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.

Sony A7 III – A Camera Review – Part 2

Two years ago, almost to the day, I did a review of my brand new Sony A7 III camera.  I was extremely enthusiastic about the capabilities of the camera and described how the autofocus and some of the other features compared to great advantage versus my previous camera, the Sony A7S.  Well, two years is definitely enough time to finish my review and provide my perspective on it.

First of all, for those who are unfamiliar with the saga of Sony buying Minolta, inheriting their digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera project and then almost immediately switching to a mirrorless system it is a tale of woe and of course I was at ground zero for the event.  In 2008 I was shooting with a Pentax DSLR.  It was a pretty good camera and fulfilled my modest needs.  But I read the reviews and knew that out there were new sensors that provided higher resolution and lower noise levels than I could achieve.  Also, I coveted the performance of the Canon and Nikon full frame professional cameras with their remarkable low light capability and the associated ecosystem of fabulous full frame lenses.  But their $8,000 price tags horrified me since at the time I was driving a car that cost me $2,000.  But then an amazing thing happened.  Sony came out with the A-850 DSLR and for $2,000 I could have a camera which had the same sensor as the Nikon D3X which cost over $7,000.  I jumped at the chance and bought it.  And it was a truly great camera.  It produced wonderful images and had a number of Minolta lenses and new Sony lenses that opened avenues for the kind of photography I was interested in.  Plus, Sony was a powerful electronics corporation that produced the best camera sensors and they promised that in the future the advances in low light capability and dynamic range would surpass what was possible with digital imaging and in fact would also surpass what film cameras could do.  At that time, it was still possible to say that the resolution for a film camera was higher than what a DSLR could produce.  This meant that when next year’s model exceeded the performance of my A-850 I could sell it and for a small premium buy the newer model.  All photographers know that over the long haul it’s the cost of the lens system that you acquire that anchors you to a camera brand.  And I went right to work buying very expensive lenses and accessories like a really good flash system.  I was happy in the knowledge that I was investing in a long-term relationship with the Sony full-frame DSLR system.  So, all was right with the world.

And then Sony pulled the rug out from under me.  They announced that they had made their last full frame DSLR and in fact they were preparing to end all DSLR models and move into a mirrorless market with a completely new lens mount and, by the way, no full frame option was on the horizon for the foreseeable future.  The horror, the horror.

After that point I considered switching over to Nikon or Canon.  But my A-850 was a glorious camera and I loved some of the lenses my system included.  So, I figured I’d wait and see.  After that the story is a long and painful affair that meanders through Sony introducing the hybrid DSLT (digital single lens translucent) technology which split the image through a translucent film and thereby losing at least a half stop of light.  And the NEX cameras with their abysmal autofocus which essentially turned me into a manual focus shooter.  All through this I held onto the A-850 because it was still a pleasure to us.  But as time went on the technology of digital imaging was leaving it in the dust.  Even my NEX camera could far surpass the A-850 in low light shooting.  And so, after flirting with some of the earlier A7 cameras I started using the A7S as my main camera and saved the A-850 for occasions when good autofocus was indispensable.  And that brings us up to the A7 III.  When I started using it, I was able to finally say I had a camera that exceeded the A-850 in every way.  And so, I finally sold off the A7S and the A-850 and some of the parts of the A-mount that I wouldn’t need any more and the rest is history.  But that was a solid decade of frustration from Sony.  Job ain’t got nothing on me.

So here is my report on the A7 III.

The Sony A7 III is a remarkable photographic tool.  It is a quantum leap over the A7 I and A7 II cameras in almost every way.  The biggest improvement over those earlier cameras is the autofocus.  All of the earlier iterations of the A7 cameras had seriously deficient autofocus.  One of the worst offenders was my A7S camera.  It was so bad that manual focus was really the only alternative if a critically sharp file was needed.  Some of the earlier A7 and A7R cameras were better than the A7S but none of them had truly competent autofocus.  The Sony A7 III autofocus gives you sharp pictures quickly and reliably.  The A9 professional camera has even better autofocus and I can only imagine that the A9 II must be even more fantastic.  But I don’t usually shoot sports or birds in flight so tracking autofocus isn’t something I use all the time and know how to rate easily.  Suffice it to say I no longer have the experience of looking at photos I took and finding that the pictures are out of focus.  One very useful feature that I believe Sony pioneered is “eye autofocus.”  When this mode is turned on the camera looks for a face and then focuses on the eyes.  For occasions and portraits that’s as good as it gets.

The next notable improvement of the A7 III over the earlier iterations is the larger battery.  The A9 and the A7 III series cameras got a bigger battery and it is night and day over the A7S.  With this earlier camera I bought three batteries just to make sure I wouldn’t get caught with an empty battery but even still I did run into trouble when I needed to take a lot of photos.  The new battery solves that problem completely.  I have gotten well over a thousand photos on one battery and it still had plenty of charge left.

In addition to these selling points the cameras has all the other features that a photographer hopes and expects to find in a modern enthusiast level stills camera.  It has a 24-megapixel sensor with low light capability that even exceeded the A7S for the ISO level at which it could produce a noise free image.  It has two memory slots. It has all kinds of customizable features to take advantage of effects of dynamic range and bracketing and various creative features plus a plethora of programming and tethering options to allow the camera to be controlled via a smart phone or laptop.  I have even managed to use remote control and a custom hack to allow the camera to perform focus stacking.

Okay, I’ve raved enough.  It’s a great camera.  It does everything I need it to do.  I don’t even want the A9 or the A9 II.  Even though I know they are even more advanced and contain even more in the way of customizable features, I don’t desire these cameras as an upgrade.  And this is the first time I could honestly say that about the Sony camera line in the last ten years of owning them.  And that goes for the A7 IV if it comes out any time soon.  I simply don’t need it or even want it.  Sure, I’m saying that sight unseen and maybe they can trigger my gear lust with some feature that I don’t currently have.  One thing that I would be interested in would be an in-camera focus stacking option like Olympus currently has.  That would save me from having to bring along a tethered laptop every time I want to do an outdoor focus stack.  But I’d almost expect if something like that is added to a later camera that Sony might retrofit the older cameras with it as a firmware update.

So, there it is.  The Sony A7 III is a great mirrorless camera with plenty of features and a very nice lens line up available from Sony and increasingly from the third-party lens makers like Zeiss and Sigma.  If you really need a completely pro version then upgrade to the A9 series with even more capability for sports.  But otherwise the A7 III is a great camera.  If you do happen to need more megapixels than the 24 in the A7 III then go with the A7R III or A7R IV.

Lens Review – Sony FE 100-400mm f\4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens – Part 1 – First Impressions

Sony’s 100/400 is listed as a GM or G Master lens.  That implies a premium or professional grade model.  I will attest it is a very well made lens.  It’s a metal construction unit and has plenty of heft to it weighing in at over three pounds.  Playing around with the autofocus I noted that the A7 III and the 100-400 are well matched and focus on distant and close objects quickly and accurately with no hunting.  And using a 400mm lens without a tripod (I used a monopod and sometimes handheld) I was impressed with how the image stabilization (IS) performed.  Using the A7 III’s magnified view on close objects without a tripod maximizes the shake observed through the viewfinder but with IS engaged I was very pleasantly surprised to find that once the trigger was half-pressed the shake disappeared.

I tested the lens out as a dragonfly and butterfly chaser.  Understand, it’s not a macro lens.  Maximum magnification is only about .3 but with the electronic magnification in use I can focus on the eye of an insect to perfect focus without a problem.

I like the rotating tripod collar.  It makes portrait shots easy and I used it to move the collar out of the way when I wanted to hand hold the lens.

And first impressions, the lens is very sharp from 100mm all the way to 400mm.  I’ve always been a prime lens snob.  But I have to admit that being able to zoom the lens to quickly frame the shot the way I want is very convenient and actually improved a number of my compositions.  The colors look good (as far as my color blind eyes can tell) with nice rendering of the flowers I’ve been shooting.  I’m very interested to see how the 1.4 and 2.0 teleconverters match up with this lens.  I want to shoot the 100-400 with them to have something to compare to the new Sony 200-600 lens that’s coming out soon.

And here’s a very unfair test of the lens.  This distance would have needed a 1200mm focal length to get any detail.

 

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

 

Sony Super-Telephotos Announced

Sony has just announced their new super telephoto prime (600mm f/4) and zoom (200 – 600mm f/5.-6.3).  Of course, the 600mm f/4 is completely outside of the budget of anyone except the wealthy or the dedicated professional photographer (~$13,000).  But the 200 – 600mm zoom is $2,000 which is possible.  What I’m thinking of doing is renting the 200 – 600 and the 100 – 400 zooms and using the Sony 1.4X and 2X teleconverters compare the quality of the images between the zooms.  After all, a 100 – 400mm zoom is a pretty useful thing whereas the 200 – 600 zoom is a beast.  Now, the 100 – 400 is actually $500 more expensive than the 200 – 600 so I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that the 100 – 400 could match the 200 – 600.  Either way it’ll be an interesting experiment.  The 200 – 600 comes out in August stay tuned.

 

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting