Tag Archives: Equipment

Don’t Forget About Those Old M42 Lenses For Your Modern dSLR…

[tweetmeme]This is a guest post by Rob, from robnunnphoto.com.

If, like me, you’re a photographer on a very tight budget, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is how expensive lenses are for your dSLR. Apart from the “Nifty Fifties”, which for most manufacturers can be had for around $100, new lenses are hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Fear not though – there is another way, where you can buy lenses for a few dollars, rather than a few hundred – M42 Lenses. M42 refers to the type of screw mount these old lenses use, and it was a standard for companies like Zenit, Praktica, and Pentax for many years. There are also lots of other lens manufacturers who produced M42 lenses from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, when Auto-Exposure, and a little later, Auto-Focus, rendered a screw type mount impractical.

To fit these lenses you’ll need an M42 adapter (available on eBay), which is normally just a piece of machined and finished metal, with a bayonet fitting on one side and a screw mount on the other. Having no electrical connection, you then have to focus, change the aperture, and meter manually, but this is a good learning experience and gets easier with practice. If you’re using Canon you can set your command wheel to Aperture Priority, and your camera will adjust the shutter speed automatically as light levels change or you change the lenses aperture.

Some M42 Lens Mount Adapters include an optic, and it’s always best to check compatibility of your camera body with a particular lens. Some old lenses protrude into the body of the camera, and this can cause problems with hitting the mirror.

I get my M42 lenses from car-boot sales, second hand shops, thrift stores and charity shops. There’s a thriving market on eBay, but the most popular and highest quality can demand steep prices. I normally just look for old 35mm Film Cameras that are clean, I make sure the lens works, then pay a couple of quid at a car-boot sale.

Most M42 lenses are fixed-focal length prime lenses – zooms just weren’t made for M42 in great quantities, and their optical qualities weren’t as good. Using a prime teaches you to zoom “with your feet”, a good skill to develop for everyone anyway!

The most common focal length of lenses you’ll find are 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 135mm. Wider lenses are very rare, but you may come across the odd ultra-long telephoto prime – and normally at prices that are unbelievably cheap.

LENS CHECK LIST

Before you hand over the cash for a M42 lens, you want to check a few things:

  1. Is it really an M42 Thread? Make sure you bring your lens-mount adapter (I actually use an extension tube) along to test it is what you think it is. There are other screw-mounts that aren’t compatible.
  2. Is the glass clean? You’re looking for mould, fungus or big scratches. Any lens that looks a bit cloudy or has things growing in it should be passed over. Expect to see surface scratches on most old lenses – don’t worry, it won’t affect your photographs.
  3. Does the focus turn smoothly? We don’t want any grinding or stiffness.
  4. Do the aperture blades work? A real important one this. If a lens has been sitting in an attic for 40 years, chances are any lubricants inside will have dried out, so those blades could be stuck. Look for a pin sticking out of the back of the lens. Press it in, then look through the lens while turning the aperture ring. You should see the aperture blades opeing and closing. Ask yourself if the lens is opening up all the way to its biggest aperture (biggest hole, smallest f number), and closing up to its smallest aperture (smallest hole, biggest f number). You’ll often find lenses where the blades only open up so far. Put the lens down and move on.
  5. Is it a decent piece of glass? A tricky question this – unless you’ve got a really good memory, chances are you won’t be able to remember which are the lenses, brands and models you should be looking for. My rule of thumb is to look at the maximum aperture. Lens manufacturers don’t tend to make poor fast glass. So if the lens is a 50mm, I’m looking for at least an f/1.8 aperture. For 28mm to 135mm I’m looking for f/2.8. With longer glass the bigger the aperture the better, and be aware that Zoom Technology wasn’t at it’s best in the M42 era, so don’t expect great results from non-primes. (Although M42 Zooms, combined with extension tubes, are great for macro work.)

ACCESSORIES

That brings me nicely onto the accessories that you want to be looking for as you’re on your hunt for M42 lenses. First up we want a selection of extension tubes. These are simple hollow tubes of various lengths, that allow you to take incredible macro shots.

Teleconverters look like extension tubes, but have a small glass optic inside. These handy gadgets multipy the focal length of your lens, usually by 1.6 or 2 times. Inspect them for scratches and fungus. Using a teleconverter does cut down the amount of light coming into your camera, and they do degrade the image, but they are fun to play around with.

Filters. With all your new lenses you’ll need filters. Don’t bother with UV protection filters, these lenses are cheap anyway, so why put another piece of cheap glass in the way? Look for CIrcular Polarizers (C-PL) to reduce glare and increase colour saturation. You may find Linear Polarizers. These have the same effect, but could affect the metering of your camera. If you’re shooting fully manual, this doesn’t matter one bit. Look out for special effects filters – soft-focus, star-bursts, grads and neutral density. Coloured filters aren’t that useful if you shoot in colour and convert to b&w in post, but they can add a fun look to your images. Keep an eye out for Cokin Filters, holders, and adapters – a whole world to explore!

Lens Hoods. Very, very, important. The coatings on modern lenses that keep our photographs contrasty and flare-free are probably missing from these old M42 lenses, so the best practice is to always use a lens hood.

MY EXPERIENCES

I particularly like my Pentacon 29mm f/2.8, and my Helios 135mm f/2.8. I use my Soligor 90-230mm with extension tubes for macro work, and I’m currently playing around with a Hanimex 200mm f/3.3. There’s no way I could afford to buy the equivalent Canon EF primes of these focal lengths, and half the fun of using these lenses is paying a couple of pounds for them at car-boot sales, then seeing the wonderful images they produce.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Go on eBay and buy a lens-mount adapter for your digital body. Just search for “M42 Lens adapter Canon” or whatever model of camera you’ve got. Do a little research on the ‘net as to what lenses you could be looking for, then get out at those garage sales, thrift stores and flea-markets to hunt out those bargains. Have fun and marvel at the prices you’ll pay for lenses that are perfectly good enough for the majority of photographers.

Thanks for reading! Rob.

You can read more about Rob and his photography at robnunnphoto.com.

(All photos in this article were taken with a Canon 350d dSLR and M42 Lenses).

FURTHER READING

M42 Lenses On Wikipedia.

M42 Lens Mount Adapters On Ebay.com.

Compatibility list of M42 and manual lenses on Canon EOS 5D. (And Other Makes)

M42 and dSLR’s Flickr Group.

HAVE YOUR SAY!

Have you used M42 lenses, on a dSLR or perhaps on the original Film Body? What have your experiences been? What are your favourite lenses, and what has been your best buy? Please add your comments below!

Link Roundup 09-30-2010

Don’t forget that we have ongoing themes in our Flickr pool and I’ll be selecting my favorites on the topic of “Camera Porn” sometime next week. We only have a few entries in the pool, so be sure to see here for details on participating.

Link Roundup 09-01-2010

Finally starting to clear out my feed reader and catching up on these link posts. I have about 10 or 15 more in the hopper, but I’ll save them for another day.

Link Roundup 06-19-2010

Link Roundup 06-14-2010

I just realized that it’s been a few weeks since I posted some links! So here are a few that I have in my list… I’ve got more, but I don’t like posting more than 10-15 links at a time.

Link Roundup 05-23-2010

Link Roundup 04-03-2010

Weekly Deals and Specials

FROM B&H

SanDisk 8GB Extreme CompactFlash Memory Card
$69.99 + Free Shipping (USA)

Seagate 1TB FreeAgent Go Portable Hard Drive (Tuxedo Black)
Price: $179.99 – $30.00 = $149.99 + Free Shipping (USA)

Sony DPF-A72N/B Digital Photo Frame 7″ LCD (QVGA) (Black)
Price: $94.95 – $25.00 = $69.95 + Free Shipping (USA)

FROM ADORAMA

Adorama Strobo-Socks, Nylon Fabric Diffuser for Portable Strobes, Pack of 2.
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Pentax K7 14.6 Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body Only with 3.0″ LCD Monitor
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Pentax K7 14.6 Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body with DA 18mm – 55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR (Weather Resistant) Lens
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Giottos MT-8340, 4 Section Carbon Series, Universal Tripod Legs, Supports up to 3 Kg, Maximum Height 55.1″, Black
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Joby Professional Gorillapod Focus, Flexible Aluminum SLR Tripod, Supports 11 Lbs.
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Tamrac #5602 System 2 Compact Camera Bag for 35mm or Digital Cameras, Blue.
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Interfit Photographic EX150 MKII Kit with Two 150 watt Second Monolight Flashes, with Umbrella, Softbox, Bulbs and Stands
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Lexar 2 GB Platinum II Memory Stick Professional Duo Memory Card
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Wacom Intuos 3 – 4 x 6 Tablet / Nik Software Silver Efex Pro Bundle
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(these are affiliate links — they cost you nothing extra, and help provide funding for this website)

Adorama Weekly Specials

I get a listing of weekly specials from Adorama each week, but I’ve never posted them for some reason. Note that these are affiliate links (which help support this site), and I’m not saying anything about these items other than the fact that they’re on sale this week. Do your own research and purchase responsibly.

Also, is this type of “weekly specials” post useful for any of you? I’m not generally a bargain hunter, but I know some of you might be!

Tamron 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6 DI-II LD Macro Ultra Compact Auto Focus Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon EOS Digital SLRs – USA Warranty
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Sale Price $149.99

Pacific Image PrimeFilm 3600U, 35mm Film Scanner with 3600dpi, USB Interface
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Samsung DualView TL220 12.2 MP Digital Point & Shoot Camera with 27mm Wide Angle Lens, 4.6x Optical Zoom, 3″ LCD Screen, Blue
Sale Price $224.95
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Samsung DualView TL220 12.2 MP Digital Point & Shoot Camera with 27mm Wide Angle Lens, 4.6x Optical Zoom, 3″ LCD Screen, Red
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Westinghouse DPF-0804 8″ Digital Frame, 4:3 Aspect, 800×600 Resolution, 128MB Internal Memory, with One Ebony and One Wood Grain Frame
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Olympus FE-4000 12MP Digital Camera, 4x Optical Zoom, 4x Digital Zoom, 2.7″ LCD Screen – Magenta
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(these are affiliate links — they cost you nothing extra, and help provide funding for this website)

Master Bokeh with the Bokeh Masters Kit

Bokeh Masters Kit

Have you ever seen those photos with nifty bokeh shapes scattered in the background? Well, it’s actually easier to accomplish than you might think.

The shapes are a result of two things: bokeh and a mask (a mask for your lens, not your face). Bokeh is something that happens naturally with the right lens and lighting conditions, and the mask is something that you can purchase from one of our “local” photography bloggers.

Udi, from DIYPhotography.net, has put together the Bokeh Masters Kit so the rest of us can experiment with custom bokeh shapes. The kit includes a bunch of precut shapes and a holder that attaches to your lens so you can swap them out easily.

vmmm vmmmm birds walking_the_other_way

Bokeh Masters Kit Contents

The concept is simple — place a thin mask with a small shape cut in the center right in front of your lens. The shape acts as a secondary aperture and forces the blurry background highlights to take the shape of the cutout. Without the mask, the shape of the bokeh takes on the shape of the lens aperture. But the mask cutout is just the right size to only have an effect on the bokeh while leaving the primary image in tact.

Right now, Udi is offering up three different kits: Demo, Advanced, and Master. The demo kit includes the disk holder and five pre-cut disk shapes. The advanced kit includes the demo kit plus an additional 15 disk shapes. And the master kit includes the advanced kit plus eight uncut disks and a disk wallet to keep all your disks in one place. The uncut disks allow you to create your own shapes and designs.

Now, you might be saying to yourself “I can make this stuff with construction paper, why would I buy it?” Well, because the disks and disk holder aren’t made of construction paper. They’re made from a thin and durable plastic and the pre-cut shapes are laser cut to give you nice smooth edges on your bokeh. Plus, the cutouts are just the right size to give your bokeh nice definition while minimizing any negative effects on the overall image. The blank disks in the master kit also have a circular guide on them to help you keep the size in that optimized range — I made myself a Christmas tree shape and took a shot of… the Christmas tree, duh.

[UPDATE 12/11/2009] Sorry, I just found out that the blanks no longer have the guides because some of the testers found that it got in the way of cutting. But you can trace your own outline from the circle in the disk holder.

Christmas Tree Bokeh

I’ve known Udi for a few years now, and I was lucky enough to get a pre-production kit a few months ago. It was really neat to mess around with the kit and give some feedback to Udi (which he did take and work into the final product). So I’m pretty excited to see the end result of Udi’s hard work — he really has put a lot of effort into these kits. If you’re interested in the kit, visit the links below.

BOKEH MASTERS KIT PRODUCT SITE

BOKEH MASTERS KIT + GIVEAWAY @ DIYPHOTOGRAPHY.NET

And if you guys have any cool bokeh shots (all shapes are welcome, even plain old circles or pentagons), feel free to drop them in the comments below!