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Photographing With M42 Camera Lenses

While some photographers are content to shoot using the kit lenses that came with their digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, others want to experiment with not only state-of-the-art modern lenses, but also vintage classics. One style of lens that really made its mark was the M42, which was created in East Germany before spreading across Europe and to the United States. It's still relevant today, with 42mm screw thread mounting adapters allowing you to mount these vintage lenses on almost any camera mount while taking advantage of their quality optics that are on par with those of modern lenses.

What Is the M42 Lens Mount?

The M42 is a screw thread mount for attaching lenses to 35mm SLR cameras that German optical manufacturer Carl Zeiss first used in 1938.

  • It is officially called the M42 x 1mm standard, which refers to its 42mm diameter metric screw thread and 1mm thread pitch.
  • M42 adapters are available for a range of other camera mounts and designed to attach between the camera and lens so you can mount an M42 Flektogon lens or similar on your modern DSLR. Keep in mind that without an electronic connection, you will need to focus, change the aperture, and meter manually.
  • Carl Zeiss Jena and Flektogon lenses both feature an M42 screw thread mount and are good options for a vintage camera lens.

What Should You Look for When Buying M42 Lenses?

Because most 42mm screw thread mount lenses available are secondhand, you should take all the usual precautions when buying vintage camera equipment. Check for any signs of damage on the lens, both inside and out, as well as any fungus, mold, or scratches that could affect the performance of the lens.

  • Keep in mind that 42mm screw thread mount adapters work on camera bodies with a flange depth that is less than, or equal to, that of the M42 adapter. With some cameras, the M42 may protrude too far inside the body of the camera and cause issues with the mirror or aperture pin.
  • Always check that the thread is an M42, preferably by testing with your own lens adapter, and that the aperture blades work. When you leave lenses in storage for long periods of time, the lubricants inside may dry out, so make sure it is opening to its widest and smallest apertures before purchase.
  • As with most lenses, the top performing M42s are going to fetch a high price, but you can also find relatively affordable options when you're just getting started.

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