Apart from making great cameras, the East German camera industry had a great tradition of making interchangeable lens mounts. Of these, the most famous must surely be the M42 screw mount, which extended from the Praktica and Exa range (later models) to their Russian counterparts, the Zenit and Zorkii.
What does the boy (or girl) who already has too many cameras to justify purchasing any more do? You start investing in lenses! This is yet another reason to love the East German camera industry. The M42 lens mount first appeared on the East German Zeiss Contax of 1949. Unlike other products of East German industry, this screw based lens mount can then truly be said to have conquered the world, appearing thereafter on countless Japanese, American and Russian cameras, including the topline brands. The system became dominant on SLRs around the world until the 1970s, when more sophisticated linkages between lens and camera body led to the development of the bayonet mount. What is the result of this for Lomographers today though, churning through the glorious labyrinth that is twentieth century camera equipment? It means that you can today buy a cheap and cheerful camera body and have an almost unparalleled array of lens choices if it has an M42 mount. Here is where owning a reliable but basic East German SLR like the Praktica MTL3 I have becomes invaluable
This camera is nothing fancy, but it can already take nice pictures with its standard issue Pentacon 1.8/50 MC lens. It helps if you don’t depend too heavily on the battery powered internal light meter though-this led to my first roll being underexposed! The results with proper metering however are nice and sharp
But more to the point, that M42 screw mount grants me access to an entire universe of outstanding East German, Japanese and Russian glass. Hence my recent decision to buy, not a new camera, but a Helios 44M 2/58, a Russian copy of the Carl Zeiss Biometar lens (at a fraction of the price of the original). This lens is known for being sharp, but also for doing outstanding thick swirly bokeh. In fact, it’s probably fair to say it’s semi-legendary (ask any Zenit owner who’s managed to compare it with the standard issue Industar lens). So via this lens mount you can get outstanding image quality for 35mm at knock-down prices. In summary then: my Praktica MTL3 cost me £20. My new lens cost me £16, and is now flitting on it’s way to me by post. But the price of getting top quality photos, the happiness that comes with that, and the amazing diversity of choice, all thanks to that little bit of genius that is the German M42 lens mount? Priceless.
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