Talking about 35mm SLR Lenses on Digital Cameras

Can you use an older lens on a D-SLR Cameras?

If, you have an SLR film camera with some interchangeable lenses, do you wonder if it's possible to use any of those old lenses on the same brand new DSLR camera, or even a different make for that matter. You have question like: Will those older SLR film lenses even work? If so, do they have shortcomings? Will they need factory updates so they will properly function? And even if all seems to work together, are you compromising your image quality by using aged lenses on newer digital age imaging designs? Already there have been more than a few generations of cameras introduced since the shift to DSLR cameras. Every generation has added a greater movement from electromechanical camera communication to direct electronic camera communication. These changes have been initiated in virtually every single camera component from autofocusing, metering, image stabilization, shutter control, and the list goes on.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro Manual Nikkor Lens - Acts like a 157mm lens on an APS-C Camera

Drawing showing the relative sizes of 
									sensors used in digital cameras

Drawing showing the relative sizes of sensors used in digital cameras, including Four Thirds System. The smallest in green is the normal Digital Compact sensor size

A 50mm optical lens is "normal focal length " for a 35mm SLR which gives you a viewing angle almost identical to the human eye. Less than 50mm, the view becomes wider, more than 50mm it turns into telephoto and brings the subject closer in. On Canon digital cameras, "normal" is around 32mm, therefore a 50mm SLR lens acts like a short telephoto of about 80mm when mounted on a DSLR. An 18-200mm lens on a DSLR camera has a wide coverage view and telephoto zooming range similar to a 28-300mm zoom lens when mounted on a 35mm SLR camera. To figure out the equivalent viewing angle of a 35mm optical lens mounted on a DSLR camera, multiply by a factor of 1.6X. For Nikkor lenses use a factor of 1.5X (and now normal turns into 33mm.) A few of the higher end DSLR cameras, like the EOS Canon 1Ds and the Canon EOS 5D encompass full-frame image sensors. As the size of thes image sensors are identical to a 24mm x 36mm 35mm film size, there is no factor to convert when they are mounted with 35mm SLR lenses. As I see it, the future of photography is turning to digital and given that the majority DSLR cameras sport image sensors which are smaller in size than 35mm film, Camera lens makers have begun building digital-only lenses, with the big difference being the smaller coverage area allowed by digital-only camera lenses. These newer lenses retain the same mounting type as 35mm SLR format lenses while they have the ability to be used on 35mm SLR camera bodies (with the exception of EF-S Canon lenses), except they do not cover the complete image size. Consequently serious vignetting happens around the 35mm image edges, particularly at the widest part of the lens's zoom range.


The CCD or CMOS image sensor surface in a digital camera is much shinier than emulsion film, so there are more rays of light creating reflections off the sensor, all the way back thru the optical lens. Therefore digital-only lenses contain more extensive coatings applied to the insides of these lens elements themselves to captivate this stray rays of light while preserving image contrast.

  Extreme Wide
97 degrees AOV
Wide Angle
75 degrees AOV
46 degrees AOV
Short Tele
27 degrees AOV
Moderate Tele
12 degrees AOV
Digital SLR
(1.6X factor)
12mm 18mm  32mm 56mm 128mm
35mm Film  19mm 28mm 50mm 90mm 200mm
6x6cm Film 40mm (88 deg.) 50mm 80mm 150mm (30 deg.) 350mm (13 deg.)

         AOV = angle of view 6x6cm = 2-1/4 x 2-1/4" format on 120 film

While doing the research for this article I made many contacts, these included major camera makers and independent lens makers who build lenses in mounts for most major camera brands. So, here's what I found out.


All older Canon EF lens versions function with the present DSLR cameras including, of course, the operational change in coverage when using the lenses with image sensors that are smaller than 35mm SLR size (i.e. APS-C). Even those old Canon FD lenses are able to be mounted, by using an FD-EOS Lens Converter Mount.

The EOS FD Macro Lens Converter Mount was available from Canon dealers and it worked with all FD camera lenses and accessories, although it functioned only with macro use. This mount was subsequently discontinued but you might still find it in the used marketplace.

The original EOS FD Lens Converter Mount included an extender that multiplied the actual focal length of the lens by a 1.26x factor , although it was only suitable for the majority of FD lenses with focal lengths longer than 200mm. This limitation was a consequence of a front element that protrudied on the tele-extender of the converter, that interfered with the shorter lens focal-lengths. This last converter was not available through dealers but only offered to members of a program for Canon Professional Services. When using either converter with an old FD lens on newer Canon DSLR cameras requires the lens to be manually stopped down since the operation of the diaphragm is only manual with no autofocus verification. When using either converter with any older FD lens, two basic options exist to control exposure; Manual mode by setting the speed of the shutter and then manually stopping the lens down or use stop down autoexposure when you stop the lens down and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.


The new Leica S2 DSLR medium format camera is a totally new camera system which does not mount any of the older SLR Leica R 35mm lenses. In fact Leica’s earlier DSLR R-System camera was recently discontinued. While Leica is not making any cameras which support R system lenses, there are some third-party companies that make adapters to mount these R lenses on Canon or Nikon cameras.

Leica also makes the M9 digital rangefinder camera which accept virtually any Leica M camera lens manufactured from the time when the Leica M-System was iannounced in 1954. To give digital M cameras essential EXIF data, all new M lenses feature a new updated "6-bit" coding, which allows the M digital camera to optically read this information and then identify the lens being mounted.


At present, Nikon makes a series of three lenses, and every one will perform on their DSLRs.

The digital only (DX) series is engineered to swathe the sensor of every current Nikon DSLR camera, although not the 35mm SLR film format.

The Nikon D lenses fit both SLR film and DSLR cameras and feature both mechanical aperture rings and electronic control of apertures for full functioning with older SLR film cameras.

The Nikon G lenses embrace both 35mm SLR and DSLR formats, although lack mechanical aperture controls requiring the camera to contain electronic aperture ability to use this type of lens.

Even though the principal physical mount employed by Nikon single lens reflex cameras has not had any changes, there have been an abundance of adjustments to meter connections and autofocus functions so the performance of an older Nikkor lens on a newer Nikon DSLR camera can vary widely. Most Nikon camera manuals denote capabilities when using various lens generations on your new camera. Not any, non-AI Nikon lenses can be mounted on a Nikon DSLR or even late Nikon SLR film camera. Virtually all AI manual focus lenses featuring Aperture Indexing controls can be mounted on Nikon DSLRs, although there are some exceptions. The higher end models of DSLR cameras (like as the D1, D2, D3, D200, and D300) can mount and meter with these older lenses, although when employed with older consumer type bodies (like the as the D40, D50, D60, D70, and D80) the exposure must be manually set.

Nikkor AF lenses feature a mechanical connection between the mounted lens and the camera to allow focusing. A focusing motor is built inside the camera which operates the lens’ focusing by using gears. Any of these lenses may be mounted on any Nikon DSLR with a built-in focusing motor. The only current cameras not featuring a focusing motor are the D40 series, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000, and the D5100 cameras.

The motor less Nikon AF lenses are different from the AF-S & AF-I Nikkor lenses which feature built-in focusing motors allowing them be mounted on every Nikon camera body regardless of having or not having a focusing motor. The D40, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 and D5100, require this lens type for autofocus operation v Nikon does not comment on compatibility or image quality of any third-party lenses featuring a Nikon lens mount. They indicate that if your lens satisfactorily worked on an older version Nikon SLR film camera then you should have enough information to determine the compatibility for using on a new Nikon DSLR. Extensive additional information about Nikon lenses is available on Nikon's website which is must reading for anyone considering using an older Nikkor lens with their DSLR camera.


Unlike the other major 35mm camera manufactures, Olympus never had a lot of success with their 35mm SLR autofocus system so no legacy lens system existed for use with their DSLR cameras. Thus they had the luxury of creating a new digital lens system also available to other camera manufactures, labeled the Four Thirds system, named for the image sensor's aspect ratio of 4:3 used by Olympus DSLRs. The size of the image sensors used in the Olympus DSLR cameras are 17.3 x 13mm, which are much bigger than those frequently used in "point and shoot" type cameras, but smaller in size than the roughly 23 x 16mm image sensors being used by other DSLR manufacturesrs. One substantial difference is that Olympus focal lengths become only one-half the 35mm format lens equivalent (a 2X factor) creating an identical field of view. Therefore a new 25mm Olympus lens equals the coverage a 50mm lens provides on a 35mm SLR, a wide angle 14mm lens becomes the equivalent of a 28mm SLR film camera lens and so on. These are digital lenses are engineered specifically for DSLR cameras.

Olympus manufactured an earlier model manual-focus 35mm SLR system camera named the OM system.

Olympus has a lens adapter mount available to connect OM lenses to their DSLR cameras, although there is a considerable loss of functions

The Olympus OM 35mm SLR series camera lenses may be ermployed with the Olympus digital E-System cameras by mounting an available MF-1 OM adapter and with the E-P1 Micro Four Thirds, the MF-2 adapter.

As the OM-series camera lenses are not able to communicate with the the E-System camera firmware there are the following restrictions . No autofocusing is possible. Additionally OM-series AF lenses are not able be focused manually. The Stop-down metering method must be employed. Spot metering does not function correctly. You may employ A (Aperture priority AE) Shooting modes although the aperture display becomes invisible. Also, the aperture display using the M (Manual) method does not show. Using the P (Program AE) or S (Shutter speed priority AE) method the shutter releases although the autoexposure control does not function.

Additionally, the distance scale of the OM lens may not indicate the true distance, for that reason use viewfinder or the Live View while focusing.

In cases where the older lenses being attached to an E-System camera feature on board image stabilizer, the OM lenses may employ this feature provided the DSLR body firmware has been brought up to date. They admonish that as the OM lens series were originally engineered for film SLRs and not digital sensors, the quality of the images might not be equivalent to the new Zuiko Digital lenses.


Panasonic started making Panasonic DSLR Cameras and Lenses during the mid 2000s, and all using the Lumix name brand. Only In Japan , Panasonic also makes all digital cameras with the Leica brand name, while many of the Lumix and Leica cameras are similar in design.

Panasonic's DSLR line, DMC-L employs the Four Thirds lens mount system and alongside the Olympus E-330 which became one of the earliest DSLR cameras with the capacity of displaying a live image view right on the LCD monitor. Other models also include the L1 and L10.

The Panasonic Micro Four Thirds family, DMC-G, is promoted as a "reinvented DSLR" sans mirror. The first digital camera in this family is the G1, made available in late 2008, features an electronic viewfinder (EVF) plus an interchangeable lens. Although it doesn't employ a mirror and pentaprism like a true SLR, therefore it's smaller and lighter, but includes many of the aspects of a DSLR plus also those of a Digital Camera, although it does not feature video recording. The GH1 was announced during June 2009 and does include support for HD movie capture. In September of 2009, Panasonic announced the GF1, a 12 mp Micro Four Thirds compact digital camera containing 720p HD video. 


DA series is the name for the current family of Pentax DSLR camera lenses These lenses feature the same mounts as the  K-mount lenses that fit their 35mm SLR cameras, but the area of coverage is reduced as the Pentax DSLR image sensors are not as large as 35mm film. Consequently, when a DA style lens is mounted on a Pentax SLR 35mm camera, serious vignetting happens. DA lenses do not contain a mechanical type aperture ring, so any meter coupling could be quite limited dependent upon the aperture control requirements of the film camera. Possibly the most downward-compatible camera brand around, a current Pentax DSLR camera will work with a lens manufactured for an early Pentax K mount 35mm SLR cameras going back to the middle 1970s. If a Pentax lens features an auto aperture control such as the (Pentax KA) plus autofocus (Pentax KAF) capacity, those functions will team up with the controls of the DSLR. Older Pentax screw-type mount lenses manufactured for cameras built during the 1960s and the early '70s can be mounted on a Pentax DSLR when a Lens Mount Adapter B made by Pentax is employed.

Pentax has collaborated with Samsung on DSLR design, so a number of Samsung DSLR cameras use the identical lens mounting system to Pentax


Sigma offers a number of less expensive alternatives, and they do not equate to lower quality and image features. At times getting the Sigma is well worth the money, particularly a Sigma with the EX designation. EX lenses have a propensity to encompass great build and image features. Sigma is also reknown for it's standard primes such as the 30mm and 50mm lenses. In certain focal lengths like in the 100-500mm series, Sigma has an illustrious collection featuring affordable prices and engineering not found in Canon or Nikon lenses. Nearly all Sigma lenses are manufactured in mounts for Nikon, Canon, Minolta/Sony, Pentax and of course Sigma.

Sigma makes a number of lens lines, with their DC lenses being digital-only lenses. Sigma’s DG lenses are optimized to perform better with digital cameras, but will work great with 35mm cameras and will cover full image sizes.

Sony / Minolta

On the 19th of January, 2006, Konica Minolta made an announcement that it was selling a portion of it's SLR camera operations to Sony and getting out of the photo and camera business.  Minolta introduced the a lens type mount in 1986, first identified as the A-type Bayonet which was the planet's first autofocus camera system. As a consequence, nearly all Minolta AF camera lenses mount on Sony DSLR cameras, and a large number of Sony lenses also operate on Minolta film and DSLRs. In 2006 during the initial announcement of the a system, Sony revealed 19 lenses, plus 2 tele-converters, with the majority being Konica Minolta lenses rebranded as Sony.


Tamron makes lens to fit Canon DSLR Cameras, Nikon DSLR Cameras, Olympus DSLR Cameras, Pentax DSLR Cameras, and Sony DSLR Cameras. Tamron manufactures digital lenses for SLR cameras such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Minolta, Olympus, etc. The company specializes on lens production only. These lenses are very popular among professional photographer

Tamron’s latest generation of lenses is called the Di-II series.  These made for digital-only lenses only cover digital image sensors, without the capacity required for film cameras. Tamron also builds Di lenses which will work with both SLR film and DSLR camera formats while they have also had their design optimized with multi-coatings applied for better digital camera performance than earlier version lenses manufactured for only film photography requirements of bygone eras.


A Japanese manufacturer and trading company of photographic accessories, especially known for its filters has been producing conversion lenses since the 1960s now produces camera lenses under the Tokina brand name. Pro DX lenses from Tokina are digital-only and won’t cover full size sensors or 35mm film. Some Tokina lenses are designated ProD and will work fine for both film and digital cameras and have the improved multi-coatings for excellent digital performance.