Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Photographic bargain: the 135mm f/3.5 Pentax SMC Takumar lens

Background

The 135mm f/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 135 lenses starting in the 1930s, and during the single-lens-reflex boom of the 1960s, 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" zoom lenses.
Honeywell Pentax advertisement, Modern Photography, June 1968.

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, and 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 f/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 1975 or 1976, 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 these 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. Many point-and-shoot cameras 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.

Examples

Humphreys Street, Itta Bena, Mississippi
Itta Bena, Mississippi
I owned a Leica 135mm Tele-Elmarit 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 has changed. The two frames above are from Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta on a hazy, glarey day.
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.
Main Street, Webb, Mississippi
Webb is off Hwy. 49E, southeast of Clarksdale and along the Little Tallahatchee River. It is another semi-abandoned town with most of the late-1800s 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 I have seen feature lone, proud trees rising from the flat soil, apparently immune to lightning and other hazards. So maybe I will start taking "pretty" pictures. Beware.

3 comments:

  1. That's nice work you got from the 135. I have a Mamiya 135 for my Spotmatic which I like as much as the SMC Pentax lens. I find them useful in public events where I need to get in a little closer to the subject and also for zoo shots where I often use them with a 2x telextender. In any case I never feel an slr system is complete without at least a 35 and a 135 along with the normal lens.

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  2. Thanks. Take a look at the bargain 35mm f/3.5 Super-Takumar in the Tomato Place:

    https://worldofdecay.blogspot.com/2017/07/country-stores-17-tomato-place-vicksburg.html

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  3. The amazing amount of subject matter in the US is both scary and fascinating.
    We produced a media wall of decayed buildings in rural Australia. An increasing amount of subject matter is to be found here.

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