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03-15-2011, 12:23 PM   #1
Marc Sabatella's Avatar

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"Accidental" acquisition: M120mm/2.8

Hello, all! I know I've been extremely scarce the last months. Way too busy with "real life". But that hasn't stopped me from continuing to keep an eye out for the one lens I have been wanting for the last two years: the M120/2.8. In theory, it would make a perfect partner to my DA70/2.4 for concert photography, whereas my M100/2.8 is a bit too close in focal length (and it lacks an integrated hood) and my M135/3.5 a bit too far (and it's a bit slower). The 120 doesn't come up for sale often (aside from the ridiculously overpriced "gokevincameras") and when they do, the timing is usually not right with my cash flow. But a couple of weeks ago, two of them showed up for auction at the same time - a relatively good time for me. So I put in a token bid on both and resolved to actually play out the end game and win one.

Then the engine light came on in my car, and, long story short(er), the better part of $1000 later I was no longer in any mood to buy a lens, so I prepared to once again watch an opportunity pass by. The first auction to close had the usual flurry of last-minute bidding that drove the price way above my max, but the second for whatever reason did not - my initial bid held. So I ended up getting a very good deal on what turns out to be a practically mint-condition M120/2.8 (perhaps the nicest looking used lens I've ever bought).

The lens just arrived yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to shoot a concert, or anything beyond a few tests shots, yet. Still, it's 120mm, it's f/2.8, it has an integrated hood, it's wonderfully small and light, and it's a well-built lens in great condition. So assuming it takes pictures at all, it's a winner for me. Seriously - considering it's going to spend most of it's life shooting moving targets in the dark - wide open aperture, ISO 1600+, and still never as fast a shutter speed as one would want - IQ actually isn't the primary concern.

But my initial impression suggests it is close to the equal of the M100/2.8, which is to say, probably slightly better than the already pretty good M135/3.5. I'm not one to obsess about intangibles, but it does seem to have nice "rendering".

My basic litmus test has always been, "it's not a lens if it can't take a picture of one of my cats". So, here it is at f/4:

It's a lens :-) But more than that, it does seem like it will suit my needs very well.

03-15-2011, 12:31 PM   #2
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That OOF transition and bokeh looks remarkable. Wow. Congrats on getting a fairly rare lens there, Marc.
03-15-2011, 12:45 PM   #3
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I like this kitty.
03-15-2011, 02:04 PM   #4
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And I thought only my lenses can take pictures of cats...
Anyway, though I don't like the M line as much as you do the transition is indeed looking mighty fine.
Congrats on a pretty rare and great lens!

03-15-2011, 02:11 PM   #5
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Welcome Back Marc. it seems that people nowadays do "accidental" purchases. I think this would be a perfect term replacement for LBA.
03-15-2011, 02:14 PM   #6
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Good to see ya back up, Marc. Lookin' forward to some real 'jazzy' shots with that M 120 - preferably sooner rather than later.

03-15-2011, 03:40 PM   #7
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Lucky you! I tried a few times then "settled" for an M 135/3.5 in vg condition. Now my budget is soft so no more bidding for a bit.
Maybe the M 100/2.8 awaits? Given the 135 (and my satisfaction with it) a 120mm has less usefulness.

Last edited by jimr-pdx; 03-15-2011 at 04:29 PM.
03-15-2011, 05:47 PM   #8
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Nifty! I dig the cat pic! Super sharp... I know how it goes with having things pop up when you least want them to. (like your car repair...) I no sooner bought a few lenses to round out my kit when today I got an emergency room bill for over $500. Total was over a thousand dollars for a few stitches. (rip off!) Good thing I had insurance.

One of my recent lens acquisitions was this one:

SMC Pentax-A 35-105mm F3.5 Lens Reviews - Pentax Lens Reviews & Pentax Lens Database

Kinda in the same realm of focal length as yours. I like it a lot. It seems to be very sharp & very well made. I think it'll make a good portrait lens.

I'm a jazz nut myself, so I envy you getting to go to all those great concerts! Have fun getting those pics with your new toy!

Checked out some of the clips from your CD "Determination"... Man, that stuff is right up my alley. I'm gonna have to pick up a copy! If you ever come to the Iowa City Jazz Festival I'll make it a point come see you.

Bobbo :-)

03-15-2011, 06:31 PM   #9
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Hi Marc - very good to see you back on the forum. Your insights are missed, by me anyway.

Nice shot with the 120 - having got the 100 2.8 (partly on your recommendation, and very happy with it), and a very beaten up but functional FA 135, I don't think I could justify it. But I enjoy those M lenses enough that I could be tempted ...
03-15-2011, 07:00 PM   #10
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Welcome back Marc! As others have said, we miss your posts, well stated points and simple way of stating complex things. Hope to see some more photos from your "accidental" purchase as well.
03-16-2011, 02:13 AM   #11
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It looks plenty sharp at F4, how about wide open? Iīve had my eye on one of these for a while but itīs expensive and I already have the M 100 f2.8 & M 135 f3.5, so it would be a bit redundant.

Enjoy the new lens!
03-16-2011, 03:33 AM   #12
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Nice to see you back Marc!
03-16-2011, 03:47 AM   #13
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first of all, welcome back Marc! Was wondering whether you gave up on us or not....

secondly I have to agree with below....

QuoteOriginally posted by jsherman999 Quote
That OOF transition and bokeh looks remarkable. Wow. Congrats on getting a fairly rare lens there, Marc.
03-16-2011, 04:54 AM   #14
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I've got the M150 f3,5 and I concur : these lenses are impressively small, well made, and reliable. I should use it more often
03-16-2011, 10:22 AM   #15
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Original Poster
Thanks for the comments! The look of the OOF areas and the transitions into them is what struck me right off the bat about this lens, which is why I mentioned its "rendering". I still haven't had time to really do any sort of testing, but my impression is that wide open (f/2.8), it's slightly sharper than the 135 (f/3.5), if not *quite* as sharp as the 100 (f/2.8). But DOF is noticeably shallower than on the 100 (it's roughly the same as the 135), and that might be fooling me, and my only comparison shots were made indoors at night - high ISO, slow shutter speed - so they really aren't very reliable.

The reason the cat shot is at f/4, BTW, is that that DOF is so shallow wide open at cat-portrait distance that I was having difficulties with focus. It's tough enough to get my cat to sit perfectly still without my sticking a camera in his face. I'm hoping to get a shot roughly like the above but at f/2.8 for comparison. Brick walls just don't interest me.

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