1.03.2016

A glorious day for a walk and a spell of photographing with one of the "lost boys" of the lens world, the 135mm.

(click on the images to see them larger).

after having written about the benefits of physical exercise and its positive effect on the process of photography, I was inspired to pull out one of my heavier combinations of camera and lens and amble aimlessly through the ever more homogenous environs of downtown Austin. I didn't have an agenda, and I had ample free time, since I've more or less put my life on autopilot for the holidays and whatever algorithms are being used to run said life are much more effective and efficient than my usual, "hands-on" approach. 

The camera I decided to "open carry" was the Nikon D810 and the lens was the new/old 135mm f2.0, manual focus behemoth. I considered bolting on a few pounds of lead to the tripod socket but thought I'd save that addition for the time in the future when I am able to do a thousand push-ups without breathing hard...

All suited up in cap and jacket I stepped out of my car and took a moment to set up the camera. I chose the slowest ISO I could find in the menu (64) and decided that I'd shoot the lens at apertures between f2.0 and f4.0. Once or twice I veered into f8.0 but it was only as a test. 

The cup, saucer and plate above is a shot taken wide open after having an impromptu coffee with friend, Frank, at one of our favorite caffeinating spots, Caffe Medici, on Congress Ave. (Frank! Good to see you out walking with a camera on such a beautiful day!!!) The photograph is just me playing around with two "worst case" scenarios involving the 135mm, high speed lens: a wide open aperture at the very minimum focusing distance of the system. Oh, and add to that a handheld camera...

I hope a certain workshop teacher/blogger doesn't look too closely at the image because I fear there is no sharpness in the corners --- or much of anywhere else but in the focus plane. Not sure how to judge the nano-acuity(tm) in a dark corner that's out of focus but perhaps someone will direct me to an appropriate white paper so I can find out...Perhaps a paper from the Chambers of Measurement Secrets.


the image just above is taken from about thirty feet away and is in a zone that might be considered more "comfortable" for the lens. It's at a good distance and the aperture is two stops down from wide open, or, f4.0. Chain link fence against blue sky. My favorite idiom for mixed development. 


When one is playing around with the world's sharpest camera and the world's bokeh-y-ist lens it's impossible to resist shooting the sharp end of a plant leaf. The needle, as it were. I'm not really concerned whether or not the plant needle is infinitely sharp but I sure am pleased with the smooth as whole milk out of focus areas in the background. You could make some nice art with the right subject matter. 


I'm always a bit perplexed by modern landscapists who feel the need to stop their rigs down to f16 or f22 to get "everything" in focus. I'm happy that the foreground wall at the W Hotel is out of focus and that the Colorado building in the background appears to be all sharply in focus. It's all part of the fun of shooting longer lenses near their max apertures, outside, on sunny days. In this instance, f4.0.


In this instance, at our state Capitol building, I'm more pleased with the tonal range and the color palette than I am concerned with issues of sharpness, resolution or nano-acuity. I like the look of the image, holistically, and wouldn't hesitate to make one of my Platinum HyperPrints from this file. Sadly, if I had the foresight to bring along a tripod I'm sure we could have seen the grain on the window shutters. How that would have warmed my heart...and validated the quality of my gear!


The 135mm focal length is not for the lazy. You will often find that you are too close to objects, with this longer focal length, to photograph them the way you want to, and may have to walk a bit further from the car to get a "looser" cropping. But honestly, it's a good way to walk off a bit of that sticky bun from breakfast since actually moving oneself, instead of zooming, does use up more calories...


On the other hand the 135mm equivalent focal length is a great tool for shooting details and some larger close-ups. 


I did need to go up from the usual ISO 64 to photograph this coffee house customer standing at the bar near the back of the shop. I was happy to guess that I would need a minus one stop exposure compensation without having to chimp. (yay!) I was also happy that, with the new eyepiece magnifier on the D810, I was able to focus accurately enough to shoot this manual lens at f2.0 and mostly hit sharp focus. 

From my casual walk about town (my first longer adventure with the 135mm f2.0 ai lens from Nikon) I am ready to declare the lens, "fit for service at VSL." In fact, I think the lens is pretty remarkable. Bright, sharp and snappy, even wide open. By f5.6 it's a wonderful lens. 

I think (and have read on the Nikon site) that this lens was designed specifically to be a perfect lens for portraits and that part of its design was predicated on delivering great bokeh (or nice looking out of focus areas).  I know the prevalent judging metrics for lenses in the U.S. is all about sharpness, resolution and flatness of field, but none of these interests me nearly as much as how pleasant the lens might be in rendering skin in portraits and capturing comfortably smooth backgrounds, also in portraits. I think this older lens is great in these regards and still sharp enough to impress a generation trained to salivate only when exposed to high accutance, and impressive levels of detail at 100% inspection. 

In addition to being a very nice focal length for portraits it matches well with the optical characteristics of another lens I have written about many times. That would be the Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais or ai lens. If you need a slightly shorter focal length for this or that application they would make a good pair. 

Why do I call this focal length one of the "Lost Boys" of the lens world? It's a playful rejoinder to Michael Johnston's tongue-in-cheek disparaging of the 135mm equivalent focal length as a FL that people might use only once or twice in a career. He wrote about it in conjunction with the Fujifilm 90mm lens here: Michael's unfair poke at 135's... 

What a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon; camera and lens in hand, ample coffee, and clear skies with temperatures in the 60's. Still waiting for winter to arrive here (although my sweet olive bushes just went into bloom...).  Hope your New Year is progressing well. 

13 comments:

Craig said...

Mike's article describing the 135mm (full-frame) focal length as "useless" was pretty silly, and not at all up to his usual standards. Thanks for the rebuttal.

I like to go through phases of using a single lens for a week (or a few weeks) at a time. I've done this with everything from fisheye lenses to 300mm (full-frame). You learn to see things differently. If Mike has no use for 135mm, maybe it's because he's never learned it, just as I have no use for a trumpet because I don't know how to play it (though I do okay with a guitar).

Frank Grygier said...

I have an Olympus 135 OM 3.5 I need to find a lens mount for. Sony A7? Perhaps. The New Year is starting out right. A fortuitous meeting of friends.

Willie said...

Love it - and I agree totally with the subtle digs at the internet sharpness freaks.
BE Merciless on them (think about that).

Now has anyone seen you and amolitor in the same room at the same time .........hmmmm

Richard Alan Fox said...

Try the Olympus 4/3 50mm macro on your OM-D 5.2 at f2.
Nice.

Kirk Tuck said...

Craig, Mike was just having fun, riffing about the fact that the 90 was a sharp lens but we've been trained away from the equivalent focal length. I was just having fun right back.

Willie, I am sure Amolitor is much handsomer and wouldn't be mistaken for me...

Anonymous said...

The Sigma 60mm on an E-M10 makes a nice replacement for my Ricoh TLS and Vivitar 135mm 2.3 and weighs less than the old lens and hood. I love zoos and find the focal length to work well if I only take one lens. It also works well to isolate landscape details when hopping the fence isn't an option. It also keeps you out of striking range with most snakes and get more detail in tarantulas without stampeding them.

amolitor said...

I'm a shifty lookin' bugger, strung out from having a two year old. Kirk is a stone fox.

Peter Williams said...

Funny and entertaining :-)

Joe V said...

Another enjoyable post. And I can't help but think how much we owe the humor contained herein to our over-serious colleague Ming. Nano-Acuity forever!

Richard Sandor said...

Kirk: I'm surprised that you haven't seen the virtue of the newest, latest thing, which is lenses capable of rendering nano-acuity on a molecular level. When printed on pure crystal sheets (which simultaneously reflect and transmit 100% of captured light) you can actually see the electrons and neutrons whirring about a nucleus.

Kirk Tuck said...

Oh, I've tried that Richard. I can see the electrons and neutrons with my naked eye and I spent so much time looking at the atomic structure of the work that I forgot to look at it in a scale at which I could actually see the subject matter of the photograph. Something about not seeing the forest for the trees...

Yonatan Katznelson said...

You know that you spend too much time reading photography blogs when you get the references (to TOP and MT) without having to be told. :)

Happy New Year

James Pilcher said...

In my (much) younger days, a 135mm f/3.5 was the only telephoto I had and could afford. It was most often the first add-on lens that many people bought after the obligatory 50mm that came on their new camera. I have many fond memories and nice photos from both my Minolta and Olympus 135mm f/3.5 lenses from the early '70s.

Not quite a 135mm equiv, but close, today I do enjoy walking about with my M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 on my Olympus Pen camera. It's a 135mm-150mm equiv lens that just performs. It, too, can exhibit the creamy bokeh that so many people like. To top it off, it has virtually identical DOF characteristics as my old 135mm f/3.5! It's a comfortable lens for me.