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I wanted to get some cheap old lenses to use on my Nikon DX DSLR (D3100).

However, Nikon has one of the greatest flange distances of all manufacturers, which means that most lenses I can buy (M42 mount, etc) will not focus to infinity. I saw some adapters with correction lens to allow infinity focus, but also read they worsen picture quality.

Has anyone here used this kind of setup?
(M42 cheapo old lens + adapter to Nikon with/without infinity focus correction lens)

If so, what can I be expecting, quality-wise? I read M42 lenses are not that bad, and I only have DX lenses, so I would not be expecting heavenly performance.
Basically, I'd like a nice big tele lens (300mm+) and the ability to focus it to infinity.

Example pictures would be awesome, and particularly I'd like to hear some interesting opinions complemented by example photos of the setup I'm talking about — a picture is worth a thousand words.

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While there are some deals to be had in the M42 space, consider looking for an older Nikkor lens. A 300/4.5 AI-s won't meter on the D3100 but it won't need an adapter, and the aperture will function correctly. I really doubt you can get a M42 lens of the same specs very much cheaply. –  gerikson Jan 28 '11 at 8:45
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Beyond "not that bad", there are quite a few truly excellent M42 lenses - Super Takumar and Super Multicoated Takumar being two such labels. –  Reid Jan 28 '11 at 13:57
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If you want to go the "old lens" route, why not take a look at the Tamron Adaptall/Adaptall 2 series? There are scads of them out there, and many of them (particularly the ones bearing the SP designation in their names) are very good lenses. All you need is a single Nikon AI-S adapter (they're easy to mount and dismount) and it won't matter what camera the lens was originally used on, it'll focus to infinity. It will have the same restrictions as an AI-S Nikkor in terms of metering, but, then, so will the M-42 lenses. –  user2719 Feb 26 '12 at 21:18
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These related questions deal with the same issue (using an old lens with a shorter flange distance on a modern body): photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7172/… photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9146/… photo.stackexchange.com/questions/18102/… –  drewbenn Feb 27 '12 at 7:23
    
Hmm interesting. I have a M42 lens (few other mounts like Mamiya) on a EOS body. Did quite extensive research into the this before taking the EBay plunge. This fellow over at DPReview seems to have solved it by getting the mount to sink the lens somewhat into the body. Ah here's an adapter that does infinity on ebay. –  Peng Tuck Kwok Dec 10 '12 at 10:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The question asks for photo examples, and having recently gone through this exercise first-hand, I'll share my results.

I bought a Helios 44-2 58mm F/2.0 (M42 mount) on ebay for very cheap. To use the lens with my Nikon D7000 body, I bought a Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter which includes a removable infinity focus correction lens.

Shooting with the infinity focus corrective lens, I was very disappointed with the quality. Unless you used a very small aperture, the shots were not usable at all. Even when stopped all the way down, it was still soft when pixel peeping. It also seemed prone to a highlighted area in the center of the image. Here are a few test shots I took in the park:

http://imgur.com/a/CpbxN

Sorry I don't have the exact settings used for each picture. It's a fully manual lens (including an aperture ring), so the aperture doesn't get recorded in the EXIF data of the photo.

Being disappointed with my initial results, I removed the infinity focus correction lens, and tried again. This time with spectacular results:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/finey9/sets/72157634662198708/

All shots in this set (except for the first one), are taken with the Helios 44-2 lens.

So what have I learned? The infinity focus corrective lens is a waste. The Fotodiox adapter still works great without it. The lens works great on a Nikon body as a macro lens. And since I can't focus on anything more than a few feet away, that's all it can be used for. Considering how little I paid for it, I think I'm ok with that :)

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1  
I have gone through this exercise recently. I now have a Sony NEX camera and Konica lenses (no infinity focus element needed). The quality is superb, similar to your photos without the element. –  JoséNunoFerreira Jul 17 '13 at 15:10

An adapter with a lens in it will degrade quality in some rather unfortunate ways.

The reason a modern lens has so many elements in it is to combat the effects of things like chromatic aberration, to make sure the corners are sharp when the centre is, etc. You can't do that with a single lens, because different wavelengths of light bend at different rates, etc. And you can't do it with a spherical lens, because it won't all focus on the same plane.

So the optical lens element(s) in the adapter introduces a whole new lens assembly. It would have to be pretty special not to introduce all these extra problems - namely, it'd have to have all its surfaces multicoated, and it'd probably also want an aspherical and a low-dispersion element in there somewhere. But then you'd get more flare/contrast loss just due to having more reflective surfaces. Not to mention more bulk and weight.

My advice would be to stick to legacy lenses that can be adapted without adding more optics. Unfortunately on a Nikon body, that doesn't leave you much choice because of the longer flange-focal plane distance, but why not pick up a new Pentax K-x or some Micro 4/3 body if you want to experiment.

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However if infinity focus is not needed (for example for macro lens) then M42 lenses are perfectly usable with lensless adapters. –  Sergey Matvienko Jan 28 '11 at 6:51
    
thomasrutter: i thought about getting a 4/3 body precisely for that, but i wanted a dslr for that extra punch of IQ...i already had a pretty good compact camera. –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 28 '11 at 10:19
    
actually, i'm probably gonna experiment anyway..50-100€ for a 300/400 prime lens is quite an interesting bargain! –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 28 '11 at 10:21
    
Can you please post your results here as answer? Because i also have D3100 and was considering getting M42 lens :) –  Sergey Matvienko Jan 28 '11 at 12:32
    
sure, but maybe a month from now! :) i may do a proper review with samples, just for the hell of it. –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 29 '11 at 21:03

While i haven't used such lens myself, any adapter with optical element is going to degrade quality somewhat, just because you are introducing another element to optical system. Also cheap adapter is unlikely to have high quality lens, compounding the problem.

After reading various comments on Internet, main effect appears to be loss of sharpness. But i was unable to find example images.

Adapter without lens should not impact quality, but will not give you infinity focus.

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i've read such comments, also. In theory, should be alright, but I was hoping for some real users of this kind of setup to enlighten me :\ –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 27 '11 at 20:25
    
Also it may be subjective - for example in the comments to one particular adapter some people are perfectly happy with it, while other think it's horrible. –  Sergey Matvienko Jan 28 '11 at 6:41

You need to find which vintage mounts you can get an adaptor for without a lens in it. I use vintage lenses on Canon and I have the portfolio M42, Pentax K and C/Y to choose from. A friend has Sony and he can use M39 and M42.

The reason you should avoid the lens adapters is that it wil be a bad glass, that ruins the wonderful properties of the vintage lens.

I just made a quick search for M39, M42 c/y and pentax K adapters for F mount and it seems they all need the infinity glass.

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