135mm for portraits on M Leicas

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by mukul_dube, Jun 29, 2012.

  1. 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.
  2. SCL


    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.
  3. 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.
  4. Love my 90 cron pre-asph for portraits.
  5. "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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Mukul,
    Forgive me, I meant the 135 Elmar f4.5 bayonet mount.
    Now look at it this way, James Lager must have liked the 135 Hektor or he has a wicked sense of humor. Leica sold over 70,000 of them in 27 years, (till 1960), so there must be something to like about them.
  12. Good grief, I do have to correct myself again. I was correct about the 135 Elmar being an f4 M in my first comment. There was a 135 Elmar f4.5, but production stopped for that lens in the 1930s.
  13. Hektor 135/4.5: 1933-59, screw; and 1954-60, M
    Elmar 135/4.5: 1931-36
    Elmar 135/4.0: 1960-65
    (from Leica Camera Forum Wiki)
  14. I've had the Elmar f4, Tele-Elmar f4 and the Apo-Telyt f3,4 (obviously I like the 135mm focal length!) The Elmar f4 was the best I had in terms of portraits (a slightly faster version of Mukul's Hektor but with the same characteristics). The Apo-Telyt is the best in optical terms, and the extra half stop I found very useful. I also liked the built in hood which made it very easy to use. The Tele-Elmar was pretty well as good optically, but it and the Apo-Telyt are not quite as sympathetic for portraits as the older Elmar and Hektor, as they are very clinically sharp and without quite the same, smooth, bokeh.
  15. Robin, you said earlier that you preferred 90 for portraits; but this post makes it clear that you have used 135 also for that purpose. I suppose the 90 Elmarit will remain my chief portrait lens, with the Hektor being called in when I need its extra reach.
  16. I suppose the 90 Elmarit will remain my chief portrait lens, with the Hektor being called in when I need its extra reach.​
    Out of the throwing distance of small children?
  17. Listen to me: The venerable 135 1:4.5 Hektor is not only the least expensive Leitz lens, it is a wonderful portrait lens. I have both screwmount and M versions -- great for in-out focus shots, etc. etc . Look at the classic self-portrait of OB -- Hektor 135 at its best. You can steal one for $150, maybe less.
  18. Quite so, Robert. Best to keep away from the little horrors.
    Paul, thank you for the reassurance. Looks like I shall use the Hektor in good light and when space is not a constraint: that is, outdoors. I am glad to establish its somewhat different role from that of the Elmarit.
  19. My favorite portrait lens is a 90 Summicron, big and ugly, it is an early 60’s version and I love it.
    That said I occasionally use 135’s for portraits, I have three of them and those are my most used Leica lenses for landscapes, 135 f/4 Elmar, f/2.8 Elmarit and f/4 TeleElmar, the TE is by far the sharpest and if you do not need that little extra speed of the current 135 apo then this lens should do just fine at one tenth the price.
  20. A couple things to remember:
    1. Your Hector being a screw mount unit, really works nicely on a Leica screwmount body. When coupled to a crystal clear RF, they have a super magnified RF focus window that's very accurate.
    2. The Hector probably has the most round aperture forms available, which does add to good "Bokeh".
    3. The use of a 135mm focal length isn't optimal for portraits; compression effects kick in at this length. I'd call this focal length more of a sports or candid lens.
  21. The Hektor I bought is an M mount, Gus. I no longer have a screw mount body. I grew tired of setting the wrong focal length, or the wrong distance, on the VIOOH. The M bodies permit no such mistakes and are appreciably faster in use than their predecessors.
    You're right about compression. I had experience, for 18 months, with a 135mm lens on the Exakta that was my first SLR. When in 1976 I moved up to a Canon kit, I opted for their fine 100/2.8. The longer lens gave a sort of flatness rather than a pleasing roundedness. Clumsy words, but my meaning should be clear.
  22. I certainly "would" prefer the 90mm rather than the 135mm. for portraiture. Sadly my 90mm Tele-Elmarit went away, down the road after an attempt to either steal my car in a car-jacking or grab all that i had!
    I never replaced it. The 35mm Summicron was replaced a few years ago , when a very good friend practically gave me his goggles 35mm Summaron.
    First the 135mm Elmarit f2.8 with goggles is a really very sharp lens! A photojournalist was trying one out where i bought my Leica gear. In available light, hand held, snapped off a few photographs of Jack the Owner. A few days later I saw the final portraits about 11' x 14". They were stunning! So it's all about technique. It also set a "Quality" Goal for me!
    The 135mm Tele-Elmar f4.o or the supposedly different version Apo 135mm are horribly sharp. I'd rather soften in printing/taking than use a Hektor. Oh man is that lens poor. Occasionally it is sharp. So it is us users.. Framing a real bind with anything but an M3. I preferred my Vivitar enlarging lens on a Visoflex than use the Hektor. It was way sharper. So why did i buy one again a few years ago? Why.Why? It is light to carry. I prefer the weight to the Tele-Elmar. It was cheap! $50!
    The 90mm Summicron original, blocked the windows of my M3! Huge! I shudder to think about view with the 50mm Noctilux 0.95! Strangely the "wondrous" no depth of field owners, RICH owners, never mention the view! The similar lens 90mm Summicron for the The SLR of Leica-R, was a fantastic lens. Sharp, small and beautiful.
    The 135mm better for a distance portrait, more candid style. There is the flattening.
    In my own usage, doing hundreds of model portfolios and actual photo shoots in fashion, the SLR was way better, especially with the 105mm Nikkor f2,5, than any of my Leica lenses. It is a "soft" lens at 2,5~4.o designed from the Zeiss Sonnar, much improved by Nikon, remains a portrait lens. The softar filter made magic. The Hasselblad Victor series with 150mm Sonnar with original "Softar" filter even more so! The skin soft and the textures sharp!
    I still use the Hektor, over the way ahead in every detail Tele-Elmar. Enjoy your Hektor. I think Berek's dog, the optics designer was called Hektor. "Lens is a dog" meaning poor?
  23. I've had good results with a 135mm (Canon f/3.5 LTM on an M9). For some candid shots outdoors at f/4 it worked well, but also in the studio. These shots were at f/9. Such a small set of frame lines made me shoot tighter than normal and that is what I liked about these portraits.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
  24. Jason, Hektor was indeed the name of Max Berek's dog. Other lenses besides the 135/4.5 have carried it.
    Good photos, Dan. Framing is something I wonder about. One option is to live dangerously and frame tight. The other is to be cautious, which might lead to too loose framing. All that is certain is that framing will never be particularly accurate.
  25. Peering through the finder with the 35mm mounted, it occurred to me that framing with the 135mm might not be so difficult -- after all, there is the R/F spot right in the centre and large enough, relatively, to help.
  26. "The use of a 135mm focal length isn't optimal for portraits; compression effects kick in at this length."

    True enough for many subjects. However, our subject may have certain features, (e.g., a narrower face, elongated nose, concave cheeks) that may actually benefit from the flattening effect of the 135mm (assisted of course by judicious lighting).
  27. I was gonna say, but Dan's pictures did it for me, that I have the Canon 135/3.5 and it's shockingly good. Unfortunately I have to plan when to use it, because carrying it around for improvisational use holds little appeal. It weighs a ton.
  28. PS Dan, those are, regardless of lens quality, really good shots.
  29. The Hektor is not a heavy lens, Vince. Even so, I shall not carry it around when the 90mm is likely to be enough (or better). There were a few good ones in my first few photos with it.

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