• Matthew Brooks

A quick test of vintage 135mm lenses

One thing that the Sony E-mount system has done more than any other is resurrect vintage manual focus lenses. Due to the stabilised sensor it doesn't matter that the lens isn't stabilised. If you loved manual focus lenses and remember having to go by the reciprocal rule of shutter speed double the focal length to be without shake blur then a stabilised sensor makes them easier, you can go to a slightly slower speed. Or want a cheap lens to practice your photography thousands of vintage lenses are opened up to you with adapters. Pretty much any vintage lens can be used on a Sony E-mount camera with the appropriate adapter. I have plenty of different adapters due to buying bundles of assorted old lenses and having to test them to see if they are optically sound. Sony are apparently bringing out a 135mm F1.8 lens at some point this year. A lot of portrait photographers love this focal length and swear by it. It gives the best compression and lovely creamy bokeh etc, etc. Whilst doing my latest portrait shoot I quickly took a few shots using different 135mm lenses that I have. What I want to know is are old manual focus 135mm still any good, have they stood the test of time?

The 3 lenses that I have picked out are: Pentacon electric 135mm F2.8 (M42 Mount), Takumar 135mm F2.5 (PK Mount), Vivitar Series 1 135mm F2.3 (OM Mount)

I'll test all wide open and then i'll test all at F8. You must forgive any misfocusing as some kept back focusing by a few millimeters even when it said it was focusing on the eyes. Also all the photos are unedited as not to change any qualities shown from the lens.

Takumar 135mm F2.5 (PK Mount)

This was the first of the three. This lens has many mixed reviews some love it, some don't think it that special. I don't have all that much experience with manual focus lenses but I did find it difficult to focus. This was one that kept back focusing. Even when my Sony was showing the focus peaking on the eye it was back focusing. This could be the adaptar putting the lens at not the precise distance away from the sensor or user error, who knows. But it was reasonably sharp wide open. Even though it looked clean and clear when checking the optics it did get hazy at F8. There must have been some sort of optical issue with it. But the part of the picture where it was in focus was quite sharp.

Vivitar Series 1 135mm F2.3 (OM Mount)

This was the one that I was excited to use. It is bigger and heavier than the other two but it is also F2.3, so should offer more background blur and a shallower depth of field. It looked fine when checking the lens I couldn't see any fungus or hazing or oil. However as you can see below it was completely blurry and gave soft focus effect when wide open at F2.3. I don't know what could have caused this. I was so disappointed as this could have been such an amazing lens. I have seen pictures from this lens using a Sony A7Rii and they were fantastic. The good news was from about F4 that soft focus goes and is pin sharp at F8. So that gives me confidence that a good quality version of this lens would be fantastic.

Pentacon electric 135mm F2.8 (PK Mount)

This one is not the in demand 15 blade version of the pentacon lens which gives very circular lovely bokeh. This is the slightly newer electric version of the lens. This one again was slightly difficult to focus but i was happy to accept that this time it was purely due to my lack of experience with manual focus lenses. The one thing that I noticed with this lens is that the minimum focusing distance wasn't as good. I had to move back slightly from where I was positioned to be able to get Amanda face in focus at the lenses minimum distance. Optically it looked clean and this one actually was unlike the other two. It was fairly sharp wide open and better at f8. It certainly wasn't as sharp and the Vivitar at F8, probably more comparable to the Takumar lens. But you won't get as much background blur from this compared to the Takumar or Vivitar due to the aperture not opening quite as wide.

Even though this was just a quick test I have definitely found that my question was answered. As long as you get an optically clean and good quality version of a vintage lens then it is a fantastic way to get a cheaper alternative to a brand new modern lens.

However you are kind of playing the odds, as to find good versions of certain older lenses becomes a task the older the lens is. When a good one is found it proves that a good quality lens can last you for decades and decades.

My favourite out of the lot (assuming all were impeccable examples of the lens) is the Vivitar Series 1. Even though this version had big issues wide open. If you can find a good version of this it is great at f4 onwards. From what I haven't been able to test just going off sample pictures i've seen online f2.3-f4 is great too. It's a solid lens, well built, the focusing ring is smooth and is nice to hold. I have however seen very few of these lenses available on places like Ebay so it could be a difficult one to get hold of. I guess the people who own them just don't want to get rid it them.

So that is a quick test of vintage 135mm lenses done with. Thanks for reading. See you again soon.

#indoors #debate #equipment #photography

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