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Soligor 90-230mm f/4.5 M42 Manual Focus Zoom Lens Review

This in one big lens, and it's heavy too, due to its all metal construction. I got it last year to use as a telephoto zoom with my Canon EOS 350d / Digital Rebel XT, but to be honest I've found it much more useful as a macro lens, when used with a few extension tubes.

To recap a little, these M42 lenses use a screw mount - so you'll need a M42-EF (EF is the name for the Canon lens mount) adapter, which can be had for a few quid from eBay. You'll have to shoot in aperture priority mode, change the aperture on the lens manually and focus manually, but that's easy once you get used to it, and you can buy these lenses very cheap indeed at car-boot sales, charity-shops, and flea-markets. They can often also be found in friends and relatives attics and lofts, gathering dust with an equally old 35mm Film SLR...

Lens Cover, Olympus Mju 300

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The Soligor 90-230mm is great for macro work with extension tubes because it's a constant aperture lens (f/4.5), so as you focus on your subject, the end of the lens doesn't pop out and knock into the flowers you're trying to photograph. It has a tripod mount on the lens itself, making it easy to balance, and that wide zoom range makes focussing simple. (When using extension tubes you have to focus by changing your focal length - which means either moving your camera backwards and forwards, or in this case, just adjusting the zoom. Don't ask me why!)

Fiddy Pence

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The technique I use is to set up my camera on my tripod, and open up the aperture on the lens to 4.5. I then get my focussing right, (sometimes by illuminating my subject with a torch - it really helps), then "stop down" to around f/8 to increase the Depth of Field and sharpness. I then use a remote shutter release, or the shutter-delay timer to take the shot.

With this type of macro set-up your depth of field is often only mm wide, so stopping down is a good way to get more of your subject in focus. The down side to this is that you'll be using longer exposures, so you have to make sure that your camera and subject are very still indeed.


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Please bear in mind that all these photographs have been edited in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop - they are as close to "finished" images as I can create. I do this because I think it's important to see the potential of what you can do with these old lenses, to give you the inpiration to try them out before splashing out hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds on the latest, modern glass.


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Macro flower photography has become a bit of a favourite of mine. If When I buy my darling wife a bunch of flowers, you can bet that the next day I'll have my tripod set-up with my big Soligor zoom on my 350d, ready to get in close and see what I can come up with.

The old nuggets of advice still apply. Check the flowers for imperfections and get rid of wilting leaves and petals. Think about, and look for, a relative plain background to avoid distraction from your main subject. Try and choose an unusual angle, and when using extension tubes, vary the number you use to get very different looks.


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One of my favourite techniques is to shoot inside at night in complete darkness, just using a small torch to illuminate the flowers. I guess you could call this "Painting with Light", and it is fun and I love the black backgrounds.


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Shooting outside with the Soligor is a totally different proposition. You've got the weight to look out for, but also your photos will be more prone to subject-blur because of the longer shutter-speeds this slow zoom forces you to use. Pump up the ISO, choose a sunny day, and you can just about get away with hand-holding, although I do get a lot of soft shots.

Insect On Flower

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Whenever buying lenses at a car-boot sale, flea-market or second-hand store, always give the glass a good looking at. Check that there's no big scratches, that there's no fungus growing inside, and that the aperture, zoom and focus rings all move smoothly and do what they should do.

I always take a m42 extension tube with me to our local car boot sales so I can screw it onto the bottom of any potential lenses, so I can check that they really are M42 and not some similar looking lens mount. Trust me, it's easy to get it wrong, and I've got two lenses in my collection that although screw mount, are definitely not m42!


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The other thing I'd say is don't pay too much for this type of lens. I think this one cost me a tenner, and I'm happy with that, just remember that you could get a second-hand Canon EF 75-300mm for just over £100, and that has auto-focus, a bigger focal range, and is a lot lighter.

Tower Viewing Platform

Look at the original (big file!).

The above photo is a rare example of where I've actually used the old Soligor zoom as a Telephoto lens, also with a M42 2x tele-converter on as well! The link below the photo will take you to the orginal shot, which isn't that bad. I remember resting the lens on a railing to keep it steady, and it was quite a sunny day, so at ISO 200 the shutter speed was 1/800th, just enough to keep the photograph free of camera-shake.

So, in conclusion, if you see a M42 Soligor 90-230mm f4.5 Zoom going cheap, snap it up. Add a m42-ef mount adapter and some extension tubes and you'll have yourself a great little macro set-up.

Cheers, Rob.

Reader Comments (11)

Rob, am I the only one to notice the Fire She Demon in image number 2? You would have a hard time CGI'ing a better form and the detail in the face is down right scary!

On a different note, I love your podcast.


May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Just to be clear, I meant picture number two on Flickr of the fire.


May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Hi Tom!

I can't quite see it myself, but I'm sure its there! If you go to Flickr, click on the "add note" above the photo, and you can put a box around it.

Cheers, Rob, and thanks for the comment about the 'cast!

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hi, I have just happened to have a very old Soligor lens. And I am wondering what its worth...or if I could use it with any modern digital camera. The information on the lens says:

Soligor auto zoom 1:4-5 f=90mm`230mm58 no. 17120465

I am getting into photography more, so I am not really sure if I should get rid of it, and sell it, or if I should try and use it with another camera. Your thoughts, and advice would be helpful.

Thanks, Elena

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElena

Excellent, Rob! I have one of these, been using it on my Zenit TTL and Canon EOS 300D. I'll post a review of it in the future.

Keep shootin!

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGene

Excellent review of the lens and macro.
I today purchased on eBay this lens, plus the m42 converter and a set of extension tubes, so was looking for a review to back up my hunch that spending what in total was about £35 quid for all of the above was a decent purchase to get me started in macro photography.
Ideally I'd have paid less. The lens cost me £16, but hay it sounds like ill have lots of fun with it.
So what F number do you leave the camera on
You said the lens you stop down to F8, but not the camera itself?
Also do you leave the ISO on auto or fix it at 100?



July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve H

Hi Steve,

When shooting macro with the Soligor, I focus with the lens wide open at f/4.5, then if lighting conditions allow (or with flash) I'll close the aperture up to 5.6 or 8 - to increase the depth of field. This is a bit hit and miss, as I'm just twisting the aperture ring around a few clicks.

My camera doesn't have auto-ISO, so I tend to start off at 200, then go up or down depending on how much light is available.

Thanks, Rob.

July 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hi Rob, thank you for the reply.
My m42 adaptor ring arrived today so i able to start using the soligor. My first old lens.

I did as you suggested, i found starting on f4.5 wide open on the lens allowed the chip on the adaptor to find the focus, more light on the sensor i guess.
once the camera beeped to confirm i had focus, i then twised the ring on the lens to change the F number to F8 and F11 as suggested, to increase my chances of sharp focus.
The results so far are not bad, i had to lower down the exposure a stop otherwise the photo was too light, and up the iso to increase the shutter speed.
The F on the display on my camera (Canon 60D) is a fixed F1.4 i guess this is the default as the camera can't read the lens aperture etc.. does your camera also default to F1.4 like my own?? when an old lens is attached?

my macro rings are due in a few days....and then the real reason i got the lense begins.

Kind Regards


July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Hi Steve,

Get ready for some great macro shots! Before your extension rings arrive, why not try just holding the lens the wrong way round, with the filter threads against the lens mount? You might be surprised what you can achieve!

My camera doesn't show any aperture when I use a M42 lens, but you're right, the 1.4 reading is because your camera can't talk with the lens.

Good luck, enjoy, and keep in touch!

Cheers, Rob.

August 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hi Rob,

Just came across this thread, so apologies for responding to years old material. Just bought this lens in NZ for about a British Tenner. Got an M42 adaptor, so all good.
Just wondering, and I'm new to DSLR, but what focal length do you input for this lens? I would imagine around 100mm??
Just noticed a post from July 2013, so fairly current...

Have to say I'm loving picking up old, manual primes and zooms. Heavy and full of quality.

Anyway, greetings from the South Island of NZ



January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve From NZ

Hi Steve,

I'm not sure what you're getting at, but feel free to email me to expand on it.

Thanks, Rob.

February 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

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