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PAWNSHOP LENSES (and other used lenses) - A Buyers' Guide
Posted By: RioRico, 05-05-2009, 02:27 AM

I recently received this query. Why me? My big mouth, I guess.

QuoteOriginally posted by Phil H:
I bought a used K20 about 2 months ago. I really like the idea of a pawn shop lens but could you please tell me what and how to look for and at in a "good used lens" Thank you in advance.
Hi Phil:

That's an excellent question, and deserves a detailed response. Here's what I know, or think I know. This guide applies to the K20D dSLR, and the ZX-M 35mm (135) film camera. All others must extrapolate at their own risk. I call this the PAWN SHOP LENS GUIDE, but the screening process can apply when checking out any used lens at a thrift or junk shop, garage or rummage sale, etc.

BRIEFLY: The quick-and-dirty approach.

I walk into the slightly seedy premises, wander over to the photo gear display, look over the Pentaxian offerings. I discard focal lengths I already have too many of. I pick up each lens, judge its build quality, twist and slide any moving parts, push any pins and switches, look into and thru it for cruddiness, see if the diaphragm blades move. I pull a M42-PK adapter ring out of my pocket, see if the lens mount looks/is compatible. Then I might offer ten bucks (US$10) for it. Or maybe not.

But this method won't work for everyone, so here's a detailed screening technique.

INTRO: Basics of lenses and mounts.

Lots of lenses will fit your (and my) K20D. Many will have some sort of PK mount, the bayonet twist-on mount like the lens that (hopefully) came with your camera. Many more will have a 42mm diameter threaded screw mount, known as an M42. To use an M42 lens, you'll need an adapter. I *strongly* recommend an honest-to-goodness PENTAX-brand adapter, to avoid all sorts of grief, both in focusing, and in removing the adapter. (I won't go into fitting other lens mounts onto a Pentax camera.)

Some of either sort of lens, PK or M42, may say PENTAX or PK on them somewhere, and some won't. Besides all the more-or-less prominent third-party makers and branders whom I won't list here, you'll also see some fine lenses from Sears and Ricoh. Some Ricoh-made lenses are branded as Sears. WARNING: a Ricoh lens with an RP designation on it has an extra pin that WILL jam the lens on your camera. Other Ricoh lenses are fine, just avoid the RP's.

And of course the *best* lenses say Asahi and/or Pentax and/or (Super) Takumar. Some that say Takumar Bayonet are not highly regarded, so don't be talked into paying a lot for those. Some older Pentax-made lenses are branded as Sears or Honeywell. I won't go into the pros-and-cons of other brands, except to mention the Russians - see the warning below on Russian lenses.

SCREENING: What to run away from.

When stalking pawnshops for lenses, be sure you have 1) your camera, 2) a PENTAX-brand M42-PK adapter, 3) a small flashlight, not too bright, and 4) a dust pen or lens brush. (Maybe mud-over the camera so you don't look too rich.)

Gross appearance shouldn't be a deciding factor unless you think beauty is critical. I bought a Vivitar 90/2.8 macro whose knurled rubber grab was decayed. I finally peeled it off and replaced it with duct tape. The lens, one of my favorites, with crystalline optics, cost me US$3; a 'cherry' version might cost 50-100x more. Minor dings, dents, scratches can be ignored or painted over. (Tell the girls you were a combat photographer.) Remove any filthy filters before assessing the lens. Major damage should be avoided - like, it should all be and stay in one piece. If it falls apart when handled, skip it.

To examine a lens, first shake it a little. If anything rattles sharply, skip it. Then try turning the focus and aperture rings. If they're too tight or loose, skip it. Make sure the diaphragm leaf blades open and close when turning the aperture ring. You may have to push the stop-down pin (if any) and/or move the M/A switch (if any). If blades or pin or switch don't move, skip it. If the lens mount is corroded, skip it. If you cut yourself on anything, skip it.

Now use the lens pen or brush to whisk away lens dust, and whip out that not-too-bright flashlight and look inside the lens, from both ends, shining the light both into and thru the lens. (You don't want to blind yourself when looking into magnified light.) It can be pretty scary in there! If the lens surface or interior is fogged, clouded, or just cruddy, skip it. If the glass is scratched anywhere near the center, skip it. Minor scratches around the periphery may not matter much, but they certainly lower the value. Dust inside the lens may be a problem; if you see much dust, skip it. You want to be looking at and thru rather clear, clean glass. If not, skip it.

Pointing the light into the lens, work the aperture. Look at the diaphragm blades. Are they clean, or oily? If oily, skip it. Check from both ends. NOTE: To get the most from this and all the above screening tests, you should go to a camera store and ask to inspect a new lens and/or superior used lens. This will give you an idea of just what a good lens' condition is, and thus what a prospective used lens should aspire to.

Other aperture tricks: some older and simpler lenses have no stop-down pin. The aperture can only be set from the ring, called a pre-set. Some lenses have two rings, on that lets you pre-set the smallest aperture you'll want, the other to actually (and smoothly) dial in the stop-down. Make sure the rings are easy to turn, not too tight or loose. And make sure they actually stop-down the diaphragm. If you have a problem here, skip it. And some modern auto-aperture lenses have NO aperture ring; with such, you can't check it at all, until trying it on the camera. I wouldn't trust one of these unless the pawnshop or seller guarantees that you can return it after purchase. Yup, that includes our fine Pentax DA lenses. Consider them guilty until proved innocent.

If the lens passes so far, check that the mount will actually fit on your camera or the M42 adapter. Don't force it - if it doesn't fit right on, skip it. WARNING: Some Russian lenses branded Helios and Jupiter and Industar (or anything with Cyrilllic characters) have 39mm threads (M39), not M42. Some of those M39s, fitted with a cheap adapter, will work fine on your camera. Most won't. And other lenses made for Leicas and their clones have M39 threads and WILL NOT WORK! If it doesn't thread smoothly onto the M42 adapter, skip it.

TEST-FIRING: Trying-out the candidate.

You will NOT be able to fine-check the optical quality of the lens now. Well, you *could* fire off some shots, then review and pixel-peep, but it's hard to judge quality on the little LCD screen. The best you can probably do is check the lens' mechanical operation, see if it actually works on the camera. WARNING: Unless the shop/seller explicitly states a guaranteed return policy, or the lens is REALLY REALLY CHEAP, you should ALWAYS try it out before purchase. I've failed at this a couple times. I then repeat my mantra: OWAH TAGU SIAM. Say it over and over.

FOCUS: Does the lens manually focus? Look at something and try. The K20D's focus-lock lights, or the ZX-M's split focus screen, should help here. After getting it in focus, maybe look at the lens' distance scale and see if it's about right. Does it focus to infinity? Does it focus as close as the scale says? If it's an autofocus lens, does it actually autofocus? Is it loud, grinding, slow, hunting with futility? If focus isn't good, skip it.

APERTURE - PRESET: A lens with no stop-down pin and/or no M/A switch and/or no aperture-ring A-setting, will likely only work in Av mode. (Setting the mode to anything but B or M won't matter - both the K20D and the ZX-M will default to Av.) Set the lens M/A switch (if any) to M. Focus on something, half-press the shutter, note the shutter speed. Now twist the aperture ring a bit and repeat. Does the speed change? It should increase when you open up, decrease when you stop down. If not, skip it.

APERTURE - MANUAL: Otherwise, set the lens M/A switch to A, and the aperture ring to anything *but* A (if available). Set the K20D to M (Manual) mode. Focus on something. Hit the Green button. The lens should audibly stop down as the camera takes an exposure reading. Note the reading. Now manually change the aperture and repeat. Does the reading change, as with presets? If not, skip it, unless 1) the lens passes the PRESET test and 2) you'll be happy using it as preset-only and 3) it's cheap.

* ZX-M: The ZX-M works differently. Rather than the Green button, there's the DOF (Depth-Of-Field) Preview button, which only works when the ZX-M has power ON. Many (all?) M42 lenses with M/A switches, set to A, will NOT stop down to the selected aperture when DOF Preview is pressed, nor will they when the shutter is pressed. This includes fine Pentax glass! You'll have to decide whether you like the lens enough to use it with aperture presets only. A K-mount bayonet lens should ALWAYS stop down to a selected aperture. If it doesn't, skip it.

APERTURE - AUTOMATIC: Ah, the blessed PKA mount! Set the aperture ring to A. (If there's no A there, skip this test.) Set the K20D to P mode. Focus on something, half-press the shutter, note the reading. Try turning the front and/or rear e-dials. Do the aperture and speed change? If not, skip it.

* ZX-M: With the ZX-M, set both the camera Shutter Dial and the lens aperture ring to A. The LCD panel should show that you're in P mode. Now focus on something, half-press the shutter, and twist the aperture ring. The speed indication should change. If it doesn't, skip it. At a selected aperture, push the DOF Preview button. Does the aperture stop down? If it doesn't, skip it.

ZOOM: Is it a push-pull or twist'em or power zoom? Does it push-pull, twist, and/or power smoothly, quietly, effortlessly? Can you tolerate the zoom creep, if any? Does it seem to zoom from minimum to maximum of its range? If not, skip it, unless it's one of those huge obnoxious lenses and you just want it to show off. Camera bling, yeah sure. If it's a macro-zoom (or any kind of allegedly 'macro' lens) does it reach its close focus? If not, skip it, unless you just don't care.

OUTRO: Closing the deal.

That's all I can think of right now. This should be sufficient info on what to look for in a used lens that you can fondle before purchasing. It's *your* credit card and/or financial future; go for it!

I'll mention that pawnshops near major casinos are great places to look for used photo gear. Winners buy a new, upgraded outfit; losers go home naked. Or so I hear. My favorite pawnshop in a major Nevada city (I won't say which) has a great assortment, and sends a Sweet Young Thang out to show lenses to male customers. (I won't mention her name.) She volunteers that she's done some modeling. I suspect that she's rather effective in diverting some customers' attention from prices and other bothersome details. So yes, self-discipline is needed in this kind of shopping. Be strong, be wary, and don't spend more than you can afford. Yeah, right.

Last edited by RioRico; 07-04-2011 at 11:23 AM.
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11-08-2010, 09:02 PM   #16
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For the seasoned Pentax veteran, CEWren did the right thing: looking for any Pentax F lens is a good strategy, specially if you want to keep compatibility with 35mm film Pentax K bodies. And. if you're looking for wide-angle lenses, the wider the lens, the better.

12-10-2010, 05:13 AM   #17
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I'll put your post into practice

Next monday I'm getting a 135 3,5 from Takumar that I just bought online, your post sure wil help me trying it out.

Probably around tuesday night I'll get tired of playing with my new toy, so I'll tell you how it went.

01-15-2011, 11:03 PM   #18
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This is very helpful.. thanks
01-29-2011, 06:32 PM   #19
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Great info. As always RR in on the money and funny too. Combat photographer...hehe.

03-20-2011, 01:49 AM   #20
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Thanks for the well thought and easily understood description!
04-10-2011, 11:09 AM   #21
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Do any of the Sears lens have markings on the front that will designate if they have the 'A' setting on the aperture ring?I have several Sears lens from my k1000 but they are all the 'M' type.
07-04-2011, 11:40 AM   #22
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by jonhock Quote
Excellent article, it makes me wonder what you do for a living with that gift of word! Maybe-Professional Photogrowriter?
I have variously been a songwriter, political propagandist, tech and travel writer, and a creator of poems that can only be understood by a computer (it's called programming). That was then. Now, I'm too lazy to make a living. So here I am.

QuoteOriginally posted by bjake Quote
Do any of the Sears lens have markings on the front that will designate if they have the 'A' setting on the aperture ring?I have several Sears lens from my k1000 but they are all the 'M' type.
Y'know, that's what we call A Very Good Question. Meaning: I can't be sure, but probably not. All my remaining PK-mount Sears lenses say SEARS AUTO no matter whether they're M-type or A-type. That's because they're all from the film era, pre-"crippled mount", and they DO mechanically-automatically stop down. AUTO thus has various meanings, and no clear signals other than the aperture ring.

(Sorry for not replying sooner -- I haven't looked at this lately.)
09-08-2011, 10:55 AM   #23
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So let me get this straight, I need to walk into a Sears in Nevada and tell them I am a Russian super Model available for 3 bucks CAD???

Seriously good article will have it on my Iphone to reference while shopping the red light district.


09-08-2011, 11:11 AM   #24
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QuoteOriginally posted by jerryleejr Quote
So let me get this straight, I need to walk into a Sears in Nevada and tell them I am a Russian super Model available for 3 bucks CAD???
Yeah, that should work. Be sure to show some leg, eh?

Seriously good article will have it on my Iphone to reference while shopping the red light district.
It works in the neon light district too. That's most of Vegas.
09-08-2011, 04:31 PM   #25
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I went into a pawn shop yesterday armed with my droid phone (that had the "lens reviews" threads bookmarked" and found a nice sigma 75~300 zoom and an old screw mount lens (Tele-Lentar 135 1:3.5 mint condition)
I had the clerk pull both lenses out, she obviously didn't know a thing about lenses, but she did know how to look up what kind of price to charge for them, she wanted $89 for the Sigma, and $60 for the Lentar. I pulled up the lens reviews and showed her what the average price folks in here were paying ($15 for the Sigma that was closest to same range as the lense in question, and basically told her she wont get much for the Lentar)
She understood and agreed with me on the prices and basically said to throw an offer out on the table to her, I told her that she really wont like my offer but I just put a silly offer of $20 bux for the total of both lenses, to my surprise she took the offer, and even though I most likely wont use the Lentar, I noticed on the lens before I bought it that it had an M42 to PK adapter, that alone is $30 if I ordered a pentax one like that, so even if I never use any of the lenses I got a bargain on the adapter.
I am totally digging the Sigma zoom, it is in brand new condition, it is absolutely in perfect condition, it is also automatic aperture which is a nice touch, with this lens I should at least make my money back when I put it up for sale.
It really paid off having that "lens reviews" thread bookmarked on my droid phone because when I find an interesting lens that I don't know much about, all I gotta to is pull up that thread and see if the lens in question is worth getting, plus I have a little ammo to throw at the seller.
09-19-2011, 07:37 AM   #26
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Good article, and learned more. Thanks!
04-11-2012, 10:55 AM   #27
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This is an excellent and well written article. It was a tremendous resource for me when assembling a similar article over on the Micro Four-Thirds forums. Thanks so much for posting it!
04-11-2012, 06:53 PM   #28
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QuoteOriginally posted by Deejayk Quote
This is an excellent and well written article. It was a tremendous resource for me when assembling a similar article over on the Micro Four-Thirds forums. Thanks so much for posting it!
Your article is quite good too, and goes into areas I didn't cover. I was trying to stay with the basics here. Three years later, it still seems relevant. Cheers!
10-21-2012, 10:12 PM   #29
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wonderful reading! fun and useful. keep up
11-15-2012, 03:17 AM   #30
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Really nice article - I thoroughly enjoyed it. The address to that Vegas pawn shop....?

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