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Entries in pentacon (1)

Thursday
Nov262009

A Wide Angle Alternative For Your dSLR: The Pentacon 29mm f/2.8 M42 Lens Review



Kit lenses are fine, a 50mm prime is cool (if a little long), but for me a nice little wide-angle is a perfect all-day, light-weight lens. A bargain from our local car-boot sale, this Pentacon 29mm f/2.8, used with a m42-EF lens mount adapter, has been my glass of choice for the last few months on the front of my Canon EOS 350d / Digital Rebel XT.

Before you read on, check out this Flickr Slideshow of images tagged Pentacon 29mm.

What's This M42 Business?

M42 camera lenses are old. An attempt to standardise the way that lenses fixed on to camera bodies in the days of manual focus film slr's, any you find will be second hand and will probably come on the front of an old camera.

The term M42 refers to the mount on these lenses, or how they fix onto the camera body. M42 lenses use a screw thread, which as you know isn't compatible with modern dSLR's bayonet fittings. A quick search of eBay, using the terms "M42" and your cameras lens mount - "EF" for my 350d - and for a few quid you'll have an adapter to allow you to use these old lenses on your new camera.

The catch is that you have to manually focus these lenses, set the aperture via the ring on the lens, and you may have to set the shutter speed manually too, but that's all easy to learn, and in learning you'll become a more well-informed photographer.

Feeding The Swans, Fort Brockhurst
Feeding The Swans, Fort Brockhurst


Look at it big.

On my Canon you can use M42 lenses in Aperture Priority Mode - I set the aperture I want on the lens, then the camera chooses the shutter speed for a correct exposure. I've found that dialing in about 1/3 of a stop of under-exposure with exposure compensation helps to keep details in the high-lights.

Focusing can be a bit tricky, as modern cameras don't have focusing aids in the view-finder. I've found the best way is to open the lens to its largest aperture, f/2.8 on the 29mm Pentacon, so the view-finder is nice and bright. Then focus as best you can by getting the subject sharp, going past, then rolling back to sharp again. Then turn the aperture ring to the f-stop you want, keeping an eye on shutter speed so you don't get camera shake.

Spinaker Tower
Spinaker Tower


Look at it big.

So, m42 lenses are a viable alternative to modern lenses. You can pick them up cheap at Car-Boot sales and flea-markets, just make sure that the aperture rings are smooth (and work!) and that there's no fungus or cracks in the lens.

I do think that you shouldn't go mad and spend a lot of money on these lenses. Pick up nice clean examples where you can, but just bear in mind the cost, and whether that with your shooting style you would be better off saving up for the auto-focussing and metering modern lenses.

Why The Pentacon 29mm?

29mm is a great focal length on a crop-sensor camera, like my 350d and most other consumer dSLR's. If you take into account the smaller sensor, the 29mm equates to around a 50mm lens when used on a film or full-frame camera. That's a focal length similar to what we see with our naked eye, and it's wide enough to easily get foreground interest in the frame, and you'll find that perspective lines really seem to zoom away from the camera, creating a dramatic effect in lots of images.

Heritage Way (South)
Heritage Way (South)


Look at it big.

The Pentacon 29mm offers an aperture range from f/2.8 (nice and wide) to f/22. It's got distance markings on the lens, so you can work out your depth of field depending on your aperture, and feels solid and well-made.

It does have some softness around the edges, and my best shots have been taken at the smaller apertures (f/8 and above) using a tripod and shutter release.

Marine Parade East, Lee On Solent
Marine Parade East, Lee On Solent


Look at it big.

Image Quality?

Well, take a look at the photo's on this page. Remember that these images have been edited and post-processed (some are hdr's). They're not as they came out of my camera. Use them as a guide to what you could get out of the Pentacon 29mm. Look at them big, or at their original size, and ask if they're of acceptable quality.

One thing I'm not convinced about is the ability of M42 lenses, when used with an EF mount adapter, to focus to infinity at larger apertures. At this focal length the horizon is a long way away, and things in the far distance can be soft, but everything else can come out nice and sharp, especially if you use a tripod.

Promanade, Portsmouth Harbour, Gosport Side
Promanade, Portsmouth Harbour, Gosport Side


Look at it big.

Conclusion

I really like the Pentacon 29mm f/2.8. It gives me the field of view I like for my photography, and it forces me to move around with my feet to get the right composition. It was very cheap (a fiver I think), and has been on the front of my Canon EOS 350d / Digital Rebel XT, more than any other piece of glass I own.

Skate Park
Skate Park


Look at it big.

However, I personally won't be shooting with M42 lenses on the front of my Canon all of the time. It's not that I don't think the Pentacon 29mm is good enough, it's rather that I get frustrated with the hassle of swapping over lenses and mount adapters if I've got both M42 and EF (auto-focus) lenses in my camera bag.

I'll be getting the Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 for Christmas, so it'll be interesting to compare the two lenses. If you're on a budget with your photography (like me) I'd definitely recommend you pick up a M42 adapter for your dSLR, and then keep your eyes peeled for bargain glass like the Pentacon 29mm, but always weigh up the cost of new auto-focus lenses, and don't spend too much.

The thing to remember is, that camera lenses are an investment in your photography. Whether they're an old M42 lens, or brand new L Glass, practice, practice and more practice to get the most out of them and you won't go wrong.

Stokes Bay, Looking Towards IOW
Stokes Bay, Looking Towards IOW


Look at it big.

Thanks, Rob.