Back to the Wild Life!

After years of concentrating heavily on wildlife photography I took the decision in 2018 to move away from this genre of photography and concentrate on landscape photography with some candid/street photography thrown in for good measure. It was at this time I made the switch to Sony with the Sony A6000 and then moving on to the full frame A7ii.

Red Fox - Sony A7ii, Sigma 100-400

Red Fox - Sony A7ii, Sigma 100-400

All the decisions I took at the time where re-enforcing my position of moving away from wildlife photography, the A7ii in particular is a full frame sensor so would lose me any advantage of reach provided by a crop sensor. Now I do not regret my switch to Sony as I love the system, however, i recently found that when out with the camera I would still find myself getting pulled on occasion towards wildlife shots that might present themselves. In particular when on holiday in the Scottish Borders there happened to be many opportunities to photograph Red kites had I had a suitable lens to do so.

I came back from that holiday with a problem. I wanted the ability to shoot some wildlife but had to find a lens within my budget that would do the job. I also wanted the lens to double up as my telephoto landscape lens so that probably ruled out anything too big. As you can imagine this is not an easy task. The Sony E mount system does not have the lens depth from third party manufacturers that Canon and Nikon does, consequently the native lens which fit the bill, the Sony 100-400 GM retails for around two thousand five hundred pounds. At this stage I didn’t see this as an option.

After months of looking at every option available, and I mean every option (see list below)

Canon 100-400 mk1 with adaptor (slow autofocus if it worked at all)

Canon 100-400 mk2 with adaptor (as expensive as the native Sony with adaptor cost)

Tamron 150-600 with adaptor (perhaps too big for landscapes, autofocus performance?)

Sigma 150-600 with adaptor (same issues as above)

Sigma 120-400 with adaptor (contacted Sigma old lens not sure would work with adaptor)

Tamron 100-400 with adaptor (possible)

Sigma 100-400 with adaptor (possible)

As you can see I explored a number of possibilities. In the end I went with the Sigma 100-400 and sigmas own MC-11 adaptor. I think the reason I went for this over the Tamron was down to the fact that the adaptor is considerably cheaper than the equivalent metabones, and being from the same manufacturer and designed to work and be up-gradable with firmware, it gave me a little more confidence that the two would work well together.

Performance so far?

I have to say that so far the lens and adaptor combination is working a real treat on the Sony A7ii. Image quality has been fantastic which is the main issue you worry about. There are a few points I will raise which are in no way a criticism but more an understanding that with any lens there are issues you have to work around to get the best performance.

Brown Hare - Sony A7ii Sigma 100-400

Brown Hare - Sony A7ii Sigma 100-400

  • Autofocus performance. This is not the fastest when the lens is set to focus over the full range. I combat this by preparing in advance if I can and switching to 6m-infinity or 1.6-6m. This speeds the process up and is a method you can use on most occasions. I have had a few instances where the lens has just failed to focus but this is rare and I have remedied by re-focusing on something else before moving back to the original subject.

  • Lens Construction/Ergonomics. For the price this lens feels very solid, not on a par with the native 100-400 but certainly much better than something like the Tamron 150-600 which I have also owned and incidentally also took excellent images. the biggest issue I have found is the lack of a tripod mount. As one of my uses for this lens is to be able to shoot telephoto landscape images this is almost essential. I also really find the tripod foot is an invaluable carry handle when out shooting wildlife. Luckily I did my research before getting the lens and these can now be bought as third party items. I have yet to get this delivered but I will update this post when its arrived and in use.

  • Maximum Aperture. At 400mm the maximum aperture of the lens is F6.3 so it falls a little behind some of the competitors that tend to be slightly wider at F5.6. Because the Sony A7ii has such a fantastic ISO performance I have not found this an issue. As a photographer I have just adjusted a shot that i previously took at ISO320 to ISO400.

  • Reach. I suppose this was always going to be a challenge for me having come over from a cropped sensor camera to full frame. But I did not want to go for a longer lens for a number of reasons. As stated earlier I also needed the lens to double up as my telephoto landscape lens so the 100-400 range fitted the bill nicely. I also wild camp with the camera equipment so size and weight is also an issue. It is a compromise but one i am willing to live with and one with a possible solution.

  • The Future. As I indicated above I do have a plan that I think will give me everything I need to make this system perfect for my needs. As is often the case it involves the purchase of more kit, so whats on the cards, well I am looking at the possibility of getting a Sony A6300 to use as a backup. This will work with all my current lenses and with the added advantage of a crop sensor giving me extra reach if I need it for certain wildlife situations. I can also use the camera for vlogging when my youtube channel gets back up and running in the autumn.

Toad -Sony A7ii, Sigma 100-400. Reasonable Macro capability.

Toad -Sony A7ii, Sigma 100-400. Reasonable Macro capability.

In conclusion I think this lens is capable of providing pin sharp images with fair if not dazzling autofocus performance. For me it does everything i need it to do and will become part of a pretty perfect setup. As with all equipment it is a balancing act of compromise and using your knowledge and skill as a photographer to work around those little eccentricities that all lenses have. As always your comments are welcome and I would be particularly happy to hear from other photographers using this combination and there thoughts on its performance.

The Sony A7ii and Legecy Lenses.

So you spend a thousand pounds on a Sony A7ii mirrorless camera and then stick a fifty pound piece of glass off Ebay on the front. Can that really make any sense? Is it really possible to use old glass on a modern camera and get stunning results or are you throwing good money after bad? Well being the thrifty sort I set out to find out.

I bought my Sony A7ii earlier this year (2018) Already you can see my leanings towards saving money by not forking out on the already released A7iii. For years before I had an association with Canon apart from a brief fling with Nikon. My attraction to Sony, apart from this being my first full frame camera and the stunning results I was seeing from other photographers came from the whispers I heard that the Sony was really rather good when used with old lenses pre the year 2000. Lenses that where predominately designed for film cameras. Obviously I wanted more proof so started doing my own research. It was obvious fairly early on that it was a mixed picture and as I dug deeper into the forums some clear favourites started to come out.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, after all nothing really changes. Today we have new premium lenses that are soon labelled as awful while others which are at the budget end are suddenly very difficult to get hold of as photographers rush to grab a copy as multiple photographers sing there virtues.

By examining the forums I was able to come up with a few lenses that I thought would work well with my new camera. I had purchased the camera with the very expensive Sony 24-70 but I wanted a lens to use as my zoom tele-landscape lens as well as a couple of primes to keep things interesting.

From Left to right. Minolta 70-210AF (The Beer Can), Pentax SMC M 135mm F3.5, Pentax SMC M 50mm F1.7.

From Left to right. Minolta 70-210AF (The Beer Can), Pentax SMC M 135mm F3.5, Pentax SMC M 50mm F1.7.


Initially I was going to go with the Canon 70-200 F4 non IS but this was going to cost £300 and for a lens this price I would want to use it's autofocus so I could add another £100 for an adaptor. This was hardly keeping to my cheap legacy lens formula. So, going back to the drawing board and the forums it looked promising for two lenses. These where the old manual Canon 70-200 or the Minolta AF 70-210 (affectionately known as the "beer can") Well it was the beer can reference that swung it and I managed to pick one up off Ebay for the bargain price of £27 and with the cheap manual adaptor from Beschoi that came to an impressive £37.

To try out a couple of lenses on the prime side I plumped for a Pentax M 135mm F3.5 and a Pentax 50mm F1.7. Both these would use another Beschoi adaptor and the lenses where both under £30.

Right now for the technical stuff! Lens Specifications.

Minolta AF 70-210 F4

  • Build Quality - Very Good

  • Optical Configuration - 12 Elements in 9 Groups

  • Aperture - 7 Blades

  • Minimum Focus - 1.07m

  • Filter Size 55mm

  • Min F Stop - F/32

  • Weight - 693g

Pentax SMC M 135mm F3.5

  • Build Quality - Very Good

  • Optical Configuration - 5 Elements in 5 Groups

  • Aperture - 8 Blades

  • Minimum Focus - 1.50m

  • Filter Size - 49mm

  • Min F Stop - F/32

  • Weight - 270g

Pentax SMC M 50mm F1.7

  • Build Quality - Excellent

  • Optical Configuration - 6 Elements in 5 Groups

  • Aperture - 6 Blades

  • Minimum Focus - 0.45m

  • Filter Size - 49mm

  • Min F Stop - F/22

  • Weight - 185g

That's the only technical information I will cover in this article. This is not an article that will look at image quality in any great detail. I was really much more interested if the lenses for-filled the specific roll I had intended them for.

The first lens I purchased was the Pentax SMC M 135mm. I bought this specifically because I needed a telephoto option for my landscape images. The plus points where it was a prime lens so image quality should be better than a zoom especially as this was a 1980's lens and zooms from this period seem to be universally recognised as less sharp. One of the first images I took with it on my A7ii was from a woodland shoot. The image below of a single orchid amongst a carpet of bluebells came out rather well. It was shot at F3.5 to blur the background as much as possible and off a tripod at 1/15th of a second. I was very happy with this image and had no issues with image quality etc.

Using Legacy Lenses on Sony A7ii

The lens would next be used in the Peak District and a shoot from Kinder Scout. I wanted to shoot the sun going down behind Manchester but wanted the layered effect that a telephoto lens pulls together with the landscape from far and near seeming to be pulled closer. I was really happy with this shot which just shows some of the high rise buildings of Manchester in silhouette in the mid ground.


Using Legacy Lenses on Sony A7ii

I suppose I had been bittern by the bug a little by this point. I was happy with the performance of the 135mm Pentax and as I already had the adaptor I added the nifty 50mm to the collection so I could interchange the adaptor between them. I just saw the 50mm as a versatile little lens on the Sony A7ii which would allow me to get some nice bokeh with the 1.7 aperture. On reflection my 24-70 obviously covers this range but sometimes it is just a nice little lens to use. Thsi was one of the first images i shot with it, again doing some woodland work and shot from above with the tripod at F2.8 and 1/200 of a second.

Using Legacy Lenses on Sony A7ii

Again on another trip to the Peak District, this time wild camping which does start to make you rationalise the amount of kit you are carrying. In reality I probably should have left the 50mm at home on this occasion as the shot could have been taken with the 24-70, but as I had it I decided to use it and again could not complain at the result. This one taken at F/11 1/100sec off the tripod.

Using Legacy Lenses on Sony A7ii

The wild camping had really got me thinking about my kit choices. For me, especially in the summer a wild camp was the way forward as it enabled you to get a sunset and sunrise in one shoot. With the sun rising at around 4.30am it really was necessary to be close to your location. Wild camping obviously requires you to carry camera kit as well as tents, sleeping bags food and water. Carrying  three or four prime lenses was just not practical. It was then that I started to look at the possibility of a zoom lens to cover the 70-200 range.

I think its important to note here that this lens would be bought to do one job only and that was as a landscape lens. This meant it was going to be used for a very narrow set of requirements. So, it would be used almost exclusively off a tripod, although the Sony A7ii has in-camera stabilisation so hand holding was an option. It would generally be used at F8 and above so softness at F4 was not really a problem. And finally manual focus only was not an issue especially with Sonys Focus Peaking system which allows for precise manual focus. For those that don't know focus peaking is basically a red, yellow or white outline (your choice) that appears in the viewfinder and LCD when you manually focus a lens. This moves back and fourth as you move the focus letting you know exactly which part of the image is in sharp focus.

So, the Minolta 70-210 arrived and I soon had the adaptor attached and it mounted on the camera. The lens looked to be in really good order. Out I went and took some shots, and they where terrible! A couple of issues I noted. Number one was dust, when I got the images back to the PC I had to clear over fifty dust spots from the image it was everywhere. And secondly i had noticed that unusually the lens would focus to infinity and would be in focus. This may sound strange but every lens I had used previously would always go slightly past infinity and you would have to wind back a couple of millimetres to achieve sharp focus. Now the big factor here was the price of the lens, I would in no-way advise you to get your £2000 lens and start taking it to bits to remove the dust, but at £27 I had nothing to lose. As always I hit google and fund it was a fairly easy job top access the front of the lens, three grub screws later I had the front element open and had cleaned inside the front glass and as much of the inside as I could.

The following day I took it out again. Firstly, virtually no dust! In fact there may have been one spot, I could live with that! And the focus now slid the regulation couple of millimetres past infinity and BOOM the images where sharp! Here's a couple of shots recently taken with the lens, I think for £27 that's not a bad return.

It wasn't the sunset we had hoped for in Derbyshire on Blackden edge but at least it gave me chance to see the layering effect of the telephoto lens. Shot at 190mm.

It wasn't the sunset we had hoped for in Derbyshire on Blackden edge but at least it gave me chance to see the layering effect of the telephoto lens. Shot at 190mm.

And as we got back to the car I managed to grab this which was shot at 70mm as the moon came up and reflected off the river.

And as we got back to the car I managed to grab this which was shot at 70mm as the moon came up and reflected off the river.




I must admit I didn't have to think too hard about this conclusion. For me it became clear early on that there is a place for this old glass with your new digital camera. Certainly from a Sony point of view anyway. The Sony lends itself to this legacy glass with the focus peaking function which makes it so easy to manually focus on your subject.

Can this glass replace your new modern, image stabilised, price of a family car glass? Well yes in some circumstances, and I think this is where you really have to know what job you want the lens to do. As I mentioned earlier, when I bought the 70-210 I knew exactly what I wanted it for, it was for a very narrow set of circumstances. It would be required to shoot telephoto landscape shots at F8 and above. It would be almost exclusively on a tripod. And that was it , and the Minolta does this wonderfully. However, if I also wanted it to shoot sports photography of fast moving mountain bikers in dark woodland, would I have bought it? No, is the simple answer. If you are looking for a multi-purpose lens to cover many different aspects of photography I would suggest that a legacy lens would not be for you. In the instance I have described above I would almost certainly have gone with the Canon 70-200 F4 with an expensive adaptor to get autofocus, if this was not going to focus fast enough I would have probably bittern the bullet and paid for the native Sony 70-200.

As for the Minolta 70-210? Well it works well under a fairly narrow set of circumstances but it does have its issues. For me the biggest is the tiny manual focus ring at the very end of the lens which is very difficult to operate if you have a filter system attached, although those with smaller fingers may not find it so much of an issue. I found my copy a bit soft when wound out fully to 210mm but I suspect this may be the same for many zoom lenses.

I am sure there are many other instances where you can make use of some old glass in other aspects of photography and please let me know in the comments where you have found it to be useful. I also think that there can be something really satisfying about producing a stunning image on an old relatively inexpensive piece of glass that has been long discarded . Hopefully you found this article useful, and please keep your eyes out for my Youtube Vlog coming soon where I use the Minolta 70-210 in the field.

It's interesting to note that the prices of legacy glass seem to be on the rise so we may be onto something here!!