Auto-Focusing Motorless A-Mount Lenses on the Sony E-Mount Cameras – 10APR2021 Update

Up until last year the only way to auto-focus motorless A-mount lenses on the A7 and higher e-mount cameras was with the LA-EA4 adapter that Sony sold.  And it had a translucent mirror built into the adapter to provide autofocus points to control the autofocus of the lens on the camera.  This had several difficulties.  One was the translucent mirror itself which acts as a beam splitter and wastes 30% of the image light to the autofocus function.  And because it uses the adapter’s autofocus system instead of the camera’s, all the advances in autofocus that have accrued over the time that the E-mount cameras have evolved are unavailable when using the LA-EA4.  In other words the autofocus is very limited.

But in 2020 Sony launched the LA-EA5 adapter with the ability to autofocus motorless lenses through the camera’s autofocus system and without the beam-splitter in the light path.  This was a marvel when it was announced and there was great rejoicing among the owners of old but sharp Minolta and Sony A-mount glass.  But because it is Sony we’re talking about, they had to make it a tragedy.  They only programmed the adapter to provide this capability for three cameras, the A7R IV, the A1 and the APSC camera the A-6600.  I have since attempted several times to contact Sony to determine if they will update their firmware to let this adapter work for my camera, the A7 III.  Of course, they have completely ignored my requests.

But there is one other option.  If you have an LA-EA4 adapter you can purchase a third-party kit from China to replace the firmware on this old adapter, remove the translucent mirror and use it to auto-focus these motorless lenses with any of the Sony E-mount cameras.  Gary Friedman has been an E-mount expert user since the mount was invented and he writes how-to books about their cameras.  He has produced a couple of YouTube videos on this subject.  One demonstrates how to modify the LA-EA4 and install the Chinese autofocus firmwareThe other demonstrates the way both the LA-EA5 and the hacked LA-EA4 focus with various Minolta lenses.  It is valuable to know that even with the LA-EA5 and a compatible camera the speed of the autofocus is much slower than with E-mount lenses.  And the autofocus with the Chinese firmware on the LA-EA4 is very uneven.  It starts and stops several times to reach a focus point.

I have an LA-EA4 and after seeing the video I am considering doing the retrofit myself.  It costs about $200 which is about the cost of the adapter I think but I am intrigued with the thought of being able to autofocus my Minolta 200mm f4 macro and Sony 135 f1.8 A-mount lenses.  I guess that sort of makes me some kind of a fanatic but Sony leaves me no choice.  When I buy and install the firmware, I’ll do some tests and post them for the curious.

19FEB2021 – Comments on Sony’s Latest Full Frame Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC)

Looking back on my older photography posts I discover that in April I will have had my Sony A7 III camera for three years.  I think this is a good time to review what I think about the recent progress that Sony has made and where the A7 III and my photographic needs stand.

First off, the A7 III is a wonderful camera.  It produces images that I never could have imagined possible ten years ago when I started using the Sony mirrorless cameras.  When I moved from my Sony A-850 DSLR to the NEX mirrorless cameras it was incredibly disappointing.  The autofocus didn’t deserve the name.  It was manual focus or nothing.  The battery life was laughable and the viewfinder was pretty sad.  I could get some good results from it, even results indoors that I might not be able to get with my DSLR but frustration was a constant part of the Sony photographic experience.    If I knew then how long it would take Sony to reach the A7 III level of capability I probably would have bitten the bullet and moved on to Canon or Nikon.  But I didn’t and now finally I am truly pleased with the system.  Sure, there are still some quibbles, I wish the LAEA5 adapter would allow me to autofocus my mechanical autofocus A-mount lenses with the A7 III but that is just that, a quibble.  If I wanted, I could buy an A7R IV or an A9 and get that functionality but that would be kind of crazy from my point of view.  So here I am with a very good digital camera and a chance to compare it to the newer Sony models.  After all, the A7 III is a generation before the IV series and a notch down from the professional A9’s and two notches down from the flagship A1.  So here are my thoughts.

Back when the Sony A9 first came out I was curious to see what the advantages of such a camera would be.  I rented it and gave it a tryout.  What I found was that it was a sports camera and the A7 III was not.  I know that was what it was touted as but it wasn’t apparent until I had it in hand just how inadequate the A7 III was for things like tracking autofocus or just how inadequate the file buffer was.  The A9 was light years ahead of my camera.  And even the autofocus I typically used for macro shots of insects and birds was more precise and faster and had additional capability that my camera lacked.  For instance, the A7 III can stay in magnified view when focusing repeatedly on a subject that I’m getting ready to capture.  But once the shot is taken it returns to unmagnified view.  The A9 can stay in magnified view indefinitely for shot after shot.  That is a great advantage.

So, the A9 has capability that I do wish I had.  But image-wise I think the A7 III files are at least as good as the A9 files.  There has been an A9 II update a few years back.  I haven’t tried it out.  From what I’ve read the improvements are part of the autofocus upgrades and allow for even better sports and wildlife action shooting.  I’m sure it’s very capable but once again the sensor hasn’t progressed in terms of high ISO capability.  In fact, based on the DXOMARK testing the A7 III still has the highest ISO rating of any full frame camera on the market.

Recently Sony came out with a $6,500 flagship camera, the A-1.  From what I understand it is an even more miraculous sports camera than the A9 series.  It has a ridiculously large writing buffer and can take thirty shots per second or something obscene like that.  But its sensor is not rated to a higher ISO rating.  It does have a 50-megapixel sensor.  But that also means you get 50+ megabyte file sizes which is starting to get cumbersome.  Maybe someday I’ll try it out just for laughs but that price tag is outrageous.

So here I am.  Other than my camera not being able to autofocus my two favorite a-mount lenses, the Sony 135mm f1.8 lens and the Minolta 200mm f4 Macro, I really don’t need any of the new cameras.  Even the new Sony A7S III really doesn’t interest me.  I’m not a videographer and its high ISO numbers surprisingly still don’t match the A7 III.  This was a bit of a shocker for me.  The A7S series is supposed to have the best low light sensitivity of all the A7 line.  But apparently the video improvements are what drove the new model and high ISO was left as is.

If I were a sports and wildlife photographer then the A1 or at least the A9 II would be the cameras I wanted.  If I was a purely landscape guy then the A1 or the A7R IV would provide me with the resolution I crave.  If I was a videographer and I didn’t want a full-blown video camera I’d be looking at the A7S III.  But I’m just a general-purpose photographer that does some landscape and some macro and a little bit of wildlife and no video.  So, all of those other cameras are overkill and sometimes inferior for my needs.

For yourself this review might help point you in the direction of which Sony full frame ILC is right for you.

Photography – Sony – Sony Launches the LAEA5 A-Mount to E-Mount Adapter

There is a small community of photographers who were Minolta and Sony SLR users that still have some very good a-mount glass that they currently cannot use satisfactorily with their E-mount Sony cameras.  These are the lenses that use the old-style screwdriver autofocus connection.  These lenses lack any internal motor of their own.  Currently the only way to use these lenses is with the LA-EA4 adapter that does not use the camera autofocus but has a limited number of autofocus points in the adapter.  Not only that, this adapter uses a beam splitter called a translucent mirror that throws away a third of the light that goes through the lens.

 

I have been waiting forever for Sony to come up with this adapter.  When I was told about the launch of the LA-EA5 it felt like Christmas coming early.  I have been dying to use the Sony 135mm f\1.8 and Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lenses with the autofocus of the A7 III but didn’t think Sony would do this great thing.  But as with all things in life there is always a catch.

If you read the fine print you discover that the lenses without motors only have this autofocus capability on two cameras.  The A7R IV and the A6600 are the latest full frame and half frame cameras in the Sony line up (excluding the professional A9 cameras) and I guess Sony figured it would be easier starting with those cameras.  What I am hoping is Sony will come up with a firmware update for my A7 III to allow me to take advantage of this marvelous present for A-mount lens owners.

I plan to rent the LA=EA5 and the A7R IV and try out the combination with my 135mm and 200mm A-mount lenses to see how good the autofocus is.  If this works out it will be an exciting move by Sony.  After all supporting these old lenses is a low return investment from the point of view of finance but it does demonstrate a smart public relations move for a camera maker attempting to win over the public.

So for any of you A-mount lens owners out there, keep the faith a little longer.  To be continued.