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01-19-2010, 12:50 AM - 1 Like   #1
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My review of the A*135mm/1.8, with photos (LBA warning and long)

I wanted to share my thoughts on the A*135, since we don't often hear about this lens and I feel it deserves more mention here. This is actually a consolidation of my posts on the "other" forum, so it may look familiar to some of you. I've gone ahead and put everything in one post, and cleaned up some of the writing as well. I hope you find this interesting, and do feel free to add your comments or questions.

Firstly, I'll say that this lens impresses me so very much. It is super-sharp wide-open. Some have stated that it is slightly soft wide-open, but I disagree - it is very sharp at all apertures. At wide apertures, focus does become very critical, so one must focus carefully for the sharpest results. Also, colours and contrast are very good wide-open. The only weakness that I can see at this aperture is what appears to be some PF which can be minimal to problematic if shot under high-contrast lighting, depending on the scene (in low-contrast lighting, there is no PF). However, this PF pretty much disappears by f2.5 or f2.8. Further testing has revealed that this PF is actually bokeh CA (purple haloing in front of plane of focus, green haloing behind), which is pretty much expected for fast lenses, but what is a bit unusual here is that the purple has a tendency to "bloom". The good news is that since it is focus-related, this PF can be controlled/eliminated - just make sure you don't have back-focused high-contrast elements. On the otherhand, unlike the K135/2.5, there is no lateral CA whatsoever, at least none that I have been able to find so far (the PF exhibited by this lens is not to be confused with lateral CA).

Using a rubber hood may help things, as the front element is pretty massive and the built-in hood does little to block stray light. However, I have not yet bothered to as the performance wide-open is so good as-is.

To start, here is a shot to illustrate the sharpness wide-open (link to full-sized image is here:):



This was shot wide-open (f1.8) with my K20D in very crappy lighting, hence the use of ISO800. I realize that using ISO100 would better illustrate the abilities of this lens, but given the conditions I didn't have much choice. I'm actually quite surprised by how well the AWB handled this. Also note the nice colours and contrast (given the scene) - I wish my A50/1.4 looked this good wide-open!

Converted from RAW using PPL at default settings (sharpness 0), natural image tone, and all NR disabled. No PP aside from raw conversion. Image resized using IrfanView (the resizing operation applied some sharpening).

Here's a 100% crop of the above (there is no sharpening applied here):



I cannot see any signs of softness; yes, there's some PF in the crop, but I don't think it's too objectionable. What do you think?

This next set of photos of fall foliage and wild flowers was shot at f2.2 and should give you a good idea of the OOF rendering:

First, let's start with the leaves...











And now for some flowers...





Here's a different take on the above (which one do you like better?):









Please forgive the slightly processed look - I gave these more sharpening than usual as I didn't nail the focus in all of the shots, and I also bumped the contrast to compensate for the very flat lighting (a dull day near sundown).

Workflow: RAW files processed using PPL, sharpening +1, contrast +2, cloudy WB preset, natural image tone. JPGs resized to 1024 width using Irfanview, with further sharpening applied.


This last set was taken under bright lighting (in fact, it was a bit harsh) at mid-apertures, IIRC (the exif should be intact, if not just let me know). And also a reminder that all of the photos shown here were taken with the natural image tone preset, so the colours may lack the "pop" that some of you might prefer:

Nice "3D effect" here (link to full-sized version here:):



This one might look better in B&W (what do you think?) (link to full-sized version here:):



Great Wall ruins (link to full-sized version here:):



Here's a 100% non-sharpened crop of the previous image (did I mention how sharp this lens is?):



We can see a "3D" effect in the first shot, and there is a vibrancy I have not seen with any of my other lenses. The lighting was quite harsh in the second shot; not much to say here besides that I don't usually get keepers in this kind of lighting - note how well the contrast and colours are maintained. The third shot (and 100% crop) demonstrates the excellent long distance performance.

In fact, the long distance performance is so good that the A*135 may have obsoleted my FA*200/2.8! I will be doing some tests when I get a chance to see how close the A*135 comes to the FA*200 when shooting the same scene at the same distance (ie- compare A*135 upsized and cropped to the FA*200). Even better would be to pair the A*135 with a 1.4x TC or the AFA 1.7x and pit it against the FA*200, but this will have to wait for another day as I do not currently have a compatible TC in my possession.

In conclusion, this is a surprisingly versatile lens given some of its unique traits - unbelievable wide-open sharpness, speed (f1.8) and excellent OOF rendering (though watch out for PF in high-contrast scenes using wide apertures). The focal length on APS-C is a bit awkward, however, being a bit too long for portraits and not long enough for birds. But if you have the working distance, it excels and is the ticket if you're looking for a fast, short (but heavy) tele. It also has decent close focusing performance, so you can still use it to get interesting shots of flowers and things like that. My previous favourite 135 was the old K135/2.5, but the A*135 is in a different category altogether - it is sharper, faster, and better in the CA department.

The unfortunate reality to this is the rarity and price when copies do show up for sale. It seems that many copies have ended up in the hands of collectors, as there are surprisingly few sample images to be found online. I feel that given its performance, this lens is really deserving of more usage.

This lens really is one-of-a kind, and there aren't many alternatives available. The Voigtlander SL125/2.5 Apo Lanthar Macro is often mentioned as an alternative, and it is notable for its lack of CA and PF, however based on Jim King's comparison it does not seen to match the sharpness of the A*135, at least not at longer distances. The Voigtlander is also about a stop slower. However, many owners do swear by this lens. But unfortunately, it too is out of production and I'd think that used copies will not be cheap.

Those of you feeling the LBA itch right now should determine if the special properties of the A*135 are worth the price of admission - I hope my photos have given you an idea of what this lens is capable of. If this really is the one, then you should try to find a well-worn or even damaged copy, so that you can get it for a discounted price (if you get a good copy, you will be too scared to use it!). Even some glass damage should be acceptable, assuming you can get the price down enough, as minor damage/blemishes will usually not affect the image noticeably. Also, with this lens you should have no problems selling even a damaged copy if you decide not to keep it in the future. Alternatively, you can also try looking for the Voigtlander SL125, though this lens will also not be cheap. However, it should be priced more reasonably than the A*135.


Last edited by photogerald; 04-25-2010 at 08:21 PM. Reason: Added some full-sized images
01-19-2010, 01:11 AM   #2
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First off, thanks for the great review and the copious sample shots. They're a welcome addition for such an under-reviewed lens. I'm still processing all the information you've given, but in the mean time I wanted to point out a few things.

Many of your sample images seem like they are of poor quality; not photographically, but digitally. Either they have been overly sharpened, or they were compressed very heavily. There are a lot of artefacts visible in them, and they detract from emphasising the raw quality of this lens.

Also, CA and PF are the same thing -- PF or purple fringing is a form of chromatic aberration. I think you might be trying to explain the difference between lateral and longitudinal CA, which would be PF and then green and purple halos for out-of-focus objects, respectively. But I'm not sure.
01-19-2010, 01:32 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by wallyb Quote
First off, thanks for the great review and the copious sample shots. They're a welcome addition for such an under-reviewed lens. I'm still processing all the information you've given, but in the mean time I wanted to point out a few things.
You're very welcome. I'm glad you found it useful/interesting.

QuoteQuote:
Many of your sample images seem like they are of poor quality; not photographically, but digitally. Either they have been overly sharpened, or they were compressed very heavily. There are a lot of artefacts visible in them, and they detract from emphasising the raw quality of this lens.
Can you point out one or two photos that show these artifacts? If it's the fall foliage series (leaves and flowers), like I mentioned I tried to "save" these images by doing more corrections, and I wouldn't be surprised if these are the photos you're referring to. Anyways, I will take a closer look and try to correct. I definitely do not want to be doing this lens a disservice!

QuoteQuote:
Also, CA and PF are the same thing -- PF or purple fringing is a form of chromatic aberration. I think you might be trying to explain the difference between lateral and longitudinal CA, which would be PF and then green and purple halos for out-of-focus objects, respectively. But I'm not sure.
Actually my understanding is that some PF is caused by the sensor microlenses, and is different from the fringe due to CA. I believe that the PF I am seeing with this lens is of the sensor type, as it takes on a "blooming" form (not shown here but I can take some photos to illustrate). But I'm not expert and could be wrong here.

Anyways, I appreciate your comments.
01-19-2010, 02:09 AM   #4
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Good comprehensive review.
It would indeed be good to avoid sharpening beyond default settings for a more 'natural' look at the lens's rendition of scenes.
But well done with it.
It's a fine lens no doubt.

01-19-2010, 02:20 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
Good comprehensive review.
It would indeed be good to avoid sharpening beyond default settings for a more 'natural' look at the lens's rendition of scenes.
But well done with it.
It's a fine lens no doubt.
Thanks Ash. Like I mentioned, the only photos that I added sharpening were the fall foliage shots at f2.2. All of the others were not sharpened, aside from the slight sharpening that is automatically applied by Irfanview when resizing.

I'll update this thread with better photos as I take them, but we'll probably have to wait for better weather.
01-19-2010, 05:07 AM   #6
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Thanks for an interesting review. Seems like a very fine lens, which it should be given it's price.

I'm quite close to giving the K135/2.5 a 10 in the review section and this is supposed to be in a different league, it must really be something!

You don't happen to have a film SLR laying around so you could test the corner performance also, would be interesting to know if it's sharp all across.
01-19-2010, 06:23 AM   #7
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Thank you for the review, and that first shot is awesome. The crops are very very sharp indeed.

Having said that, I just don't see the wonder in this lens...most of the shots are flat and lacking contrast, with muted colors. The 3-D effect is no where near that of the FA limiteds and some of the bokeh is busy. Overall, it may be a sharp lens, but to me it doesn't look any special. Am I the only one thinking this way ?

I would love to see your comparisons with the FA 200/2.8. I think it will fare better, except for sharpness.

I hope you don't take this personally, I am no expert in evaluating lenses and images, just wondering whether I am looking at it the wrong way (most likely, as other responses seems to be glowing as well).

P.S: Well! when I checked these images at my work computer, which usually darkens everything and actually merges quite a few dark tones as one, the images are extremely contrasty and pops out of the screen. In this screen, other than the sometimes busy bokeh the pictures look marvellous. May be it is a calibration issue? What do others see in their monitor?

Last edited by pcarfan; 01-19-2010 at 09:47 AM.
01-19-2010, 03:39 PM   #8
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Thanks for the review. To me the pics are very sharp with nice colors and contrast. I don't see a 3D effect but that is most likely due to the (dull) light.

01-19-2010, 04:39 PM   #9
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Hi,

Thanks for spending your time for such a long review and sharing your impressions (although my doctor said that such kind of readings really doesn't help my LBA) ...

Nevertheless, i would have liked a link to the full size images, to drool a bit more on such a lens (i use a K135/2.5 but, after reading your test, i'm considering start saving for an A* tele) ...

About the PF in the first crop, i've read somewhere (a thread on this forum, if i remember well) that it is caused by the high contrast of some lenses in high contrast scenes or when overexposing (this seems to be the case with the lights reflections in the orb over the lens of the pictured camera) ... And the lens is not the only cause of this, the micro-lenses of the camera sensor play their role, too (i have the same issue on my FA-31, too) ...

Thanks again for your review

Cheers
01-19-2010, 07:53 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by wallyb Quote
Also, CA and PF are the same thing -- PF or purple fringing is a form of chromatic aberration. I think you might be trying to explain the difference between lateral and longitudinal CA, which would be PF and then green and purple halos for out-of-focus objects, respectively. But I'm not sure.
Hi wallyb, with your comments in mind I did some testing last night. And it looks like I was wrong about the PF - it actually appears to be longitudinal CA, as I can control the magenta/green haloing by adjusting the focus. And yes, there is some minor green haloing in subjects behind the focus point, which I hadn't noticed before. However, I do wonder if the sensor microlenses are also coming into play, as the magenta haloing, when it does occur, has a tendency to "bloom". Anyways, this is all very interesting.

This is actually good news to me, as now I know the cause of the PF I can more easily correct for it (when taking the shot).

Anyways, I'm going to do some more testing before updating my post, and also try to provide some examples.
01-19-2010, 08:30 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jimfear Quote
Thanks for an interesting review. Seems like a very fine lens, which it should be given it's price.

I'm quite close to giving the K135/2.5 a 10 in the review section and this is supposed to be in a different league, it must really be something!

You don't happen to have a film SLR laying around so you could test the corner performance also, would be interesting to know if it's sharp all across.
Hi Jimfear, don't get me wrong, the K135/2.5 is an excellent lens. Actually, the only reason I don't have mine anymore is because it was lost in a theft (along with my Pentax 35mm bodies). This also means that I haven't directly compared the K135 with the A*135, nor did I get a chance to use the K135 on a DSLR. So I'm going by memory here, not to mention comparing the lenses on different medium so this is not a very controlled comparison. However, I don't remember the K135 being *this* good, and the few other reviews I have seen seem to agree that the A*135 is deserving of "legendary" status.

I'll do some more testing to evaluate the corner performance (on APS-C), but in the meantime you might be interested in the following comparison of the A*85/1.4 vs. Canon 85/1.2L MkII:

Zeiss ZF 85mm f1.4: First Impressions

Specifically, the comparison at f1.4 is telling:

Canon 85mm f1.2 L v Pentax SMC 85mm f1.4

We can see that the corner performance of the A*85, at least on APS-C, is not lacking at all. I would expect the full-frame performance to be "pretty good" too. I know that we're dealing with a different lens here, but this gives you an idea of the no holds barred approach taken by the designers of the A* series lenses.
01-19-2010, 08:49 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by pcarfan Quote
Thank you for the review, and that first shot is awesome. The crops are very very sharp indeed.

Having said that, I just don't see the wonder in this lens...most of the shots are flat and lacking contrast, with muted colors. The 3-D effect is no where near that of the FA limiteds and some of the bokeh is busy. Overall, it may be a sharp lens, but to me it doesn't look any special. Am I the only one thinking this way ?

I would love to see your comparisons with the FA 200/2.8. I think it will fare better, except for sharpness.
You know what, you could very well be right. I don't own any Ltds to compare with.

I will say that the fall foliage shots at f2.2 have an amount of "operator error", which I tried to correct in PP (and making things worse - ie, intensifying the busy bokeh), and including these probably didn't help my case.

Regarding my FA*200/2.8, I really can't see how it is better than the A*135, except for AF and the longer reach. Colours, contrast, sharpness all seem to favour the A*135, though I also have not done a head to head comparison with the two. To make matters worse, my FA*200 BF in a big way on my K20D. So any comparison will be done using manual focus, to eliminate the factor of focussing errors. But you can bet that such a comparison is forthcoming, and I will be sure to share the results with you.

QuoteQuote:
I hope you don't take this personally, I am no expert in evaluating lenses and images, just wondering whether I am looking at it the wrong way (most likely, as other responses seems to be glowing as well).
No worries, I appreciate all feedback - positive or negative. I am not an expert either, and like I mentioned I haven't tried any Ltds so I could be missing out on true lens nirvana.

QuoteQuote:
P.S: Well! when I checked these images at my work computer, which usually darkens everything and actually merges quite a few dark tones as one, the images are extremely contrasty and pops out of the screen. In this screen, other than the sometimes busy bokeh the pictures look marvellous. May be it is a calibration issue? What do others see in their monitor?
Well, I'll admit that I am more than a bit relieved to hear this! But I'm a bit puzzled by this. Though my monitor isn't calibrated, it shouldn't be too far off. And with exception of the f2.2 shots, the other shots don't have any adjustments made.

For future comparisons, I think it's best to post the in-camera JPG at default settings. Or even the PEFs. That way we all have a baseline to compare against.

Anyways, a sincere thanks to you for taking the time to comment on my photos. Take care!
01-19-2010, 08:52 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Recercare Quote
Thanks for the review. To me the pics are very sharp with nice colors and contrast. I don't see a 3D effect but that is most likely due to the (dull) light.
Thanks for your comments. I have an opportunity to take photos this weekend - I'll make sure to bring the A*135 and post back.
01-19-2010, 10:05 PM   #14
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Thanks for the pics, but I believe many of us here are interested in crops or full size images. Can you please post links to these images?
Thanks.
01-19-2010, 11:32 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Voe Quote
Thanks for the pics, but I believe many of us here are interested in crops or full size images. Can you please post links to these images?
Thanks.
I see this is a popular request. I did include crops of the first and last photos, but I've gone ahead and uploaded full-sized versions of the first and last 3 photos (see the links I added to my original post).

The first full-sized JPG was processed using PPL, but there was no additional PP done. The last 3 full-sized JPGs are straight from the camera (natural image tone and F.Sharpness +1).

I hope this is what you were looking for. I'll add some more images after my shoot this weekend.
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