Review: Shoten GTE Contax G to Sony E Autofocus Adapter
For as long as I’ve used digital cameras, I’ve wanted a system in which I can freely and easily share lenses with a 35mm film camera, and have a similar features across both formats. There are tons of great manual focus options out there, but after becoming spoiled by autofocus, this became a lot more difficult. Is the latest Contax G to Sony E autofocus adapter from Shoten the answer?
What I’m looking for
First off, I don’t really like SLRs. They’re bigger and heavier than I’d prefer, I don’t like that they cover my face, and I find the focusing screens on many manual focus cameras difficult to see. Yes, I realize the form factor of my Sony A7R III kinda fails here, but it’s sensor is so great that I can’t give it up, and I can adapt just about any lens that exists to it.
On the (35mm) film side, I tend to go for rangefinders and point-and-shoot cameras. They’re small enough that I can let them dangle by a wrist strap, and I can compose through my right eye and still see my surroundings with my left eye. I’ve owned Leicas in the past, but with the hyperinflation of equipment prices in recent years, I can’t justify the cost anymore. I’d buy another M2 for $600 in a heartbeat, but in 2023 you’re probably looking at more like $1600. That’s just absurd.
Years ago, I became intrigued by the Contax G series when Techart released their first autofocus adapter for Sony E bodies. Reviews were questionable, and I got the impression it was more of a novelty than a useful tool. More recently a company I’ve never heard of called Shoten* released a new autofocus adapter which promises improved performance and support for face detection and continuous autofocus.
as it turns out, Shoten is just another brand by same company that produces other adapter brands, including Techart and Fotodiox. I have no clue why they feel the need to have 87 different brands.
The adapter currently sells for over $300, and for that price I’d expect more than just a novelty.
The adapter came in a nice plastic case and microfiber pouch. It is made of metal, and felt reasonably well built. It’s also huge. It sticks out below the lens mount, far enough that I couldn’t even get the adapter onto the camera with my tripod plate attached. Very annoying, since I’d prefer the leave the tripod plate on all the time. Oh well. I mounted the adapter, and put the tripod plate back on sideways, which is not ideal but works…unless I need to take the adapter off. Sigh.
The adapter did not include English instructions. I figured that was fine, as most adapters are pretty self explanatory.
I first mounted the Contax Biogon 28mm lens on my camera and tried to test it. It hunted, a lot. Occasionally it took a picture, and even more occasionally it was in focus. My first impression was that this thing is trash. After playing with it a bit, I realized that the dial on the side of the adapter was a manual focus dial*, and if I manually focused it close to infinity the Biogon would have a *little* more success in focusing. But still felt firmly in the “novelty” camp.
maybe the instructions would have told me this! too bad I can’t read them.
Next, I tried the 45mm Planar. Much better. It still hunted a lot, but at least got close enough most of the time. In continuous autofocus, it had a tendency to keep trying to focus even after correct focus had been achieved, making it constantly jump back and forth between correct and almost correct focus. Single shot mode allowed me to focus, shoot, and usually get something close. I wouldn’t trust it for anything shallow depth of field, though.
The 90mm Sonnar performance was very similar to that of the 45mm, maybe a little worse. Useable, but I wouldn’t trust to nail the eyes on a shallow DOF portrait, unless you bracket the ever living crap out of it.
Soon after receiving the adapter, my wife and I went on a two week trip to Israel and Palestine. By the end of the trip, I will say that I did appreciate being able to consolidate down to a single lens system. I also appreciated having some autofocus capability, even if it didn’t work all that great. Even the 45mm Planar, which gave the best autofocus performance of the 3, still failed if the manual dial was too far off from the focus distance you needed. It reminded me of the frustration with early dishwashers, where you had to pre-wash your dishes before washing them.
That all said, I was satisfied with the stopped down shots I took with the 45mm and 90mm lenses, but that’s setting the bar pretty low - I should be able to scale focus those. Wide open and low light shots were a total crapshoot, and the 28mm was almost unsuable as an autofocus lens. Reassigning one of my camera buttons to auto/manual focus toggle improved things a bit, as I could autofocus and quickly switch to manual to fine tune. But if I have to manually focus anyway, why the hell am I paying $300 for an adapter?
One other thing to note - the adapter has the capability of sending lens data to the camera for EXIF tags. It doesn’t detect the lens automatically, and the process for setting it manually might be the most comically asinine and convoluted procedure I’ve ever seen. And it didn’t even work most of the time. I swear this is not a joke - you’re supposed to…
- turn off the camera while holding some button down
- set a lens-specific f-stop on the lens (and remember what it was for each lens)
- shoot once
- turn camera off
- remove adapter
- re-attach adapter
- turn camera back on
Yeesh. My favorite is that you have to completely remove and re-attach the adapter. God help you if you have a tripod plate. I tried doing this a few times and I got it to work right once. After that, I didn’t bother.
Is the Shoten GTE more than a novelty? Eh, that’s tough…barely? Don’t even think about this for professional use. It’s not total trash, but it’s not what I’d call good either. Is it better than nothing? Sure. Is it worth the price? No way. I found it autofocus performance to be just as frustrating as it is helpful, though maybe that viewpoint is skewed by the price.
I love these lenses and I really, really want to be able to use them with both my G1 and a digital body. This ain’t it. The adapter does have a USB port for firmware updates. Maybe future updates will improve things, but I’m not holding my breath as the latest update was almost 2 years ago. Perhaps I’ll try one of the manual focus adapters on the market and see what I end up using more.