Using Canon EF glass on Sony E-mount with the Metabones adapter

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I am one of those photographers who tend to use the gear that gets the job done and supports their workflow best. When new gear comes out or the workflow changes, I switch stuff and do not really look back. Three years ago, I more or less stopped using my Canon system and started working with Sony gear for a number of reasons which I may or may not discuss in a future article. Yet somehow, I did not bring myself to selling all the good Canon lenses. Hence treasures like the EF 50 1.2 or EF 24 1.4 were rather under-utilized basically serving as doorstops and dust-collection-devices. To change this sorry state of affairs, I recently acquired the newest incarnation Nr. V of the Metabones ET – E T adapter which enables me to use my lens backlog on the current Sony bodies such as the A7Rii or iii.

The first impression

The adapter itself is a solid piece of hardware, but it comes without any such thing as at least a little explanation of how to use it, software, or anything else. This is a bit weird insofar as the adapter has two possible operation modes, one of which is useful, and the other being the default. Switching between them is by no means something anybody could find out themselves how to do, and one best does it with a software which is called an “app” but does not run on a smartphone but on the computer. My windows virus scanners prevents the computer from installing that software because it is recognized as potentially malicious. To download the app or read a how-to one has to visit a website that is impossible to navigate and looks like it was designed in the mid 90ies.

All in all: while the hardware of the adapter looks pretty solid, software and customer support come straight from hell.

The main function

But the thing works. It works really, really well. If you set it up to the “other” mode.

The Metabones adapter, if you put it on your camera right away, works in a default mode which is called the “green mode” for: reasons. The Metabones website tries to explain a bit what the mode does and on the surface some of what it says seems to have to do with compatibility issues. I personally found results in this mode very unsatisfactory using good and fast EF-glass on current FF Sony gear. The focus was not very reliable, did not work well in backlit or low-contrast situations, and the advanced Sony focus modes (Eye-Focus et al) cannot be accessed. I advise against using the “green mode”.

The adapter can be used in a second mode of operations though, the “advanced mode”, which again, is called “advanced” for reasons beyond my comprehension, as the Metabones website says that on some cameras the “advanced” mode should be the “recommended” mode while the default “green mode” should be avoided. But: well.

Using that advanced mode results in AF-S focus mode working spectacularly well. The EF lenses perform much better than on Canon bodies. The reason for this is probably because instead of the fast but notoriously unreliable Canon phase focus. I am aware that in theory this could be had on Canon as well using their bodies in movie mode as well, but they are terrible to use in that mode as the display cannot be tilted and there is not electronic viewfinder. With the Sony bodies in contrast, everything feels natural and smooth.

For the first time ever, I had the chance to realize how good my Canon lenses actually are. I always thought of them as okay-lenses, but not more. The EF 300 4.0 needed to be stepped down to at least f=6.3 to get satisfying results, the 50 1.2 I would not use below f=2.5. And that was true for all my five Canon FF bodies which were all once yearly send for cleaning and adjustment to the Canon CPS. On the Sony, however, my EF 300 4.0 is tack-sharp at F=4.5, the EF 50 1.2 is still very crisp at f=1.7 and starts to soften noticeably only thereafter, still being quite usable though. In terms of look he lenses very much give the pictures a classic Canon look with a bit less hard contrast and more eye pleasing colors out of cam than the setup of a Sony cam with Zeiss lenses. The latter are simply too German, too good, to true, too technically brilliant. As always, of course, these things are in the eye of the beholder and much can be done in Lightroom anyway.

The limitations

All that glory comes with a few limitations, of course.

Focusing is considerably slower on the Sony with adapted lenses than on a native body. I did not find it hard to use or limiting my workflow (shooting 1k pix a day with models producing stock), but it may be a problem for some people.

The AF works horribly when shooting video. I advise against even trying to use it, and there is little point here anyway for most videographers. Those, however, who need AF in video mode beyond very, very basic tasks like tracking a talking head, should use native lenses.

The most obvious limitation, of course, is the lack of even remotely usable follow or predictive focus. While technically it is possible to use those modes with the Metabones adapter, in practice they do not only work badly but not really at all. I did various tests with various lenses under ideal conditions (sunlight, high contrast, objects moving slowly and constantly in one directions without changing speed or direction), and I could not get one singly even halfway usable picture.

The verdict

I have been using the Metabones adapter with my Canon EF lenses for five full production days now in high volume shoots under often less than ideal conditions and found the thing to work much better than I had anticipated. The focus is reliable, fast enough, and works under most conditions reasonably well and also in advanced focus modes. For landscape, food, or portrait photographer who happen to have a few EF treasures laying around the Metabones adapter is a very good choice. If, however, you happen to be a Sport photographer or videographer in need for AF, you should definitely look for lens solutions native to your Sony body.

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