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Archive for September, 2010

Cheap Gear Review: SMC Takumar 135mm f2.5

I’m constantly buying / selling / trading camera gear in that elusive search for the ultimate lens or geeky piece of equipment that I just can’t live without… until the next best thing comes along! :) So, I will begin a (hopefully) regular review series entitled Cheap Gear Review, in which I’ll review anything photography-related that comes into my grubby little hands for much less money than you would expect.

On the chopping block today is an SMC Takumar 135mm f2.5 lens.

Introduction

Going back at least 30 years, I picked up this old lens on my last visit to Japan for a mere $20 CAD, complete with hood, and original front and rear caps; everything in mint condition. I couldn’t believe my luck until I took it home and noticed some mild fungus on the front glass. Feeling betrayed, I took it upon myself to dismantle the lens and give it a good cleaning. The worst that could happen is I lose my $20. Some latex gloves, a bottle of windex and 15 minutes later, and I was successful! As good as new.

The Variants

There are supposed to be a few variants of this lens (SMC = Super Multi-Coated):

  • SMC Takumar 135mm f2.5 w/ 6-element optical design, M42 mount
  • SMC Takumar 135mm f2.5 w/ 5-element optical design, M42 mount
  • SMC Pentax 135mm f2.5 K mount
  • Takumar Bayonet 135mm f2.5 K mount (with slide-out hood)

I lucked out and stumbled upon the 6-element SMC variant that was made in Japan, which is apparently the only good version of it. And when shooting with it, I definitely agree: it’s superb! Great contrast, sharpness and color all around!

Build Quality and Handling

The images produced by this lens are excellent (more on that later) and so is its construction; it’s hefty, feels solid, and looks like it can take a beating. The handling though is odd… As you can see in my pictures of the lens itself, it’s rather long but slim, and extends even further outward the closer you focus. Mounted on my Nikon D300 with an adapter, it just doesn’t balance right and feels thinner than it should.

And with the hood mounted you’re asking for trouble…it’s so long that I’ve bumped it against a few walls already! (Though this is where its metal construction really helps :) )

On the plus side, the focus ring is buttery smooth and with a long throw (the actual distance getting from closest to longest focus on the lens), making it a cinch to focus at f2.5. The aperture ring is nice and snappy, too :)

Speaking of aperture, take a look at that diaphragm! 8-blades, though not exactly straight. I don’t know if that’s normal and if it’s just a problem with the copy I have, but it straightens out at all other apertures and produces great bokeh regardless!

Image Quality and an important GOTCHA

This lens is sharp. In fact, under the right conditions, it’s sharper than my existing Nikon lenses. At f2.5 there’s a little less contrast and vibrant colors, but that’s easily remedied in Photoshop. Also quite a bit of lateral aberration (green fringing), but what can you expect for the price? Image sharpness however is there from the get-go.

If you Google this lens you’ll find differing opinions on image quality, though I think the negative feedback all relates to the other variants. The winning formula with this lens seems to be an SMC Takumar 135mm f2.5 w/ 6-element optical design, M42 mount, and made in Japan inscribed on the filter ring and lens barrel. Supposedly someone found the same lens made in Vietnam, and it was quite the lemon…

Here’s the gotcha: Keep in mind that being M42-mount, you’ll need an M42 adapter to mount this lens on your camera. I would suggest buying a cheap non-glass & non-infinity adapter from eBay, as the added glass in the infinity adapters seriously degrade the sharpness and overall quality of this lens. But without it, you’ll be unable to shoot @ infinity.

Don’t know what this means? Take a look at the examples below. All three shots are of the Toronto skyline; first @ f2.5, followed by f8 and finally f22.

To get objects in focus that are any more than 20 feet away, you need to stop down to f22…and even then you might not get focus. This is due to the M42 design vs. your Nikon or Canon camera, and has nothing to do with the lens. Again, an optical M42 adapter will fix this but at the expense of image quality. If you shoot with Olympus or Pentax, you’re in luck! These cams will pretty much mount anything with the right adapter and achieve perfect focus without worry.. Not to mention this lens was made for Pentax cameras (refer to the first shot in this post). I’m jealous!

I quite prefer shooting macro anyway, and hardly ever find myself shooting into the far-off distance! You might discover the same when shooting with this 135mm.

Buying Options

So what your choices when buying a 135mm lens? Well, there are the many Nikon versions, but those cost at least $1,000. How about Canon? They have an f2.0 lens that costs even more! And the Olympus version, as fantastic as it is, also costs a pretty penny. This SMC Takumar is a bargain!

Unless you happen to find yourself in the same photolab I was @ Hamadayama Station on the Inokashira Line in Tokyo, Japan, your best option to pick one up is probably eBay ;)  If you don’t care for the obtrusive hood to be included in the sale (I never use it) you should be able to find it pretty cheap, probably between $40-$80. Keep in mind my $20 was spent on a copy with fungus that was easily cleaned away. Also ensure it physically looks like the copy here and says Made in Japan on the filter ring and barrel, as there exist too many weaker variants of it.

And as for mounting it on your camera? You’ll need an M42 adapter! The cheapest I’ve seen on eBay is $4.95, which is what I paid for mine. Don’t bother with one that achieves infinity-focus as it just tosses away all the sharp colorful goodness that comes with this lens :)

My Verdict?

Highly recommended! While it does feel awkward in the hand and can be used as a baseball bat with the hood attached, this lens is fun and easy to use, and produces outstanding images. Pick one up if you don’t mind its macro-only usage when used on Nikon or Canon bodies.

Good luck and happy shooting! All images below were taken with this lens.


Thanks for reading!

Shooting in the NYC subway

We visited NYC *again* last month, but for only four days. And while I didn’t squeeze out too many stellar shots, I sure made it a mission to shoot plenty in the subway.

I have a thing for grungy, grimy, dirty and humid environments, and the underground of NYC exceeded expectations. How are mice on the tracks for grungy? How about the rats chasing the mice for just plain dirty? Top that off with some sweaty cockroaches and you have a date with a camera. Yes sir.

Anyway, I feel rather happy with the shots. One thing’s for certain: pointing an SLR this-way-and-that on the NYC metro never gets a second glance. I love that people in this city are too preoccupied to care :)

 
I’ll forever remember this first shot:

Me to polite girl: “Wonder why I always see halos of light with motion-blurred shots?”

Polite girl: “Because light flickers at a frequency out of the range of human vision.”


Thanks for reading!