Tag Archives: lens

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 07-17-2010

Before we get to the links, I apologize to anybody that visited the site recently and found it to be infected with a malicious redirect exploit. I became aware of the issue this morning (thanks to an email from a reader) and I had it fixed within an hour. These things happen from time to time, and I appreciate folks letting me know when something is wrong with the site. Now for some weekend reading!

7 Tips for Shooting with Normal Primes

[tweetmeme]Some time ago, I wrote some tips for shooting with extremely wide angle lenses. Then I did it again just recently. So rather than cover the topic for a third time, we’ll talk about a different set of equipment: the normal primes.

Prime lenses are easy to fall in love with, partly because of their simple nature due to the fixed focal length. There are certainly more reasons to love them, but this article is more about how to use them effectively and efficiently. I’m also focusing on the range of “normal” lenses (something in the range of 35-55mm, give or take a few mm) because they’re most widely used and easily purchased.

1. MEMORIZE YOUR FIELD OF VIEW

March 25th 2008 - Everything about this is square
Creative Commons License photo credit: Stephen Poff

If you shoot long enough with a particular lens or focal length, you’ll “just know” where your framing is without looking through the viewfinder. This is a handy skill to acquire for situations when you can’t be constantly looking through the camera. If you memorize your field of view, you’ll be quicker to take the shot and you can plan things out a little better.

2. PLAN YOUR PERSPECTIVES

Over the Can
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Building on point 1, primes don’t allow you to compose your framing with the quick turn of a ring. If you want certain subjects in the image, you’ll have to plan out your distance and angle of attack to get what you want. On the other hand, if you want to bring more attention to a subject and exclude surrounding objects, you’ll need to plan on getting close enough.

3. BE PREPARED TO USE YOUR FEET

The barefoot selfportrait
Creative Commons License photo credit: dhammza

Shooting with a prime isn’t completely restrictive, it just means you’ll have to use your feet to zoom. After using primes for a while, you won’t really notice the “foot zoom” factor. Sometimes using your feet will require you to move or through hazardous locations, so don’t walk around with the camera up to your face because you’ll probably trip, fall, or get hit by a car.

4. WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

I Stand Alone
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Sometimes you just can’t get the shot you want with the lens you have. Maybe you need to be further back than possible, or maybe you just can’t get close enough to frame it right. That’s ok. Worth with what you have and make the best of the situation. Keep your eyes open for other opportunities that surround you.

5. BEWARE OF YOUR SHALLOW DOF

031/365: 60 second walk
Creative Commons License photo credit: dotbenjamin

Now on to a few technical notes… normal primes typically have a very large maximum aperture (f/1.4 and f/1.8 are quite common and inexpensive). It’s great to have f-numbers in this range, but be careful with how you apply them. A shallow DOF can do great things for a photo, but it can also ruin it. It’s easy to get too shallow and blur out some important part of the image (of course, the focus in the image above is quite intentional, but you get the idea). In addition, the viewfinder and your on-camera LCD screen are too small to effectively judge DOF — things look more in-focus than they really are. So if you’re not certain that you want razor thin DOF, maybe stop it down a few notches… I tend to like the look of f/2 or f/2.8 better than f/1.4 anyway.

6. WATCH OUT FOR SUNSHINE

Happy flare friday!
Creative Commons License photo credit: zzaj ♫ {Thomas}

Another note on those large maximum apertures, this time having to do with the limitations of your camera. If you like to shoot wide open at f/1.4 or larger, you probably have to throttle back your obsession in broad daylight. With my digital camera, even at ISO 100, I can’t shoot in harsh sunlight at f/1.4 because my shutter speed maxes out at 1/8000s and the meter tells the camera to go higher than that. Of course, I can take the shot, but it will be overexposed because of the physical limitations. Now, if I knock it down to about f/2, I can take a shot within the range of my usable shutter speeds.

7. PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE

Pool Girl
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Normal lenses excel when it comes to people shots. Their field of view and perspective matches the human eye more closely than the extreme focal lengths. This makes subjects in the photos appear more natural and realistic. The wider end of normal lenses (30mm) will give a slightly wide angle look, but it’s useful for capturing people in groups or in their surroundings. Get too close, and a full frame headshot might look a bit funny. On the other end (60mm), you might have a hard time getting groups or full body shots unless you’re back a ways, but the close-up portraits will look more natural.

What other tips to you have for shooting with normal primes? And what is your favorite normal prime lens?

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 03-31-2010

I’m trying something new with the link roundups, so bear with me while I get it all figured out. This post is testing the Postalicious plugin — it basically taps into my Delicious stream and generates a link roundup based on a set of parameters. I bookmark a lot of stuff anyway, but since separating out my Twitter accounts, I’ve been much more active (and collecting many more bookmarks).

Like I said, I’m still figuring out how I want to do all this. If it goes as I hope, I’ll be sharing fewer links more often with less work.

Lens Rental Winners

I recently announced that we were teaming up with the folks from BorrowLenses.com to give out a couple free one-week rentals. In just a few days, we had a great turnout with 152 raffle entries between comments, Tweets, and blog posts. The Twitter entries were a new thing here on Epic Edits, but I think we’ll use that avenue again in the future. We had 83 accounts link to the post, generating nearly 400 additional visitors — a big thanks to everyone who participated!

And now, here are the lucky winners:

Lens Rental Winners

We had Matthew Dillon and Bob with comments at the #9 and #123 spots. Enjoy the rentals guys!

Win a Free Lens Rental

Some time ago, we gave out a few free lens rentals via BorrowLenses.com — and now we’re doing it again! We’ll give out a one week equipment rental to two different winners (see details below for entry). This is a cool deal as the holidays approach, and it’s a good way to try out some new equipment or even use it for a paid shoot or personal project.

BorrowLenses.com

If you haven’t checked them out in a while, they have a few new things happening. First off, they’re selling some of their equipment as the bring in new stuff — not a bad way to pick up a new lens or camera body at a discounted price. Also, you can get a 10% discount as a first time customer if you use the code “First10″ when placing an order. And finally, BorrowLenses.com is offering a membership program to the heavy users — $99/year gets you a full-time 10% discount on orders, increased availability of rental items, and no cancellation fees. Not a bad deal if you’re shooting a lot of paid projects that require top quality glass. They’ve also been bulking up on lighting equipment for you Strobists, and they now do sensor cleaning for you dSLR users.

For the rental giveaway, here are a few ground rules:

  • You need to be in the US.
  • The order will need to be made online and you will need to provide a credit card number. This won’t be charged but they will need it to ensure you don’t run off with their lens :-). BorrowLenses.com is a reputable business but if you don’t feel comfortable with this condition please don’t enter.
  • The offer excludes super telephoto lenses and pro camera bodies.

To enter the raffle, just leave a comment and tell us you’d like to win! I’ll draw two winners on December 12, 2009 — so get your entry in right away.

[UPDATE 12-8-09] You can enter multiple times by doing any of the following:

  1. Leave a comment on this post. (1 entry per person)
  2. Retweet (Via your Twitter account) “Another lens rental contest! http://bit.ly/56AGTp Retweet and post the RT as a comment for a second chance to win! (via @BorrowLenses)” Post the RT and/or (preferably) the link to your RT here in the comments (as a separate comment from the #1 entry method). (1 entry per person)
  3. Post about this giveaway on your blog, in a forum, or any other appropriate avenue — just don’t spam the forums and other public spaces. Then leave a comment (again, separate comment from your other entries) with a link to your post. (1 entry per person)

So there you go — 3 ways to improve your odds at winning.

[UPDATE 12-13-2009] The raffle is over, and the winners have been chosen. See my follow-up post for more details.

Link Roundup 11-22-2009