Affordable Set Of Vintage M42 Lenses

Today, let’s discuss about affordable lenses for your camera!

So if you’re reading this, you’re probably on the market to get some decent lenses for your camera, but you don’t want to invest a lot of money on such thing as a set of Rokinon lenses:

Well, good thing, I went there as well and found an alternative solution to that expense!
A couple years ago, my uncle (who once worked as a professional photographer) gave me two old lenses, that had a strange mount, unknown to me at the time. It was a m42 screw mount. At that time, I knew that there was different mounts like Canon, Nikon or Pentax. But this screw mount was obviously very old, and those lenses were Pentax M42 lenses. They were easily adaptable for Canon or Nikon, using a simple adapter that screw on the lens. As simple as that, and the picture quality was incredible! So those lenses didn’t feel cheap as they are all metal housing and real glass optics. This was a great gift as I’ve used them on pretty much every photo gig I had since! The two lenses were a 50mm f/1.4 and a 135mm f/2.5. Both were awesome lenses to me at the time, as I was using a good old Canon T2i, so having fast lenses as these, I was a happy camper!

So when came the time to get decent lenses to go with my Canon C100, I turned to those good old Pentax M42 lenses! The good old 18-55mm “kit” lens from my T2i was doing just fine, but a “proper” set of lenses was the best choice for proper framing and constancy.

Not that I’m only using fixed focal lenses, one of my workhorse lens is a Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3:

I talk about that lens the video as well as it’s a go-to lens for run and gun type of shooting, but it doesn’t have the character of old vintage lenses. Aperture can be adjusted manually, but won’t give nice bokeh as a prime lens. Let’s just say that there’s a tool for every job, and one tool can’t do as fine for every job, as a specifically designed tool would do. I love that Sigma lens, you simply snap it onto your camera body and can get wide shots as well as long telephoto shots in a single turn.

But back to the vintage lenses. Why would you choose old lenses with a m42 mount? The best and probably simpler answer would be, because of the mount! The m42 mount can be adapted to EF, Nikon or even MFT mounts, using a simple adapter that usually cost like 1$ on ebay. Cheap, but works pretty well. As these lenses are vintage, they are all manual. So you don’t need to bother to get a good or a better one with a chip on it. And talking about cheap adapters, another excellent reason to get these lenses is that as they can be adapted to multiple camera mounts, you can use your set of lenses on more than only one mount! So if you’re usually shooting with a Canon camera, but eventually have to shoot with a Nikon or nowadays, a MFT cine camera like a BlackMagic, then using a different adapter can let you use your set of lenses on that camera as well. Something that wouldn’t be possible with a specific mount, like a Rokinon EF lens. Sure, an EF lens can be used on a MFT mount, using a speedbooster, but that’s another story, with additional costs!

So these m42 lenses are usually quite cheap on ebay, as they are all manual lenses, but still little gems of their own. Glass optics and metal housing makes them an excellent deal as it’s doesn’t feel as cheap as the usual kit lens, which is plastic in both bodies and opticals. I’ve build a set of lenses over the months, counting 11 vintage lenses and 2 zoom lenses, for under $2,000. Still, quite a good amount of money, but considering the fact that a set of 6 Rokinon lenses (that doesn’t include zooms nor ultra-wide angle) costs roughly around $3,000. Of course, comparing a vintage lens to a brand new and proper cine lens isn’t fair, as they are designed to do a different job. The cine lenses won’t “breath” when the focus is being pulled, they will all have the same diameter for constancy when using a follow focus, the gears are built-in and so on. But the real deal-breaker comes in the price, which is fair, but still, probably not affordable to everyone…

Then, comes the m42 lenses. Affordable, great built quality, excellent optics and the ability to adapt the lens to multiple mounts. Now, to get the lens to work as a “cine” lens, you will need some accessories.

First will be a lens gear, to use with a follow focus:

The ones I’m using are from PCHood/CINEMATICS and usually costs around $10/gear ring. An extra $110 considering I have 11 lenses, but not having to change the gear from one lens to another, and adjusting it every time is a real time-saver. You can start with only one, but eventually, having a gear that stays permanently on the lens is priceless.

Then, you will need some new rear lens cap, as the good old m42 screw mount will be replaced with an EF mount. Add an extra $10 for a pack of 10, this is really cheap too.

Now for the front caps, you can use the ones supplied with the lens (when they comes with it) as they will do just fine to protect the lens front element. But, personally, I’ve replaced them with larger lens caps. Why would I do such thing? Two major reasons. First being that all the lenses will have the same front cap size, so in the eventuality of losing one, I can replace it with a spare one quite fast. The ones I got were 77mm pinch caps. Got like 10 for $10 as well, pretty cheap. I prefer the pinch caps as they are easier to remove (to me) and there’s enough room to label the lenses in the middle:

Then, by having larger caps, you’re using a step up ring from the different front threads, usually between 49mm and 58mm depending on the lens, and making them standard 77mm size. Once you remove the cap, the step up ring also serve when using a mattebox, being used with a foam donut or better, with a flexible donut:

The step up ring will retain the flexible donut in place, so when you pull the focus, the lens will actually breath in and out but will stay in place because of that ring.

If you’re using a foam donut, make sure that your lens won’t hit the filters when breathing before you place the donut around the lens. I’ve bought them according to my lenses, in 49mm, 52mm, 55mm and up to 58mm. Buying a couple of each size also gets you covered if you damage one or even lose one. As they are usually pretty cheap as well, I bought a bunch.

So, roughly $10 per gear ring, $1 per step up ring, $1 per front cap, $1 per EF adapter and another $1 per rear cap. Rounding this up to $15 of additional costs per lens, to me it’s still quite affordable compared to other set of cine lenses. And if you’re on a budget, you can get one lens at the time, with the required accessories, easily under $200. The most expensive lens in my set was the 85mm f/1.9, at roughly $250. To start, if on a budget, I would say that 28mm, 50mm and maybe 105mm would be a good “set” of focal. The 28mm provides wide shots, but nothing extreme. The 50mm will give you a nice “portrait” lens for such type of shots and the 105mm is a good compromise between a portrait and a telephoto lens to me. I’ve managed to get great photos with the 50mm and the 135mm since I got them, but the 135mm f/2.5 is a bit more pricey than the 105mm f/2.8, so the 105mm is an excellent compromise to start.

Now, let’s talk about image quality. The Pentax lenses are reasonably sharp even when fully open at their native aperture. I’ve included some test shots in the video, demonstrating how sharp or soft all these lenses are. To me, considering the age and the price, it’s an excellent deal and a fair compromise between price and quality.

In addition, depending on what you need to shoot, you can get an m42 2x extender for fairly cheap, especially compared to the Canon 2.0x extender!

By adding this extender at the rear of your lens, you double the focal length (by the magnification factor; 2x, 3x,etc) but you also divide your aperture by the same factor. So my 300mm f/4.0 becomes a 600mm f/8.0. And this setup is quite heavy, so to ease the weight of the lens off the camera mount, I’m using this SmallRig lens support:

By adding an extra optical element between your lens and your sensor, you also introduce a bit of image degradation with that extra layer of glass. But for under $30 to double your focal length, I find it pretty acceptable. Here are some sample shots:

The bare 300mm f/4.0:

Then the 300mm with the 2x extender, now becomes a 600mm f/8.0. Note that it also introduce a warm color cast:
…and some chromatic aberration to the shot, unfortunately. But nothing that can’t be color corrected in post.For under $30 to get such a telephoto lens, it’s perfectly acceptable in my opinion. Still cheaper than getting a real 600mm lens!
Even at night, I got interesting results using that 300mm lens with the 2x extender:

All right, but the widest option in m42 mount is usually 20mm, which isn’t the widest field of view. So if you want to go wider than this, you will have to consider other type of lenses. Personally, I’ve had great experience with Sigma, as I mentioned above with the 18-200mm. So starting from there, when I stumbled on a Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6 under $200 on ebay, I had to get it. Not that you will use ultra-wide angle lenses on a daily basis, but having more than 18mm or 20mm can be really helpful in tight environnement or simply to get wide landscape shots.

So, for a set of lenses that goes from 10mm up to 300mm (600mm with the extender), I think this is a pretty good solution, especially if you’re on a budget. Not the best, but certainly not the most expensive neither. There is downside to this solution, but considering all the benefits paired with the little price tag, I think it’s a win-win solution.

As usual, if you have any comments or questions, please drop them in the section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible! Feel free to like the video and subscribe to our channel!

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