Having a Sony NEX camera (see my post about getting the NEX-6) has done for me what I hoped it would. I have a camera that I can fit in my coat pocket, that can take photos that are as good as I could take with my Nikon D90. Not in all situations, and not all the same types of photos, but it does 90% or more of what the Nikon did, without needing a backpack to carry it.

Spending time lurking on the DPReview Sony NEX forum has had one effect I didn’t expect, though. A sudden interest in old ‘legacy’ lenses. Adapters are available to mount lenses of the ‘wrong’ type on a few different cameras, but a couple of things make the NEX exceptionally good for this:

  • Short Flange-back Distance. The distance from the flange (the ring the lens mounts on to, on the front of the camera) to the actual sensor, is very short. The sensor is right there at the front of the camera. On a DSLR, there has to be room for the mirror between them, so it’s much further back. That means a DSLR lens is designed to be mounted further from the sensor. That extra space is, quite usefully, plenty of room for an adaptor to fit between the camera and the lens. With the right adaptor, it’s possible to fit almost any type of DSLR lens on the NEX.
  • Focus Peaking. This is an interesting feature that I haven’t seen anywhere other than the NEX. When you manually focus, it monitors for any areas of high contrast, which must be in focus, and highlights them in yellow (or red or white if you prefer). Because legacy lenses with adapters generally have to be focussed manually, this makes life much easier. Focussing on most small cameras, especially with only electronic viewfinder or screen, is difficult. The NEX makes things sparkle in yellow when they’re in focus, so it’s much easier.

So far, I have an adapter for my old Nikon lenses, which I’ve tested with my 35mm f1.8, 18-200 and my Lensbaby kit. All work well. It’s reasonably easy to get good focus, even with the 35mm wide open and quite close, with tiny depth of field. I’ve now started bidding on cheap old lenses of various types on eBay, and buying converters to mount them on the NEX. Old M42 screw-mount lenses look like great bargains, and a couple of cheap tatty ones should be on the way to me soon to play with.

I’m not convinced yet that I’ll want to use legacy lenses on the NEX most of the time, but it certainly seems like fun to try, and a great way of getting some useful lenses cheap.