As fortune would have it, I currently have two good 135mm lenses for my Olympus E-M5: I already published some examples taken with a Carl Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 Sonnar here, but now I also got an Olympus OM Zuiko 135/2.8 with “MC” coating. I intend to use the 135mm mainly for some telephoto macro shots during the next insects season. Stuff like dragonflies when they sit somewhere in the reeds at the pond – it’s often easily possible to shoot them with manual focus, but you just need the reach of a real telephoto here.
On paper, the Carl Zeiss Jena is the better lens for this special task, as it focuses down to 1 metre, giving about 1:5.2 magnification ratio, which is much better than the OM Zuiko’s 1.5 metres and approx. 1:9. But it’s no big deal to grab a short extension ring. So what about the optics of these two 135s? Both are supposed to be very good 135s, which is what really is needed on the E-M5: Its small sensor with its very high pixel density pushes these lenses much more to their limits than the bigger APS-C and 24x36mm sensors of traditional DSLR cameras.
OM Zuiko 135/2.8 MC vs. CZJ 135/3.5 Sonnar vs. Pentacon 135/2.8
I set up a photo subject in form of a mounted specimen of a tropical “ghost insect”. It’s 20 cm in length and with any 135mm lens, I could easily frame it at about 1.7 metres distance. No need for extension rings even on the OM Zuiko 135/2.8. Somewhere in my small M42 connection, I also still have a Pentacon 135/2.8 lens, the classic GDR alternative to the Carl Zeiss Jena 135/3.5, so I also threw this in for this small competition. Lighting was in form of a TTL remote flash.
Warning: Advanced pixel peeping below :)
This is the complete frame, which of course more or less looks identical with all three lenses. In contrast to modern lens designs, these classics keep their nominal focal length at every distance, so their field of view is virtually identical:
The full-size sample above will show you how the entire frame looks with the OM Zuiko at f/5.6. The whole frame is sharp and detailed. In my previous blog entry, I have compared the Carl Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 with the Panasonic 45-200 zoom. The zoom was absolutely no match for the old 135mm prime. And the OM Zuiko – see the detailed results below – has a very slight edge over the Carl Zeiss Jena.
As always, these shots are RAW and developed with Lightroom. The settings were absolutely the same for any of these shots – sharpness 40 (on a scale from 0 to 150), radius 0.5 (minimum possible), luminance noise reduction 25 (from o to 100), and for everything else regarding sharpness and detail reproduction I went for the Lightroom standard settings. Also, all these images were developed with the exact same settings regarding colour, contrast, saturation. All three lenses perform absolutely similar in this regard!
Below you find a series of full-size cropped image areas to compare the sharpness of the three lenses – three samples for each lens, the first at open aperture (f/2.8 or f/3.5, depending on the lens), the second at f/4 and the last at f/5.6:
OM Zuiko 135/2.8 MC
I’d say the story is simple here. With a subject like this, the OM Zuiko 135/2.8 is usable yet not perfect at f/2.8, it sharpens up considerably at f/4 and again, but only a little bit, at f/5.6. (I also did an f/8 shot not shown here, it’s probably a tad softer than the f/5.6, but of course in real life photography f/8 might still be your choice if you need the added depth of field.)
Carl Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 MC Sonnar
The three sample shots taken with the CZJ 135/3.5 are very similar here. The best one is the f/5.6, but the f/4 looks very similar and the f/3.5 is also very useable. 100% accurate manual focusing is very important and the slightest errors will cause real performance penalties. When you really look closely at the cropped images and especially at the various small spots on the insect’s skin, you’d probably say that the Olympus is a tad crisper and sharper at f/4 and f/5.6 than the Carl Zeiss Jena. Thus, I’d rate it first in this competition. But probably the difference is so small that I’d rather do more real-time photography with these two lenses before announcing a definite winner.
Pentacon 135/2.8 electric
No, there’s no focus errors in the Pentacon shots. The lens was on a tripod and the 14x screen loupe used for focusing…. It is really just that bad, in comparison to the other two lenses. Some years ago, I had another sample of this lens and it was not much better, either. You can do great shots with the Pentacon 135 on a Canon EOS 5D or the like, but it’s sheer resolution is just not good enough for the E-M5. Note that this lens comes in several flavours, the older ones have a very nice 15-bladed aperture, and lots of photographers like it for its nice bokeh. Mine does only have a standard 6-blade aperture, though, as it’s one from the later batches. Whatever, within the scope of Micro Four Thirds, I’d just steer away from the Pentacon.
I just love handling these old lenses on the E-M5. The field of view of a 135mm is already somewhat super telephoto-like on the small Micro Four Thirds sensor – it almost matches a 300mm lens on a classic 35mm film camera. Yet 135mm lenses are still compact and light-weight enough to carry them around all day with ease, and they balance beautifully on the E-M5. All three 135mm lenses compared here have full metal barrels and integrated sliding sunshades. Beautiful and recommended!
My impression is that there is not much sense to mount an old 50mm lens on a Micro Four Thirds camera as the new Olympus 45/1.8, purposely designed for this sensor size, just beats them all and is very affordable. The same goes for any focal length shorter than 50mm just as well. But starting from 85 mm onwards, using old legacy lenses on the Micro Four Thirds sensor still can be very interesting – provided you get lenses that respond good enough to this high pixel density and use them closed down one or two stops. For the moment, I’ll go for the Olympus OM Zuiko 135/2.8 MC – an Olympus lens on an Olympus camera ;)
More reading about 135mm lenses on digital cameras
There are, of course, a lot of web resources about legacy lenses. But here’s just one tip – at SLR Lens Review you can find a series of 135mm lens tests on APS-C and 24x36mm DSLR cameras:
Also, there is a fantastic collection of full-size samples of almost every OM Zuiko lens from 8mm to 600mm on the E-P1 at biofos.com!
Enjoy reading – and don’t hesitate to give your favourite 135mm lens a try on your own mirrorless camera!