Full Guide on using Budget Manual Lenses

You just spent $1000+ on your new Sony A7 series full-frame DSLM and now you’re looking to expand your collection of lenses?
I was in the same position and after doing some research and discovering that I would have to drop another $1000 on the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 or close to $2000 on a Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM I quickly decided to abandon my plans. This was until I stumbled upon a much cheaper way of expanding my lens collection. A way that would get me a full set of 5 lenses for less than $500.
So read on if you’re on a budget but still want to buy some new glass for your mirrorless camera.

How to use cheap Lenses on a Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras have a bunch of advantages over DSLRs, they are smaller, lighter and offer an electronic viewfinder. However, one of the biggest advantages is that you have the possibility to select almost any manual lens ever made and use them with your mirrorless camera.

The reason for this is that the distance from the sensor to mount in a mirrorless camera is much shorter than in any of the DSLR systems. This enables you to mount almost any manual lens to a mirrorless camera by using an adapter. So there is plenty to choose from, ranging from

  • Nikon F
  • Canon FD
  • Canon EF to Leica M
  • Olympus OM or
  • Minolta MD

Especially with legacy lenses, you can get a bang for the buck, as the mounts are considered outdated.

Why should you make use of Manual Lenses and Adapters

For me, the price was the advantage and reason that brought me to manual lenses and also made me search for this possibility in the first place. However, this is not the only reason you would want to use manual lenses on your modern mirrorless system. So let’s take a closer look.

The range of choices

As mentioned before you can use almost any manual lens on your mirrorless camera. This gives you the ability to choose between thousands of lenses from very characteristic lenses to highest-quality lenses made for other mounts. As the DSLM market is rather small at the moment and there are not many native lenses available this is a great feature. For example, if you’ve just changed from your DSLR to a mirrorless camera you would only need to sell your old camera’s body while keeping your favorite lenses and buying a suitable lens adapter.

The learning curve

If you’ve never used a manual lens before you will definitely learn a lot. There is no autofocus, you will have to set the aperture manually and fiddle around with your camera’s modes. If you’re someone that never really touched manual mode, this is the chance to make some progress.

It’s cheap

Legacy lenses can be very, very cheap in comparison to native lenses. The Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 I’m using on my Sony A7 costs about $50 on eBay. I recently bought a Minolta MD 75-200mm f/4.5 for 20€ off eBay, with prices this low there’s no reason not to play around with new lenses and focal lengths. You can also easily resell your legacy lenses after using them, usually without any loss as they are basically not losing any value anymore if you take good care of them.

It’s fun

I really enjoy using legacy lenses and manually focusing. Trying out new things and reading up on lenses is quite interesting.

Why shouldn’t you make use of Manual Menses and Adapters

There still are some downsides to using manual/vintage lenses, depending on what type of photographer you are or what the subject is that you are shooting it might vary how they will affect you.

Everything has to be done manual

Of course, you’re learning a lot, but on the other hand, you should be aware that with manual lenses everything has to be done by yourself. Focusing manually can be a bit tricky at first, and in the beginning not all your shots will be perfectly in focus. Especially when shooting action manually focusing can be quite challenging. Thinking about setting the aperture and how it will affect the depth of field in your image is another thing that needs to be thought of. Some people enjoy this and some people don’t. If you’re not sure to which group you belong get yourself a $50 lens and a cheap adapter and try it out. You can still sell it without any loss if manual lenses are not for you.

Aberrations and Color Shift

Older lenses tend to produce more chromatic aberrations than modern lenses, the same goes for flare. With some cameras you can experience some color shifting when adapting wide angle lenses, trying the lens out in person with your own camera is recommended.

Adapters and where to find them

As you want to mount older lenses on your mirrorless camera you will need an adapter. The adapter ensures that the distance from your sensor to the mount of the lens is the same as the native distance. This means you will have to buy an adapter for the exact amount that you want to use, for my 50mm Canon FD f/1.4 I needed a Canon FD to Sony E-Mount/NEX adapter and for my Minolta 75-200mm f/4.5 a Minolta MD to E-Mount/NEX  adapter.

Some good adapters to start out are the Fotasy Adapters starting from $15, available on Amazon. For the beginning, every cheap adapter from Amazon will do it, just take a look at the customer reviews to be sure about the quality. If you start to shoot a lot with manual lenses you might consider buying more expensive adapters later on, Novoflex adapters seem to be a good pick if you’re willing to spend the money.

Focusing with Manual Lenses

Sony Alpha cameras offer some features that will help you a lot when trying to focus manual.

Focus Peaking

Focus peaking is a feature that helps you to manually focus by highlighting the areas that are in focus. When using this feature you will have to select a peaking color, you can choose between red, yellow and white. All areas that are in focus will now be highlighted in the color you selected before.

The downside is that in many images too much gets highlighted and I also find it distracting from time to time. If you’re taking a landscape shot for example where everything in the picture is in focus, the whole image will be highlighted in red/yellow/white.

Focus Magnifier/MF Assist

The Focus Magnifier is what I use most of the time, and it has to be one of my favorite features on Sony Alpha cameras. It’s not suitable for fast moving objects or action sports as it takes some more time, but it’s very accurate when you take your time.

In order to use it, you will have to turn it on in the settings, for a detailed description read this post. After turning it on you press a button (C1 by Default) and an orange rectangle will appear. You can now move the rectangle around and set it to the area of the image you want to have in focus. Press C1 again and the area will be magnified and you can now focus until the picture is sharp, by pressing C1 again you will get even more magnification.

What are the lenses I started with

If you already have an old lens, I would recommend starting with what you already own. This way you will only have to buy an adapter to see if manual lenses are for you. As I already had some old lenses for the Canon FD mount, I decided to start off with those. I quickly bought a 20€ Telephoto lens, just because it was so cheap. So here are the 3 lenses I started out with.

Canon FD 50mm f/1.4

This was the kit lenses of the Canon AE-1 Program and Canon A-1 Cameras. I love the lens and also the image quality. With F/1.4 it’s also a great lens to get some shallow DOF shots. At around $50 it is also very affordable and in my opinion a good lens to start out with.

If you’re interested: check prices on ebay.com | Check prices for the fitting adapters

Soligor 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5

A very affordable Zoom lens that also offers a Macro function. I read mixed reviews about it, it seems like Soligor rebranded lenses from various manufacturers while making this lens. So it could be a lottery to get a good one, however, for the low price, I think you could give it a go.

If you’re interested: check prices on ebay.com | Check prices for the fitting adapters

Minolta MD 75-200mm f/4.5

Very affordable price and a great telephoto lens, in my opinion, nothing to lose with a 20€ investment. I would definitely buy it again.

If you’re interested: check prices on ebay.com | Check prices for the fitting adapters


I hope this post gave you some valuable insights and ideas for your mirrorless camera. If you are unsure whether manual lenses are for you after reading this, I can only recommend to give it a try. The worst that can happen is losing about $20 bucks after reselling the gear.