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I have an old Pentax ME SUPER with three lenses, all of which have manual focus rings and no autofocus motors.

Do new Pentax DSLRs have built-in focus motors that can deal with old lenses?

FYI, these are my lenses:

  • smc pentax-m 1:2 50mm
  • smc pentax-m 1:2.5 150mm
  • smc pentax 1:2.8 30mm
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Thomas and Michael, thank you both for the detailed answers! It was hard to choose the accepted answer; both definitely deserve the title. –  Dor Oct 18 '13 at 10:51
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There is one Auto Focus option

Besides what Michael Clark has already explained, there is one way to get auto focus with these lenses: There is special tele converter, the 1.7x AF Adapter.

This AF adapter provides auto focus to any Pentax K lens, but with two limitations:

  • It works only in a small range. E.g, even though your lens may focus from 0.3m to infinity, the AF adapter will only cover a sub small range of it, so that you'll have to pre-focus the lense to be within the range you expect to shoot, e.g. 1-2m, and then the AF adapter can do the fine tuning in that range.

  • It extends the focal length by factor 1.7, turning your 50mm into a 85mm. Which, on today's digital Pentax bodies is then effectively a 135mm because of their smaller APS-C sensor area, adding another 1.6x magnification to any classic lens (Note that even without the AF adapter, your 30mm will effectively be like a 50mm lens on a Pentax APS-C body, so you'll probably want to get a new wide angle lens if you went for a Pentax now).

I own such a 1.7x and I must say that while it's novel and seems to be a smart thing to use with manual lenses, its small focussing range makes handling of it rather tedious.

So, even though this could be the answer that you seeked, don't rate it too high as it's fairly impractical (see also the comments on the pentaxforums.com page I linked to above).

Manual Focusing options

Actually, here's more on focusing options that you should know if you consider getting a digital Pentax body for these lenses:

  • The cameras have no split-prims in the center of their focusins screens any more to assist in focusing. It's all plain matte now. However, some models, e.g. K-20D and K-5, allow you to swap out the screens. And while Pentax only offers fairly plain ones, Katzeye Optics has some with the classic prims.

  • Some of the latest models (I guess the K-01 may be the best for that so far) also offer a loupe, i.e. a magnified view of a part of the screen, on the rear display, allowing you to better tell if your chosen object is in focus.

  • The cameras can still assist you in focusing by using its focus sensor array, and highlighting the focused areas in the display.

  • Some Pentax models offer a "catch-in-focus" mode, which is pretty handy with manual focusing: With that, it you press down the shutter to shoot, it'll only shoot if the object is in focus. This is quite practical for moving and macro objects.

If you can, find someone or a store that you can take your manual lens to, to try this all out. Download the manual for one of the recent bodies beforehand and read about how to set it up for manual focusing and manual exposure control. Because, I assure you, most ditigal Pentax users don't recall how that's done. :)

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No. You will need to manually focus these lenses. Additionally, you will need to either meter with the lens already stopped down (which makes the viewfinder darker and thus harder to manually focus) or meter with the lens set to the widest aperture and then adjust your exposure level for the amount you stop down the aperture ring on the lens before taking the picture.

No modern camera can auto focus with lenses that were designed in the pre-auto focus era. The issue for whether a body has a focus motor or not is for use with lenses designed to be AF lenses but that did not include a motor in the lens itself. These lenses have mechanical linkages to the body that allow the motor in the body to move the focus elements in the lens. Without such a linkage, the motor in the camera body has no connection to the focus elements in the lens.

Nikon used such a mechanical linkage system when AF burst onto the scene. Pentax produced one camera/lens combo with a motor (and batteries to power it!) in the lens, then later used the same type of mechanical drive shaft linkage as Nikon. Nikon later decided to move the focus motor to the lens on newer models and produced newer, consumer grade bodies without a motor in the camera. Canon, on the other hand, decided to go with an entirely new mount that made all connections between the camera and lens electrical and put all focus motors inside the lens. Although controversial and a big risk at the time, in the two and a half decades since the EF mount introduced an all electrical connection it has served Canon well. Although Nikon and Pentax have the advantage of lenses back to the 1950s being somewhat compatible with the latest bodies, figuring out just how compatible a particular lens is with a particular body in the Nikon and Pentax system can be frustrating. And the mechanical linkage still used to control apertures in the Nikon system is an Achilles heel that is easily bent if a lens is not lined up properly before being mounted. Newer versions of the Pentax mount use an electrical connection to control aperture.

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Any that are built using the KA2-mount. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentax_k_mount –  Michael Clark Oct 13 '13 at 22:36
    
The last paragraph of the answer that discusses the development of AF within Pentax/Nikon/Canon obviously included film as well as digital bodies, since no one had a digital body for the first decade+ of the AF era. I now see the KA2 mount was used only in the film MZ-M and did not include AF capability, and have edited the answer to reflect that. As to the claim that "... it's generally simple and straightforward" I'd say only if you are well versed in the nomenclature of Pentax lens model numbers and the various aperture control configurations. –  Michael Clark Oct 14 '13 at 0:13
    
But you don't have to be well-versed -- that's the point. They all work, with all Pentax DSLRs, but lenses without a A setting require stop-down metering since there is no aperture coupling lever on any Pentax DSLR so far. That's all there is to it. –  mattdm Oct 14 '13 at 0:20
    
And with Nikon all AF lenses will meter properly, just some won't focus if the body doesn't have a motor. Nikon also claims all lenses will work, but some aren't as functional as others. The same is true with Pentax. –  Michael Clark Oct 14 '13 at 0:24
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If I only had Sony lenses ;) Definitely a promising technology though. For the meantime I'm thinking of ditching my old lenses and just starting from scratch with a Canon/Nikon system. –  Dor Oct 18 '13 at 10:52
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