The M42 lenses are still going strong despite being several decades old. Even though their production ended back in the 80s, photographers find uses for them even now.
That’s because these vintage lenses have certain characteristics that the modern ones lack.
Want to explore; get a feel of older generation photography without having to travel back in time and capture photos with a distinctive retro touch that you just can’t get with modern lenses?
Well, you’re gonna have to get yourself one of these M42 lenses.
Don’t worry about what to start your vintage photography journey with, because our best M42 lenses reviews will guide you right to it!
What Are M42 Lenses?
Originally made for the film cameras, M42 screw mount lenses dominated the market with their high-quality build and variety until the 1980s.
Everything is manual in these old lenses as they do not have any electrical capability. Focusing or controlling the apertures requires complete manual control.
Multiple manufacturers mass-produced the lenses of this product line back in the day, so there are various types available in the market.
Even though these were made for older cameras that aren’t very relevant now, they can be adapted to many different modern camera mounts. As a result, they are compatible with almost all kinds of modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
Now, you might ask what makes these camera lenses still useful? There are a couple of reasons, actually.
For starters, M42 lenses are extremely cheap compared to the modern ones. Because of the availability of numerous types of lenses, it is one of the cheapest ways of experiencing many different kinds of lenses without hurting your wallet.
These lenses were built like tanks, to last for a long time. Unlike the modern plastic body lenses, M42 lenses were built with metal. Your floors are more likely to be damaged if one of these lenses were to fall down hard instead of the lens itself.
Your photos or videos can have a really interesting old-school look with these lenses. Their color rendition is absolutely amazing, and they help to produce clean and crisp images.
The vintage and traditional touches in photos given by these lenses cannot be easily replicated with modern lenses. Their production might have ended, but they still have many stories to tell through pictures as they’ll continue to be used for a while.
Best M42 Lenses Review
M42 lenses come in different types and qualities. So, you’d have to be careful in choosing your vintage lens. We have reviewed and presented the best lenses for your convenience.
1. MC Helios F2 Russian Lens
This is a small, compact, and heavy-duty lens capable of taking incredible shots that are sure to impress anyone. The body of this lens carries two different rings for manual control, the focus ring and the aperture ring.
As there is no involvement of electricity, everything is manual about it. The focusing range starts from 0.5 to infinity!
Over the years, this one has managed to get a cult following through its ability to take clean, soft, and sharp photos. It provides a distinctive swirly effect, which is favored by many art photographers.
This vintage lens is known to take great portraits, as well. Moreover, You can mount it up on any modern digital camera using really cheap adapters.
Now, as mentioned before, this tool has a really sturdy full metal build. You can’t get better build-quality than this.
Being completely manual, you’d have to practice a lot to use this kit to its full potential. Getting the swirly effect might take some getting used to, as well. Once you have complete control over the lens, you’d start taking really beautiful photos.
The greatness of this decent kit lies in its affordability. You’d be getting some really awesome features in a surprisingly cheap product. Overall, this can be termed as one of the best M42 mount lenses.
The durability of the lens is undoubtedly one of the best thanks to its metallic body. It is capable of taking really sharp pictures with built-in effects. The quality of portraits taken by this lens is noteworthy.
Made with older technology, it’s kind of outdated. You cannot zoom in or out. There is no autofocus system. It cannot perform very well under low light.
2. 7Artisans Full Frame Fixed Lens
Initially made for the Leica cameras, this small yet extremely effective lens can be mounted on any modern-day mirrorless cameras using easy-to-get adapters. It is made from metal and pure glass, so you’d have no complaint about its durability.
Inside the lens, there are 13 aperture blades. They are controlled by an aperture ring that turns very smoothly, and it allows nice manual control. The aperture goes from f/16 to all the way up to f1.1, which is really wide for a lens of this price range. And the engraved paint markings on the lens help in setting everything to your comfort.
The aperture ring does not have any click indicators, which might be a letdown for some, but it doesn’t affect its functionality at all. And the focus ring is also very smooth to turn around with hard stops to prevent accidental changing of focus while handling the lens.
You can get amazing sharpness, but it requires precise focus and aperture control. As you lower the aperture, the center sharpness improves quite a lot while vignetting around the edges decreases.
This lens offers a beautiful and dreamy bokeh effect, which is at its best when the aperture is set to f1.1. Its flare resistance is very decent; however, it requires you to set the right aperture depending on your personal preference.
The specialty of this product is that it is quite versatile as it offers impressively sharp images while you can control the aperture to produce soothingly soft images, as well.
The wide aperture of f1.1 is definitely a great feature of this affordable lens. The build quality is top-notch. It boasts a multilayer optical coating for extra durability. The chromatic aberration is fairly low, which increases the visual texture of pictures.
The lens does not have any weather sealing. It takes quite some work to do to get perfect focus and sharpness.
3. Industar 61 F2.8 Soviet Russain Lens
Now, this is a really old lens from the Soviet era. It has vintage written all over it. Coming at an extremely cheap price, the build does have that inexpensive look on it. However, the fact that they are still being used takes a lot of doubts away about its durability!
This lens is unusually small, even smaller than Helios lenses, which are its Russian counterparts. You’d barely notice the added weight on your camera device.
Now, the build quality is definitely not the best feature; it is actually favored for its unexpectedly decent optical performance. The focal length of this camera kit is about 53mm, which is manually controllable by its focus ring placed on the front side. As stated by the manufacturer, it can focus from 1mm to infinity.
The click-stop aperture ring is placed right on the back of the lens. This gives you a fine aperture control. Being one of the best cheap m42 lenses, this is a huge bonus.
Moreover, the sharpness and the resolution of this product is surprisingly great. And you’ll be awestruck by the results produced by such a small and cheap camera tool. It is, in fact, sharper than most soviet lenses.
This one is able to render images with a distinctive clarity and finer details. Plus, you’d definitely notice the retro touch on pictures. It performs the best when the aperture is set to f/2.8 to 4. You’ll notice obvious improvements in quality.
Being an outdated camera lens, it is highly affordable. The size of this lens is very small and compact, which fits right into your palm. It has excellent rendering capacity as well as sharpness.
It doesn’t work very well under low light and hasn’t aged well. There isn’t any special feature that gives a competitive advantage.
4. Industar 50-2 50mm F3.5 Russian Lens
Coming up next is another old school Russian lens. This is one of the smallest and the cheapest camera lens you can buy with being one of the top-notch vintage lenses in the market in 2019 and 2020. As it was originally made for M42 camera mounts, you’d have to use an adapter to mount it on modern cameras.
This one has a very compact metal build. Just like the other vintage lenses, it has both manual aperture and focuses control. There are about 7 aperture blades, and they provide much smoother out-of-focus background effects. The aperture ring has hard stopped to prevent unwanted turnings.
Moreover, the focus ring turns quite smoothly as well, turning all the way to 300 degrees, giving you the ability to be more precise in focusing. This is why some of the photographers consider Industar 50-2 as one of the best vintage zoom lenses.
The 50mm focal length of this camera kit suits full-frame cameras the most. While on APS-C devices, it looks a bit zoomed in, which is great for portrait photography.
It has an f/3.5 maximum aperture meaning that the lens can let in twice as much light as a standard kit lens. This also allows for more blurred effects.
The lens can help to capture really sharp images with decent contrasts through precise control of aperture and focus. You’ll get nice looking bokeh effect from this kit. Besides, you will notice the old-school character in pictures taken with this lens. The overall quality of images is quite amazing for a product of this price range.
This one works great on both full-frame and APS-C cameras. It’s extremely lightweight and compact and will work on most modern cameras. The optical performance is satisfactory.
The hard stop feature of the aperture ring makes the focus ring to turn sometimes, which can be annoying. It’s almost impossible to find completely new lenses in the market.
5. PENTAX Super Takumar 55mm Lens
This particular vintage lens is extremely popular and considered one of the top-quality products with a large cult following. It dominated the market place back in the day for a long time. Now, you can get your hands on one of these for a fairly low price.
Moreover, interestingly, many consider this model as the best M42 lenses for video. The lens has a pretty solid metallic build with uniquely designed aperture and focuses control rings. And the nut-shaped design of the rings provides nice grips. Both of the rings turn very smoothly with clicks for guidance.
One unique feature of this lens is the use of Thorium, a slightly radioactive metal, on its glass to improve the resolution as well as the sharpness. That’s what gives the yellow tint on the glass.
The image quality of this kit is undoubtedly one of the best, comparable to even the big-budget modern lenses. You’d appreciate the lovely bokeh effect produced by this camera lens as it looks much better than the others. The sharpness and contrast in images, as well as the color rendition, are unquestionably impressive.
You’d have to sacrifice some of the sharpness if you want to take wide-angle photographs. With the right focus and aperture, you’d be able to give your photos the stunning blurred effects. Your images will, of course, bear a distinct vintage character thanks to this lens.
The manual control rings are extremely convenient to use. This lens can produce top-grade images. It’ll fit into any modern camera with the right adapter. For a cheap price, you’d be getting a lens that is able to perform on par with many modern lenses.
The use of radioactive Thorium Oxide might raise health concerns. It doesn’t perform very well in wide-angle shots.
6. Jupiter 9 85mm F2 Russian Portrait Lens
We have another lens from the Soviet era with quite some reputation for being able to capture remarkable portraits and producing incredible bokeh effect. This a prime lens and a replica of the popular Zeiss Sonar lenses. It has a strong aluminum build, just like other Russian lenses.
As it was made for M42 cameras, you’re going to need an adapter to make it mountable on modern cameras.
The manual control rings are click-less but very smooth with pleasant grips on them. For guidance, it has nicely painted markings.
This neat kit is actually known for its ability to produce an extraordinary bokeh effect. The 15 aperture blades allow it to create stunningly curved bokeh, which is pretty unique. Besides, at f/2 aperture, you’ll be taking amazing portraits. The 85mm focal length and 28 viewing angle range allow it to take really wide-open shots.
Now, this lens is capable of producing super sharp images at f/2.8 to f/4 aperture or higher. At f/2, you’ll notice softness on the edges, which will be sharpened as you move up.
In wide-open spaces, the lens is very soft and has this interesting kind of glow on the photos. The softness is actually favored by many. Besides, the out of focus rendition is pretty cool too.
This tool has crazy flares, especially when you’re shooting wide open, which can be awesome to look at but can also be annoying when you don’t want them.
The 15 aperture blades provide more precise aperture control. It is known for taking amazing portraits and super sharp shots using the Zeiss lenses. Also, the bokeh effect is incomparable and very unique.
The manual control rings can feel stiff sometimes. They are also click-less. It’s hard to focus in a wide-open space.
Best M42 Lenses Buying Guide
There are all kinds of M42 lenses, and it’s impossible to know them all. The technical differences can feel confusing too. So, it’s natural to feel a bit lost. But don’t let this stress you out because we are here to guide you through the process and get you hooked up with your favorite vintage lens!
The first thing you have to do is check whether the lens is adaptable with your camera of choice. Most modern cameras have M42 adapters, but it’s important to double-check whether the lens is M42 mount and whether your camera supports it or not.
Deciding on Aperture
The aperture controls the amount of light that enters your camera. Some lenses allow more light to enter, and some allow less. You have to know which one you want.
If you want to take low light photography, you’d want to pick a lens with a bigger aperture or high f-stops. For indoor and daylight photography, lenses with low f-stops will do just fine.
Quality of Image
Even if you’re opting out for a cheap vintage lens, you’d still want to take high-quality images with them. Some lenses are capable of producing really gorgeous photos while being extremely affordable. Before buying, check out the images produced by the lens you want to buy based on their quality as well as their character.
Design and Build Quality
Vintage lenses usually have great build quality. Still, you’d want to check the materials that were used to make as well as how well they’ve aged. You’d definitely care about how they look if you want to use them for a long time. Surely, you don’t want to be left with a grotesque looking lens.
Although, if that grotesque lens can produce better results than others, think before crossing it off your list!
One of the best ways to know whether your choice of vintage lens will actually be good or not is by reading honest user reviews. The users will tell you if they are as good as advertised or not. You’ll get free image samples, as well. So, before buying, read some reviews and then decide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where to buy M42 lenses?
Ans: Since the production of M42 lenses stopped in the 80s, they cannot be bought from showrooms or stores. Your best bet would be online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. Or, you can buy them from other photographers. Lensfinder is another great place where you might find lots of M42 lenses to buy.
Q: Can these lenses damage my camera?
Ans: This can actually happen in extremely rare cases. If the components aren’t balanced out, there is a chance of damage. But mostly, these vintage lenses are super safe to use.
Q: Can I use M42 lenses on any camera?
Ans: M42 lenses can be mounted on most of the modern cameras using adapters. I said most because some cameras might now allow the mounting of vintage lenses. So, you should check whether your camera supports an M42 adapter or not before buying.
Q: Can radioactive lenses be harmful to health?
Ans: M42 lenses like the Pentax SMC Super Takumar emits radioactivity. But that’s actually very low, only about 0.01 mrem/hr. Even if you have it around you all the time, the emission is way too low to be harmful.
Q: Why is there no autofocus?
Ans: The older technology of the vintage M42 lenses wasn’t capable enough to form electrical communication between the lens and the camera. So, the focus system had to be kept completely manual, controllable using the turning ring on the lens.
As you can see, vintage M42 lenses offer a lot compared to their cheap price tags. You can go with either one from our list of best M42 lenses as they are all unique in their own ways. Have fun giving them a shot and see what suits your photography style the most!