The most common question I get about the Sony Alpha dSLRs is â€œCan I use Minolta lenses on the Sony Alpha dSLR?â€ The answer is, not surprisingly, â€œit depends.â€
Over a span of fifty-plus years, Minolta produced a dizzying array of optics. The company continued to pour its own glass, long after other camera manufacturers started to outsource their glass making. In addition to making lenses for photographers, Minolta produced optics for scientific, medical, and industrial needs. A lens may say Minolta on it, but that is no guarantee that the lens is appropriate for photographic use.
â€œI don’t care about that, I just want to know if my dad’s old Minolta lenses will fit my new Sony Alpha!â€
I understand, but the answer is still â€œit depends.â€ Fortunately, figuring out which Minolta lenses are compatible with the Sony mount is fairly straightforward, but there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about.
Minolta created a number of lens lines during its photographic manufacturing period. The early Minolta M43 Leica mount lenses were so well designed that Leica actually contracted Minolta to produce some of their optics. Minolta also produced lenses for its short-lived 110 SLR.
Three Distinct Lines of Minolta Lenses
In the last fifty years or so, the bulk of Minolta optics production was devoted to lenses in three major mount types:
- A-Mount autofocus lenses (1985 – 2006) which are fully Sony compatible
- SR and ROKKOR manual focus lenses (1958-2001), which can only be used on the Sony Alpha with an adapter
- Vectis autofocus lenses, which cannot be used on the Alpha
As you might expect, there are idiosyncrasies with certain lenses that could affect whether a specific lens is 100% compatible. The statements above, however, apply for the overwhelming amount of Minolta glass.
Let’s look at each lens mount in detail:
Minolta A-Mount lenses
Minolta introduced the A-mount in 1985, and with only a few slight variations, they continued to use the same mount for all their top-level SLRs and DSLRs until the Minolta photographic assets were sold to Sony. Although Sony has started to use the term Alpha mount to describe their dSLR lens system, it is really the old Minolta A-mount. Minolta A-lenses work on the Sony Alpha because Minolta originally designed the mount that Sony currently uses. Sony has beefed up the camera mount in its later offerings, but the lens mount itself is exactly the same as on an A-Mount Minolta. So all Minolta A-Mount lenses attach and operate perfectly on the Sony Alpha. There is no difference because the mounts are identical.
As I said, there are a few idiosyncrasies that affect some of the Minolta lenses. The biggest of these involves the power zoom lenses. When Minolta introduced the â€œiâ€ series film SLRs, they included a power zoom feature that allowed users to change the focal length of certain lenses by pressing a button. I’m not sure how useful an asset this was, but Minolta sold a ton of these lenses.
There are no power buttons or zoom motors on any Sony Alpha, or for that matter, any Minolta dSLR. So obviously, you can’t use the power zoom feature of the i lenses on these cameras. But that is the only limitation. These lenses attach to the Sony Alpha, just like any lens in the Sony catalog. Autofocus, auto exposure, and auto diaphragm all work perfectly. So does image stabilization. The only limitation is that there is no power zoom; you have to zoom manually. So technically, the i lenses are not 100% compatible with the Sony Alpha….but do you really care? For all practical purposes, the i optics work just fine.
Sony also indicates that Minolta DT lenses (designed to cover the APS-C sensor) may not work correctly on the full-frame A850 and A900. They do work as expected on the APS-C cameras that comprise most of the Sony dSLR lineup.
What about third-party A-mount lenses? Almost as soon as Minolta introduced the A-mount in 1985, lens makers like Tamron, Sigma and Vivitar started cranking out auto-focus optics to fit the new Maxxum AF cameras. So there are thousands, if not millions of non-Minolta, non-Sony A-mount lenses out there.
In theory, these lenses were designed to be compatible with the original Maxxum 7000. Minolta lenses for the Maxxum 7000 are fully compatible with the Alpha, so you would expect the third-party optics for the Maxxum to be usable on the Alpha.
In truth, most older third-party A-Mount lenses work beautifully on the Alpha. Unfortunately, some early third-party lenses don’t work correctly when attached to the Sony Alpha. Some manufacturers offer an upgrade program to convert older lenses to work on the Sony dSLR mount, but this involves time and expense.
If you are considering buying a third-party A-mount lens, I suggest that you check out the lens database at Dyxum. They have an entry for almost every A-mount lens in existence, including optics you probably never knew existed. The great thing is every lens is rated for sharpness, quality build, and general usefulness. You can check whether a third-party lens will work on the Alpha. In just a couple of minutes, you will have an idea if a particular lens is a dud or a bargain.
Minolta Rokkor lenses
Next up, you will run across millions of older Rokkor and SR mount lenses. Minolta cranked these out in great numbers before they introduced the Maxxum autofocus cameras in 1985. At one point, Minolta was churning out 30,000 lenses a month, and they did that for years.
What many photographers don’t realize is that Minolta kept many of the older Rokkor lenses in their catalog for years after introducing the Maxxum. As late as 2001, you could still buy a brand new X700 manual focus camera from Minolta, and they also offered many of the more popular Rokkor lenses to go with it.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, Minolta probably would have continued to use the Rokkor X-mount on the Maxxum cameras, but they couldn’t find the room to incorporate auto-focus into the Rokkor design. So they made the painful choice to abandon the old mount and create a completely new design for the autofocus cameras.
This means that you cannot attach a Rokkor lens directly to an A-Mount camera. The mounts are completely different, there is no compatibility.
Of course, Minolta realized that they had millions of existing customers with extensive collections of Rokkor lenses. These photographers were unlikely to adopt the new Maxxum models unless they could bring their older lenses with them. So Minolta designed an adapter that allowed Maxxum users to make use of Rokkor lenses. These adapters were actually in the form of a teleconverter, and for a long time were very expensive and difficult to find. More recently, a number of accessory manufacturers have responded to the need by offering inexpensive Minolta MA-MC adapters. I will delve more completely into MA-MC adapters in a later post in this series. The important thing is that the only way to mount a Minolta SR, MC, MD Rokkor style lens to the Sony Alpha is with an adapter. Unless you want to seriously modify the lens, which is another possibility I will discuss in another post.
Minolta Vectis Lenses
The final lenses you might run across in your search for used Minolta lenses are known as Vectis mount lenses. In the 1990s, Minolta developed a line of APS (Advanced Photo System) cameras they called the Vectis. Some of the Vectis models were fixed lens rangefinders, but Minolta also offered a Vectis SLR that offered interchangeable lenses. There was even a 3mpVectis dSLR known as the RD3000.
While Vectis lenses are not as common as the A-mount and X-Mount optics, you may still run across them on eBay, Craig’s List, pawnshops, and used camera vendors. They look quite similar to the A-mount lenses and many of them are marked with the Minolta logo.
Do not be fooled. Vectis lenses are not compatible with the Minolta A-mount and there is no way to use these optics on a Sony Alpha. When the Vectis SLR was introduced, Minolta announced they were creating an adapter that would allow photographers to use their existing A-mount lenses on the new Vectis cameras. As far as I can tell, the adapter was never put into production, so the A-mount and Vectis lenses are totally incompatible. Even if Minolta did actually produce the adapter, it was designed to attach A-mount lenses to Vectis cameras, so it would be no help in using Vectis glass on the Alpha models. I don’t know of any adapter that would mount a Vectis lens on the A-mount, and I doubt that there is sufficient interest in the V-mount optics that any third party will ever produce one.