Sound Advice: Older lenses aren't always compatible with new digital cameras

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2014 - 1:45 PM
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Lenses for older cameras, such as the Minolta QTSi Maxxum, don’t always work with digital cameras.

Q: I have two old 35-millimeter cameras. One is a Nikon Pronea-S camera with a Nikon AF Nikkor 70-300mm 4-5.6 lens. The other is a Minolta QTSi Maxxum with an AF Zoom 70-210 4.5-5.6 lens. Can I use either of these lenses on a new digital SLR camera body?

A: The Nikon Pronea-S was an APS film camera, not a 35mm camera, but the lens will fit on a Nikon DSLR body as long as the lens doesn’t say “ix” on it. The Minolta Maxxum mount is the same as a Minolta or Sony DSLR mount. Any Minolta-branded DSLR body you might find would be quite old. Several years ago, Konica-Minolta sold its camera assets to Sony, where the system lives on.

Since my recent column about vintage lenses was published, I’ve received several questions every day about whether old 35mm SLR lenses will work on new digital SLRs. I’m going to list the manufacturers and whether their 35mm lenses will work on digital SLR camera bodies.

In the 1980s, there were a few one-off cameras, such as a manual-focus SLR sold with a lens that had autofocus capability built-in to the lens. They’re not covered here. There also were many less common manufacturers such as Ricoh, which used a Pentax mount, Leica R SLRs, which are extremely expensive and rare, Japanese and German Contax SLRs, Miranda, Topcon, Praktika and even Sears. I’m going to refrain from mentioning them and limit it to the “big five,” which are Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus and Pentax.

The list will only tell you if the lenses will mount and not their functionality, so all of the features of the digital SLR might not work with the older lenses. More modern lenses have electrical contacts that communicate with the camera to enable these features, and features are always added as time goes on.

Manual-focus 35mm lenses: Canon, no; Minolta, no; Nikon, yes; Olympus, no; Pentax, yes. (K mount Pentax lenses mount directly, while Pentax screw mounts require an adapter.) Nikon lenses need extra explanation. A Nikon lens will mount if it is AI, AI-S or a lens with AI modification. Non-AI Nikon lenses work on some, but not all, Nikon digital SLRs. You can look up your camera at www.aiconversions.com and see if it will work with non-AI lenses.

Auto-focus 35mm lenses: Canon, yes; Minolta, yes (with a Minolta or Sony DSLR body); Nikon, yes; Olympus, no; Pentax, yes.

I still recommend starting over with new lenses, rather than recycling 30-year-old lenses, no matter what system you use. Even so, most digital SLR systems use the old 35mm body form factor and mounts because it was expedient and cost-effective for the manufacturers to do so.

I’ve always loved the Micro Four Thirds system. Lately, I’ve become an even stronger advocate for it. Besides the compact size, speed, image quality, functionality and the selection of more than 50 lenses, the system was developed in the 21st century, and it shows.

If you pick up and use one of the Olympus OM-D or Panasonic G Micro Four Thirds systems and then pick up and use a typical digital SLR, you will quickly know which one is modern and which one is adapted from the past.

Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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