So much time has passed; we have moved on from film cameras to DSLRs, but there’s one thing that hasn’t lost its appeal – the vintage lenses. And it is easy to see why – the unique colors, eye-pleasing bokeh, and the list goes on.
When it comes to such lenses, the M42-mount ones are some of the most popular ones that you can find. Also known as M42 x 1mm or screw thread mount ones, most of the best M42 lenses came to a halt at production decades ago.
Yet, you can use these products on most of the popular DSLRs today only with an adaptor. In this article, we’ll be listing some of the top lenses in budget and quality to get those fantastic retro-looking images out of your device.
#List of the Best M42 Lenses – Our Editor’s Pick:
Top 5 Best M42 Lenses Review
M42 mount lenses are still relatively affordable due to various factors, such as their mass production in the 20th century, but opting for the right ones isn’t as easy as it sounds. Here are the best lenses for you.
1. Helios 44M-6 Lens
With a bit of research on lenses, you will realize that some of the classic products in this category include Russian lenses M42 mounts (Soviet, to be exact). When it comes to Canon cameras, this is one of the best retro choices you can make.
As you can guess, this lens comes with an adapter that allows it to support Canon EOS lenses. That means you can use this product with any Canon EOS EF cameras. And you get the usual compatibility with other cameras, too.
In terms of the image quality, it does a decent job of ensuring impressive sharpness and contrast. The photos are quite punchy with a contrasty look, and the unique bokeh is the icing on this already delicious cake.
The pricing of this product is relatively affordable as well. And it might not be one of the top M42 macro lenses due to the focal length, but you can do some convincing macro shots as well. But using adapters has some caveats.
For one, you will not be able to use the camera’s automatic functions, such as automatic diaphragm or auto-focus will not work as expected with an adapter. But you can do the job with manual or aperture-priority mode.
- M42 to Canon EOS adapter
- Excellent contrast
- Affordable price tag
- Impressive condition
- Aperture priority mode
- It requires manual operation
- No auto-focus
2. Helios 44M-4 F2 Lens
As we said, Helios was a Soviet brand that produced excellent camera lenses. Their 44M lenses are well-known, especially for the ‘swirly’ bokeh effect they create and give the background a unique look.
Our second product is another pick from some of the best M42 Russian lenses, this time even more affordable. This prime lens can give you a focal length of 58 millimeters, which is right above the sweet spot for most users.
That’s because it has almost the same viewing perspective as your eyes. Therefore, it does rather well for both portraits and landscapes. And when it comes to this lens’s compatibility, you can use it for the DSLRs as well as the good old SLRs.
All you need is a mounting adapter to use in modern cameras. The structure of this lens follows a manual diaphragm with six aperture blades. This design provides an almost circular bokeh with the famous swirly effect.
In terms of the focus range, it can focus around 0.55m – 10m. Afterward, you can use infinite focus, of course. The horizontal viewing angle is 40 degrees, which is considered the sweet spot.
- Durable build quality
- You can get sharp images
- Versatile enough for many uses
- Unique and pleasing bokeh
- 58 millimeters focal length
- No support for automatic features
- The de-clicked aperture doesn’t provide total control
3. Pentax Super Takumar Lens
Here, we have a great little lens from Pentax – another veteran that has been producing quality products for decades. This one is undoubtedly one of the best Pentax M42 lenses you can find, mainly thanks to the pricing.
This lens had a huge following back in the day, with surprisingly high demand. Considering that, you can get it at a nominal price. Firstly, it has an impressive build quality with a solid metal build.
The most unusual bit is that it uses Thorium – a radioactive material (don’t worry, it is not powerful enough to harm you). This slight modification allows this lens to provide a better resolution and improve the sharpness at the same time.
Now, the focal length is 55 millimeters, again staying close to that sweet spot that matches the perspective of what you see. Now, let’s talk about the image quality and sharpness, which easily rivals the best Pentax M42 lenses without a doubt.
You can shoot some fantastic photos with pleasing bokeh effects with this lens, given that you find the optimum aperture. The adjustments are much easier with the manual control rings.
- Superb color rendition
- Impressive contrast and sharpness
- Sturdy metallic build
- Inexpensive for the performance
- Standard 55 millimeters focal length
- Not the best at wide-angle shots
- Manual adjustments are a bit tricky at first
4. Oumij1 50mm Camera Lens
At this point of our M42 lenses reviews, we have a superb lens from Oumij1. One of the most important things for many people is to look for a wide aperture, especially if they are going to shoot in low light.
Without that, the photos might lack sharpness and feel comparatively grainy. Our eighth pick does an impressive job at that, with a wide aperture of F1.7. Furthermore, this bit will provide you with a distinctive background bokeh effect.
Not just that, this product is also a safe bet if you are searching for the best M42 wide angle lenses. The focal length here is only 50 millimeters, which gives you beautiful shots that capture most of what you see with your eyes.
Therefore, the field of view with this lens is exceptionally suitable if you want to take some wide-angle shots. Furthermore, as this is a full-frame lens, you can use it in full-frame SLRs and get the highest quality images.
The form factor and build quality are both excellent as well. It features a metallic body with a compact size. Lastly, the pricing undoubtedly makes it one of the best 50mm M42 screw mount lenses.
- Wide 50mm focal length
- Full-frame camera support
- Large F1.7 aperture
- Compact and sturdy
- Impressive sharpness
- No zooming capabilities
- It takes some tweaking for the best results
5. Helios 44-2 58mm Lens
You have probably realized how big a deal Helios was back in the day (and still is). This product is another one of those mass-produced lenses, making it easier for you to get one of these at a much affordable price.
One of the most distinctive features of this lens is its background blur, the bokeh. The Biotar formula that it uses creates a unique swirling bokeh effect which is nothing short of stunning and only found in these lenses.
While this one was produced as the kit prime lens on the Zenit, you can find these with compatible adapters for Pentax K or Fuji X. That is why this product is also a superb choice if you want the best M42 lenses for Fuji X mount.
One of the best things about these Soviet lenses is their build quality and materials. These feature a solid metal body that allows them to withstand any damage. And by no means are they weaker than the modern builds.
The focal length is 58mm, which gives you a wide-angle shot without being too wide. Its widest aperture is F2 – allowing for a lot of light to get in. And the focusing range is 0.5m to 20m, and then moving toward infinity.
- Mesmerizing bokeh
- A relatively inexpensive price tag
- The widest aperture is F2
- Excellent build quality
- Compact and small design
- Slight chromatic aberration
- Quality control isn’t as impressive
What Makes a Perfect M42 Lens?
M42 lenses are still so popular mainly due to their distinctive quality. It is hard to beat those vintage colors and bokeh. And that exceptional bit is what makes it difficult to claim something to be perfect.
However, some crucial bits stay constant, regardless of the type and manufacturer of the lens. Below, we will discuss those factors that you should consider before buying one.
- Focal Length
Of course, this bit of information is essential whether or not you are buying M42 camera lenses, as it can determine the kind of shots you will get. In short, the focal length refers to the distance between your lens and the image sensor.
But what does it mean? For one, if the focal length is more prolonged (you’ll find it in millimeters), it would mean that your angle of view would get narrower. That’s because of the distance you crop out the total angle of view of the sensor.
On the other hand, the closer the lens gets to the sensor, the wider the angle of view gets. And this property can significantly affect your M42 lens, as it determines how well it works for different situations and lighting conditions.
Aperture is another one of those bits that will decide whether the lens is perfect for you. That fancy word essentially refers to the amount of light the lens allows to get in — the lower the aperture number, the wider the aperture.
And the wider you get, the more amount of light it will let in, generally resulting in better shots in darker environments. Lenses with a longer focal length typically have a smaller aperture and aren’t ideal for your night shots.
- Sharpness and Overall Quality
An issue with mediocre vintage lenses is the lack of adequate sharpness in the image, which results in a blurry photo. Therefore, you should keep an eye on image sharpness (unless you specifically want something blurry).
Moreover, as many of these lenses are quite old, the overall image quality can vary. Hence, you should try to check out a few images taken with the M42 screw mount lenses you are looking to buy.
- Build and Design
Generally, M42 mount lenses are built like tanks. That is primarily due to the fact that they often have metal bodies. If you end up dropping them, the floor is probably going to be the one with more damage.
But that doesn’t mean you can be free of worries. Try to ensure that the lens provides a decent build quality and design to provide a better user experience for things such as changing the aperture or focus.
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M42 lenses still offer some very unique images that you can get out of your camera. Not only are the photos visually pleasing, but you can also get these products at a much lower price than you would think.
The lenses we have mentioned above are undoubtedly some of the best M42 lenses, regardless of what you want from them. That is because there are options with various properties and looks to cater to all sorts of users’ needs.