Week 10, 2014: More on vintage lenses on modern cameras, Nikon AI lens conversion

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 10, 2014

I have two old 35mm cameras. One of them 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 DSLR camera body?

-Ron Sum

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 does not say “ix” on it. The Minolta Maxxum mount is the same as a Minolta or Sony DSLR mount. Any Minolta-branded DSLR body you may find would be quite old. Several years ago Konica-Minolta sold their camera assets to Sony, where the system lives on.

Since the original column about vintage lenses was published I have received several questions every day about whether old 35mm SLR lenses will work on new digital SLRs. I am going to list the manufacturers here and whether their 35mm lenses will work on digital SLR camera bodies.

In the 1980s there were are a few one-off cameras, such as a manual focus SLR cameras sold with a lens that had autofocus capability built-in to the lens. They are not covered here. There were also lots of less common manufacturers such as Ricoh, which used a Pentax mount, Leica R SLRs, which are extremely expensive and very uncommon, Japanese and German Contax SLRs, Miranda, Topcon, Praktika, and even Sears. I am going to refrain from mentioning them here 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 may 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, Pentax screw mount requires an adapter.) Nikon lenses require extra explanation. Nikon lenses 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.

Autofocus 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 have always loved the Micro Four Thirds system, and as of late I have become an even stronger advocate for it. Besides the compact size, speed, image quality, functionality, and the selection of over 50 lenses, the system was developed in the 21st century, and it shows. If you pick up one of the Olympus OM-D or Panasonic G and use it, then pick up a typical digital SLR and use it, you will quickly know which one is modern, and which one is adapted from the past.