In Part One we covered the ergonomics and specifications of the Sony a7R II. In this part we’ll cover adapters and still prime lenses. In later parts, we’ll cover cine primes and zooms as well.
Why would anyone use still primes for video? Here are some good reasons:
- They are (or were) designed to resolve great detail, so 4K is a piece of cake.
- They are cheap! With adapters you can use almost any still lens on an a7R II.
- They are easy to buy and maintain.
- They are light.
- You get lenses with wide apertures, like f/1.4 and so on.
If you’re on a budget but still demand great quality and are happy to live with the compromises, then I highly recommend still primes for the Sony a7R II.
Warning: Information and prices provided in this article and guide might be inaccurate or wrong, even if I have tried to be as accurate as possible without losing sanity. You are responsible for your own actions. Refer to manufacturers’ manuals and data for accurate information and prices.
The problem of plenty
The Sony a7R II has a full frame E mount, sometimes called the FE mount. The most revolutionary aspect of the Sony E mount is that its flange focal distance is one of the lowest possible for full frame sensors. This means, you can practically use any full frame lens on it, as long as there is a suitable adapter.
Here’s a comparison of various mounts compared to the E mount. We are comparing flange focal distance (FFD), aperture ring, image stabilization, adapters, replacement parts and whether or not the mounts offer a full range of prime lenses:
|Mount ~||FFD in mm||Ap. Ring||IS^||Adapter #||Replace /Parts^^||Full Range*|
|Sony E (FE)||18||No||No||No||E||No|
|Canon Manual FD||42||Yes||No||M||NE||Yes|
|Canon EOS EF||44||No||Yes||E||E||Yes|
|Minolta/ Sony A||44.5||No||No||E||E||Yes|
|Pentax K Manual||45.46||Yes||No||M||NE||Yes|
|Nikon F (D and G)||46.5||Yes (D)||Yes (G)||M (D), E (G)||E||Yes|
- ^Image Stabilization in lens
- ^^How hard is it to replace a lens or fix it with parts? E- Easy, NE-Not Easy, H-Hard and/or Expensive
- *A full range of prime lenses – from 21mm to 135mm in at least f/2.8
- **Most PL lenses are designed for Super35mm frames, and not full frame. Very few samples of the top-of-the-line Arri and Cooke lenses will cover a full frame sensor. There is also the problem of adapters (next section).
- #What kind of adapter will be required. M-Manual, E-Electronic for Aperture, Autofocus, etc.
- ~I’m not covering medium format lenses, though they are also acceptable. Examples include Contax/Yashica/Mamiya/Hasselblad/Fuji etc. The ‘problem’ with medium format is that the focal lengths and apertures don’t correspond to what people are used to normally. That, and the fact that these lenses will be heavier, without the equivalent aperture advantage, gives them an ergonomic disadvantage.
Problems with each mount summed up:
|Sony E (FE)||Full range of lenses not available|
|Leica M||Too expensive, no super wide options|
|Canon Manual FD||No IS option|
|Canon EOS EF||No aperture ring|
|Minolta/Sony A||No aperture ring|
|Pentax K Manual||No IS|
|Nikon F (D and G)||Have to choose IS vs aperture ring|
|Leica R||Too expensive|
|Arri PL||Very few full frame options|
Native Sony E mount lenses are too few to count. Here’s the Sony/Zeiss roadmap published last year for prime lenses in this mount:
As of this writing, we’re already half-way into 2015 and there’s no sign of the 135mm or the 21mm. Instead, Zeiss have released a new line, the Batis. It seems we must continue to wait for Sony lenses. Even when they arrive, there’s the matter of price. If the 55mm f/1.8 costs $998 how much will the 50mm f/1.2 cost?
Cost is also a factor for both Leica mounts, as well as the PL mount, and even the Sony A mount lenses (at least the newer ones). Leica M has one great benefit – the lenses are much smaller and lighter due to the smaller focal flange distance, but they don’t have ultra wide or telephoto options.
Now, if you already own prime lenses for any of the above mounts, you should purchase an adapter (next section) for that mount and get on with it. The lenses themselves have different characters, and are a matter of personal taste. I wouldn’t fault a single mount on any technicality, only convenience.
However, if you are building your kit from scratch, you should be extremely careful about selecting a set of prime lenses. After studying the above chart, my three top choices for a ‘kit’ are the EF mount, the FD mount and the Nikon F mount.
My personal favorite? My lenses are all for the Nikon F system. It is the only mount that ticks all boxes:
- You want aperture ring and image stabilization? No problem.
- You want to use cheaper lenses or more expensive ones? No problem.
- It has a flange focal distance that makes it adaptable to even Canon cameras if the need ever arises in the future.
- Great prime lenses are available for cheap. Thankfully, Nikon has hardly changed their SLR mount, and you’ll never have a shortage of lenses.
- Not only do Nikon primes come in all focal lengths, you have various choices of year (like wine!) and model.
- Adapters are a dime a dozen, though many of them were designed for the earlier a7 and a7r and might not work on the a7R II.
You won’t regret siding with Nikon on this one.
List of adapters for the Sony a7R II
Here is a list of adapters for each mount (for more information on judging quality of lens adapters, click here):
|Leica M||Metabones, Generic|
|Canon Manual FD||Metabones, Novoflex, Fotodiox, Generic|
|Canon EOS EF||Metabones, Commlite|
|Minolta/Sony A||LAEA3, LAEA4, Novoflex|
|Pentax K Manual||Fotodiox, Generic|
|Nikon F (D and G)||Metabones and Novoflex (G), Commlite|
|Leica R||Generic, Metabones, Novoflex|
- ^I’ve found that some cheap manual adapters for the Sony NEX (APS-C) mount might NOT work, so be warned. Also, cheaply machined adapters don’t have the mechanics to support heavier metal lenses. Finally, beware of light leaks and internal reflections.
- *If you need aperture control and auto focus, the adapters tend to get expensive and heavier. Don’t go for the cheapest adapter possible, that’s counter-productive.
- **There are few lenses that cover the full frame sensor. Generic adapters aren’t usually strong enough to withstand heavy PL lenses, so be extra careful. Look for the ones that say PL to FZ mount.
I prefer a good adapter like the Metabones G ($139) which comes with an aperture ring as well. Avoid the Speed Booster, it’s pointless, unless you’re shooting in APS-C mode. In that case, why bother with a full frame camera anyway?
Finally, I also don’t recommend FE lenses or the Zeiss Batis line. Not only do you have very limited lens choices, but the focus ring has a problem – they don’t turn uniformly if you vary the rate at which you turn the focus ring. This means you can’t rely on native FE lenses for focus pulling. If this is not an issue for you, go ahead. I will not recommend it.
Recommended prime lenses for the Sony a7R II
Here are recommended prime lenses from the Nikon stable:
The lenses marked in bold are my favorites. The ones in green are what I own. Don’t forget, you can buy many of these Nikon lenses used in great condition. I’ve only listed new prices.
One problem you’ll have to contend with is the differences in filter diameters. I’ll deal with that later.
Just in case all this is too much information, here’s a quick list:
- Cheap and cine-like: Samyang DS cine lenses
- Cheap and with lots of options: Nikon F (D series, with aperture rings)
- If you don’t like the Nikon look and don’t see so many options: the Sigma Art line
- High-end with options: Zeiss ZF.2
- The best: Zeiss Otus
In Part Three we will look at cine lenses and zoom lenses for the Sony a7R II.