I first learned about the M42 mount from my friend Mark Sanderson. He’s one of those guys who knows cameras. And by “knows,” I mean he knows all about their history, various brands, lenses, bodies, how they all work, film, and more. Mark is a camera junkie who not only shoots, but has a respectable collection and deals them on eBay. I first met Mark when buying a Rolleiflex 3.5 from him over beer and tacos.
We were having one of our phone conversations that just wanders from topic to topic and he mentioned this M42 mount, and how a lot of cameras used it. I was intrigued. So after our call, I did what any curious human would do…I looked it up online and read all about it.
I guess you could say it’s like Garanimals for cameras.
So what this creates for us, the lay photographer, is a smorgasbord of camera / lens swap ability…and lots of fun shopping for them. So if you happen to have an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic camera, for example, and you love it, you’re not limited to Pentax lenses. There are LISTS of the various M42 mount models you can get. I don’t think it’s comprehensive (as I have some lenses not on the list) but a place to start might be M42.com.
Or, let’s say, you have a body and complete lens collection, but you see a Mamiya / Sekor 1000 DTL for sale at a garage sale for $10. Well, now you have a second body.
I love this.
It appears the mount was developed by Zeiss in 1938 for Praktica cameras and end of life was in the 1970s, although a few companies tried to bring it back, and only one, Cosina, continues to make lenses with the M42.
THIS JUST IN: There’s a kick starter in Germany hoping to reintroduce a film camera, with changeable film backs and other niceties, and it will be available with an M42 Mount. Check it out: Safelight Berlin.
I looked around at my stuff and realized I have seven M42 mount cameras (that number has changed since this story began) of various brands and a bevy of lenses, all of various focal lengths. So I brought them all out on a table to test the theory.
It worked. I took the lens off my GAF and put it on the SEARS, and from that I put the lens on the Hanimex, and on and on. I couldn’t wait to take them all out on a field trip together.
Looking around online for events near me, I found the Leavenworth County Fair in Tonganoxie, KS. Looking at the list of events, I thought “Perfect!” They were going to have Turtle Races, Mud Runs, Rides, and a Pedal Tractor Pull for the kids. Bingo.
I packed the following cameras for the shoot:
- GAF L-ES
- Ricoh Singlex TLS
- Sears TLS (which is just a rebranded Ricoh Singlex TLS)
- Hanimex Praktica Nova 1B
- Mamiya / Sekor 1000 DTL
- Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic (some are also branded Asahi Pentax)
The hard part was choosing the lenses to go with. Some were obvious, like the Soligor 70-220 3.5 monster that is just a dream. The Pentax already had a nice 55mm 1.8 lens, so I left that on there and I put a Mamiya / Sekor 50mm 1.4 on the Mamiya / Sekor. Needing a wide angle, I went with a Sears 28mm 2.8. I found a Soligor 135mm 2.8 and put that on the Sears. I threw another 50mm 1.8 in the mix, just in case.
I knew when I packed I was mainly going to shoot four lenses: the 70-220, 50 1.7, 28 2.8, and the 135 2.8.
I loaded all the cameras with film and started to pack them in my largest camera bag. I put color in the Sears, and black and white in all the others.
If you’ve not shot any of these old cameras, you should know, they are heavy. Each one, wearing a lens of any size, has some heft to it. Take that times six, then add for that MONSTER of a zoom, and you now understand that my backpack would not be allowed on an airplane. Oh, I also threw my Kodak VR35 K12 in the bag, but it weighs nothing.
I had a few different goals for the day.
- Have fun and capture cute pics of kids having fun enjoying a slice of life in rural America.
- Test cameras I’ve never shot before, hoping meters work, shutters are accurate, and looking for light leaks.
- Experience the value to being able to switch lenses on the fly, depending on circumstances
Have Fun and Get Some Shots
There is no question that I enjoyed lugging that camera bag around the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds. It was a hot enough day, but perfect. I enjoyed some fair food and lemonade along the way, too…well, if you. consider a chili dog from the local 4-H group “food.”
I always get a rush out of looking around the room and finding a good vantage point to shoot an event. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. Shooting film in an indoor environment adds some pressure. The Turtle Race and Pedal Tractor Pull were under tents, and pretty low light. I wasn’t optimistic, but pleasantly surprised when the film came out.
There’s something honest and real and nostalgic about watching kids show up to a turtle race with a box containing what they hope is the winner. In an age of video games, smart phones, and headphones on at all times, this takes us back to our roots. Basics. Take a turtle, put it in on a track, race other turtles, hope for the best. Win some and lose some.
We need more of this, in my opinion. Anyone can race with their thumbs on a joystick…finding a fast turtle, now THAT’s a trick.
Testing the Cameras
It’s true thatI had never shot any of them. I picked them up here and there and they were in the queue to play with, but this M42 project brought them all to the front of the line.
I knew some of them had meters that didn’t work, and I can work around that. I was more worried about accurate shutters and light leaks. Keep in mind, I am still on a quest for a camera with a light leak, so this test wasn’t as much about finding a leak and fixing it…I just wanted to know.
See related light leak story: My Dad’s Old Nikon FG Pulled Me Back Into the World of Film
One thing I’ve started doing in my testing, which has really helped, is writing the name of the camera on the film before loading it. Then, when having it processed, have them put them in separate envelopes so I know which film was shot with which camera.
I know, it’s simple, but I haven’t been doing that. I’d take a bunch of cameras out and shoot them then take the film in. When I pick it up they’d say “you had a couple of blank rolls” then I had to figure out which camera it was. Not very scientific. Sometimes that blank roll is one I found left in a camera I bought and figured I’d develop it and see if there is evidence of where Hoffa’s buried, or something. But often, I’m shooting a camera that is broken and I have to play detective to decipher which camera it is.
Not anymore. I am DILIGENT in marking the film…most of the time.
I am happy to report that all cameras performed as expected. Considering the age of them, and how long since most of them had been used, it just shows how well these old things were built.
Switching Lenses on the Fly
I was also still wanting to prove that each of these lenses would interchange with each body and work as expected. Other than a temporary issue where neither the 70-220 or the 135 would go on the Pentax, all went as it should have. After I got home I tried to recreate the failed fitting issue with the Pentax and couldn’t. I guess I’m a dope. The M42 system really works.