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I Would Never Have Bought a Lens Like This...

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Well, not until now, when it was offered to me for a pittance along with a few other odds and ends.It's a Sun System Zoom 135mm f/3.5, from the mid 1970's.




In the 1950's the Japanese manufacturer Sun Optical was creating some very fine lenses for Leica and Exakta, amongst others, but as the years passed the company turned more to the mass consumer market and by the 1970's was concentrating on mid-range consumer zoom lenses. As well as producing lenses for distributors like Vivitar and Soligor, their lenses were marketed under a great variety of names as in-house brand for various big retailers, world wide. I've tried a fair selection of Sun-created lenses and found them to be pretty average, in most case, with the occasional stand-out and quite a few lemons. However, I was fascinated by the totally over-the-top appearance of this lens; the very well-informed luisalegria, writing a review in the MF Lenses Forum, puts it better than I can:


"The 1970's line seems to have depended mainly on styling, and the 60-135 short zoom may be the ultimate in cheap bling. Satin chrome and an absurd number of knurled rings and switches, it looks like something that should have been launched into space with Apollo 13, or starred in Space:1999. It just screams that its owner is a particularly silly amateur with no taste, who probably wears his flowered shirt open to his navel to show off the medallion on his chest hair. Yes, I remember those days..."


However, he goes on to observe that the build quality and performance is actually very good, an opinion that I'm happy to share. Here's another angle of the lens.




It's a very heavy lens, in this case in M42 mount, a two-touch zoom that meets my preference in zoom action. All actions are smooth and well-damped, though the retractable hood on this copy is a little sloppy. The glass is pristine and has the sort of sparkling clarity that promises good definition and contrast. One odd feature is a sort of built-in flash exposure calculator, something I've not come across on a lens, though I'm at a loss to know quite how it works. On the underside of the lens are three ASA ratings and a rotating scale for setting flash guide numbers, and above and rotating with the aperture ring is another set of numbers which apparently indicate distance. How this all works I don't quite know, and perhaps some erudite member can resolve the issue.




After relieving the lens of a few decades of filth and not expecting much in the way of great results, I did a quick test on a Sony A7R and was very surprised by the high quality of the results. I used it on a few botanical subjects, and the lens lived up to it's initial promise, so I attached it to a Fujica ST605n loaded with FP4 and took it downtown. I was delighted by the results; while the lens is very sharp from f/4.5 down it creates a real "filmic" image, with a certain smoothness and creaminess that's reminiscent of much older lenses. Anyway, here are a few samples, and I guess I'll just have to accept that one should "never judge a book by its cover". The film was developed in PMK Pyro and scanned on an Epson Perfection V800, and the colour images are from a Sony A7R.


@ The Town Hall




















On Kitchener




Asiatic Lily
























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Any guide number & ISO setting only makes sense when the lens has a chance to mechanically couple its distance and aperture rings. But maybe the manufacturer believed it is easier to know "I'll shoot at 1.8m" and twist that ring accordingly than to calculate a numeric aperture value?
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What a cracking performance from an off brand lens of that period. A real sleeper of a lens that was probably under appreciated. During that period I couldn't afford manufacturers lenses, (Canon in my case), and I could only aspire to the likes of Tamron, Vivitar and Tokina. I would probably have turned my nose up at Sun, Soligor, Hanimex and a raft of the more pedestrian brands. A great performance in the hands of a careful and expert user like yourself.


The Fujica ST605N is also a nice user with it's silicon photocell metering and being able to use current 1.5V cells. I've gone cheap and power mine with alkaline A76 cells. The meter switch / stop down button on the front of the camera is also quick to use and much nicer than the sliding switch used on the Spotmatic. Then again the ST605N definitely sounds a bit agricultural compared the the Spotmatic and I think the build quality of the Pentax is higher. I like using them both for different reasons but as it is time to cull the herd they will both be going down the road once I have shot a final test roll through them both.

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Great images, Rick. Many of the Sun lenses did appear in Spiratone ads. I'm not sure if I remember this one so I might search some of my old magazines. The older version of the lens JDM posted was a slightly more modest f 4.8. Early versions had a trigger mounted diaphragm to give an autodiaphragm function to non-auto cameras. Should be listed in mid 60's Spiratone ads.
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Those are some pretty nice results for a zoom of its era. Some of the third-party lenses can surprise in their performance, and since they're overlooked are often available cheap.


I believe Sun made the RE Topcor 87-205 zoom as well as some of the later Miranda and Soligor lenses. Tamron also made a few Adaptall lenses in satin chrome finish, though they're uncommon to find.

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Thank you all for the comments, and kind words! Reaction of any kind to a post makes the time and effort worthwhile, and favourable reaction is icing on the cake.


@ Jochen I agree, the absence of distance input into the "flash calculator" makes no sense to me.


@martinjones Nice to meet another Fujica fan! They were rather a dead-end line of cameras and Fuji got out of the SLR business in the mid 70's but there were some gems. The ST801 is another fine Fujica I occasionally dust off and use.

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Really good photos as always Rick. That Sun zoom is no slouch. I have a Sun 39-90 F3.5. macro, it's mounted on a Praktica PL Nova 1b, M42 with stopdown pin. Maybe I should get it out and run some tests.


"One odd feature is a sort of built-in flash exposure calculator, something I've not come across on a lens,"


If you flash has a guide number then you shouldn't need a distance scale. The distance is set by the guide no. eg if you have a flash with a GN say 100, then from the lens, set the the aperture to 22. Same for the other flash guide numbers and apertures.


The max distance using the GN chart, is 18.4 feet (5.6m). If your flash has electronic feedback then it will stop the flash when the subject has been correctly illuminated. If no feedback then set your lens to the correct aperture by following the guide no. chart. This excludes zoom flashes and automatic camera driven flashes.

I can't seem to find a suitable guide no chart.



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Interesting lens!


I am going to guess that the lens is designed for doing flash photography as in several Japanese RF fixed-lens cameras. You set GN of your flash in front of your film ASA, and there should be a switch somewhere else in the lens that is engaged for flash photography. After engaging, aperture is adjusted automatically when focusing.


It is a dangerous feature, because one may forget to disengage flash mode. Don’t ask me how I know.

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