A few years ago, a small Hong Kong-based company called Megadap raised some eyebrows when it announced its latest product, the MTZ11, which enabled Leica M-mount lenses (as well as a host of other mounts manual focus when used with adapters) for use with the Nikon Z body with autofocus.
The idea of being able to use the M-glass in an autofocus capacity was certainly intriguing, as there are so many awesome M-mount lenses on the market. Between this announcement and now, several other similar adapters have been announced under various names and manufacturers. Fotodiox and TechArt both have similar devices that perform broadly similar roles.
The concept of an autofocus adapter for manual focus lenses is not entirely new. In the 1980s, Nikon released the TC-16A, a 1.6x adapter that functioned similarly to the MTZ11. The TC-16A featured a lens element that moved back and forth in the adapter, powered by the screw motor then found in Nikon cameras. The trick was to focus the MF lens to infinity, and the TC-16A would move the rear element until your image was sharp. But as neat as this trick was, it never really caught on. First, there was a noticeable loss in image quality and you lost a stop and a half of light. Second, infinity focus didn’t always work; sometimes you had to play with your focus to get it right. Third, it didn’t work with all lenses: some had rear elements that protruded too far back, damaging both the lens and the adapter.
The MTZ11 is able to circumvent some of these issues due to the nature of mirrorless cameras. Because the camera has no mirror and prism, there is no need for a corrective lens in the adapter. The motor is powered by the camera, but internal to the adapter, and physically moves the lens back and forth. You still have to set the lens to infinity (and sometimes need to make minor adjustments), but otherwise it’s good to go.
For my tests, I used a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2, a Leica 50mm f/1.5 Summarit, and a 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit. Between my M3 and my Z 6, it was a nice change of pace to be able to carry both a film case, a digital case and those three lenses without my bag digging into my shoulder. I admit it, I find that as I get older, the wear and tear of wearing multiple bodies and heavy, pro-thin lenses has worn my shoulder and back down. Everything fits in my bag with room to spare.
During my testing, I brought the adapter with me for a few missions, including a police shootout on the Upper West Side. Police lights can have a funky, disorienting effect on some autofocus systems. Constantly changing colors and lights can cause problems with some autofocus systems, constantly seeking back and forth. The Megadap didn’t seem to have this problem any more than native lenses, although the 90mm f/2.9 Elmarit I used for this scene was quite soft at wide apertures, especially compared to more modern native lenses.
I’ve used the Z6/MTZ11 combo in various weather and light conditions and haven’t encountered any major issues. Although the adapter is not weatherproof, I felt confident enough to use it in light rain. At the same time, it had no trouble focusing and tracking my subject in low light. Physically, the MTZ11 is well built: the metal construction is strong enough to take a beating. I admit it’s a bit of a hassle to mount or remove it when used with the MB-N10 battery grip, which has to be removed to do so.
I specifically used lenses with a shallow depth of field for this test, and was pleasantly surprised how well they worked with the adapter. Specifically, the 50mm f/1.5 has always been a somewhat temperamental lens to use; With practice, it can produce beautiful images with pleasing bokeh, but if you’re not careful or shooting quickly, it can give you soft, low-contrast images just as well. Still, in my testing, the adapter provided me with precise focus and produced solid images.
That said, the adapter has things working against it. The first and most obvious being that it’s noisy; there is a loud and annoying “whirring” noise as the motor drives the lens back and forth. For reporting, this can be a problem: if you’re covering a fire or a protest, it probably won’t be a problem, but if you’re in the middle of a press conference, you’ll piss off a lot of people in the community. television and audio. At the press conference after the UWS shoot, the noise was just too loud and I had to put the adapter away. If you’re shooting around town for everyday shots you probably won’t notice this, and for the average photographer it probably won’t be a major issue, but it’s something you should be aware of if you’re considering buy it. If you use your Z-series camera for video, you should keep this in mind when staging your shots. Second, as I mentioned above, it’s a bit clunky when used in combination with a battery grip.
Beyond that, I found the adapter to be well made, sturdy, and capable. I don’t think I’d entirely swap my Nikon glass for M-mount lenses for day-to-day work, but as a breakout kit, this combination can be a lot of fun. You can get yours here.