The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 2

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Read part one, with the MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro here.

Part 2 of this series features the Paragon 300mm f/5.6, in M42 mount.

IMG_3230 This lens I saw looking neglected and forgotten under a pile of ornaments at a car boot sale.

A quick inspection revealed mechanically it was fine, with a preset aperture and lots of aperture blades, but with pretty serious condensation inside one of the rear elements.

I asked the seller what they wanted for it, and they had no clue, so I offered £1. And she accepted immediately. Maybe I should’ve opened at 50p…

Not having used a 300m lens before, I was surprised how light it is. But it is huge in length, even on my not insubstantial Pentax K10D.

IMG_3228The Paragon also has a strange arm attachment (part of which I removed) which I think is to mount it on a tripod.

So, with its cloudy rear elements, slow speed (f/5.6 max remember!) and cumbersome handling, could I possibly get any decent images from it?

IMGP6431
Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

Not too shockingly, yes!

With experience I’ve realised that dust, minor fungus, even serious scratches, don’t have the apparently terrifying impact on images that some people fear.

IMGP6429
Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

True, the haze does make an impact, and the images are quite soft and, well a little hazy.

IMG_3231

But for me it makes the photographs romantic somehow, especially with the long focal length giving such shallow depth of field.

IMGP6425
Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

These were all shot handheld too, and mostly wide open. I wonder if a tripod was used a couple of stops down the sharpness would increase.

But that kind of preparation sort of defeats the unique strength of the Paragon, and that is its dreamy romantic charm, from a bygone era.

IMGP6535
Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

For the grand total investment of just £1, the Paragon offers amazing performance per pound.

Given its long focal length (for me!) and the relative difficulty of focusing at f/5.6 with a DLSR and hazy elements, it’s not something I’ll pull out at every opportunity.

But it’s probably worth another play before deciding whether to attempt to dismantle those rear elements and see if they can be cleaned, or to just donate it as is to a local charity shop.

What have been your most pleasing results with very cheap cameras and/or lenses? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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3 thoughts on “The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 2

    1. Definitely try it! From the little I know about the structure of lenses, the further any optical defects are from the film/sensor plane, the less impact they have.

      In other words any imperfections on the front elements are much less likely to have any impact on the images than any on the rear elements.

      My Paragon is pretty horrendous right at the rear. But it’s still very usable, as hopefully the photographs above show!

  1. I have a Sears 80-200 zoom for K mount that I expected to be awful but was, in reality, very nice. It came with some camera body I bought, so it was “free.”

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