A closer look at bokeh-licous short tele lenses that will help you get over the Otus blues

A closer look at bokeh-licous short tele lenses that will help you get over the Otus blues

Sony A7r with the Takumar mk2 135mm f2.5

Don’t despair my friends, you have a few options left to create great images without
remortgaging your home
more after the break,

left to right: Takumar 135mm f2.5 vers2, Takumar 135mm f2.5 (4 elements only) Nikkor E 100mm

Of course we all strive for the ultimate and Zeiss finally decided to roll them out, one dream lens after another. But let’s stay practical for a moment, what would it mean to add one of those Zeiss gems to your photography kit in terms of helping you improve and reach the next level of creativity?

Is it the focal length you always reach for? Do you regularly turn off AF and prefer to shoot from a tripod? Do you look at the image as a whole or do you inspect every cm at 400%?
Pixel peeping is important to determine if the lens meets the quality requirements for the final output. In addition, evaluating a lens for the subjects you will be shooting is equally important.
Are you reproducing flat art work in a museum and need the best possible optical quality?
The Otus should be the first lens on your list, second, the Sigma ART, just in case your boss doesn’t approve the Otus once he sees the price…

Or are you mostly shooting centered subjects and don’t really care about the outer edge performance?
Those are the questions to ask yourself. You will realize that the desire to own one of these Zeiss jewels has very little to do with your photography.Of course there are photographers out there who are thrilled about the latest Zeiss gems because they have a real use for them and were dreaming about such lenses for years, a perfect fit for what they shoot and how they work. Those guys will get them and get the most out it.

The Sony A7(r,s) have been spec’t with the best sensors in the business.
We all know the main advantages of full frame sensors: Larger pixels and larger surface area equals better high ISO performance and more room to play with depth of field. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to shallow depth of field, smaller sensors can’t beat it.
Add the fantastic EVF and those bodies just beg for glass that can produce very shallow depth of field.
Here are my three favorite lenses which I have used on the A7, A7r and A7s.
lets start with the Nikkor E 100mm 2.8, please note all three lenses are shown with the

Sony E mount adapter attached and lined up next to the Zeiss FE 55mm for size comparison.

The Nikon E 100mm f2.8 produces already sharp images wide open, tack sharp even on the A7r, I mostly shoot this lens wide open.

both shots above: Jon Batiste shot with the Nikkor E 100mm 2.8 wide open

Next up is the cheapo Pentax SMC 135mm f2.5, this is the budget lens with 4 elements, 4 groups 8 blades.
You can find it on Ebay between $50 bucks, in excellent condition.
Not as sharp as the Nikkor E 100mm, lacks micro detail and has that soft glow wide open some of us like and some don’t. A great, lightweight lens for portraits, for that softer, low contrast look, the lens sharpens up significantly stopped down to f3.5. I was pleasantly surprised to see very little color fringing when compared to the 6 element Vers II Takumar.

shot with the A7r wide open (LR default setting raw to jpg)
100%crop below at 2.5

below another shot with the budget Takumar 135mm f2.5, shot at f2.5

And my favorite, the SMC Takumar Version II, available in M42 mount only, 6 elements in 6 groups, the largest and heaviest lens in this line up but still a lot smaller then the Sony FE 70 200mm f4 zoom.

Very sharp and good contrast wide open and it produces the best looking bokeh. Lots of color fringing, easy to correct in post when shooting raw.
If you are interested in this lens, you can find two versions on Ebay, the more common 5 elements 4 group version (which I haven’t tested, my guess it ranks between the cheapo and version2) and version II with 6 elements in 6 groups.
The way to identify version II (ask the seller if you can’t see it in the photos):
The focus scale reads 35ft on version II, 30ft on the original and 43812 stamped on the backside of the aperture switch. Original version doesn’t have a number.

Viola (more on the shoot with Viola in my next post), shot with the Takumar Vers II wide open.

If you find this article helpful, please consider helping me maintaining this blog by purchasing your gear through my product links to Adorama and B&H and Ebay. It will cost you nothing and allows me to keep adding! Or consider making a direct donation using PayPal, thank you!

7 thoughts on “A closer look at bokeh-licous short tele lenses that will help you get over the Otus blues

  1. Matthew R

    You are right. I don’t want any more than a few lenses. I also think that by using prime lenses only is helping me with composition skill. I’m sure you could see what was overwhelming me overall is just the number of legacy glass to choose from. Thank you for the good advice !

  2. mike.kobal Post author

    Thanks Matthew. Not sure I can call it macro but I use a macro lens or extension tubes fairly often on jewelry shoots. Don’t go crazy with lenses, limit yourself to a few and shot a lot. That the best way to learn and improve.

  3. Matthew R

    Thanks very much for answering my questions and concerns!

    In terms of these Russian lenses, I think I will go with the Helios 42-2 58mm f2, since it’s so cheap (~$30+shipping) rather than the modern and much more expensive 40-2. I can still use it to get that unusual “swirling” bokeh and to achieve that painterly effect when taking pictures of flowers and foliage. I appreciate you sharing your experience in using the others, and I may consider one of the Jupiters in the future.

    I’m continuing to work on developing a solid portfolio, but I only have a couple lenses. I like this Takumar 135 you recommend and found one on ebay from Japan for $190 in near mint condition. I’ll go ahead with that if you think it’s a reasonable asking price. I’m also considering a Zuiko 90 f2 macro for portraits…definitely not as affordable, but want something to bring out more skin texture and when photographing for instance jewelry or for detailed makeup shots. If a model has more blemishes, I think the Takumar 135 would give a softer, more appropriate look without having to correct later. How often do you use macros during shoots if at all?

    I’m still practicing and learning, but my plan is to eventually work as an assistant for an already successful fashion/beauty photographer while gaining studio experience, (which incidentally is how I came across your website, and I admire your work!). Look forward to your reply, thanks :)

  4. mike.kobal Post author

    Hi Matthew, havn’t used the Helios, very specific certainly fun to play around from time to time. I have shot Jupiters and Industar. Jupiter’s are very sharp, color rendition is on the cool side. Industars are small, soft wide open but sharpen up nicely. Have fun lens hunting!

  5. Matthew R

    Thanks Mike for your nice write-up about alternatives to the Zeiss Otus/Sigma ART. I’m currently debating between the Takumars you recommended and the more popular SMC 85mm f1.8 to use with my A7, but I’m also keeping in mind a few other interesting options I discovered during my research.

    Since I value your opinion, I’d appreciate it if you could tell me if you have any personal experience working with or using any Russian lenses based on Zeiss designs such as the the Helios 40-2 85mm f1.5 (known for its bokeh)…or if you’re familiar with others like the KMZ Tair-11A with its aperture blades just to name a couple. I know that the Helios I’ll probably use sparingly as a unique effect if I go ahead and get it, but in terms of the others and Soviet era lenses in general, what are your thoughts?

  6. mike.kobal Post author

    non smoking home, no bad smells, I put tape over every camera name, maybe its time for you to research the origins of tape on cameras, tip, fang mal mit HCB an

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