PhotoFair on June 3rd will have a Cornucopia of choices on all kinds of great Photo Gear. Below is a recent article on 135mm lenses.
A while back you may remember I wrote up the Canon FD 135/2. That is a great lens, but people are getting wise to it, and prices have crept up pretty high. My primary complaint was that it wouldn’t focus to infinity on my EOS DSLR. It was awesome on my mirrorless body. I have paraded a whole bunch of 135mm lenses through my little Tenba travel bag that I use for my EOS M series cameras. I had the aforementioned FD 135/2 but I have also tried several others including the following:
- Nikkor Q F mount 135/2.8 (1970-ish) Street price $20-$80 rough to mint
- Nikon E Series 135/2.8 (1980-ish) Street Price $50-$150 rough to mint
- Canon FD 135/3.5 (1980-ish) Street Price $30-$80 rough to mint
- Canon FD 135/2.0 (1980-ish) Street Price $250-$550 rough to mint
- Canon FL 135/2.5 (1960-ish) Street Price $50-$120 rough to mint
- Takumar PK 135/2.5 (1975-ish) Street Price $40-$90 rough to mint
- Super-Takumar Universal 135/3.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $40-$100 rough to mint
- Super-Takumar Universal 135/2.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $90-$220 rough to mint
I have used all of these and found them all to be at least very good, and few are outstanding performers. I am that guy that buys stuff plays with it for a while and then either keeps or gives it back to the market. I have been doing this for the last 30 years. This is how I have managed to own at least 500 lenses and a couple hundred cameras over the years. Every now and then I find a gem and hold it indefinitely. In this modern world of DSLR and Mirrorless bodies that can adapt to shoot nearly any lens, it has become even more fun for me to play around with lenses across a wide spectrum of brands and mounts.
Of the lenses listed above all of them could be adapted to fit my EOS M-5. All but the Canon FD/FL models would adapt perfectly to my EOS 5D Mk II. The FD/FL lenses will mount with an adapter but you can’t focus to infinity. Minolta MD lenses will also suffer from no-infinity focus when mounted to a Canon DSLR. The M will take them all and just about anything else every made!
So what of these classic 135mm lenses? I’ll start with the Nikkor F. This lens was a classic heavy weight. I mean seriously heavy and fat! Although it took Nikon’s standard 52mm thread filters, the lens was way fatter than that diameter. I’ll say it was a sharp lens right out to the corners on my full frame body. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely a solid performer. This was the early late 60’s early 70’s design and the focus ring was not buttery smooth. The real issue was its obesity, it was nearly as heavy as my early 60’s FL 135/2.5.
The Nikon Series E was an even better lens optically than the old school F series. Nikon’s E series was designed to be “economical” and suited to the new line of amateur cameras Nikon released in the late 1970s. Nikon EM and FG. To Nikon’s credit, they did not skimp on optics but rather made the lenses out of lighter weight materials and eliminated the “Metering Fork” that allowed metering on the older non-AI Nikons like Nikkormats and the F. Despite the “lighter” materials these E-series lenses had a silky smooth focus that I really like.
The Canon FD 135/3.5 was a small lens with the second gen FD mount which I always liked since it was faster to mount. Many purists prefer the original breech lock for reliability, but that was a slower to use system. This lens, like the Nikon E, had a silky smooth focus. The deal with using FD lenses on modern cameras is you need the adapter with the aperture lock. Otherwise the lens is stuck wide open. It wasn’t as sharp as the Nikon E series and was a half stop slower.
The FD 135/2.0 is brilliant and I wrote about it on the blog already. The reasons that led me to sell it were the fact that I could not get infinity focus on my 5D Mk II and prices for it were skyrocketing. All that juicy cash was calling to me 😉
The Canon FL 135/2.5 is a fabulous lens. This lens is quite the tank. It is lighter than the FD 2.0 but much heavier than the others on this list. The FL lens is a “preset” style. This means it has two aperture rings. One “presets” the F stop and when the camera fires the automatic lever will quickly stop the lens to that F value. To focus you typically want the lens wide open but the older cameras had to stop down (make it darker) to meter. The other ring allowed you to do that, meter and flick it back wide open for focusing. When the shutter was pressed that original preset ring would determine how far the lens would stop down. When using on modern digital cameras this is almost a moot point. It sucks a bit on a DSLR but a mirrorless with electronic viewfinder of LCD screen is fine. This lens has a fabulous Bokeh and with the 8 curved-blade diaphragm, out of focus highlights are always circular. This old dinosaur is delicious. The old single coatings Canon used back in those days was decent but color contrast suffers a bit compared to modern coatings from the mid-1970s on. The only reason it isn’t still in my bag is besides the heaviness is the inability to focus at infinity on my DSLR. PS I am selling mine, click here.
I tried the Takumar 135/2.5 because it was as fast as the burly Canon FL but about 40% lighter and smaller on all dimensions. This one used the Pentax K mount which works fine on Canon DSLRs with a simple ring adapter. But this lens really isn’t that sharp. I was a bit underwhelmed. Now don’t get me wrong it wasn’t terrible, but it was a tad soft and not just at the corners, this guy was a bit squishy in the middle too. I am kind of a sharpness nut however so understand it did get a 7 which is well above “average”.
So after the Takumar fail, I looked a couple of Super-Takumars. The first was the little 3.5 that was in universal mount. This lens was mint and tiny. It was fairly lightweight but there was nary a piece of plastic anywhere. It was beautifully made. Focus ring was smooth but not buttery smooth like some of the more modern lenses. This lens was pretty sharp corner to corner even on the full frame and was noticeably better than the Takumar 2.5. I was so delighted with the Super-Tak that I ordered a 2.5 version that I use now.
Both the 3.5 mentioned above and my current 2.5 Super-Takumar are 42mm Universal thread mount. These work fine on Canon DSLRs and of course on the mirrorless bodies. The 2.5 is optically even BETTER than the 3.5 and that is awesome. It is 30% lighter than to beastly FL Canon and dimensionally about 20% smaller. This is a tiny lens for having such a big opening. My only complaint is that they chose to use a 6 blade diaphragm which can leave out of focus highlights a little ‘hexy’ if you get my drift. My version is an older single coated lens the coveted SMC versions are worth the bigger bux if you want really good contrast and virtually no flare.
I created a chart based on my results with these various lenses. The 1-10 scale stuff sans bokeh is rated 5 average, 10 is top 1%, 1 just sucks terribly. So for perspective a crappy 1970s spirotone cheapo lens might rate a 2 or 3; a simple kit lens might rate a 5-6, and better lenses up the line. My Zeiss 35/2 Biogon gets a 10. The bokeh rating is just too subjective but the faster lenses tend have a more favorable bokeh. Other factors play in. The ∞ Canon DSLR indicates whether the lens can achieve infinity focus on a Canon DSLR. The lenses that get a “no” here can be mounted on the DSLR with appropriate adapter, but will fail to focus at infinity. Weight stats were found on various collector and fan forums as well as personal weighing on my scale.
P.S. some of you may wonder why I write so much about the Canon DSLRs. One: I use them. Two: Canon DSLRs are the best bet for people that want to use older glass. With few exceptions Canon can mount nearly any 35mm SLR lens ever made. Some, such as Minolta MD and Canon FD will not focus to infinity. But the Canon EOS mount is very wide and allows ample room for adapters to fit other lenses. If you are thinking about an DSLR and you like the idea of mounting old school glass, Canon is the ticket. But the best option for using old school glass is a mirrorless body from Canon or Sony.