Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Photographic Bargain: the 135mm ƒ/3.5 Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens


Background


The 135mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (or the almost-identical older Super-Takumar) lens for M42 screw-mount cameras from Asahi Optical Company of Japan (more recently known as Pentax) is one of the great bargains for film photographers and some digital photographers.

The 135mm focal length was popular through much of the 20th century. Leica and Zeiss sold 135mm lenses starting in the 1930s. During the single-lens-reflex boom of the 1960s and 1970s, all the Japanese companies made 135 lenses for their respective cameras. Often, that was the second lens a budding photographer bought, until the marketers convinced amateurs that they "needed" the off-brand 80-210mm zoom lenses (i.e., more profit margin for camera stores).

Honeywell Pentax advertisement, Modern Photography, June 1968.

For more information about the wonderful Spotmatic cameras, Casualphotofile wrote an excellent summary in 2017. Mike Johnston wrote about the Spotmatic in Theonlinephotographer in 2017 and explained why the Pentax 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens was one of the finest 50s in the film era. The table below lists the various Spotmatic models.

Asahi Pentax screw-mount Cameras1

Model2

Date

Features

Original

1957

Modern appearance, right side wind lever, instant return mirror. ≈ $199 with 55 mm f/2.2.

S

1957

Contemporary geometric sequence of shutter speeds.  9 lensesavailable.

K

1958

Semi-automatic diaphragm

Asahi S3 (identical to Honeywell H3)

1960

Fully automatic diaphragm.  $199 with 55 f/1.8 lens.

Honeywell H1

1961

 $150;  1/500 top speed.  World's first clip-on CdS meter available ($32).

Asahi S3v (Honeywell H3v)

1963 1969

Added self-timer and automatic frame counter.

Asahi S1a  (H1a)

1963 - 1969

Added auto frame counter.  14 lenses available.

Spotmatic

1964 - 1971

Through-the-lens CdS meter.  $299 with 50 f/1.4.  Very popular!  Most chrome, some black paint.  Motorized model made in 1970 (uncommon).

SL

1969

Same as Spotmatic but without CdS meter.

Spotmatic 500

1971

Lower cost, 1/500 top speed, supplied with 55 f/2.0.

Spotmatic II

1971

Added accessory shoe;  sold with multi-coated lenses with extra indexing levers.

Spotmatic IIa

1972

Sensor for automatic Honeywell flash.

ES

1972

First Pentax auto exposure camera with electronically-controlled shutter.

Spotmatic F

1974

Finest manual Spotmatic; open-aperture metering, $375 with 55mm f/1.8.

SP 1000

1974

No self-timer

ESII

1974?

Improved reliability over ES. End of the era for screw-mount bodies.

Notes:

1.  Sources:  “A History of Pentax” articles by W. L. Fadner in Shutterbug (1988)

2.  U.S. cameras had the Honeywell name and logo on the prism.  International models were labeled with the Asahi name and logo. Many servicemen brought Asahi models back from Vietnam.


M42 thread mount


M42 refers to the thread-mount of 42×1 mm used to attach the lens to the camera body. This was a common size in the 1960s and 1970s. European, Russian, and Japanese companies made hundreds of M42 lenses in various focal lengths. Many people consider Asahi Optical Company's lenses to be among the best optically and mechanically in that era. It is common to buy an old Takumar lens that will still operate perfectly, while a drastically more expensive Leica lens of similar age will likely have haze or film on the inner elements and need professional cleaning and re-lubrication. The Takumar lenses have a following among serious photographers today because they can be mounted on most mirrorless digital cameras. The M42 mount lost popularity in the 1970s because it was slow to exchange lenses, and companies like Nikon and Canon used faster bayonet mounts on their cameras.

The 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar or SMC Takumar is another under-appreciated gem.  I tested my bargain 35 around town and at the Tomato Place.

Production


Asahi (or Pentax - the names are confusing) made a M42 135mm lens as early as 1957. It was modified over the following years with improved coatings and different cosmetics, but the optical formula remained approximately the same. The multi-coated version I have was, according to one source, in production from 1971 to 1977. It is a relatively simple design of 4 elements in 4 groups.

Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, January 1981, p. 164.
Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, December 1985, p. 105.

Production of Takumar M42 lenses ended in 1976 or 1977, when Pentax switched to its K bayonet mount. But some of the M42 lenses, including the 135, were available brand new as late as the mid-1980s. In the 1981 advertisement above, the 135mm lens is only $79.95, a bargain even in those days. Today, you can buy them on eBay in the range of $20 to $50.


Coating


My lens has the label "Super-Multi-Coated" on the front ring. This refers to multi-coating on the lens elements to reduce flare. Asahi introduced multi-coating in 1971 and advertised widely to emphasize how it was a unique technology. That is not entirely correct because other companies were already using multi-coating on specific elements in their optics. Asahi did not invent multi-coating, having bought patents from Optical Coatings Laboratories Inc. (OCLI), California. Regardless, Asahi's advertising was effective, and soon customers demanded multi-coating for all their lenses, whether they needed it or not. It tended to be most effective on complex wide angle lenses with many elements. On a simple long lens like the 135, multi-coating would have minimal benefit. Regardless, the best way to reduce flare is to always use a hood, and the 135 Takumar was supplied with a long deep hood.

Despite the obvious benefits of a hood, most point-and-shoot cameras of the 1980s and 1990s did not have any way to attach a hood for two reasons: 1. Users had been told that multi-coating negated the need for a hood (wrong); 2. Casual users would not use them even if supplied (lazy or unaware).

Examples


Humphreys Street, Itta Bena, Mississippi
Itta Bena, Mississippi

I owned a Leica 135mm ƒ/4.0 Tele-Elmar lens for 20 years but used it for maybe 20 pictures. We just never bonded. But this Pentax 135 has been in a cabinet for who knows how long, also unused. And increasingly I am appreciating its ability to compress space, especially for urban scenes and railroad tracks. I am an old geezer now; my viewpoint and photo interests have changed. The two frames above are from Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta on a hazy, glarey day.

Crenshaw, Mississippi
Crenshaw, Mississippi

Crenshaw is a small Delta town on Hwy 3 a short distance northeast of Clarksdale. Most of the commercial block is abandoned, and some of the shops have lost their roofs.

Webb Mississippi (Kodak BW400CN film)
Main Street, Webb, Mississippi

Webb is off Hwy US 49E southeast of Clarksdale and along the Little Tallahatchee River. It is another semi-abandoned town with most of the late-19th and early 20th century commercial buildings empty. These two photographs are on Kodak BW400CN film.

Farm fields, Rte 32 near Webb, Mississippi

Finally, I want to do some more experiments with trees. So many farm fields have these lone, proud trees rising from the flat soil, apparently immune to lightning and other hazards. So maybe I will start taking "pretty" pictures. Beware.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mouldering away, the Levee Street Tank Farm, Vicksburg, Mississippi

A petroleum tank farm sits at the junction of Levee and Fairground Streets. The facility has been unused since before I moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1980s. For many years, the fence was intact and the gate closed. Then, for several years, I saw a "For Sale" by the General Services Administration sign. The GSA is the agency that manages real estate and other property (like motor vehicles) of the US Government. Then there were no signs at all for a few years.
Levee Street tank farm, April 7, 2018
In April, the gate was open, no one was around - it was too good to resist.
Former compressor building? 
The brick building on the right in the photograph above once must have contained compressors or other heavy industrial machinery. Evidence for this are the concrete supports, now semi-engulfed by vines and jungle. I have watched this building for years as its roof collapsed. 
View of Fairground Street Keystone Bridge, April 8, 1990, 4×5" Fujichrome transparency from Tachihara camera, 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens
Many years ago, my daughter and I climbed one of the metal stairs to the top of a tank. I carried up my 4×5"camera and tripod. There was a pungent smell of petroleum products coming from open valves. No one cared about fumes in 1990? From the top was a great view of the old Fairground Street Keystone bridge. The bridge still stands, but it has been closed to car and pedestrian traffic for 20 years and part of the approach on the west side has collapsed.
This is another 1990 view of tanks and piping, taken on Fujichrome 4×5" film with a 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens. Surprisingly, last week, when I biked by the site, I saw a fellow on a lawnmower cutting the grass. Someone is doing some maintenance there.

The 2018 black and white photographs are from Kodak TMax 100 film with a Pentax Spotmatic camera and the 24mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. This is fine early-1970s equipment. This version of the lens was made from 1972 to 1976, has 9 elements in 8 groups, and features multi-coating on the glass surfaces to reduce flare and reflections from the internal air-glass surfaces. I mounted the camera on a tripod.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

High Water: Vicksburg's March 2018 Crest

Just before the crest, March 12, 2018, Ford Road, Vicksburg, Mississippi
The high water of 2018 in Vicksburg was on March 16 at a level of 49.9 ft on the Vicksburg gauge (which is located at the old Mississippi River bridge, the one that carries US 80). What does 49.9 ft mean? As a comparison, the table below from the National Weather Service lists other high water crests:

Historic Crests
(1) 57.10 ft on 05/19/2011
(2) 56.20 ft on 05/04/1927
(3) 53.20 ft on 02/21/1937
(4) 52.80 ft on 06/06/1929
(5) 52.50 ft on 04/28/1922
(6) 51.60 ft on 05/13/1973
(7) 51.50 ft on 02/15/1916
(8) 51.00 ft on 04/20/2008
(9) 50.23 ft on 01/15/2016
(10) 50.20 ft on 04/16/1897

Low Water Records
(1) -7.00 ft on 02/03/1940
(2) -6.80 ft on 11/01/1939
(3) -5.80 ft on 01/06/1964

As you can see, the water level of the Mississippi River as well as the Yazoo Canal and Port of Vicksburg can range about 50 ft or 15 m in many years. This poses a challenge to construction of docks and loading facilities. At Vicksburg, the definition of "flood" is when the water reaches 43.0 ft on the gauge. 
Flood Categories (in feet)
Major Flood Stage:50
Moderate Flood Stage:46
Flood Stage:43
Action Stage:35
The low-lying land north of the Anderson-Tully Worldwide on North Washington Street has always been vulnerable to flooding. The wood facility has its own protective levee, but the Ford and Kings Subdivisions just to the north begin to flood at about 44 ft.  
Ford Road, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018
Ford Road, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018
I do not know the history of these neighborhoods. They are clearly vulnerable at high water. Why were houses ever built here? Over the past decade or more, many houses have been purchased and torn down via a FEMA-funded program for vulnerable properties. I wrote about Marys Alley in 2010 and 2016 (click the links to see pictures of the lost cottages). Those houses looked to be 1920s or 1930s vintage, suggesting the area was developed a century ago, probably at a time when there were no flood zone restrictions.
View north from Haining Road, Vicksburg
During high water, it is fun to bike along Haining Road because the flooded fields and woods to the north host water birds and snakes.
Young Alley, March 16, 2018.
Young Alley is just off  Ford Road, literally behind the wood plant. The cottages are high enough to clear of the flood water at 49 ft elevation. You can see water in the driveway.
Railroad Alley, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018.
Railroad Alley, March 16, 2018.
Railroad Alley parallels the railroad tracks, just a short distance north of Ford Road. Parts of it flood at 49 ft. I have photographed the property with the horses before, at a time when the poor animals had less dry land within their yard. I recall asking a fellow about snakes, and he said horses were the best snake-squashers around.
The railroad tracks, which run north to the International Paper mill in Redwood, are on a raised embankment. The embankment serves as a levee. To the west of the tracks (left in the photograph), the the land floods. East of the tracks, or right, the houses are mostly safe. I am not sure if culverts and stream crossings are plugged before a high water event.

The tracks are operated by WATCO, a short-line operator. From their web page: "The Vicksburg Southern Railroad (VSOR) began operations January 8, 2006. Watco Companies acquired the railroad from the Kansas City Southern in November through a lease agreement and was formerly known as the Redwood Branch. The VSOR consists of 24 miles of track and interchanges with the KCS at Vicksburg, Mississippi."

All photographs are from Kodak Panatomic-X film, taken with a Hasselblad 501CM camera with 50mm, 80mm, and 250mm lenses, all tripod-mounted. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format scanner controlled by Silverfast Ai software.