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What is the difference between Sony A-mount, E-mount, NEX-mount and FE lenses?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

You may be a fan or even be an owner of Sony mirrorless cameras and chances are you still aren’t aware that Sony has different mount systems. If you have you may be confused by it or wondered what the difference is between Sony A-mount lenses and Sony E-mount lenses. Then you might have heard about NEX lenses and wondered what is the difference between E-mount and Sony NEX lenses? And how about the FE line? Where does it fit in? Why do some Alpha Sony cameras use A-mount and some Alpha Sonys E-mount? Yes it is confusing and trust me you’re not alone. This blog will clarify this confusion and also give some (brief) background history of how we got to this point.


All considered, what Sony has accomplished in the prosumer and professional digital camera market is very impressive, having become the fastest growing company (by far) in the mirrorless camera market. The confusion with its lens mounts and lens lines comes from Sony’s effort to stay relevant in a fast changing digital market and re-branding changes over the last few years.


First off, we can answer this question very briefly and that’s all you’ll need to know to understand Sony mount systems, in case you’re not interested in the history part of it.

Sony has 2 mounts, the Sony A-mount and Sony E-mount. That’s it. The Sony A-mount was used in several lines of DSLRs that were introduced between 2006 and 2010. And continues to be used, but until 2010 it was the only lens mount it used. The Sony E-mount was developed by Sony and introduced in 2010 with the branding “Sony Alpha NEX”. What’s the difference between NEX and E-mount? None. They are the same thing, NEX being a branding that Sony soon dropped by just calling their mirrorless digital cameras “Alpha”, a branding they had pretty much always used since the beginning since their very first digital DSLR in 2006. The Sony FE were a new line of E-mount lenses designed for full frame mirrorless. So they are just a type of E-mount. Some Sony A-mount lenses have a “DT” label to their name and that means that can only be used with APS-C sensor cameras. Finally, you can use A-mount Sony lenses on E-mount bodies with an adapter. But you can’t mount E-mount Sony lenses on an A-mount camera.

That’s pretty much sums it up. But in case you’re not confused enough, you can read the background history of this.


Sony enters the DSLR game


By the early 2000s tech giant Sony had no presence in the prosumer and professional camera market even if it had released the successful Cyber-shot line of point-and-shoot cameras.

In 2006 Sony and another Japanese technology conglomerate, Konica Minolta, announced a partnership in order to develop a new line of DSLRs. It was a partnership that made sense for both since on one side Sony could enter the DSLR market without having to develop a new technology from scratch and Konica Minolta could have access to Sony’s resources and digital camera market share. In the previous years Konica Minolta, formed in 2003 from the merger of photography companies Minolta and Konica, had introduced several digital DSRLs that tried to compete (unsuccessfully) with Canon and Nikon such as the Maxxum 7D and Maxxum 5D. Minolta’s DSLR technology dated back even to 1995 when it introduced the first digital SLR camera, the RD-175. But by 2006 the company was struggling to gain market share in the DSLR market and so the partnership with Sony came about.

This partnership didn’t last long as Konica Minolta ended up selling the camera business to Sony in order to focus on their business and industrial imaging products. The technology Sony acquired from Konica Minolta included the “A-Type mount”, developed by Minolta in 1985. The first ever Sony DSLR, the Sony Alpha A100 (which we rent, in case you're looking for a cheap 10MP DLSR or just interested in playing around with a vintage Sony camera), in fact, had Minolta’s A-Type mount, which now Sony called “A-mount”. And the name Sony chose for their DSLRs, the “Alpha” name, also came from Konica Minolta’s legacy as they used the Alpha name for some of their DSLRs (the Maxxum 7D was called Alpha-7 in Japan).


The confusion begins - Sony introduces the NEX line with E-mount


After the Alpha A100 Sony followed up with other models and several lines of cameras including APS-C and full frame cameras, all using the A-mount. Then in 2010 Sony finally made its first big step in the market with their own developed technology with the Sony Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5, Sony’s first mirrorless cameras sporting a brand new mount, the “E-mount”. The “NEX” branding still fell under the Alpha line but was meant to promote their newly developed E mount, “NEX” actually being short for “New E-mount eXperiece”. So, this pretty much answers the question of what’s the difference between E-mount and NEX mount. They are the same thing. But the story doesn’t end here. If the idea originally might have been for Sony to have Alpha models use the A-mount and Alpha NEX branded models the E-mount that soon changed by Sony deciding (unofficially) to drop the “NEX” branding with the introduction of the Alpha a3000, which had the E-mount. Now all cameras using the E-mount would be branded “Alpha”, the “NEX” having been only a short-lived branding effort.


The plot thickens - Sony FE lenses


So now if you were looking to buy a Sony camera after the introduction of the a3000 you would be looking at some Sony Alpha cameras having the A-mount, some the E-mount. Some would be called NEX, some only Alpha. You’d be wondering about the difference between E-mount and NEX. Then Sony introduced the FE line of E-mount lenses, designed to be used with full frame mirrorless cameras. The G Master FE line is so far the most impressive (and expensive) line of lenses Sony has released and a clear indication that the company seems to be going E-mount all the way.

If Sony FE lens would work with any Sony E-mount model (APS-C or full frame), regular NEX E-mount lenses would not work with full frame without getting vignetting. But contrary to Canon EF-S lenses which can’t even be mounted on a full frame Canon body, Sony NEX E-mount lenses can mount on full frame Sony bodies such as the Sony A7, A7ii or A7s ii and can also be used if you set the camera in APS-C mode.


So to summarize:


There’s 2 Sony mount systems

A-mount - the original Sony mount inherited by the Minolta acquisition. Sony “DT” A-mount lenses can only be used with cropped sensor Sony cameras.

E-mount - developed by Sony and introduced in 2010 with the NEX branding. NEX and E-mount are the same thing. The FE E-mount lenses are designed for full frame mirrorless Sony cameras and if used on cropped sensor cameras will have the field of view of longer focal length lenses. Regular NEX E-mount lenses can still be used on full frame bodies but the camera needs to be set in APS-C mode.

Finally Sony A-mount lenses can be used on E-mount camera bodies with an adapter but the opposite will not work.