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07-27-2009, 09:02 PM - 3 Likes   #1
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135mm Lens test: Six primes and a zoom

I like 135mm lenses so naturally I acquired a few. Then of course, you have to wonder which ones are the best. The candidates, in the order I tested them:

SMC Pentax 135mm f2.5 - 58mm filter, 8 blades, minimum aperture f32, Minimum Focus Distance 1.5m, 510g. The lens uses the same six-element, six group formula introduced in the later models of Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 135/2.5s. It has a pretty good reputation, and not a bad price compared to the F or FA versions. The aperture ring clicks at f2.5, an unmarked stop and full and half-stops from f4-f22. It's the only prime lens here without a sliding hood.

Takumar Bayonet 135mm f2.5 - 52mm filter, 8 blades, minimum aperture f22, MFD 1.2m, 410g. The opposite of the SMC Pentax, this lens has only four elements, inferior coatings, and a poor reputation. The aperture ring clicks at f2.5, an unmarked stop and full and half-stops from f4-f22. Price varies a lot. What's it really worth?

Vivitar TX 135mm f2.5 - 58mm filter, 6 blades, minimum aperture f16, MFD 1.8m, 520g. TX lenses are an interesting bit of lens history, with an interchangeable mount system and lenses made by Tokina. This lens is about the same size as the SMC Pentax and well-constructed, except the aperture ring only clicks at f2.5 and full stops at f4-16. It made me curious about the TX line. It's more difficult to find this lens and the K or M42 TX adapter, while the M42-mount 135/2.8 Vivitar-Komine is very common. The lens itself might be cheap if it's sold with an unpopular TX mount. Is it worth the hunt?

Pentax-F 35-135mm f3.5-4.5 zoom - 58mm filter, 8 blades, minimum aperture f32, MFD 0.75m, 500g. This lens gets some attention today because its range is similar to the DA* 50-135/2.8. The range is probably why it wasn't popular on film, though there is a Pentax-A version too. It is the closest-focusing lens in the test because of a "macro" setting at 135mm. It has 16 elements in 12 groups, nearly a Pentax record. I used the A setting, not the aperture ring. I included it because of the DA similarity. Maybe I own a hidden gem.

Vivitar M42 135mm f2.8 - 55mm filter, 6 blades, minimum aperture f22, MFD 1.5m, 400g. The aperture ring clicks at all stops and half stops through f16. Many copies exist of this lens, and the price is often pretty low. It's made by Komine, a good maker of sleeper lenses. Will this test drive the price up?

Rikenon XR 135mm f2.8 - 55mm filter, 8 blades, minimum aperture f22, MFD 1.5m, 460g. I haven't heard much about this lens at all, but I was kind of encouraged by the 8-bladed aperture. Otherwise, construction ranks last in this group. It's adequate and focuses nicely, it just doesn't have as nice a mechanical feel. It also has clicks only on full stops. I might start a rumor about legendary sharpness!

Pentax-M 135mm f3.5 - 49mm filter, 8 blades, minimum aperture f32, MFD 1.5m, 300g. The aperture ring clicks at f3.5, an unmarked stop I think is f4 and full and half-stops from f5.6-f22. The M series was designed to be small, and this lens is the smallest of the group. It's also common and inexpensive. Does its performance match Pentax's reputation?

Weights are on my scale with both caps, TX mount or M42 adapter where appropriate. MFD is the smallest number marked on the lens.

Sharpness test - I have a brick wall so I waited for a clear day for consistent light. My *ist DS was mounted on a tripod about 10 feet from the wall. Distance is about portrait distance on film, probably what all these lenses were built for. I used the 2 second delay for all shots. I took a test shot with the SMC Pentax 135mm f2.5 at f8 to get a nice histogram, and used that exposure as a baseline for all the exposures. I also used the color temperature from this shot to set all the lenses to the same temperature in Adobe Camera RAW - obviously I took all the photos in RAW. I focused manually for all the lenses. I focused each lens, then adjusted apertures and shutter speeds for shots at the indicated apertures. I had to approximate or assume some apertures on lenses without stops or markings where I wanted to test (noted above). Since focus is so important for sharpness, I went through the group three times and chose the best-focused set of images to compare. (Even with a split-prism screen, my focus was not perfect every time.)

I created the sharpness composite images by choosing a set of the best focused images. Then I opened them in Adobe Camera RAW v3.7 and set the color temperature and tint to match the test image. I used Photoshop Elements 4.0 to copy sections from the center and upper right corner of each image, and pasted them into the composite image. I had to convert the images to 8 bit to add text labels produce a JPG composite.

For flare, I set up a flashlight so it was in the frame, and took a photo in the dark with the lenses wide open. I included a photo of this setup. I went to Denver Botanical Gardens for some comparisons of color, contrast and bokeh, and one distance shot. I used some Christmas lights to compare out-of-focus highlights.

I did some tests that I don’t show because the lenses were pretty equal. I tested for CA by shooting a high contrast object in bright sunlight at maximum aperture. The Pentax-F zoom was better at this but not much. It only opens to f4.5 and it’s not that sharp, so any advantage is masked. Distortion looks about the same too - it may vary by a small amount but not enough to make any difference.

Last edited by Just1MoreDave; 07-27-2009 at 09:42 PM.
07-27-2009, 09:17 PM   #2
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Centers 5.1 MB
Corners 3.1 MB
Flare 584.8 KB
OOF Highlights 1.2 MB
Distance at F11 4.4 MB

These composites were too big for my host, so they are in two parts:
Color, Contrast, Bokeh 1, Part 1 4.1 MB
Color, Contrast, Bokeh 1, Part 2 4.8 MB

Color, Contrast, Bokeh 2, Part 1 5.1 MB
Color, Contrast, Bokeh 2, Part 2 6.3 MB
07-27-2009, 09:21 PM - 1 Like   #3
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My conclusions, based on this test and my biases. I should mention that I intend to sell off some of these lenses here, so I have some interest in finding value in them. But I'm going to sell them for what I paid, and link to this test, so I don't expect to trick anyone with fast talk. I'll rank them in my order of worst to best value, a vague concept of what I expect you'd pay for one and the performance you'd get. I am skipping the Pentax-F 35-135mm because I don't know how to value AF, auto aperture and other focal lengths.

Takumar Bayonet 135mm f2.5 - I am puzzled that contrast seems to go down at f8-11. The Rikenon XR did the same thing to a lesser degree. I've tested another copy of this lens for sharpness before with the same results, so I don't think it's a problem with this copy. It's a bit longer than 135mm. I don't think this lens is terrible, and you can learn something from it, but this test lowered my opinion of it a little. Value of course depends on price, and the price varies so much on this lens. I hope no one reading this paid $75.

Rikenon XR 135mm f2.8 - This lens was an experiment, because it doesn't get mentioned much. It did not perform as well as I thought. Construction was a little behind the other lenses, though everything works. Exposures seemed more consistent than all other lenses. Contrast was low and may mask some good and bad qualities of the lens. I don't have a good idea of a typical price here.

Vivitar TX 135mm f2.5 - This lens did very well in the test, better than I thought. In my 28mm test, the TX lens was not very exciting. If you can stumble into the lens and adapter, it's worth using, but the K adapter is rare and an M42 adapter would require a second adapter to use it. If you already have the adapter, the lenses are available and can be a real bargain. The flare performance wasn't very good.

Pentax-M 135mm f3.5 - I am considering the size/weight advantage here as well as performance. I think the Pentax coatings make this lens a good choice too, and they don't cost very much. I might not be taking off enough points for its slowness. I'm keeping it as a travel alternative to the f2.5 Pentax.

SMC Pentax 135mm f2.5 - I expected this lens to beat this competition. In the real world, it shows some CA, though this appears to be the same for all these lenses at comparable apertures. I'm keeping it. Unfortunately, a good copy could easily cost 10x the price of the Vivitar M42.

Vivitar M42 135mm f2.8 - It's a value ranking. I have bought four of these over three years, and this one was the most expensive at $16.00 including shipping. It is a bit behind the best lens in some of these tests and f2.8 vs. f2.5. I don't think this difference is large enough to matter in the real world. You also need an M42 adapter. If you're looking for value, this is your lens. I was very impressed by the flare performance. Construction is excellent, too.

I'd love to test at least three more lenses in this group: the Sears 135/2.8, the Vivitar/Komine Close Focus, and the CZJ. And maybe a Pentax-FA 135mm f2.8 or a DA* 50-135mm f2.8 along the way.
07-27-2009, 09:43 PM   #4

You know I love the 135's

I look forward to your eastern bloc version of this test... The CZ Jena - The Jupiter and the Tair...

Thanks for the test....

07-27-2009, 09:43 PM   #5
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Thanks for dong this - you do such a nice job with these! BTW, I don't know if there are multiple Sears 135/2.8, but I had one, and it was pretty clearly worse than the M135/3.5 in all respects that I tested, but I can't say I was anywhere near as thorough as you! The JC Penney 135/2.8, on the other hand, looks pretty good to me.

Last edited by Marc Sabatella; 07-28-2009 at 10:10 AM.
07-27-2009, 09:51 PM   #6
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Dave thanks for doing this test! Interestingly, I guessed your order before I looked at the results. Good work!

I guess the extra money for the Pentax-K 135/2.5 is well spent. I am really impressed with the results from that lens. I am a little curious...what happened with the Viv 135/2.8 on the distance test?


(Feeling a little cocky for owning the value king of the hill...)

Last edited by stevebrot; 07-27-2009 at 10:02 PM.
07-27-2009, 10:22 PM   #7
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One more question...

My Vivitar 135/2.8 (Komine) has an eight-bladed iris. Was there a miscount or have we discovered yet another variant?


(Mine is the earlier version with the ribbed focus ring.)
07-27-2009, 10:34 PM   #8
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Thanks for the comparision report. Recently used Pentacon 135/2.8 (17 blades?) and Seen CJ 135/.3.5. Loved both and short listed both of them.

07-28-2009, 12:24 AM   #9
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Great test, thanks for doing this. But it needs a picture of the lenses lined up next to each other!
07-28-2009, 04:47 AM   #10
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Agree re the Pentax 135mm f2.5. Welcome to Photozone! have a full test of one with good results, particulary on a C class sensor (K10D).

07-28-2009, 04:54 AM   #11
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Thanks for the test. It confirms my experience with the M 135 3.5; it is a very nice, light lens. Although I love my F 135 2.8, I took the M with me on a recent trip because of its small size and weight. I was not disappointed.
07-28-2009, 05:17 AM   #12
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interesting thread.

Couple of comments.
Lens hoods.
the SMC 132F2.5 has a snap on hood that is shared with other pentax primes using the 58mm Filter. The Bayonette Takumar, and I believe later 135 F2.5 super taks have a metal screw on hood.

with respect to all the lenses, can you give an indication of exposure accuracy of the lens. I.E. check exposure at F8, and then run through all the aperture stops setting shutter speed accordingly for same exposure, and measure grey scale. Some of the lenses have a tendancy to drift upward in exposure at the smallest F stops.

It would also be interesting to know how the metering on what ever cameras you have worked.

see below for the SMC 132F2.5

note also the umarked stop is F2.8 based on exposure testing I did.
Attached Images
07-28-2009, 05:26 AM   #13
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Thanks a lot for this test!
Great stuff!!

QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
Pentax-M 135mm f3.5 - I am considering the size/weight advantage here as well as performance. I think the Pentax coatings make this lens a good choice too, and they don't cost very much. I might not be taking off enough points for its slowness.
I only looked at the centre shots and based on these I would have clearly ranked the Vivitar TX 135mm f2.5 higher than the Pentax-M 135mm f3.5.

I was never impressed by the resolution of my M135/3.5 and as a matter of fact, according to Modern Photography measurements even a Tokina 70-210mm f/4-5.6 is sharper (at @210).

I've seen one shot (I think from Marc) that seemed to defy the lack of resolution of the M135/3.5 but all others confirmed my impression of it as an underperformer. Perhaps the one good shot was very well sharpened and took on sharpening really well?
07-28-2009, 06:28 AM   #14
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Thank you for the thorough and educational set of testing.

I have to say this: I don't get along well with the 135mm focal length. Yet I have accumulated a few M42 mount 135's...

I have a Rikenon also, though mine is an "auto" rather than an 'XR'. The Auto is pretty well built and fairly massive. I like the design and want to like it more than I do. I paid $15.

I have a more modern Vivitar 2.8, I forget who made it, which is light and small, and optically better than the Rikenon.
07-28-2009, 08:30 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by EricT Quote
Great test, thanks for doing this. But it needs a picture of the lenses lined up next to each other!
I forgot that. Here's a quick one. I'll post another one including the zoom soon.


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