I Love 135mm Lenses

I don’t know many photographers these days that shoot with the 135mm prime lens. Zoom lenses nowadays rule the telephoto market. However, I’m here to talk about shooting vintage lenses on modern mirrorless cameras. I don’t usually recommend vintage zooms because early zooms weren’t very good. I am a huge fan of prime lenses though. With so many old lenses out there, it is a lot fun to just get out there and experiment.

These two lenses could not be more different. The first, the Montgomery Ward version. The second is a Vivitar 135mm f2.8. There are a few versions of the Vivitar lens. The version I used was the Komine Black Metal Ridged-Ring, I also have a the Diamond Rubber Ring version as well, but I like the feel of the Metal-Ridged version. Neither of these lenses have very good lens coatings, if any at all. More on that later. I have other 135mm primes, I really wanted to discuss the strength and weaknesses of these two particular lenses.

The procedure: this is not a terribly technical review, but I put limits on my procedure. On day one I walked around my neighborhood and shot 36 frames with each lens. On day two I shot portraits of friends, again 36 frames with each lens.

I would really like to thank my friends in the local Eugene, Oregon band, Fools for being my test subjects. They are consummate professionals.

Check out their music.

Montgomery Ward

This lens is the larger of the two lenses, but it is also lighter. The front and rear elements are larger and it transmits more light through. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that this is my least favorite lens of all my 135mm lenses. I don’t know who made this lens, but I’ve seen this lens badged with a couple of other names.

What I did I like about this lens? I didn’t like much about this lens. I like the barrel diameter. It’s large and easy to hold. The focus throw is a little short, not terrible. As you’re focusing the front ring is moving, it is not internally moving anything, the outside of the focus ring is on a screw. The length of the lens changes rapidly as you focus. There is a built-in lens hood, but it’s useless. I also didn’t like the minimum focus distance of 6.5 feet (2 meters). That’s 2 feet too long. It’s not particularly well made. It’s all metal but it still feels poorly made.

How’s the image quality? Not very good. If the image quality was any good, I would forgive everything I mentioned. You can get decent images as long as you don’t have any stray light hitting the front element. The color and contrast are fine otherwise. If there is even the slightest amount of back light behind the subject the image just falls apart, especially when wide open at f2.8. If you can shoot at f8 though, you can get a usable image with that back light. That might mean throwing a flash on to the subject. If you can stay in open shade or in a very well controlled studio, this lens could do some pretty good work.

This gallery has some sample images, I shot the images between f2.8 and f8. Camera, Sony A72.


I prefer this lens. This lens is fairly compact and is very well-built.

What I did I like about this lens? Just about everything. The focus throw is long and precise. Images are sharp and have good contrast. I think the color could be a little more saturated, but nothing Lightroom can’t fix. The handling of this lens is very good. This lens stands up very well to backlight at most f-stops, but losses a lot contrast and saturation at f2.8. The bokeh is really pleasant, not really swirly and the bright circles often turn oval. I like it. Minimum focus distance is about 2.5 feet (about .75 meters), so getting tight portraits can produce beautifully backgrounds. The 8 bladed aperture isn’t curved, but it’s not bad at all.

Because there are so many versions of the Vivitar 135mm it might be hard to figure out the best version. Kino Precision, Komine, and Tokina are the primary manufacturers and they all make great lenses.

This gallery has some sample images, I shot the images between f2.8 and f8. Camera, Sony A72.

I am constantly on the prowl for cool vintage lenses, I want to share what I know. I spot a lot of lenses that are often overpriced, and it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you buy it.

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