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Olympus OM 135mm f2.8 vs. f3.5

Jim Baker , Oct 13, 2009; 05:24 p.m.

Matthew Newton recently discussed the 135mm f3.5 on this forum. I own a 135mm f2.8 and, fired up by his enthusiasm, I decided to buy a 135mm f3.5 to compare them. The 135mm f2.8 appears to be one of a family that includes the 100mm and 180mm. They are all f2.8 and appear to be versions of the same design (5 elements in 5 groups). The 135mm f3.5 has a similar design to the 200mm f4 (5 elements in 4 groups) but the OD is scaled down by more than 135/200, possibly to make the lens filter size 49mm, hence the slower speed of f3.5. Well, it's nothing too scientific, I just photographed a still-life and compared a small part of the scene. I chose to crop to a hurricane lamp at the edge. The crop corresponds to an area of the negative of about 1.5mm x 1.5mm. The aperture was f5.6 and the shutter speed was 1/250th. I don't think there's too much to choose between the sharpness of the images and it's similar to my 50mm f1.8 lens (i.e. sharp!). What is really noticeable is that the 135mm f2.8 image displays more chromatic aberration (CA), in particular blue colour fringing. At the level at which the sharpness of the images could be compared, it's the colour fringing that distinguishes them. Some years ago I carried out a similar comparison of the 200mm f4 and the 180mm f2.8. I found the same difference: the 180mm f2.8 exhibited quite noticeable blue colour fringing but the 200mm f4 was quite well corrected. It seems that the acromatic doublet in the front lens group of the 135mm f3.5 and the 200mm f4 does a good job of correcting CA. The 100/135/180mm lens design seems to be more aimed at maximising aperture. I have no experience with the 100mm f2.8 so it would be interesting to hear from anybody who has.

Responses

Jim Baker , Oct 13, 2009; 05:32 p.m.

Sorry, no photo was posted! My link was lost before I could upload it. Hopefully I will succeed this time...


Olympus OM135mm: f3.5 (left) vs f2.8(right)

Patrick Dempsey , Oct 13, 2009; 05:54 p.m.

Looking at mir.com, the 100, 135 and 180mm f/2.8 do indeed appear to be the same design! I haven't noticed the fringing with the 100 per say, but I have noticed a tendancy to flare in some conditions.

Tim Kohlman , Oct 13, 2009; 07:12 p.m.

I guess a general observation I've made with some of the zuiko lenses are that the slower (and often cheaper) lenses can give you better results if speed isn't an issue.

Without being an expert I would say this could be to do with the compromises made in the design to give you a faster lens.

Consider...
50/1.4 vs 50/1.8, most people agree that the 1.8 is sharper
50/3.5 macro is a standout performer (my new favourite lens)
since you mentioned it, the 200/4 vs 180/2.8 and the 135/3.5 vs 135/2.8
35/2.8 vs 35/2

Then look at medium format and large format, they don't even bother making fast lenses.
Enlarger lenses, same story.

Most of the zuiko lenses suffer wide open so there isn't that much argument for alot of the faster lenses (except for the super-expensive lenses ie. 90/2 100/2). My preference when shooting in low light is to push the film to avoid using a lens at f/2 or f/2.8 as I like grain better than soft images and narrow dof.

Anyway, my point is, If you're thinking of investing in zuiko glass, some of the cheaper lenses can give you better results.
You could go out and buy:
35/2, 50/1.2, 135/2.8, 180/2.8 and probably spend over $1200
You could also go and buy:
35/2.8, 50/1.8 MIJ, 135/3.5 and 200/4 and probably spend $400 and get equally good images (and under certain circumstances better images)

Matthew Newton , Oct 14, 2009; 10:55 a.m.

Not sure about some of the wide fast primes, but the Zuiko 50/1.2 is supposed to be extremely sharp, even wide open bucking the trend of the slower lenses actually being better. I did find testing the Zuiko silver nose 50/1.4 and 50/1.8 against the multicoated 50/1.4 and MIJ 50/1.8 (no serial number > 1.1m 50/1.4, one of these days I'll get one to test it) that the 50/1.8 MIJ was noticably better then the other 3, the 50/1.4 MC and 50/1.8 silvernose were about as good as each other wide open, though the 50/1.4 MC was better then the 50/1.8 silver nose by around f/2.8 and the 50/1.4 MC caught up to the 50/1.8 MIJ at about f/5.6. The 50/1.4 silver nose was softer then any of the other lenses at all aperatures (and very soft wide open, noticable even in a 4x6). From what I have heard the 50/1.4 SN > 1.1m might be on par with the 50/1.8 MIJ as the 50/1.8 and 50/1.4 lenses have changed over the years and if the >1.1m is any better then the older 50/1.4 MC that would pretty much catch up to the 1.8mij.
Not that it is a 'fast lens', at least in comparison to a lot of other 85mm lenses out there, but the later version of the Zuiko 85/2 is extremely sharp (my sharpest Zuiko, not that I have to many, which I am attempting to rectify), the earlier version is supposed to be pretty soft though.
At anyrate, I'll have some tests of the 135/3.5 up soon. Fairly scientific of f/3.5, 5.6 and 8 tripod mounted center and edge shots of book bindings (as most of my test shots are). I just have to shoot off the last couple of pictures on the roll in my camera and I'll get it developed and scanned.
My hope is that in the coming months I can get a late version of the 24/2.8 and also 100/2.8, both for using pleasure and for testing them out.

Matthew Newton , Oct 14, 2009; 11:00 a.m.

PS Not that 'tests' are the end all be all, because they certainly are not, but that is one thing that I think is a little 'sad' about the old film glass is that by the time scanners got good, everything was moving to digital. Just not a lot of tests of the 'old' Zuiko glass and others to lean on for decisions on what to get. I know a few have tested them all, but frankly telling me something is C+ or B- doesn't really convey a whole lot to me. Taking a peak at a scan, especially back to back with a similar lens (IE one 135mm lens next to the other 135mm) tells me a lot more about how sharp it really is then a graded scale (same with seeing CA, spherical aberations, astigmatisms, etc). That is part of the reason why I like testings the lenses I get. Doesn't mean I am likely to change what I use really, but it is fun/nice to see.

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