A couple days ago a preset lens fell on my lap. It came as one of three lenses included in a package with a Minolta X-700 camera. When that happened I didn't know that this was a preset lens, or even what a preset lens was. So I was surprised to find what I thought were two aperture rings instead of one – see the second photo. (Read more about preset lenses here.)
My "new" lens is a Tokyo Koki Tele-Tokina 135mm f/2.8. It has a T/T2 mount, a sort of universal mount like Tamron's Adaptall 2, so there are adaptors to mount the lens on cameras of different makes. My lens came with adaptors for Minolta SR and Nikon F, which made me very happy because it meant I'd be able to try the lens on my digital bodies for instant gratification. I'm on a manual-lens kick, so the timing was perfect.
There's not much info on this particular lens online, so I've no clue when it was made. Since the SR mount was replaced by the MC mount in 1966, I assume that the lens is at least 46 years old. The Tokina quality is immediately apparent on the build, regardless of the age.
As you can see, the old guy is in mint condition. The focus ring is smooth, as well as the aperture rings. The blades are a bit oily, but that's not an issue with preset lenses – what opens the aperture blades is not a camera/lens mechanism but it's the user instead (this is explained in the article I linked to above). UPDATE: the guy that services my gear pointed out that the oil on the blades is actually something desirable in preset lenses. He even said that most likely the blades have looked oily like this since the lens was brand new, and that I should expect the blades to look oily like this for a long time, which is good news.
A cool thing about preset lenses is that most of them have a boatload of blades, which contributes to the creamiest out-of-focus areas you can find. This particular lens has 15 blades, compared to 5-9 blades that most popular lenses have these days. Another factor that likely contributes to the smooth background blur is the fact that the diaphragm is positioned farther from the rear element than in regular modern lenses.
In addition to the creamy backgrounds, and maybe even as an associated result, it is said that images created with preset lenses have a distinct 3D feel. Judging by samples of a 200mm f/3.5 lens I saw online earlier today, I'd have to agree with this. I'm looking forward to playing with this lens myself and see what kind of images with 3D feel it can produce.
A perk of preset lenses is that you don't need to limit yourself to the apertures marked on the barrel (f/2.8, f/4, et cetera). The lens can be stopped down in increments as small as one wants, to achieve with surgical accuracy the depth of field one needs. For example, if f/5.6 gives you too much depth of field but f/4 doesn't give you enough, you just set the aperture somewhere (anywhere!) in between. This is an advantage over traditional lenses (albeit a minor one).
With this lens, background highlights are almost perfectly circular at all apertures thanks to the crazy-high number of blades (see above how they create a nice circle when stopped down). Here are some samples taken with the lens mounted on a Nikon D700, all of them basically straight out of the camera (no sharpening, contrast or anything adjusted). Each was taken using a different aperture. Focus was on the word "Chaudair".
The areas in focus look pretty sharp. A couple crops from the first photo (f/2.8):
1) Area in focus (not too shabby for wide open on the edge of the frame on a full-frame camera... Again, remember that no sharpening was applied to these photos):
2) Area out of focus – look at those delicious highlights!
Minimum focusing distance is somewhere around 1.80-2.00 metres (5-6 feet), typical for an old lens of this focal length.
I may update this blog post with more photos once I get a chance to shoot with the lens out in the field. Winter is still here, so those photos might have to wait for a few weeks.
Old manual lenses are a lot of fun. You don't get autofocus, hyper-coating or VR, but you get to play with some awesome glass for a fraction of the price of a new lens.
As usual, thank you for reading.
June 13 update: I finally had a chance to play with this lens out in the field. All I can say is that it was a blast. The bokeh is nothing short of spectacular, particularly wide open. The sharpness suffers a bit at f/2.8, but gets much better as you stop down. The following images were taken at maximum aperture – honestly, with a stellar out-of-focus performance like that, you really don't want to go with a smaller f-number.
This one was taken slightly farther from the subject, and the bokeh shows a tiny bit of nervousness compared to the image above.
The lens was mounted on a Nikon D700 camera, which was on a tripod and activated with a remote release. ISO was 200 in both cases and the shutter speed 1/40 and 1/30 respectively. While these images were post-processed, they were already bright, colourful and pretty contrasty in camera.
The day was overcast.