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Zeiss 135/3.5 lens mounted on Canon 100DUsing the Zeiss MC S 135mm f/3.5 lens with an EOS 100D/SL1

A classic manual focus, M42 screw fit lens

Keith has been looking at using another lens from his 'junk box' with the Canon 100D...

It's an East German (Carl Zeiss Jena) multi-coated lens (MC) that he was given a while ago in a collection of camera kit.

He's long adopted a standard answer of 'Yes please' when asked to take such kit.

You really do never know what will turn up...

Why the 100D?

I recently purchased a Canon EOS 100D 18MP APS-C DSLR and am writing up some articles about using it in different ways, as much as anything to get used to using a completely different camera to my normal full frame Canon 1Ds Mk3.

It's actually the first crop sensor DSLR I've owned and the only camera I have which has video...

I have briefly tried this lens before on my 1Ds, but it didn't greatly impress me, so went back into the 'look at later' corner of the drawer (I use a Canon 70-200 2.8L IS for this focal length in my day to day work, so expecting to be impressed by anything except size and weight was always a tough ask ;-)

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This is part of a series of articles concerned with the 100D.

Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 lens

Focal length 135mm
Aperture f/3.5 to f/22
Angular field 18 degrees (full frame) ~11 degrees Canon APS-C
Mount M42 screw
Lens Construction 4 elements in three groups
Diaphragm 6 blades (curved)
Filter size 49mm
Weight 430g

On my 100D this gives an equivalent field of view to a ~220mm lens on my 1Ds 3.

The lens was widely included in Praktica camera kits in the 1970s as the telephoto lens, and indeed that is where mine came from. Look out for them in charity shops and the like.

It seems that the aperture blades are prone to sticking, but with a bit of care this is a lens quite easy to fix (see links at end for more).

As with many of these old lenses, there are a number of different versions, with different coatings and external build. I did look around for more data about this, but after some time looking just decided that differences were going to be pretty minimal for most people.

The lens has a built in lens hood that is functional, if not a little loose fitting (mouse over image to see).

Lens hood on 135mm lens

The lens focuses down to 1 metre, and has an aperture ring that moves in 1/3 stop increments.

lens settings

The aperture only has six blades, this at f/8.

zeiss 135/3.5 aperture blades

The lens is set to 'M' for manual setting of aperture. The stop down pin (lower left) is disconnected.

The 100D shows my M42-EF adapter. This one does not have an AF confirm chip.

m42 lens and ef lens mount adapter

Using the lens

I'm very aware that many people would wonder why on earth I bother looking at such lenses given the kit I normally work with? A very fair comment, but this is some of where I get to try things out just for the hell of it, just go out for a walk, with one or two unusual lenses and see what they enable me to see. When I'm on a paying job, I'm not very likely to experiment too much, there is a brief to meet, and a product to deliver.

Up front, I'll say that this lens gives nice and sharp images on the 100D. With no autofocus or image stabilisation, it demands care with focus (an adapter with AF confirm chip may help) and a good fast shutter speed if hand held.

At f/3.5 the circular aperture gives a smooth look to out of focus areas (known as 'Bokeh') and, on the crop sensor, not that much vignetting. Lateral chromatic aberration (CA) is small (easily fixable) and even longitudinal CA is much more easy to control with corrections found in current versions of Lightroom/Photoshop.

This 100% crop (screen shot - no sharpening) from within DxO Optics Pro 9.1 shows the effect of using its automatic CA correction - there is obviously no direct support for this lens, but the CA is only a few pixels.

fixing lateral CA in image

Here's the full image, of the canal lock gates.

canal lock gates in Leicester

and a 100% crop (processed with DxO Optics pro. Lens was at f/8 for the canal shots

detail showing lens sharpness

Somewhat more noticeable is the longitudinal CA, if you have any blown highlights, such as the swans along the canal, where the switch from green to purple shows where I've actually focused the shot (@ f/8)

The longitudinal CA is distinctly visible and the detail shows how I had back focused by a few feet.

Note that I've made no effort to remove this colour fringing - it needn't look this bad.

swans on the canal. Out of focus highlights show green/purple fringing

And at 100%

two swans on the river soar

The example below shows the nice smooth out of focus effects and rather thin DOF that you get at f/3.5.

close up picture of chilli peppers

A 100% crop of another photo of the chillies in my conservatory.

100% crop shows out of focus blur at f/3.5

It's at 1600 ISO, so there's a bit of noise. The image is unsharpened (processed with DxO Optics Pro).

What to make of the lens?

It's an excellent quality lens for what it does.

If I wanted a general purpose lens with this focal length, there are many newer ones with autofocus (and even image stabilisation), but if I was on a tight budget and really wanted to explore aspects of my photography, then having a somewhat restrictive lens like this might be fun.

It makes you think about camera settings and what they mean. I'm very strongly of the belief that the more you understand this sort of stuff, the easier it becomes to forget about it when taking photos, except when it's needed and makes a difference. That most definitiely isn't the same as using everything on auto and not knowing about it. Knowledge like this makes it much easier to make your photos match your vision of what the shot should show.

135mm on a crop sensor body is a rather longish lens, and manual focus with modern DSLR viewfinders takes practice. My M42->EF lens adapter does not have an AF confirm chip (it crashed my old 1Ds) but if you are getting an adapter, this might be worth the extra few quid. On a full frame sensor, the lens gets softer at the corners, but it might be of interest at f/3.5 for portrait work or video (neither areas I cover).

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I note that very good adapters are not cheap, but I'm inclined to suggest that if the 'ultimate' image quality is your objective, then what are you doing with a £20 lens from a charity shop... [some of my thoughts about expensive 3rd party primes]

Perfectly good ones can now be found under £10

M42 -> EF adapters at:

This short article is part of my ongoing experiments with the 100D since getting one. Oh and I've some reviews of current new lenses coming up too... ;-)

Article first published February 2014.

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