Using Vintage Lenses On Digital Bodies – A Compromise Too Far?

For the last five years I’ve been experimenting with vintage manual lenses on modern digital cameras.

This came about originally from using the lenses on the 35mm film cameras they were intended for, and delighting in their beautiful build quality, smoothness in use, and the fantastic photographs they could produce.

Then, in the spring of 2014 I discovered that Pentax had used the same basic K mount since 1975 and any of these lenses could be used on a modern Pentax K DSLR. Even better, you can also use the older M42 screw mount lenses, via a simple adapter.

So I bought a Pentax K-x DSLR, an M42 adapter, and started to experiment. 

Subsequently, I’ve used vintage lenses on a Sony NEX 3N, a mirrorless body with APS-C sensor (same size as in the Pentax DSLR), a couple of Sony Alpha DSLRS (a100 and a350), a Panasonic Lumix GF1 mirrorless Micro Four Thirds (M43) camera, and four other Pentax DSLRs – a K10D, a Samsung GX10 (clone of the Pentax K10D), a Samsung GX-1S (clone of the Pentax *ist DS2), and most recently a K30.

Here’s my summary of using legacy lenses, and specifically M42 lenses, on these different types of cameras, and how well (or not!) it’s worked for me.

For each, I’ll describe the different approaches I’ve tried, and the pros and cons.

Pentax K-x DSLR

Although the K-x had Live View (LV) – ie you could use the screen to compose and focus – 99% of the time I used the viewfinder (VF), to try to emulate the immersive experience I’d had with my 35mm film SLRs.

I used Aperture Priority (Av) mode mostly, so I could set the aperture manually on the lens, then rely on the camera to choose the correct shutter speed.

With most M42 lenses, there are three approaches.

1. Set the aperture first, then compose, focus and shoot.

The upside is this is fast and convenient. Especially if you don’t need to alter the aperture often between shots. Also you can see the depth of field you’ll get, as the lens is already at the aperture to take the photograph.

The downside is that the smaller the aperture, the darker the VF becomes, which can make accurate focusing a challenge with manual lenses.

2. Set the aperture, then switch the lens to Auto (A), so the aperture fully opens. Most M42 lenses have this A/M switch on the barrel. Then compose, focus, and flick the switch back to M (Manual) so the aperture blades close down to the chosen aperture, and shoot.

The upside is the VF is at it brightest as the lens is fully open, making it easier to focus. You can check depth of field when you flick the A/M switch, and adjust if necessary, without needing to refocus.

The downside is there’s an extra step switching the A/M switch each time, and if the lens isn’t that fast at maximum aperture anyway (say f/3/5 or f/4), the VF could still be challenging to focus with.

3. Get to know your lens(es) well enough so you know how many click stops it is from wide open to your desired aperture.

So perhaps you want f/5.6, which is five clicks away from the maximum f/1.8 on a 55/1.8 lens.

You compose and focus with the lens wide open, close the aperture down five clicks, and shoot.

The upside here again is having the lens wide open gives you more light through the VF to help you focus.

On the downside, you’re clicking up and down the aperture range every photo, and if you want to use a range of apertures you need to remember how many clicks away each are.

Plus different lenses will have a different number of clicks, depending on their maximum aperture, whether they have half stops, and so on.

This is not a good technique if you need to change aperture and/or lens often.

A way around this is to forget about the actual aperture number, compose and focus with the lens wide open, then simple close down until you have the depth of field and/or shutter speed you want, then shoot. Which is often what I’ve done, as depth of field is much more of a priority for me than shutter speed.

Another downside with this approach, as before, is a slower lens may be tricky to focus even wide open.

So those are the three main ways I’ve used the lenses to focus and choose my required aperture. None are ideal!

Made with a Pentax K-x plus M42 Asahi Takumar 55/1.8 lens, a combo certainly capable of a pretty picture.

On the metering side, in my experience it’s not been straightforward either.

Only on very few occasions have I shot a picture with the standard metering and got a great exposure. I nearly always needed to use the exposure compensation (let’s call this EC) to compensate for the camera under or over exposing on the first try.

Now, if you had to find the correct EC once by trial and error – a kind of one off exposure calbration for each different lens – then you could just leave it set and shoot away happily.

But again I’ve nearly always found that if a lens needs say -0.3 EC wide open, at f/4 it might need +0.3 or +0.7. At f/8 you might need +1 or +1.3.

Digital in my experience needs a far more precise exposure than film too, so you can’t just be within a stop either way and it looks fine, as is the case with colour negative film.

In short, there’s a fair amount of trial and error to get consistent exposures. Which isn’t consistent across all lenses either.

If you shot with just one lens, at one aperture, then you could find the sweet spot with the EC and forget it.

But most of us need different depth of field or are responding to different lighting levels each time we use our cameras, so we’re highly likely to use a range of apertures.

Plus a big reason for using an interchangeable lens camera is to use more than one lens!

In summary, with the Pentax K-x, I found the fiddling around with aperture rings and A/M switches, the need to tweak exposure compensation at virtually all apertures to get the right exposure, and the difficulty in focusing (even wide open with some lenses),  really inhibited my enjoyment of using these beautiful old lenses.

Sony NEX

So it was because of the above frustrations using my original Pentax DLSR, the K-x, that I looked for other (easier!) options to shoot vintage lenses digitally.

I discovered the Sony NEX range, and in late 2014 bought a nearly new NEX 3N.

Again I used M42 lenses on Aperture Priority mode, letting the camera choose the correct exposure.

The shooting process went like this –

Set lens to required aperture. Compose, focus, shoot.

I used the NEX’s screen to focus, which was also tiltable, and had focus peaking to aid focusing, which helped massively.

In terms of focusing and metering, the NEX performed fantastically.

Made with a Sony NEX 3N plus M42 Helios 44-2 lens, and feature that particular day’s attempt at emulating the look of the 35mm film emulsions I loved most.

The screen and focus peaking made focusing easy and exposures were very consistent with barely any need for fiddling with exposure compensation.

For more challenging focusing situations, I could open the lens wide, then focus more critically, then stop down the lens to the required aperture before shooting.

Because I could see the lens (as I wasn’t looking through a VF) I could easily see the aperture markings.

Or I could just adjust the aperture until I had the depth of field and/or shutter speed I wanted, as with a DSLR.

This all sounds like a dream.

So why did I sell my NEX, albeit after thousands of photographs?

It almost comes down to one word. Handling.

Because the NEX 3N is so much smaller than a DSLR, it doesn’t have a decent hand grip, even with a small native lens.

Plus, to use a vintage lens, the required adapter has to position the lens the same distance from the camera’s sensor as from the film plane of an original M42 camera.

So this adds the length of the lens again on the front of the camera. Even with a compact 35 or 50mm lens, the camera is then front heavy and unbalanced.

Because focusing is via a screen not a VF, I ended up holding the camera almost entirely by the lens, not the body, which then made it a little awkward to operate the shutter button with your wrist bent back, rather than in the more natural position it finds itself in with a DSLR using a VF.

In fact much of the time I modified my hand position so the fingers of my right hand were underneath the body, and my thumb was on top operating the shutter button.

So all this awkwardness meant a significant disconnect from the camera, and indeed the whole photography experience.

Yes the NEX was a fantastic tool for making pictures, easy to focus, and reliable in its exposures. But it was just that, a picture making tool, not a camera, and one with the aforementioned ungainly ergonomics at that.

I always felt like a man handling a new born baby for the first time, not quite sure where to put my hands, constantly trying to find a comfortable hold, and terrified of dropping it.

In fact the NEX ultimately became a lens testing tool, as I began what became an almost never ending quest to find the perfect collection of lenses – and sell the dozens I didn’t quite enjoy enough with some pretty sample pictures on eBay along the way.

An additional frustration was the colours the Sony produced.

They were somehow too bland, too cool, and I was forever experimenting with presets in LightRoom to try to get colours I like. Warmer, more natural colours that I knew I could obtain shooting the same lens with a film camera and something like the wonderful FujiFilm Superia 100 film.

In summary, the disconnected experience and awkward handling, combined with the disappointing colours that led to too much time spent post processing, meant that I never felt anything like as much enjoyment and immersion using the Sony NEX as with an SLR, or even a DSLR.

Sony Alpha DSLRs

So I decided to try a DSLR again, and in early 2017 I bought a Sony a350.

This operated much like my former Pentax DSLR, the K-x, but I hadn’t realised I could only use the a350 on Manual (M) mode, not Aperture Priority (Av). Which added further fiddling about I didn’t want.

After further research, I bought an older a100, which could use AV mode with M42 lenses, and a simple adapter.

Made with a Sony a100 with M42 Tamron Twin-Tele 135/2.8 lens. Cute camera, lovely results, but apparently still I wanted more.

Again the VF wasn’t great (I was still using cameras like the Pentax ME Super, Contax 139 Quartz and Minolta X700 as my yard stick for how amazing a VF can be), so focusing with manual lenses was difficult, and again to make this as easy as possible you needed maximum aperture, then to stop down just before shooting via one of the methods described above.

The Alphas did seem more consistent with their exposures, and the final images I did prefer somehow than the Pentax K-x, and certainly the NEX, especially with the a100.

I put this down to an older, lower MP CCD sensor giving a look and colours I prefer to the later, higher MP CMOS sensors in the Pentax K-x and NEX.

So the Sony DLSRs were better in some ways, and perhaps the best overall option I’d tried up to that point.

But they still presented a number of obstacles to enjoying my old M42 lenses to the fullest.

Pentax DSLR (V2)

After better results in some ways with the Sony a100, I thought about what I wanted to improve. Mostly, it was the quality and size of the VF, and perhaps the colours too.

So after further research I came across the much revered Pentax K10D, their flagship pro DSLR at the time of its release in 2006, and picked one up for a shade under £100, 11 years on.

The K10D is indeed a wonderful camera. The handling is fantastic, and the output of its 10MP CCD sensor (made by Sony, ironically) is lovely, especially at its native ISO100.

The VF was larger and brighter than in the Sony a100, and with a split focusing screen and magnified eyepiece, became about as good as it gets with a DSLR and manual lenses.

But it had similar exposure inconsistencies to the K-x. In fact I recall it required more exposure compensation, which again varied with different lenses and at different apertures.

Because of the manual operation of focusing and setting aperture, then the trial and error exposure often needing multiple attempts to get the exposure right, I was spending five or 10 minutes on a single image, which might take 30 seconds with a film camera and the same lens, or indeed with the Sony NEX.

So with every exposure taking, to put it bluntly, too much effort and faffing about, the sheer bulk and weight of the K10D started to wear thin.

Next, I tried its contemporary sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, which was a Samsung rebranded Pentax *ist DS2.

This shared the same VF as the K10D, with a slightly lower MP sensor (6MP CCD, again Sony made I believe) that made just as lovely images, in a considerably smaller and lighter body.

But the amount of manual input was the same, for setting aperture, focusing and tweaking exposures. Again it all just seem like too much effort for the results I was getting.

And the VF, whilst very good compared with other DSLRs I’d used, was still tricky to focus with, especially compared with an SLR.

Panasonic Lumix GF1

So I decided to try mirrorless again, but a slightly different route, via the Panasonic Lumix GF1 Micro Four Thirds body.

As I’ve spoken about before, the GF1 is on paper a wonderful camera, and it oozes class and quality.

Combine this with on board settings that allowed me to produce contrasty b/w images I loved straight out of camera, and I should have been dancing for joy.

So what was wrong this time (I can sense you rolling your eyes at my apparently endlessly high expectations of a digital camera to shoot my old lenses with!)?

Similar to the Sony NEX, the handling of the GF1 is just rubbish.

I don’t know who designs these cameras without putting a decent, curved, rubberised and/or textured grip on the front. But what kind of hands do they have??

I like to close my fingers around a grip like on a bike or a car steering wheel. Or a DSLR!

With almost dead flat front and rear surfaces like on the GF1, you end up either trying to clutch it with your hands like a duck beak, or trying to curl your fingers tight, with barely any fingertip in contact with camera. Is this just me?

Moving on, also as with the NEX, the required adapter adds so much bulk and ruins the handling further. It ends up feeling like an awkward device, and not a “proper” camera.

Lumix GF1 with M42 adapter and Helios 44-2 lens. But look at the useless, almost non existent front and grips. An ergonomic disappointment to say the least.

An additional issue is the crop factor. By this point I was well used to using 35 and 55mm lenses on APS-C sensor cameras with a 1.5x crop factor. So a 35mm lens gives an equivalent 52.5mm field of view (35 x 1.5), and a 55mm lens gives 82.5mm.

And since the DSLRs I’d used, as well as the Sony NEX, all had the same size APS-C sensor, these altered fields of view I’d become accustomed too over the previous three years or more, and seemed normal.

In fact putting a 35mm lens on an SLR again, I was usually surprised how wide the view was.

But the GF1’s Micro Four Thirds (M43) sensor is smaller, with a 2x crop factor. In terms of image quality, it still creates wonderful images, more than high enough resolution for my needs.

But with vintage 35mm film lenses, a 35mm lens was then cropped to 70mm, and a 55mm lens then gives 110mm.

This greater difference between the lenses’ original field view suddenly became much more apparent, and working backwards, with an M43 sensor I’d need a 17.5mm lens to give me 35mm, and a 27.5mm lens to give 55mm.

The nearest matches – an 18 or 20mm in M42 mount – are rare and expensive, and even a 28mm lens that’d give a 56mm field of view is not like using a 55mm lens, due its greater distortion, and usually a 28mm lens has a much slower aperture (most typically f/2.8 or f/3.5) than a 55mm f/1.8 lens.

So I came to the conclusion that you may as well give up trying to match your previous favourite focal lengths, and either accept and embrace the 2x crop factor, or ditch the M42 lenses altogether and use a native M43 lenses that will give you your favoured focal lengths naturally.

The latter option is pretty much what I’ve done with the GF1, the only lens I use now is a native M43 mount 7Artisans 25/1.8 lens.

Even if I tried a smaller M43 body with better handling, there’d still be the issue with the adapter making the camera unbalanced, and of course the crop factor issues, so I see little point in trying.

So M42 on M43 just didn’t really work for me.

Pentax DSLR (V3)

So back I went to DSLRs for a third round, this time a K30, with about as good a VF as you get with an APS-C DSLR, excellent handling, in a pretty compact and light package.

Pentax K-30 with a film era Pentax-A 50/1.7 lens. Handling is one of its strong points, metering not so much.

There’s so much to love about the K30, it’s a cracking camera.

But, the same issues remain when trying to use M42 lenses.

The need to focus wide open, or at least close to it, then stopping down, either through the aperture ring’s click stops, or using the A/M switch.

The inconsistent exposures when using different apertures and different lenses, so the exposure compensation button is in almost constant use, and a composition rarely comes out exposed correctly the first time.

Aside from having more control over your final image in camera, the K30 is really not much different to the Samsung GX-1S I had, and that camera somehow output images with my character. Again, I would guess this is a 6MP CCD sensor compared with a 16MP CCD sensor.

What hasn’t helped (or perhaps has helped, in terms of me reaching a conclusion) is that using the only lens I have that’s specifically built for a DLSR, the Pentax-DA 35/2.4, is light, quick, easy, consistent in exposure and delivers really quite lovely images, especially considering it’s a plastic AF lens.

Using the Pentax-DA just further emphasises the contrast and additional fiddling required with M42 lenses.


My conclusion is really what I think I’ve known for a long time, I’ve just not wanted to admit it.

M42 manual lenses can’t be used on digital bodies without some significant compromise or other.

The two cameras that remain of those above are the Lumix GF1 and Pentax K30 DSLR.

The lens I’ve enjoyed most on the GF1 has been the 7Artisans, which gives much of the manual and tactile pleasure of M42 lenses (manual focus, manual aperture, metal body) as well as something of a vintage look to the final images.

I can’t see me finding a better lens, for my needs, so either I stick with that, or decide the whole set up is not for me and sell it on.

It’s a similar, albeit slightly different, story with the K30.

As I said just now, the lens I’ve enjoyed so far by far has been my Pentax-DA 35/2.4, a lens specifically designed for Pentax DLSRs, with its compact and very light body, and reliable exposures.

Using each of these two cameras to their own strengths, with their own native lenses, and forgetting about M42, would seem to be the most sensible and most enjoyable way forward.

Which leaves the only available cameras to use my M42 lenses on as the two film bodies I still have, my Asahi Spotmatic F and Contax 139 Quartz. Neither of which I’ve actually put a film through in about 30 months…

So, despite my fondness of them and the hundreds of lovely images I’ve made with them, my M42 lenses now seem all but redundant.

The only other option I can think of that I haven’t tried is a full frame DSLR. In theory this would give me a better VF, and eliminate the crop factor issues.

The only one remotely affordable is probably an original Canon 5D.

But I’ve heard stories of issues with lenses hitting the mirror, and the same operational issues of focusing and stopping down a manual lens as with any DSLR would still be present.

So it’s not an option I’ve raced out to try.

Any advice? Have you used M42 (or indeed any other vintage SLR lenses) on a digital body with more luck?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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41 thoughts on “Using Vintage Lenses On Digital Bodies – A Compromise Too Far?”

  1. I notice you have not yet tried with a Canon DSLR….some folk think of them as boring cameras, but a lot of people love them too. One advantage is that many lenses including M42 can easily be adapted to the EOS mount. I have have a small number of Contax Zeiss C/Y lenses and others for this mount. On my EOS 1100D I can shoot quite painlessly using AV, or I can go full manual, which is what I would do anyway if shooting something like the night sky. The Zeiss glass has transformed the Canon, for which I only have the kit lenses. For me it is a reasonable compromise, and an enjoyable process because I am using the same lenses on my film and digital kit, so everything feels very familiar whichever I am using!

    1. Steve, thanks for your thoughts, very useful.

      Yes I’ve tried a few of the late Canon EOS SLRs actually (I recommended them in a couple of older posts on here about shooting film on a shoestring –, and I’ve used them with M42 and C/Y lenses too.

      They were small and light, easy to use, very reliable in their exposures and as you say, very adaptable to other mounts too. What’s not to love?

      But… The trouble is I just didn’t connect with them in the way I did with an Asahi Spotmatic or Pentax ME Super or Contax 139 Quartz, say.

      After a few rolls of film I was asking why shoot film with a dull and pretty unexciting camera like a Canon EOS, when I could use one of those others I mentioned and enjoy it far more?

      This is why I’ve never taken the plunge with a Canon DSLR. Having held and played with a few over the years, again they’re just bland black lumps of plastic to me. Pentax DSLRs – or even the couple of Sony Alphas I had – just have a lot more character and were more fun to use.

      Again the experience is an important part of photography for me, so I don’t really want to use cameras that aren’t interesting and enjoyable to use.

      I was talking with Jim Grey (Down The Road) about this the other day on his blog, he has a similar indifference to Canon stuff. But yeh I know many love them – there’s a reason they’ve sold millions of EOS bodies!

      I know what you mean about using the same lenses across film and digital, and this is exactly how I got into using vintage lens on digital bodies, and my intention was to simplify and have more consistency, like you, and lower the cost.

      As I don’t shoot film anymore, I guess it’s only just dawning on me that this reason is no longer valid, and I’m better off using a lens of the same mount and having less fiddling around!

      1. Thanks Francis. I’ve had a couple of early Sony DSLRs, an a100 and a350. Strangely, despite being an older model, the a100 was more flexible with M42 lenses, allowing M and Av modes, whereas with the a350 I think you could only shoot with the fully manual mode.

    1. Thanks JFB!

      I had a Mir-1B a while back and almost bought another recently. Capable of some pretty lovely images.

      What’s your favourite M42 lens to use with your Sony body?

  2. Superb, again.
    I can’t imagine how much time you spent organizing and writing this article.
    I have had many film and digital experiences similar to yours. But I don’t sell my (too many!) cameras or lenses (too many!). I just splurged on a lightly used very expensive Fujifilm X-H1. I’ve never owned a Fuji; I haven’t even turned it on yet because I’m still reading some of the 289 page manual.
    One of the features of many electronic/digital cameras that I use constantly is automatic Exposure Bracketing. It lets me get close enough to one correct exposure that I just sometimes need to fiddle with the image a bit after choosing the best (of the three) images – i currently use the Perfectly Clear application. I also like the sound of those click click clicks as I hold down the shutter button! And 3 images cost the same as one. ;—)
    Please keep writing. I find that what you write resonates with much of my own thinking, or (better yet!) leads me in new directions.

    1. Burt, thank you for your kind comments and encouragement.

      Yes this is one of the posts that kind of unravelled and ended up much longer than I expected. A typical post might be 750 words, this one is about four times that!

      Once I got going though, I had to see it through and make it comprehensive, in terms of my experiences.

      What do you mean about automatic exposure bracketing? Do you just mean you let the camera decide the ideal exposure then the bracketing takes another shot a little either side?

      I have tried this too recently, with 0.3 either side, but found I still need to check the exposures. Sometimes none of them are ok, so I prefer to manually take a shot, then based on eye, and the histrogram, try to gauge how much exposure compensation under or over it needs.

      It works quite well, and I’m getting far more fluid now. I’m just still resistant to taking two or more shots of the same scene – I rarely did this with film, and those habits die hard! In fact with my favourite digital compacts I don’t need to do this much, I’m just still surprised how sensitive a DSLR is. I guess the much larger sensor is more sensitive than the smaller ones in digital compacts…

  3. My experience and partial solution is with Nikon film cameras and dslr. Their mid range dslr cameras accept all old Nikon manual AI and AIS lenses without adapters.Open aperture metering is seamless and a focus confirmation LED in the viewfinder is accurate. I use a 5 year old crop sensor D7200 with great results using 40 year old lenses (actually I prefer their manual lenses). Unfortunately Nikon does not make any cost acceptable really wide angle lenses manual or auto for their crop sensor cameras so a 24mm AIS (35 mm equivalent) is as wide as wide as it gets. I could move up to full frame but the physical size puts me off. My solution for the time being is use an old Nikon F3 film camera for anything wider than 35mm.

    1. Joe, thanks for reading, and your input.

      I have had a similar experience with Pentax, especially the A series lenses and beyond which have open aperture metering plus you can control the aperture in camera. The A series began in the early 80s, then I think it was F, then FA, then DA, so I have 35 years’ worth of directly compatible lenses available without the kind of fiddling about the M42s require.

      The older M series range also work open aperture, but there’s an extra step of button pressing to meter before you can shoot. I haven’t really explored this much yet, the A series are that extra step slicker in operation. And they’re manual focus, and whilst I focus by eye mostly, like you I use the focus confirm symbol in the VF for reassurance.

      I’ve debated the whole crop factor issue many times, and as I said in the post, I think we can either just accept the field of view the lenses give on cameras they weren’t originally intended for, or don’t use them. I got fed up keep trying to translate focal lengths every time I picked up a lens.

      I’ve also thought about full frame, the most likely route for me would be an original Canon 5D (despite generally finding Canon cameras bland!) But just seeing them in the flesh, their size and bulk, puts me off too. They’re monsters!

      The Pentax DLSRs I’ve used like the K30 and K-x are about as small as DSLRs get, and they’re not onerous to carrying around for an hour or two. I think a 5D or similar would very quickly feel too big and heavy!

  4. Dan, this pretty much sums up my several years of experimenting with a small pile of adapters. I think I’ve decided to throw in the towel. The best of the lot were the Canon EOS adapters on my D40, but my eyesight is not great and I just can’t manage the focusing reliably. When I hit it, it works splendidly. My friend has had such wonderful results with only adapted (and mostly inexpensive) lenses on various Sony cameras, but I hate Sony products and just can’t bring myself to try one. For myself adapters fall into the “More trouble than they are worth” group.

    1. Throwing in the towel is a good metaphor! I’m now finding a less radical fusion, using Pentax K mount lenses from the A series and beyond. This means the convenience of open aperture metering and aperture control in camera, but the more immersive experience of manual focusing with well made lenses, and some of their more characterful colours and look too.

  5. I’ll echo your sentiment on camera design: obviously the modern machines are made for people with tiny hands. I end up gripping with my finger tips or else engulfing the thing in a manner bound to accidentally push some button or other that shouldn’t be pushed!
    I bought the Canon specifically to use my M42 lenses, and the only disappointments were the inability to use the big macro-zoom because it has no M/A switch and the yellow cast that appeared on the 35mm Super Takumar. Otherwise they are great for old-fashioned ‘manual’ photography. We are spoiled a lot by our cameras doing so much for us these days, and forget that ‘automatic’ did not used to be an option on anything.
    One of my tricks is to pre-focus the lens so the near and far sharpness fall within the DOF of the chosen aperture. That I will decide by using the kit lens to take a meter reading beforehand, and then setting it up on Manual. Now it’s a very expensive box camera, but it works! In fact I have not noticed a severe exposure latitude problem except when I’ve induced it myself, sometimes not on purpose. In general I can still guess exposure fairly accurately, as well as compensate for minor changes in lighting that may occur. Over exposure is what the digitals really can’t handle, so keep it dark.
    I don’t think any of us would try to use these old lenses on a daily basis as the prime lens; it’s just too impractical – even when compared to using them on the cameras they were meant for.

    1. It really baffles me Marc! DSLRs generally have excellent handling, nearly entirely due to that large grip. But it doesn’t have to this big on a smaller camera, just big enough to grip – and of a tactile material like, er, rubber, so it doesn’t slip out of your fingers. My Pentax Q is tiny but has a very good grip, chunk and rubberised. My Ricoh GX100 and GRD III are both fantastic, and both very small cameras. I don’t know what Panasonic were thinking with the GF, which is in so many ways a digital classic. Though I shouldn’t be so surprised, the also classic and largely fantastic Lumix LX3 also has a rubbish grip out of the box…

      With your lens with no A/M switch you could try the superglue hack. I’ve done this with a number of lenses, just push the pin in with a cocktail stick or matchstick, add a dab of superglue, then hold it in until the glue is dry. Then they are permanently on M mode. Not quite as convenient in some ways as having the A/M switch, but it does make the lens highly usable.

      I think you’re right about using old lenses on a daily basis – my expectations in doing so were unrealistic.

      Oh and I often using what I call rocking focus with a number of cameras, especially DSLRs with a viewfinder. Basically I focus as accurately as I can as a starting point, then just very gradually rock forward and back a few millimetres to find the optimum focus. Easier than keeping focusing the lens in and out a tiny amount.

  6. I agree with you and other commenters here, I do believe film lenses don’t generally translate well to digital. In fact, I’d say it makes them seem mediocre when compared to new lenses simply because they werent designed with the new metering and sensors. And that is indeed a shame, had I only done digital testing on these lenses I would have been very dissapointed, for example with the little Industar 50. In digital it’s not a very good performer, lacks contrast, flares too much, and the metering is all wrong (This is with EOS cameras). However on film it is a brilliant little performer, with a classic rendition on black and white and even colour photography. I do understand your reticence to shoot film since it doesn’t fit with the style of shooting, but these lenses should only really be used as they were thought to be, and digital will more than often give too much trouble.

    1. Hi Diego, I agree in part, and I have had very mixed results with old lenses on digital cameras. Some have been a real let down, but others have given me results I’ve been delighted with. This includes the following (all M42) – Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, Asahi Takumar 55/1.8 (but the 105/2.8, 120/2.8 and 135/3.5 are all excellent too!), Helios 44-2 58/2, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135/3.5, and Jupiter 37A 135/3.5. I also had a battered and slightly hazy old Jupiter 11 135/4, and aside from the slow max aperture making it difficult to focus, the actual results were way better than I had hoped, and very charming.

      But results are one thing, and when lenses are too fiddly to use, I just don’t!

  7. I have a film system based around an OM2 and some prime lenses. I bought a Lumix G1 relatively cheaply to use with them via an adapter. I think it works quite well, especially given that the lenses and body were never designed to work together.

    1. Hi Ed, thanks for your comments!

      Is the G1 one of the DSLR styled Micro Four Thirds cameras? I hadn’t really consider those, I’m sure the handling would be much better than the GF1! There are many aspects I like about using my GF1 otherwise, as I stated above. Metering and focusing are easier than with a DSLR, which are two big parts of the overall equation. Enjoy your G1!

  8. In some aspects I can relate, in others not so much. I’ve used the M42 Takumar 50mm f1.4 on both my K30 and my E-M10 Mk II. While the handling on the K30 was much better, I was hit by the viewfinder darkening when I switched to the selected aperture.

    Adding the optional grip to the E-M10 II, made a world of difference. I turned on focus peaking and programmed it to fn2. The EVF compensates for the loss of light but still preserves the DOF. Crazy how two little things could take shooting manual lenses on digital from a chore to a joy.

    To me its worth the pain because I love the cinematic look I get from the old glass.

      1. I have also used the Vivitar 28mm f2.5 T mount, but the Takumar is by far my favorite so far. I do have the other takumars to try out but I’ve been shooting more film as of late.

  9. I use my Nikkor lenses on my full frame Nikon D750, and they are a pleasure. I shoot in aperture priority, either thru the VF, or by live view. Aside from the manual focus, the lenses work easily and the viewfinder is bright. I haven’t bought any new lenses because I can use all my Nikkors. Fortunate that these lenses are compatible and meter easily.

    1. Thanks Martin. I think this is probably the only way to go in using M42 lenses on a DSLR – a full frame body which will of course have a bigger and brighter viewfinder to aid focusing, and all of the original focal lengths will be preserved.

      I can’t see this being a route I will take myself any time soon due to the cost and bulk of FF DSLRs, but great to hear you’re getting mileage out of those old Nikkors.

      I have thought of using my Pentax K30 purely on Live View, which would eliminate some of the issues, and mean I can just stop the lenses down to the required aperture and leave them there.

      But for me the main point of a DSLR is to use the VF, and the more immersive experience. I have plenty of other options for shooting with a screen, so using a DSLR seems like major overkill. Again it feels like a compromise too far.

      1. I understand your thoughts and generally agree. I prefer the viewfinder as well, but use Live View in order to see the histogram, as I shoot in raw mostly for landscapes. The camera is big though, as you say! Perhaps both of us will evolve more toward reserving a few of our vintage lenses for special use on our favorite remaining 35mm film camera…As I grow more enamored with medium and large format, I can forsee trading the FF35mm for a more compact DSLR (maybe Olympus micro4/3) and sparing my back the weight of walking with the D750.

      2. I think one good thing about using a variety of cameras over time is that it does break down preconceptions about what certain types of cameras can do, and how they “should” be used. I’m wondering it on LV mode, my K30 DSLR might actually be a very good solution to shooting M42 lenses.

        Pentax made a camera called the K01, around the same time as my K30. I believe they share much of the same innards, including the sensor and screen. The main difference is the K01 has no viewfinder, just the screen, so it’s mirrorless.

        Pentax might have been on to something here, and I could essentially use the K30 the same way, using the screen only (with a histogram, focus peaking and focus magnification as/when I needed it to aid exposure and focusing)… Coming into buying the K30 my thoughts were pretty much “it’s a DSLR, you always focus using the VF, so I need a camera with a good VF…” Food for thought!

  10. Personally I love using M42 on my Pentax KP and Samsung GX20 – apature priority normally. Using the viewfinder (even though the KP has focus peaking). Beautiful results (well, I’m happy!)

    1. Thanks Adam. I’m still a bit undecided with M42, I’ve never quite found a body that works well enough with them. The final image is not in question, it’s just how fluid (or not) the compose, focus, stop down sequence is. I think I’ve been using AF too long!

  11. Hi Dan. I’ve been reading a lot of your articles on legacy lenses and thank you for all the practical information. I’ve been using Sony a6000 and now a Sony A7III and along with my very expensive Sony lenses have been acquiring many legacy lenses and adapting them. I find that they are more fun and produce very interesting artistic images that are far different from the extreme sharpness of modern lenses. Sometime I want and need that and sometimes I don’t. I really like Konica lenses as I had a Konica camera back in the day. I just picked up a Konica Hexanon AR 57mm f1.2. Wow! What an excellent piece of glass!! When you want that thin depth of field and great bokeh this is one of the standouts. I have a Pentax SMC Takumar 50mm 1.4 with the 8 blades coming soon. I can’t wait to compare these 2 lenses. I really love playing around with these old lenses and seeing which ones have unique characteristics. I have some Helios lenses coming as well. Anyways I just wanted to tell you I enjoy your articles and Photography to me is so much more enjoyable if you just focus on the art and experiment. I’m to the point where I just don’t care about the stats and want unique photos others might have a hard time duplicating. For the average person looking at a photo that’s what they notice. Not how sharp and crisp but how pleasing to the eye it is. That’s my take anyways.

    1. Hi David, thanks for your comments, I’m delighted you’ve gained something from my articles. I’m just writing another on a favourite lens actually, a Takumar.

      I’ve had lovely result with Konica SLR lenses, and have quite a fondest for Konica as a brand. They seem to have more personality somehow than Nikon, Canon and Olympus.

      I’ve had that Takumar, and really you can’t go wrong with any Takumar, absolutely beautiful lenses, and so well made and smooth to use.

  12. Generally i have been pleased with my m42 lenses on Pentax kp and k3 (mk1)
    I have few Pentax m, Pentacon 50, Helios44-2 and 44m7, takumar 55 f1.8, macro takumar 50m f4 (preset). Metering is pretty close most of the time and raw will save anything (although95% of my shots are edited jpegs)
    On aperture priority, no green button needed.

    1. Thanks Adam. I’m coming to accept the metering is just going to be an ongoing challenge with my K-30 (and other Pentax DSLRs I’ve had). I can usually get it about right using the exposure compensation at a certain aperture, then I go up or down a couple of stops and have to “recalibrate” the exposure compensation again.

      I’ve tried M42 lenses with my K-m and couldn’t use them, even the max +2 stops on the exposure compensation was still giving pictures that were too under exposed in some lighting. The K-30 has -5/+5 and sometimes I’m using +2.3 or 2.7.

      Re the green button, yes the M42 lenses with Av are easier to use than K or M lenses on Manual mode and using the green button to meter each shot. Seems a bit backwards to me that older lenses in a different mount are actually easier to use than older K mount lenses!

      1. Cheers Dan. I think the issue will always be a problem until you get a Pentax DSLR that isn’t 15 years old, lol.
        (I understand why you want to stay in that generation!)
        I had a Samsung GX20 (it was the samsung badge stuck on a Pentax K20D – that tank of a camera!) – that struggled sometimes with the k and m lenses too… but the KP and K3 seem to marry beautifully with older glass. I think the computing power of the newer DSLR’s means they can just handle stuff so much better.
        I hate editing RAW files – but 95% of the time never need to – as the KP and K3 manage very well.

      2. For your information, my K-30 is positively child like, a mere eight years old! : ) I’ve realised more and more with shooting DLSRs how forgiving film was/is, especially colour negative film. I’ve used film cameras from the 70s and 80s with the same old lenses and achieved way more consistent results in terms of metering, than cameras just a decade or 15 years old. It can’t be that Pentax, say, were using inferior metering systems in 2006 in their digital cameras than in 1976 in film cameras, it must be the latitude of film.

  13. Hello Dan, I only recently discovered your enjoyable and interesting blog and so I am still reading the articles that catch my attention 🙂
    Vintage lenses hardly ever match the amazing performance of modern digital lenses, but that’s not the point, we are seeking character and ‘the vintage look’. I can write elsewhere about my 50+ years of camera history and my sad case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome with drawers full of beautifully engineered film cameras, including Pentax, that came with lenses that I tried 😦
    I first tried adapting M42 to EOS but failed constantly to hit focus and found that the metered exposure was mostly way out. Then I tried a couple of Samsung NX cameras with adapters, that handling issue of small bodies was found of course and while exposure measurement was great, I struggled to see the rear screen clearly enough to hit focus. Those are also in the drawer and need to be tried again using zone focus on old MF lenses.
    Eventually I ‘sold my soul’ and bought a Sony A7iii. The A7iii is a complex beast, it took me a while to learn what options to choose, but now I love it with a couple of modern lenses and many old ones. It is very easy to adapt just about any old lens to the A7iii and vintage lens exposure results are great. In my mid 60s, I still struggle to hit portrait manual focus in the EVF with narrow DOF and should use a tripod to stop my slight variations of distance before firing 🙂
    I recommend ‘Zenography’ on YouTube for loads of vintage lens experiences. He mainly shoots with the original Sony A7 body and seems to achieve great results – or maybe we don’t see the failures 🙂

    1. Welcome Richard, glad to have you here.

      How do you focus with the A7iii and manual lenses, do you use focus peaking or magnification or something?

      Thanks for recommending Zenography. Yes I think editing our photographs (as in choosing which to keep and share and which to discard) is an undervalued art in itself. Everyone takes rubbish photographs sometimes, even great “masters”. How much we share goes a long way towards how “good” we are perceived to be overall!

      1. Dear Dan,

        this is a very hard question 🙂 I have to much of them (more then 300)

        So i have not “the” one favourite 😀

        Best regards

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