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135mm for portraits on M Leicas

Mukul Dube , Jun 29, 2012; 12:39 p.m.

My experience with 85, 90 and 105 mm lenses on Leica M bodies in portrait work has been good. One of my most used lenses now is a 90 mm Elmarit. I have just bought a 135 mm Hektor (chiefly because of low cost) and am wondering how that will be. The most obvious difficulty is the small V/F frame for that focal length -- which, in the M6 I now have, is just two lines. I shall appreciate the comments and advice of those who have experience of using 135 mm for portrait work with M Leicas.


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Stephen Lewis , Jun 29, 2012; 01:05 p.m.

I used a 135 on my M4 for several years in the 1970s for portrait shots, usually of my of my daughter, until she became a teenager, which is when I bought a 90 Elmarit. Dead on focus at large apertures was a bit iffy, but the 135 f4 Tele-Elmar was a wonderful lens to use for portrait work, sharp, contrasty.

Dieter Schaefer , Jun 29, 2012; 01:20 p.m.

Owned the 135/2.8 with goggles - despite the magnification, I had a hard time focusing and eventually sold the lens; my 90mm 'cron is sufficient for my needs. IMO, 135mm on a rangefinder is pushing it too far.

Tim Carroll , Jun 29, 2012; 02:09 p.m.

Love my 90 cron pre-asph for portraits.


Mukul Dube , Jun 29, 2012; 02:17 p.m.

"Dead on focus at large apertures was a bit iffy" is a worry for me. For the same image size on film, a 135 would have to be farther away than a 90 from the subject -- which would of course make the subject smaller in the range-finder. This would also explain Dieter's difficulty with the Elmarit 135, which calls up the 90 frame. It may be argued, though, that the greater speed of the Summicron 90 (when used wide open) would make it about as difficult to focus reliably as a 135.

Robin Smith , Jun 29, 2012; 02:29 p.m.

I like the 135mm on the M Leica, however, I have to say it was never my choice for portraits - I preferred the 90s. I generally used the 135mm for landscapes etc rather than portraits. Particularly on the M6 where the 135mm frame is so small. I used to use the vf magnifier or the external 135mm vf when I was going to use the 135mm at all seriously.

David W. Griffin , Jun 29, 2012; 03:14 p.m.

I still have the 135/2.8 with goggles and it works well and I can focus ok, it's just that it's SO big and heavy. Might be a little sharp for portraits as is my 90/4 screwmount elmar.

Robert Hooper , Jun 29, 2012; 04:58 p.m.

I've used various versions of both the Leica 90mm and 135mm M and LTM lenses. I've had the 90mm Elmar f4 collapsable, the 90mm Elmar f4 versions I & II, the Elmar-C f4, and the Elamrit f2.8 version I. Of all those, the Elmarit M f2.8, version I, was the best performer especially for portraiture (f5.6-f8), and the collapsable Elmar M f4, was the worst. Sherry Krauter calles this lens the best bang for the buck in the 90mm focal range.

I personally don't like shooting with the 135 frame-lines. Plus, the 135mm Hektor f4.5 was the first Leica 135mm lens I owned and the worst performing Leica lens I've ever owned. I tried different samples of the LTM and M Hektor 135s, and the best performer was a real ugly LMT Hektor which made some nice portraits, but only at f8. All of these lenses had been CLA'd by the big names. James Lager assured me I would be surprised with the performance of the 135 Hektor f4.5 before I ever used one, and he was right, only not in the way I had expected. On the other hand, my experience with the 135 Elmar f4 was quite good. I had a bayonet model from 1962 and it was sharp between f5.6 & f8, and maybe f11.

Then there was the 135 Elmarit-M f2.8 with the magnifier spectacles. What a hunk of Leica glass! I had the first version, (1972), and it was really a beautiful lens both aesthetically and performance wise. Version II is supposedly even better, but I never used one. You could buy these lenses in M- condition for about $300 less than ten years ago, I guess because they are huge, they were not popular. They are however, extremely sharp. This lens was just too big, awkward and heavy to keep in my camera bag, but I kept it in my collection until last year. I made a very nice profit on it, probably because it came with box and papers.

If none of the above was interesting or pertinent, you can blame Mukul Dube who brow beat me into making a comment.

135 Elmarit-M f2.8, Version I

Arthur Plumpton , Jun 29, 2012; 08:31 p.m.

You can count the number of portrait sessions I've done on the fingers of one hand, so I do not claim much experience there, or even interest in more formal portraiture. Pictures of humans in a non portrait scenario are another topic altogether, different optics as well and often shot from the hip to maintain naturalness. I did better portrait work with my (still functioning) $100 Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 and a very fine Vivitar series 1 90 mm macro lens (alas, sold). I did try the Tele-Elmarit 90mm a bit (on a tripod and squinty Leica VF viewing), but have not done any portraiture with the very good Elmarit-M 90mm lens or my recently acquired Tele-Elmar 135mm. If I were to do so, I would definitely want to use my 1.25X magnifier (I have a cheaper Hong Kong spin off) to see the subject more clearly, but I would wonder why formal portraiture is not left to the SLR with near 100% VF magnification, depth of field previewing, and and an 85 or 90mm lens. I bought the 135mm f2.8, but did not keep it for very long, as I was far from impressed with its wide aperture performance and grew to hate its weight and bulk, compared to other Leica optics of that focal length.

Mukul Dube , Jun 29, 2012; 08:59 p.m.

I suppose it was inevitable that my question would be answered in 135 versus 90 terms.

Thank you, Robin. If I find that the lens performs well, I might see about an accessory V/F. I tried a 1.25X magnifier with an M2 once, and it didn't suit me. Had to keep putting it on the camera and taking it off, which became troublesome as I use a "diopter" also.

David, the Elmarit 135 would be the clear winner if I were serious about the focal length. I am only sort of giving it another chance, if I may presume to say that. I had a Komura 135, a good lens, with my first M3: but in the 17 years from 1985 to 2002 I used it perhaps half a dozen times.

Robert, thank you for (no deliberate pun) blackening the lens I chose. Was there ever an Elmar 135/4? Do you mean the Tele-Elmar?

Arthur, some of us try to make the most of what we have. I have two digital SLRs and an M Leica. The results of the M6 in portrait work are more pleasing by far. A 35 mm film SLR would no doubt be still better for portraiture, but I do not do enough to justify the acquisition of yet another system. It would also run counter to my decade-old project of simplifying existence.

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