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Autofocus Anything – Techart Pro autofocus adapter with Zeiss manual focus lenses


From the earliest days of the mirrorless movement, photographers have enjoyed the ability to adapt manual focus lenses made for various legacy camera mounts to their new systems. With their electronic viewfinders and focusing aids, mirrorless cameras are uniquely suited for the task of manual focusing older lenses. As one of those early adopters, I adapted every rangefinder or legacy SLR lens I could get my hands on.

The results were satisfying but manual focusing can be challenging for moving subjects or for those with poor eyesight. Thanks to the technology in the new Sony Alpha series mirrorless cameras – specifically those cameras with on-sensor phase detection autofocus – and the ingenuity of a small company in Hong Kong, we now have the ability to autofocus almost any manual focus lens manufactured over the past 75 years for the 35mm format.

This wizardry is delivered via a new smart adapter called the Techart Pro – I’m calling it TAP for short – for Sony’s latest generation of phase detect autofocus (PDAF) cameras: the a7RII, a7II and a6300. Don’t bother trying it with any previous Sony models but we might assume that future Sony PDAF cameras should be compatible. Out of the box, the adapter supports lenses made for Leica M mount, but due to the short flange distance of that platform, there is plenty of room for an additional adapter to stack on the TAP, thus increasing the mount compatibility to support: ALPA, Canon FD and EF, Contarex CRX, Contax/Yashica (C/Y), DKL, Exakta, Leica R, M42, Minolta MD, Nikon F, Olympus OM and Pentax K. These additional adapters can be purchased from Techart or perhaps more cheaply on eBay or Amazon. The TAP itself costs $349 and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.

The manufacturer claims that TAP can focus a lens as large as 700g but for my purposes, I’m primarily looking at small and light rangefinder lenses as they maximize the compact potential of mirrorless. For this review I’m using the following selection of Zeiss ZM lenses:

  • Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM
  • Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM
  • Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM
  • Zeiss 85mm f/4 Tele Tessar T* ZM

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The basic concept of TAP is an adapter housing a miniature but powerful motor, driving the adapted lens forward and back over a range of 4.5mm to obtain focus. For lenses of 50mm or wider, the adapter will cover the full focus range, but for longer lenses Techart advises that you perform a rough manual pre-focus before letting the adapter complete the fine tuned AF. The adapter works in concert with the Sony’s PDAF system to accurately confirm focus and supports basic modes such as AF-S and AF-C but I would note that the adapter will perform best with the AF box set to center. Make sure all cameras are updated to their latest firmware and understand that the more advanced autofocus features like eye-AF and object tracking (Lock AF) are not currently supported by TAP.

Besides gaining autofocus, when TAP is used on Sony Alpha models that feature in body image stabilization (IBIS), your older manual focus lenses will benefit from 3-axis image stabilization. There’s even a method to program the focal length of the lens to the adapter so that the camera’s automatic IBIS setting will recognize the correct lens fov – and store it in the image EXIF.

Originally designed for Leica M-mount, the ZM lenses are typical German tectonic designs with diminuative metal and glass bodies and a tactile feel to the controls that is lost in most modern AF lenses. Even one of the larger lenses – the 35mm f/1.4 Distagon is half the size of a DSLR AF lens of the same focal length and speed.

But before we dig into the individual lenses, a couple thoughts on the overall performance of the adapter. As of the date of this article, do not expect a perfectly polished, bug free product. I have used a couple firmware versions during this test, including the latest – version 3 which has eliminated the worst of the lockups that the earlier firmware suffered from but there is still an occasional hiccup where the camera will do a soft reset that takes a second or two. I expect that Techart will be releasing additional firmware improvements but there is no guarantee of that so buyer beware. Compared to the early firmware versions which were quite buggy, version 4.0 is very stable, quick and accurate. I believe we are at a point where I would trust the adapter fully for paid work. Second is the sound that the adapter emits – a sort of quiet chirp that is considerably more quiet than Techart’s previous motorized Contax G adapter. I don’t imagine that the noise will be a bother to most photographers or their subjects.


First up is the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM. The general consensus being that the Distagon is one of, if not the finest 35/1.4 lenses ever made and I would fully concur. The way this lens renders is open and delicate but with the signature Zeiss micro contrast in full effect. On the TAP adapter the lens focuses quickly (.3-1 sec), on par or faster than one could expect to focus on rangefinder cameras the Distagon was originally designed for. Utilizing the phase detect AF sensors built into the Sony a7RII, the adapter locks on with the same level of accuracy that I have come to depend on from the native Sony AF lenses.

ZM lenses-3

Sony a7RII + Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM

UO Felize Web-010

Focus here was on her necklace.

UO Felize Web-011UO Felize Web-022UO Felize Web-007UO Felize Web-023Since this is primarily a review of the adapter, not the lens, I’ll just comment that the native characteristics of the Distagon are unchanged, with the exception of its close focus capabilities. With TAP you essentially gain a built-in extension tube to significantly improve the minimum focus distance on all lenses. Rangefinder lens designs are typically limited to a minimum close focus distance in the range of .5 to 1 meter so the ability to focus closer is a notable upgrade. Generally, to use TAP you simply set the focus ring on your mounted lens to infinity and then hit your shutter or back focus AF button to engage the autofocus. For subjects closer than the native minimum focus distance of your lens, manually adjust the focus ring to the minimum distance before engaging the autofocus.

UO Felize Web-001

In addition to these natural light shots, I had a chance to try the TAP/Distagon 35mm combination out at a Gary Clark Jr. concert for the 41st anniversary of one of Austin’s most storied music venues – Antone’s. This was the first time I had used the adapter in extreme low light and I was very satisfied with the speed in which it acquired AF. I was half expecting it to be unusable but the found the opposite to be true.

ZM 35 1.4 Review Samples-5ZM 35 1.4 Review Samples-3ZM 35 Review Samples-7ZM 35 1.4 Review Samples-1ZM 35 Review Samples-6ZM 35 Review Samples-8ZM 35 1.4 Review Samples-4


Want to go even smaller at 35mm? The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM lens fits the bill. The “C” in the name stands for compact and the Biogon lives up to that designation at only 2.2″ long and 200g.

TAP focused this little beauty quickly and like the Distagon very accurately – I’m finding that TAP focuses with high accuracy on every lens I’ve tried. How quickly the adapter achieves focus differs slightly depending on the camera body it is mounted on, with the a7RII being Porsche 911 quick while the impressive AF system of the a6300 adds the turbo. At times and usually in good light, the adapter will rival the speed of a native lens, but lower the lights and things slow down a bit but not too bad really – see concert shots for proof. Overall, I’m more than satisfied with the AF performance and if for some reason you find TAP struggling, you always have the option to pop into MF mode and get it done the old fashioned way.

ZM lenses-4

Sony a7RII + Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM

I enjoyed the fit and feel of this lens and while I usually prefer a faster lens, there is something special about the C Biogon. I wasn’t previously aware of the appreciation photographers share for this little lens but I get it now. With virtually zero distortion, beautiful bokeh and plenty of resolving power, this Zeiss makes for a great compact optic. Corner performance is not that good on digital sensors until you stop down considerably but I took this little guy with me on vacation and used it as both a wide open and landscape shooter with impressive results. Some call it 3D but I’ll just say that the images from this lens have a bite and presence that adds a sense of realism. This set in particular illustrates how well the Techart does in a variety of situations including capturing children in action – nothing was prefocused, all shots were AF on demand.

C-Biogon Review Samples-11C-Biogon Review Samples-10C-Biogon Review Samples-4C-Biogon Review Samples-7C-Biogon Review Samples-5C-Biogon Review Samples-12C-Biogon Review Samples-25C-Biogon Review Samples-27C-Biogon Review Samples-24C-Biogon Review Samples-23C-Biogon Review Samples-20C-Biogon Review Samples-21C-Biogon Review Samples-19C-Biogon Review Samples-14C-Biogon Review Samples-17

C-Biogon Review Samples-16

Wondering why this shot looks wider than the one above it? It is a 5 frame panoramic captured in portrait orientation.

C-Biogon Review Samples-15C-Biogon Review Samples-13


Next up is the Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM. Another personal favorite and considered by most a “character lens”, the “C” actually stands for Classical and is based on a 1930’s design. The lens is natively limited by a 1-meter minimum focus distance, but on the TAP that distance is cut down to just 15” or so. Focus is fairly quick in good light – fraction of a second – and very accurate, even wide open. I used the C Sonnar on the a7RII to chronicle a fishing trip down on South Padre Island in Texas (notice the lack of fish photos). The gorgeous rendering of the Sonnar is easily recognizable, distinguishing itself from more well behaved modern designs. If you are looking for a small, fast 50 with a unique look compared to modern designs, this is your lens.

ZM lenses-2

Sony a7RII + Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM

1st day-131st day-111st day-9C sonnar 50-1.4-1

I also tried the TAP and C Sonnar out at the concert referenced earlier in the article…love the way it handles the setting sun in this first frame.

C-Sonnar Review Samples-1C-Sonnar Review Samples-3C-Sonnar Review Samples-2C-Sonnar Review Samples-4


Since you can never have too many 50mm lenses, the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/2 ZM serves duty for the fast, but not too fast standard prime. With a Planar design as opposed to the 50mm C-Sonnar, this lens renders more like the classic Zeiss C/Y 50mm SLR lens but in a compact rangefinder style package. I took the Planar out to Barton Springs Pool here in Austin, TX to try and capture some summer scenes. Again focus was snappy and accurate -it really is mesmerizing to watch the dancing green AF confirmation boxes of the Sony cameras quickly light up and lock on securely to the subject.

ZM lenses-1

Sony a7RII + Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM

Planar 50mm samples-8Planar 50mm samples-2Planar 50mm samples-1Planar 50mm samples-3Planar 50mm samples-5Planar 50mm samples-6Planar 50mm samples-4


Last up is the Tele-Tessar 85mm f/4 T* ZM. This is another lens that surprised me with its bite and resolving power. While not really capable of rendering the creamy bokeh that I lean towards in a fast 85mm, for subjects up close I found the out of focus areas to be pleasant enough and as mentioned, the sharpness is just outstanding. The TAP had no problems with the Tele-Tessar and the two make a nice compact combination for a short tele travel setup.

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Sony a7RII + Zeiss 85mm f/4 Tele Tessar T* ZM

Tele Tessar Review Samples-2Tele Tessar-4


 

After two months spent shooting the Techart Pro adapter out in the wild with these wonderfully engineered Zeiss lenses, I have no reservations recommending both the adapter and the lenses if you are looking for a compact, high quality setup for your Sony a7II, a7RII or a6300 cameras. This technology further bolsters the argument for mirrorless and offsets criticisms of lenses that are too large. The beauty of mirrorless lies in its flexibility and power to use both the newer designed high quality native lenses and compact classic designs that have their own unique merits when it comes to rendering an appealing image. Thank you to Techart for developing this marvel that allows us to autofocus nearly anything.

33 Comments

  1. […] Autofocus Anything – Techart Pro autofocus adapter with Zeiss manual focus lenses […]

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  2. The review I was waiting for! Thanks Chad. Just one question: I read somewhere that with lenses with floating elements (such the zm distagon 35 1.4) the image quality will decrease, and with long heavy lenses (even 500gr +) you must “assist” the af prefocusing manually near the desidered focus point. Can you confirm?

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    1. Hi Carlo! You are welcome and thanks for the comment.

      You may have missed it in the review but I addressed the pre-focusing:

      “The basic concept of TAP is an adapter housing a miniature but powerful motor, driving the adapted lens forward and back over a range of 4.5mm to obtain focus. For lenses of 50mm or wider, the adapter will cover the full focus range, but for longer lenses Techart advises that you perform a rough manual pre-focus before letting the adapter complete the fine tuned AF.”

      I’m finding that the need to prefocus is not about the size of the lens from a perspective of the motor being able to move the lens – it is simply that longer focal lengths require more travel in their helicoid (>4.5mm) so the adapter alone cannot cover the full focus range.

      As for the floating element issue – yes I am aware of the consideration but did not find any proof of reduced quality with the Distagon. It is outstanding on the TAP.

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      1. I’ve been using this adapter with a Leica 50 summilux w/ floating element. I’m not an aggressive pixel peeper, but I’ve been very happy with the results. My guess is that the fle is more involved in correcting away from center, but I’m not sure. I shoot a lot of people pics wide open where most of the frame is purposely blurry anyway. Having the phase detection helping nail focus at f 1.4 is definitely a bonus. The ability to get a little closer than normal focus (if you manually focus somewhere below infinity) is pretty cool, too.

        I’ve also used this with some Nikon lenses. I’m not sure what the point of a nikon to leica m adapter was before this thing came along, but they are available for cheap. My favorite is the 85 1.4 — which is heavier than they recommend, but seems to work. With that lens, I definitely like to support the lens and the camera and just try not to interfere with the focus motor.

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  3. Thanks Chad. Very useful. Let us know your progress testing the adapter, even with non leica lenses.

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  4. Thanks for the nice review!
    I also like to work with my Techart Pro together with old C/Y lenses I own.
    My favorite lens is the C/Y Sonnar 2.8 85mm.
    Sharp, nice color…I love it.
    After reading your review I think I will look for Zeiss ZM lenses…
    (and sorry for my english)

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  5. Nothing much to add, but thanks so much for a highly intelligent and beautifully photographed review. Having the Zeiss 35 1.4, both 50’s, and the 85 f4 makes it especially useful. I prefer manual focusing but look forward to the ability to autofocus these exceptional lenses for certain situations. Oh, you might have sold me on adding the 35 Biogon as well.

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    1. Thank you. Sounds like you are an ideal candidate for the TAP and yes, the little biogon is a worthy acquisition. Have fun with it.

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  6. […] Bhphoto, eBay and Amazon.com. Techart Pro autofocus adapter with ZEISS manual focus lenses (Chad Wadsworth). Shoots made with the A6300 and the 35mm 1.4 Distagon (SonyAlphaForum). Studying Photography in […]

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  7. Thanks Chad, presumably the TAP will be compatable with my Contax 35-70mm and 28mm? How about the FD 35mm tilt shift?

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  8. Hi, Chad. How did you get version 3 of the firmware? The latest I’ve found on the TechArt Pro website is version 2.

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    1. Hi Doug. The firmware updates are delivered via the Techart smartphone app for iOS or Android

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  9. Hi Chad, thanks for the review. Would love to see how the adapter works with Canon and Sony mount lenses. I’m especially curious about Samyang 85 mm 1.4.
    Here is my real question: How did you process the image of the women with flowers on her head (we see her back) ? I like the grain and colors!

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    1. Thanks. Yes, with the right stacked adapter you could mount manual focus Canon EF lenses like the Samyang MF lenses but I am not aware of a Sony A to Leica M adapter that would work with the Techart.

      Processing is done in Lightroom using camera and lens customized VSCO profiles.

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      1. Hi Chad, there are 2 such Sony A to Leica M adapters made by Novoflex and Kipon. Were you aware of them or are you saying that they would not work?

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      2. John, I got the Kipon adapter. It does not fit out of the box – you need to unscrew the rear plate and remove the aperture control ring. Once removed, replace the rear plate and it will fit on the Techart.

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      3. John,

        I see the adapters now, thanks. Wow, there is a very exciting use case for this – A-mount lenses that are screw driven AF. Today we are stuck with the LA-EA4 adapter and its built-in SLT AF sensor. This could potentially enable fast native PDAF with all A-mount screw drive lenses!

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  10. […] possible to use Canon, Contax, Leica, Nikon, Voigtlander and the list goes on and on. Now with the Techart Pro adapter, it is possible to auto-focus Zeiss ZM manual focus lenses on the Sony a7x […]

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  11. Hi Chad,
    I noticed that you have a Gariz case on the Sony camera. I assume there is enought space to mount the Techart or did you smear a bit the case or the adapter?
    thanks!
    Lovely pictures, bravo!

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    1. Thanks. The Gariz is a snug fit but I didn’t have to do any modifications and the fit improves over time. The best thing about the Gariz is that the base of the TAP is flush with it so it sits nicely on a flat surface.

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  12. Hi Chad, I’ve been searching for a compact, quality 35mm f1.8 or f1.4 for my A7rII and I was having doubt about the TAP adapter. Your review just convinced me that this is indeed a possible road to follow. Possible, because I’m not 100% sure that the size difference between the Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm 1.4 and the Zeis Distagon 35mm + TAP justifies the additional cost (and because of the adapter a bit less IQ or features I believe?). For you it’s worth it I guess? I have to admit the Sony 35mm is a big beast (too big to be honest), but is the Zeiss small enough? (The f2.8 lenses are small but don’t want to shoot with f2.8)
    Thanks!

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    1. If you want compact, you could always try the Voigtlander 35/1.4 or one of my favorites – the M-Rokkor 40/2. The Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 renders just a bit different than the Sony Zeiss 35/1.4 but I would say the Sony is very slightly superior from a technical standpoint. You may prefer the ZM though. I have both and use them based on the project. The ZM is considerably smaller in my bag and on the camera but feels no lighter than the larger Sony/Zeiss.

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  13. Oh I forgot: I found your site because of your post about the modified 35/2 of the Hexar AF film camera. Now that’s small! 🙂 And a beautiful bokeh! I wish I could simply order one for the A7r2. You’re not selling yours by any chance? 😉

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    1. No, sorry but you can always buy a Hexar and send the camera to Miyazaki san for the conversion.

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  14. With floating lens element (FLE) lenses, best image quality should be achieved by manually pre-focusing to the approximate actual distance, so that the moving lens element is in the correct position for that distance. Then the adapter motor can move the whole lens to the exact position to achieve accurate autofocus. (When the adapter was first announced, they confirmed this procedure.)

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  15. Hello Chad, love the articles you have posted in regards to Sony mirrorless stuff, and I grabbed this adapter recently because of your post (thanks for sharing!). I saw the very first version of the techart awhile back, which had that motor that sounded like a crazy animal death call, but the new version is “quieter” and works pretty good! I also saw a guy mention he used it with FD lenses…so i crawled ebay, came across this adapter, which actually is FD to M mount, but it has been designed so it will fit into the Techart adapter.

    It seems the previous FD>M adapters would not fit together into the Techart adapter. Anyways, just sharing this, as I got it today, and it works! Autofocus with the Canon 50mm FD 1.4 is pretty awesome! Not only that, but with even closer focus distance, completely insane…Ebay item > http://www.ebay.com/itm/Leicaist-Canon-FD-lens-to-Leica-M-camera-Ring-for-M240-M9-with-TECHART-LM-EA7-/252586577651?

    I also tested the Canon FD 135 f2.8, which works, but not that great.

    My only issue with the Techart is you cannot leave it on the camera, it drains the battery…otherwise, it works for my type of shooting.

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  16. Hi Chad, how would you compare the FE35 2.8 vs ZM 35 2.8?
    Which you do you prefer and why? Cheers.

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  17. […] Erfahrungsbericht von Chad Wadsworth mit Beispielbildern […]

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  18. Hi Chad,
    after reading reviews from your website, I’ve decided to get myself a Techart adapter for my Contax lenses. I’ve recently bought a Ta-Ga3 for my Sony A7rII and results are impressive!

    I’m having some issues with video mode though, and I though maybe you could help me. I was a bit confused with all the different models available and the adapter I bought (ta-ga3) is probably different than the techart pro discussed here. My problem is simple. I’ve been trying to adjust the focus manually, before and while shooting a video, but i doesn’t work. I can autofocus and then capture a video but then the focus is locked. It seems like the video mode is turning off the focus scroll wheel. Do you have that too on your adapter?
    Thanks

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  19. Chad,
    Man loved this post / love your pics and post processing. I couldn’t be more of a fan. I currently own the A7rii and am on the verge of picking up a (Zeiss Wide Angle 28mm f/2.8 Biogon). Since it is in the same family as the 35mm f/2.8 you demoed – do you think the results would be comparable to the 28mm on the A7rii using the TAP..? I only ask because some online reviews complain of one inferiority after another – BUT YOUR PICS SAY OTHERWISE… They are exactly what I’m chasing. Sorry for the essay – just loved finding your blog even if I’m late to the party.. Best Trent

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    1. Hey Trent. I haven’t tested the 28mm biogon, although I have used the Contax G version on the a7RII. If you are looking for technical perfection with sharp corners, it isn’t the lens for you as it suffers smearing on the digital sensor. However, it does have that Zeiss signature and if you are routinely shooting wide open for subject isolation you might love it. Alternately, I’m a fan of the Sony FE 28/2 – great bang for the buck 28mm with surprisingly good bokeh and bite.

      Good luck with your choice.

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  20. […] any legacy lens. I’ve written in the past about the Techart Golden Eagle (CONTAX G) and Techart Pro (Leica M) adapters. Next up is the Fringer CONTAX N/645 Sony E mount […]

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