I might just be attuned to the theme, but I hear and read a lot about storytelling in photography. This, of course, is what photo essays are about - the narrative form perfected by Life magazine among...
The Sonnar 135mm lens is a very fast, affordably priced Zeiss medium telephoto
lens in the Contax/Yashica SLR mount capable of taking some really great
pictures. It is essentially a portrait lens, but the longish 1.6 m. minimum
focusing distance is the greatest deficiency with this otherwise excellent
lens. It is also a good lens for isolating subject matter in architecture
and landscape photography.
Construction is metal, glass, and the standard rubberized focusing grip. The
aperture ring (f/2.8-22) has full aperture detents although there are
half-aperture settings. The focusing scale is marked in both feet (American) and
meters (the rest of the world) and there is a red infrared focusing compensation
mark and depth-of-field scale (even though all Contax SLRs have depth-of-field
preview). The only plastic material is the front and rear lens caps (which I
With a 55mm screw-on filter size, you probably won't whine about buying an
entire set of filters. Lens flare is not a problem; I've tossed two Tiffen ND
graduated filters (Cokin "P" mount) in front and still got excellent results when
shooting sunsets (remember, this lens is great for isolating landscape
There is a very convenient built-in slide-type metal hood that protects
against flare. The hood comes out every time I mount this lens on my SLR
My Sonnar 138/2.8 was made in Japan and Zeiss claims that it is every bit as
good as older German made lenses. The MM-type diaphragm allows for program AE,
shutter-priority AE (Tv), aperture-priority AE (Av) and manual mode. The older
AE-type diaphragm on certain currently produced Zeiss lenses only supports the Av
and manual metering modes; this is solely a function of the diaphragm action and
has nothing to do with optical quality.
The Sonnar 135mm ships with a leather drawstring pouch and the aforementioned
lens caps. There is a little leather tag on the drawstring; I printed the lens
length and speed to make identification easier.
Instead of the built-in hood, one can use the optional Contax Metal Hood 5
with the optional 55/86 step-up ring. I have such a combination, but it resides
close to my 80-200/4 zoom lens since the 135/2.8 has a built-in hood (which the
zoom does not).
Like all Zeiss lenses, the Sonnar 135mm comes with a technical data sheet
written in English, German, French, and Spanish. There are four sets of curves:
two MTF diagrams (f/2.8 and f/5.6), relative illuminance at f/2.8 and f/5.6, and
distortion. Specifications (number of elements and groups, exact focal length -
134.1mm for this lens, etc.) are also mentioned.
Tack sharp, but the minimum focusing distance issue is a problem if you are a
serious portrait photographer; you are better off saving your money for a
Planar 85/1.4 or a Planar 100/2 for such applications. Both focus as close
as a meter, and yes, it does make a difference.
Of my four Contax SLR lenses (the others being: 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 80-200/4)
perhaps this is the lens that I am the least happy with. If the 135/2.8 could
focus down to 1.2-1.4 meters, this lens would be killer.
I bought mine in September 1996 for US$395, a one of the least expensive in
the Zeiss product line. If you're building a Contax/Zeiss system, this is a cheap
purchase. As I said, optically, this lens is a real bargain. However, I just
can't find too many uses for a 135mm lens except for portraiture and some minor
Well, for lazy guys like me the Vario-Sonnar T* 80-200mm f/4 zoom lens is an
option. The image quality isn't quite as good as the fixed focal length 135mm,
but it is very close.
If you care to economize before breaking open the piggy bank to purchase a
medium telephoto Zeiss lens, I suggest the 85/1.4 (particularly if
astrophotography is an interest) or the 100/2 (a newer design).