Over the last few years of shooting SLRs, my predominant favourite focal length has been 50 and 55mm.
But after trying a 135mm, I was quickly hooked.
The up close and personal field of view, plus the potential for very shallow depth of field and dreamy bokeh made them instant winners for my style of photography.
I’m at a point now where, although I’ve thinned out my 50s pretty well, I have work to do on the 135 front.
I simply don’t need six!
My gut feeling is I’ll keep three, two in M42 and the one Pentax K mount.
To help myself choose which to keep and which to let go, here’s each one in summary, plus some favourite shots.
Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 (M42)
Beautifully made and feels almost like new, very smooth focus down to 1.5m, preset aperture from f/3.5 to f/22, eight rounded aperture blades. Tiny body, especially for a 135mm. Very similar in use and look to my Takumar 105/2.8, which I love. A class act, a true classic lens, as all Takumars I’ve experienced have been. Being very new to me though, as yet I’ve shot very little with this one.
Jupiter-11 135mm f/4 (M42)
Quirkily shaped Former Soviet Union (FSU) lens, with 12 aperture blades which close down in an almost perfect circle, and preset aperture. Focus is fine but crude compared with the best here. Minimum focus of 1.4m. Capable of lovely images, but not high contrast and punchy, more muted, subtle and vintage.
Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 (M42)
Similar to the Jupiter-11, though the body is more regularly shaped and compact. Smooth focus (but not Takumar or SMC smooth) down to 1.2m. Again like the Jupiter-11, 12 very rounded aperture blades, meaning deliciously smooth backgrounds. This one on the optics front performs better than the Jupiter-11 (I think) but physically lacks much of the personality and charm of the slower lens.
Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Electric MC S 135 f/3.5 (M42)
A Sonnar, but most (all?) of these lenses from this era just have a solitary “S” marked, due to trademark wrangles between Zeiss East and West at the time. Close focus of just 1m, and my example is very smooth for a Carl Zeiss Jena, but still not Tak/SMC Pentax class. I love the non-nonsense knurled focus ring. Regular aperture click stops, though on mine f/3.5 and f/4 are identical. Alas only six aperture blades, and not especially rounded at f/8 and beyond. Very capable in the final image.
Pentacon Auto 135mm f/2.8 (M42)
Fastest lens here, and the biggest, heaviest and most serious feeling. Focus is smooth enough for a Pentacon, but disappointingly only down to 1.7m. The aperture ring has subtle clicks meaning it’s easy to overshoot the setting you want, if you’re not used to it. Six very straight aperture blades, but interesting on the bokeh front at the wide end.
SMC Pentax 135mm f/3.5 (Pentax K)
One of the original SMC K mount range, before the M series. I had the M 135/3.5 and whilst it’s good, this SMC version I far prefer, is even smoother than the M, and optically is significantly superior.
So which to choose?
All six lenses are very capable, and if I had only one 135mm lens, any one of these would give me lovely results time and time again.
If I had to have just one, based on the results I’ve got so far, plus its minimum focus, it’s probably be the Carl Zeiss MC Sonnar.
But the Jupiter-37A is very very close. And then the Jupiter-11 has far more charm to use than any of the others here, arguably and does make endearingly subtle images.
Then the newest to me, the SMC Pentax, has got off to a flying start with my Pentax K10D, and has already produced enough evidence to become my sole 135. Plus, when used on a K mount film or digital camera, the open aperture metering is an useful focusing advantage over the rest of the lenses here, which are all M42 and require manually stopping down.
You see the problems I have choosing!
The two least likely to stay are the Takumar and Pentacon.
The former because it’s near identical in look and use to my Takumar 105/2.8 (which I want to keep as it’s unique in its focal length), and the latter because it’s big, heavy and lacking in min focus. But the Takumar may surprise me, and the Pentacon already has made some interesting and different images, that beg further experimentation.
I may post an update in a few weeks, which could just as likely reveal I have a total of 12 135mm lenses as three.
What are your experiences with 135mm as a focal length? What are you favourite 135mm lenses?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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