Old Glass: How to Use Old Film Lenses with New DSLR Cameras


Do you want a sharp and well built lens? Of course you do. Everyone does. Think you can’t afford great glass? Think again. You may not be looking in the right place.

If you’re like me, browsing through latest high-end lenses can be a little depressing. The cost of luxury grade glass can easily peak in the thousands of dollars. What if I told you that you could have excellent lenses without breaking the bank?

Front View

Recently I learned about a method for retrofitting older film lenses to function with our modern cameras. The possible bad news is that these are mostly manual focus prime lenses so your autofocus and metering won’t work (with one exception we’ll talk about later). The great news is that the majority of these lenses are built like photographic tanks and possess extremely capable optics. These lenses are also readily available and affordable on most any budget.

So how is it done? How can you make a twenty, thirty, or even forty year old piece of gear work with today’s advanced camera bodies? Believe it or not, the answer is deceptively simple. For virtually every lens and camera combination there is an adapter that will enable you to use any lens with any camera – regardless of manufacturer. Here’s an example:

I have an old analog Nikon F3 that was given to me by my father along with a couple of lenses: a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.

50mm and 85mm

The entire kit remained mostly forgotten in a camera bag, and in storage for years. One day I stumbled across some information about how a few photographers were using old M42 Zeiss screw-mount lenses with their DSLR’s using adapter rings and producing outstanding photographs. That got me thinking – if it were possible to find adapters for these old M42 lenses, could there also be manufacturers who produced similar adapters for other lens types? Almost instantly the old Nikon leaped from some distant corner of my memory. My main shooting body is a Canon 7D MkI. Could I possibly use those thirty year old Nikkor film lenses on my 7D Canon? Shockingly, the answer was yes! All I needed were these unassuming aluminium adapter rings which I sourced on eBay for about $12 USD each.

One side of the ring matches the Nikkor mount.

Adapter Nikon Side

The other mates with the Canon body.

Adapter Canon Side

The entire process is very simple; the adapter simply snaps onto the lens.

Nikkor Without
Without the adapter.

Nikkor With
With the Canon adapter.

Then it’s business as usual attaching the adapted lens to the camera. Just line up the indicator dot with the mounting dot on your camera body.

Mount Point

You’re done.

Body Fit

The adapters are also removable if you choose to do so later by depressing a small spring catch (most brands have these).

As I said earlier, these are completely manual lenses. Meaning that you adjust your aperture by hand as well as focusing the lens.


Personally, I enjoy the deliberateness this action forces. You have to think about your composition so much more, and you get to experience the effects of aperture adjustment literally first hand.

Aperture Blades 85mm
The impressive aperture blades on this beautiful Nikkor 85mm.

Don’t worry if this manual operation doesn’t appeal to you. The exception concerning the adapter rings I spoke of is that some are now being made with focus indicator chips built into the adapter. While this chip doesn’t enable you to use autofocus, it does allow the lens to communicate to the camera when the selected point of focus has been obtained. This is complete personal preference. I opted for the non-autofocus indication adapters because I wasn’t comfortable using aftermarket electronics of that type with my camera. Again, this is a completely subjective.

Please Note: Neither the author nor Digital Photography School are responsible for any damages to your camera or lens as a result of using aftermarket devices. Please be an informed photographer prior to attempting any modifications to your precious gear!

Now, here are some images produced through a little Frankensteinish innovation.


Color Traffic

Bw Traffic



Nothing Free

Rain on Glass

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Adam Welch is a photographer, writer, educator, adventurer, baconographer, and beerologist currently based in the western portion of his home state of Tennessee. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at aphotographist.com or pick up his new book Cameras in the Wild.

  • Richard Bauman

    I bought a old Nikon film camera ($25) at an estate sale just for its 35-80mm lens. It works on my D3100 in manual mode. Excellent glass. You can often find lenses and other usable camera gear at estate sales in the U.S.

  • Ian Brewster

    Great and helpful discussion.

    If you want to have focus all the way to infinity with an adapter without an included extra lens element, the old lens must have a register or focal distance ie. the camera’s designed distance from the face of the mount to the sensor, longer than the register distance of the OEM lenses. This potentially provides enough room for the adapter to be made thick enough to be robust.

    There are adapters that can be used to replace the mount on the old lenses, if the above conditions exist. I have replaced the mount on an old Nikkor HC 50mm lens with one to fit the Sony A-mount. Google Leitax as one source of these. It does require a little patience and manual dexterity!

  • Rob Gipman

    For my 7d i got 3 old lensen now. First one o got was the sigma 24mm mini-wide F/2.8 that i converted into a tilt-shift lens. It had a om mount so i ordered af confirm adapters from ebay. Then i saw the sigma 28mm mini-wide F/2.8 also with the om mount. And lastly I bought a tair-3 300mm f/4.5 lens with the photosniper kit and an m42 adapter to fit my 7d. They are all manual focus and manual aperture and arr working great next to my canon gear 🙂 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/15657921639/ is me with the tair-3 photosniper that also fits my 100-400L

  • Maria

    Will this work for the 6D?

  • thejimmy

    It seems almost a hassle to do with a dslr. Chalk this up as one more reason to go mirrorless. Milc cameras are perfectly suited to this set up. I personally shoot a 135mm 2.8 and 50mm 1.8 FD lens on my nx100.
    Both produce beautiful quality with a very unique flavor.
    Both cost 20 Canadian dollars.

  • Lalina Khan

    I want to buy this Canon DSLR
    I am loving the quality of pics here…


  • Matt

    I have a Kodak SLR/n Full frame camera with a Nikon mount. All I have is older Nikon/Nikkor/Sigma lenses. Some have metering & AF, but I tend to prefer manual. From what I understand, if you want to use old glass, get a Nikon. The f-mount really hasn’t changed and 90%+ of the old lenses will work on new Nikons. Keep in mind the crop factor though. Thats the reason I bought a full frame, the lenses work just like they did on 35mm film.

  • Matt

    Here’s a M42 lens with a M42 to F adapter on my SLR/n. Only paid $20 for it, and really isn’t that great…but it can be done 😉 http://i.imgur.com/g6rZCtw.jpg

  • Shirley Lockwood

    I bought an adapter and it works, my problem is the pics hav a yellow tint to them. Am I doing something wrong. I tried using the 50 mm lens with adapter on my new camera. Please help again this is all new to me. I am figuring things out as I go along

  • Shirley Lockwood

    I bought the adapter and it fits just fine, my prob is the pics are a yellowish color. Is it something I am doing wrong or it’s just not gunna work

  • Carlos J Encarnacion

    First make sure that there are no filters on the lens, then check your camera’s white balance settings. This setting helps correct for color differences on the light sources, for example, most fluorescent tubes have a greenish hue, incandescent light bulbs are mostly yellowish, and clear sky in the shade is bluish, although, human brain tends to ignore these differences. The camera’s default setting is daylight.

  • Carlos J Encarnacion
  • Apologies everyone! I have just received a replacement for my computer that decided to die on me last week. I know I am absurdly behind on the questions about this article and I am working on answering those and catching up on some writing. Again I’m sorry! I appreciate everyone’s patience while I get up and running again!

    Thanks for reading!

  • Mary

    do you have a link to your adapter ? which one did you buy and where?

  • Anees Khan Niazi

    Dear all,
    I want to made EF/EF-S lens to C mount adapter from aluminium. Can you please tell from where can I find CAD model or drawing of such adapter.

  • Hard to say. Cold your white balance possibly be set too warm?

  • Hi, Maria. It most likely will depending on the lens.

  • Mary I went and searched for the actual ebay listing but it is no longer available.

  • Robin Lawrence

    Hi Shirley. I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. The yellowing is probably due to deterioration from process used to make some older lenses which had very low radioactive levels (not at all dangerous). Over time the lens will become yellow but this can be reversed to varying degrees with the following process. Remove the front and rear caps and sit the lens in bright sunshine with it lined up towards the sun so the light shine directly through the lens. This may take some time but the sunlight will clear up the yellowing in the lens elements. PLEASE NOTE – BE CAREFUL WHERE THE LENS IS POSITIONED AS THE MAGNIFYING EFFECT OF THE LENS ON THE SUNLIGHT COULD CAUSE A FIRE. POSITION IT SO THAT THAT CAN ANY MAGNIFIED LIGHT CAN ONLY FALL UNTO A COMPLETELY INFLAMMABLE SURFACE. A quick look up on Google for yellowing lens fix will provide more detailed information on this.

    Good luck


  • cdloff

    Awesome! I’ve got some old Mamiya and Beseler SLR prime lens from the 60s and 70s. Would be great if I could use them again on my newer digital Nikons.

  • Guest

    Thanks for that info.

    Hmmm… I just bought a Fujifilm x T-1 a couple of months ago – maybe I should try some of my old lens on that.

  • cdloff

    Thanks for that info.

    Hmmm… I just bought a Fujifilm x T-1 a couple of months ago – maybe I should try some of my old lens on that.

    Can you adapt old screw mount lenses to the Fujifilm cameras?

  • cdloff

    I just found one of those, an FE2 with the same zoom lens. Nice thing is, you can use newer Nikon glass on the old film cameras too.

  • Peter Neale

    Adapt a screw mount lens to an X-T1? You sure can, just need the right adapter. If you are talking about 42mm screw-thread SLR lenses built for Pentax, Praktica, or a number of other SLR systems, you just need an M42-FX adapter. If you are talking about 39mm screw-thread lenses for rangefinder cameras – Leica and many copies – you need an M39-FX adapter. I have recently bought an X-T1 myself and I am loving the aids for manual focus built in to it.

  • I absolutely adore my X-T1! I find myself using it more than my NIkons.

    The old glass I have is for a Mamiya SLR and a Besseler Topcon. Got a ton of old lens for those, all primes. Do you have any idea what size/adapter I’d need for those?

  • darianrundall

    Thanks for this topic. I have an old Leicaflex (late 60s) with a 50mm 1.2 lens and I’ve wanted to use that with a Canon EF mount. Do you think this would be possible?

  • Absolutely! There are a lot of different brands of adapters out there and they can vary in price quite a bit. If I’m not mistaken, the Leicaflex(great camera btw) uses a R-mount. After a quick search, here’s an adapter to enable you to use your Leica lens with a Canon EF mount. http://www.amazon.com/Fotodiox-Adapter-Leica-Camera-Digital/dp/B001G4QXLY I hope this helps!

  • darianrundall

    Thanks! Ordered! I’ll report back with my findings… I can’t wait to see how the summicron looks!

  • darianrundall

    It works great. Here are some jpegs. T3i with 50mm Summicron f2.0.

  • darianrundall

    Thanks for the help!

  • Outstanding! I’m glad everything worked out. The images look great. And you’re very welcome!

  • axel.omg

    you are a hero, Liembo! can we see any pictures you took with this setup?

  • K.G.W.Abeytunge

    I got an adapter, through mail order, to mount my Pentax-K mount lenses to my Sony alpha DSLR. The adapter is solid and fits the lens and the camera almost perfectly, but I cannot say the same thing about the correcting lens on the mount. Portraits and distant shots came out soft. However, when I removed the correcting lens and used the setup for macro work, the results were a revelation; The images were pin sharp and the contrast was unbelievable. Now I am using it only for macro work.

  • Vevake Dean

    Peter, I have the old Canon manual lens specially the 50mm 1.4 and now am using the Nikon 5200, please suggest what mount can I use between the Nikon Body and the Canon Lens. Thank you. Vevake

  • Gogo Theophanopoulou

    Owning two prime lens from my A1 analog Canon, thought it would be a good idea to get an adaptor FD to EOS for my Canon Dslr. Bought one for 50 euros but couldn’t work. Althought it focused manualy ofcource through the viewfinder, the produced photo was out of focus. It couldnt work with FD Canon 50 1.4 but worked well with Vivitar 28 2.8. Gave it back.

  • Gabriel

    Recently I got a Vivitar 70-210 4.5-5.6 lens, but I’m not sure which adapter should I use to fit into my Canon EOS T3i. Do you guys have an idea about this? I’d like to try out. Thanks!

  • James Kern

    I have no problem using older nikon lenses on my d700, you just have to set the non-cpu lens data for proper metering. I have a few older manual Nikon lenses and they work great

  • Rob Gipman

    7d with a Jupiter-9 85mm f/2.0. Waiting for the M42-to-EOS AF-confirm ring that you forgot to mention. The AF confirm helps a lot when focusing a manual lens. Oh and i love the 2 way aperture ring. You focus at f/2.0 then change in the fly or preset to f/8.0 or so 🙂 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan/23605089985/

  • Rob Gipman

    Ebay.com has many of them.

  • Vevake Dean

    I tried using the old Canon FD lens on my Nikon DSLR with an adapter, the lens fitted perfectly but focusing was out, probably due to the change in focal lengths caused by the addition of the adapter. Any suggestions.

  • Trevor Mann

    Hi James,
    I have a Nikkor 55mm f2.8 Macro lens that I used to use on a Nikon F3 in an underwater housing. It took great images back in the very early 1980s and I have started to use it with my Nikon D800. It still takes great images (better than my Nikkor 60mm f2.8 Micro). However, I can’t work out how to set the aperture when it’s mounted on the D800. It just shows up as a number from 1 to 7 but doesn’t seem to do much. Is there something I am doing wrong? I don’t understand what you mean by setting the non-cpu lens data for proper metering.
    I also have an old 80mm to 200mm Nikkor that I would like to use but I need to get my head around what’s needed.
    Any advice you could give would be very much appreciated.

    Trevor Mann
    PS. Just love the way old Nikkor lenses still fit the Nikon mounting.

  • James Kern

    Hi Trevor,
    I also love the way the old Nikkor lenses will mount the current cameras, it is one of the reasons I went with Nikon. There is a lot of great older glass out there if you don’t mind it being a bit manual. I learned on a k-1000 so I’m used to manual!

    Anyways, to get the light meter to work properly with the older lenses (and I only found this out by surfing the web) there is a setting in the menus where you can setup each older lens. On my D-700, the Non-CPU lens data is listed under the menu ‘tab’ that has the wrench. When you go into the Non-CPU lens data menu they give 9 slots so you can setup / select up to 9 different lenses. In there, you enter the focal length of the lens and the maximum aperture. I’m not an expert, but I believe this allows camera to know what lens is there and what aperture range the lens has and also use the camera’s matrix exposure metering properly to help get the best exposure. Once set properly you can’t use the ‘P” mode (fully auto), I usually go to Aperture priority or full manual. The camera will properly display the f-stop in the screen. There are probably some better explanations out there via googling. I have an older 28mm f.28 and 105mm macro f2.8 that I use often with my camera. Hope that helps!

  • Trevor Mann

    Hi James,

    You are a champion. I read your reply and as I did the thought came to me “Maybe I should check the manual”. Sounds strange doesn’t it that one should refer to the manual. Anyway, I checked the index and sure enough there it was “Non CPU Lenses”. I followed the directions and my 55mm lens works great. Now I’ll set up my 80mm to 200mm Zoom Nikkor. I have very rarely used it. (95% of the time my camera was in the U/W housing).

    Once again, many thanks. Happy shooting.

    Trevor Mann

  • Esma R Kurbegovi?

    Wowww! I was looking for such a narrow DOF, I need to do a unique project without spending thouands of dollars on an f/0.95 lens. I have a Nikon camera. Could you maybe get in touch with me and give me some tips on how to set up my own rig with such an ancient lens? I don’t have any old lens rings I can use, so I’d need to figure ot a different setting

  • Liembo

    The quickest way is to reverse mount a 50mm as this article says. You can get 50mm lenses very cheaply at the Goodwill, usually attached to the film cameras that everyone passes up. Lots of other fun old glass can be found from other sources there, too: projectors, old tv lenses, video cameras and things like that. Experiment.

  • Eder Marchesoni

    Is there an adapter for a non-AI lens to a modern Nikon like a D7100? If not what are my options?

  • Angelique M. Radabaugh Chausse

    I have a Canon 50D and a Fujica ST-605, where do I find adapters?

  • Harold Mayo

    check out B&H in New York. They have lots of adapters for a variety of different mounts, you should have good luck there. Also allphotolenses.com is a great resource.

  • Brian

    I bought a Sigma mirror 400 on impulse then later learned that I need an FD – EOS adapter for my Canon t2i. I found that some adapters were sold with glass that lets you focus to infinity and others without glass. I thought that I would need the one with glass then I read a photographer who reviewed a Sigma mirror 600mm and said he used the adapter without the glass. More glass is more optical interference and the lens can focus well past infinity or something like tha so it doesn’t need the glass anywayt. Which adapter should I get for shooting birds and wildlife, with or without glass? Thank you.

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