO Sonar + Novoflex adapter on the Sony A7RII and as you can see, there is no sign of any unsharp corners. This lens performs amazingly good on the Sony system.

Zeiss Loxia example images.

For a more in depth view of the Zeiss Loxia please read my Zeiss Loxia 2/35mm review

Zeiss Batis 18mm example images

Zeiss Milvus 21mm + Novoflex adapter example images

Zeiss Milvus 135mm + Novoflex adapter example images

For a more in depth view of the Zeiss Milvus 2/135mm you can read my Zeiss Milvus 2/135 APO Sonnar Review

Conclusion

When using wide angle lenses I would prefer to use native Sony E mount leses like the Zeiss Batis and Zeiss Loxia. Also if you would like to keep the seize and weight of your kit small, I’d suggest to  go for the Zeiss Loxia, as these lenses are really small and give you the Zeiss image quality. (See my Loxia review)

When seize doesn’t matter that much to you it doesn’t really matter which way you go when you use lenses above 35mm and don’t need the AF capabilities of the Sony.I have the Milvus 2.0/135 with a Novoflex adapter on my Sony and I truly love that combination! A high quality performing lens on a great body.
On the other hand, with the Zeiss Batis 135mm you would have the ability to use auto focus so it’s really a personal preference.

When using Sony E mount lenses on the Sony system you can truly use all features of the camera, like Eye AF. An other thing to think about is the EXIF data. When using E mount lenses, you get all the EXIF data in your file. This might help you to sort your library or to see how you took the photo afterwards.
When you rely on features like these I highly recommend to get E mount lenses like the Zeiss Batis or Zeiss Loxia.

It’s not that it is completely impossible to work with wide angle lenses, like the Zeiss Milvus, on the Sony system via an adapter.
You just have to take care of how to frame your image because it is possible that the corners get less sharp. It also depends on the subject and f stop that you are using. If you are taking photo’s at f/2.8 the corners don’t matter that much and you won’t really notice any difference.

I hope you have enough information to make the right decision what lenses you should get.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comments!

Martijn.Kort

Martijn.Kort

Fine art photographer focusing on architecture and cityscapes as well as capturing unique moments from the cockpit. Writing about photography techniques and sharing reviews. Ambassador for both ZEISS Netherlands and Nisi Filters.If you like my work, consider following me on Instagram!

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