Broken Yet Still Beautiful – An Old Petri M42 Lens

Being a big fan of 55mm M42 lenses, about a year ago I came across an unusual Petri CC Auto 55mm f/1.8.

I wrote then about how the Petri impressed me.

With my little Samsung GX-1S back in action – incidentally the same camera I first used with the Petri last year – I decided to give the combination another outing.

Drizzly rain most of the day meant leaves dappled with droplets, always an enticing proposition with my style of photography.

However when I started closing down the lens aperture, the blades moved a little way, then stopped.

Turning the ring back the other way the blades opened up without hesitation, but a few more goes showed it was definitely sluggish in closing, and wouldn’t go past around f/5.6 at all.

I was also surprised at first that the aperture ring has no click stops, having completely forgotten this about the Petri as I’ve used it so little.

Which, to my shame, has been the case with so much photography gear I’ve had.

So the sticky blades and clickless aperture of this far from perfect lens meant two things.

First, I couldn’t count the stops whilst looking through the viewfinder, to know what aperture the lens was at.

Second, I didn’t know or trust that the aperture blades were still moving – or not past a certain point anyway.

Then I realised that, despite this to some perhaps being a clear indication that the lens was broken and of little use, it didn’t hinder me at all.

Shooting Aperture Priority with the Samsung, it shows the shutter speed in the viewfinder.

Most of the time I don’t shoot wide open, preferring to drop a couple of aperture stops to give a better chance of focusing correctly (as the depth of field is deeper compared with when wide open), and to sharpen up the performance of the lens a little – most lenses being at their best a couple of stops in, not wide open.

So I ended up doing two things.

First, using the lens in the same way that I use my beloved preset aperture lenses, like the Helios 44-2 or Jupiter-37A.

That is, start with the lens wide open, focus on the required subject, reframe if necessary, then close down the aperture ring until the depth of field and background blur looks how I want it to, then shoot.

I love the infinite incremental adjustment this allows, and it’s a more fluid way of working rather than a lens with fixed click stops.

Second, I simply kept an eye on the shutter speed to see roughly what aperture I was at.

I was aiming for around f/4 or slightly above, so if when I started out at f/1.8 – the lens’s maximum aperture – the shutter speed was 1/1000s, I knew a couple of stops down aperture wise, the shutter speed would be around 1/250s.

If I wanted more like f/5.6, not f/4, I could close a little further until the shutter speed read 1/125s.

Again, I really enjoy this fluid and intuitive approach, and it’s something I do with my other preset lenses.

Sometimes I’m quite happy to use an autofocus lens with the camera on Program mode, and essentially point and shoot. Nothing wrong with that, and it simplifies the approach so you can focus purely on composition.

But with old manual lenses like the Petri, switching to this more slow and controlled approach is very rewarding.

The Petri CC Auto has certainly not seen its last adventure.

It’s a fun and tactile lens to use, and delivers plenty in the final image.

It wasn’t the cheapest lens I’ve bought (and cost a little more than the £25-ish I paid for the Samsung GX-1S) but is certainly a worthwhile addition to my these days much reduced arsenal.

How about you? Can you recall using certain gear that was in some way flawed or broken, but you were still able to enjoy using?

Please share your thoughts 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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8 thoughts on “Broken Yet Still Beautiful – An Old Petri M42 Lens”

  1. I took a Olympus SP500uz to the beach and the automatic mode got damaged, but I enjoyed much using it in manual and actually taught me a lot, from there if I can I always use manual, even in cellphones.

    1. Yes I think once we get to know the basics it helps whichever camera we use. And not just necessarily theoretical basics like the exposure triangle, but also simple things like how to lock focus and recompose which virtually every camera with AF since the early 80s has had in some form, but many casual users don’t know how to use, so end up with photos either completely out of focus, or with the wrong part of the picture sharp and the part they wanted to sharp all fuzzy.

  2. I have a couple of lenses that I wish I could use but their issues mean I can’t get good results from it (balsam separation on my SMC-K 50mm f/2 and fungus in my SMC-M 150mm f/3.5) – does that count?
    I have a couple of lenses that have a little bit of fungus (that I killed with sunlight, but the traces are still there) and I love using them anyway. No sign of image deterioration from the fungus.

    1. What kind of results to you get from the K 50/2, just something like low contrast, or are there unwanted artefacts visible in the image?

      Yeh I’ve had loads of lenses with minor fungus that perform brilliantly. I can only recall a couple of lenses with really bad fungus where the image was obviously effected, but even then they gave a charming kind of soft focus look to the pictures.

      1. Low contrast and the colors are a bit washed out… and if there’s a strong light in the picture it gets worse.
        For my standards it’s basically a paper weight now…
        Ah I also have an older Rikenon XR 50 1.4 that is stuck wide open (I replaced it with a Rikenon P 50 1.4 that is a much sharper lens). But I haven’t gotten rid of the old XR version because that wide open bokeh that it brings can get pretty wild… depending on the background, it gets really painterly, where the color transitions look like brushed paint! It’s quite odd and quite wonderful. I don’t use it that often but when I do I’m always amazed at what it does.

    1. I like the creative possibilities and challenge of using something that is “broken” in the eyes of others. Plus my repair skills are pretty limited when it comes to lenses, as well as my patience!

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