A few years ago, a small Hong Kong-based company called Megadap raised some eyebrows when they announced their newest product, the MTZ11, which allowed Leica M mount lenses (along with a host of other manual-focus mounts when used with adapters) to be used with the Nikon Z body with autofocus.
The idea of being able to use M glass in an autofocus capacity was certainly intriguing, as there are plenty of impressive M mount lenses out on the market. Between that announcement and now, several other similar adapters have been announced under a variety of names and manufacturers. Fotodiox and TechArt both have similar devices that fill largely similar roles.
The concept of an autofocus adapter for manual focus lenses isn’t entirely new. In the 1980s, Nikon released the TC-16A, a 1.6x adapter that functioned in a similar manner to the MTZ11. The TC-16A featured a lens element that moved back and forth within the adapter, powered by the screw-drive motor then found in Nikon cameras. The trick was to focus the MF lens out to infinity, and the TC-16A would move the rear element until your image was in focus. But as neat a trick as this was, it never quite caught on. First, there was a distinct loss in image quality, and you lost a stop and a half of light. Second, focusing out to infinity didn’t always work; sometimes, you had to fiddle with your focus to get it just right. Third, it didn’t work with every lens: some had rear elements that protruded too far back, leading to damage to both the lens and the adapter.
The MTZ11 is able to work around some of these issues due to the nature of mirrorless cameras. Because the camera lacks a mirror and prism, there’s 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 need 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 being able to carry both a film body, a digital body, and those three lenses without having my bag digging into my shoulder. I’ll admit, I find as I get older, the wear and tear of carrying multiple bodies and heavy, pro-end lenses has been wearing my shoulder and back down. Everything fit into my bag with room to spare.
During my tests, I brought the adapter with me for a few assignments, including a police-involved shooting on the Upper West Side. Police lights can have a funky, disorientating effect on some autofocus systems. The constantly shifting colors and lights can cause some autofocus systems to struggle, constantly searching back and forth. The Megadap didn’t seem to have this issue any more than native lenses, though the 90mm f/2.9 Elmarit I used for this scene was pretty soft wide open, particularly when compared to more modern native lenses.
I used the Z6/MTZ11 combo in a variety of weather and light conditions and had no significant problems. While the adapter is not weather-sealed, I felt confident enough to use it in light rain. At the same time, it had no trouble focusing on and tracking my subject during low-light conditions. Physically, the MTZ11 is well built: the metal construction is solid enough to take a beating. I will admit that it’s a bit of a pain mounting it or removing it when used with the MB-N10 battery grip, which needs to be removed in order to do so.
I specifically used lenses with a narrow depth of field for this test, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well they functioned with the adapter. More specifically, the 50mm f/1.5 has always been a somewhat finicky lens to use; with practice, it can produce beautiful images with a pleasant bokeh, but if you’re not paying attention or shooting in a hurry, it can just as easily give you soft, low-contrast frames. Still, during my testing, the adapter reliably gave me a precise focus and produced some solid frames.
Having said all this, the adapter does have some things working against it. The first and most obvious being that it’s loud; there’s a significant and distracting “whirr” noise as the motor drives the lens back and forth. For news work, this can be a problem: if you’re covering a fire or protest, it’s probably not going to be an issue, but if you’re in the middle of a press conference, you’re going to piss off a lot of TV and audio folks. During the press conference after the UWS shooting, the noise was simply too much, and I had to put the adapter away. If you’re shooting out in the city for everyday shooting, you probably won’t notice it, and for the average photographer, it’s probably not going to be a major issue, but it is something you should be aware of if you’re considering buying it. If you’re using your Z-series camera for video, you should keep this in mind when staging your shots. Second, as I mentioned above, it is 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 would trade out my Nikon glass entirely for M mount lenses for everyday work, but as a walkaround kit, this combination can be a ton of fun. You can get yours here.