This time something reatively rare comes on my lenses collection list. Been a while since I am considering adding a moderate telephoto lenses to my collection of M42 mount lenses, following one of my top favs – the Carl-Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 in zebra edition, then the Tessar 50mm f2.8 and the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Lydith 30mm f/3.5. The longer range has been somehow not covered, while at the same time cannot say I am a top fan of zooms, or longer ranges such as 200mm and above. After all, the statistical breakdown of circa 15k of my photos showed me what I knew already – most of my shots appear taken with lenses in the 24-50mm focal length.
So, the moderate telephoto lenses gap has been filled with something rare and difficult to identify, as far as I was able to find out – the Isco-Göttingen Westromat 135mm f/3.5 that I am able to find for the ridiculous 30 USD sold by one of those strange guys from the community of retro lenses lovers. The lenses are simply beautifully built, as solid as a tank, all metal and glass, having my favourite zebra retro design. Front filter thread takes 49mm filters, while the focus ring is nice, goes a very long focus throw, around 270 degrees – something which I love on manual focus lenses, as it allows for a precise focusing. The ISCO- lenses factory is apparently a German one, has been founded in the 30s of the 20th century in my beloved city of Göttingen where I lived for a while, hence my sentiment to obtain the piece of optics, I suppose.
Having history intertwined with Schneider-Kreuznach lenses, ISCO has stopped existing independently, yet some of it older pieces of glass are still of the market. My copy of the lenses has a serial No 855157, which, if we proceed form the common understanding that the last 2 digits of a lenses serial would signify the year of production, would mean that it’s been produced in 1957. I’d not bet my dearest on this assumption, yet it is true I have seen at least 2 other variations of it that look a bit more modern, i.e. plastic. It looks almost ancient for my taste, judging also by the strangely looking switch (not like the Carl-Zeiss ones, neither like the Takumars of Pentax) which is moving the M42 mount from M mode to an A one: „automatic“ in this case would not mean anything but the ability to control the aperture from the body. The aperture has 6 blades that produce a nice bokeh, nothing spectacular but yet pleasant. For a 135mm the f3.5 is just about normal, anyway with it it I’d shoot with f3.5 to 4, never go to the minimum of 22.
Such an excellent bang for the buck, as my hot afternoon walks around Sofia and Plovdiv show. Sharp enough for my taste, just perfect for my expectation towards details of houses and street cat portraits.
Coming to the cons of it, I need to be honest with you: it is heavy – even for me who has accustomed to all metal and glass objects dangling in front of my camera. With my Sony A7 it creates a sense of lack of balance in the hand, need to grasp and hold it by the lenses rather than the camera body in order to make sure it sits stable enough. And the other thing is, paradoxically, both a pro- and a con – the long focus throw. Allowing precise focusing, on the other hand it takes too much to nail it down during street photography. That might be an issue of my ancient copy, as the focus ring is stiffly rotating and until you take it the whole 270 degrees, you feel like you need some muscle. The last downside that I see is the minimum distance form the object: it goes a bit shorter than 2 meters, which compared with, say, the Carl-Zeiss Pancolar of around 30cm, is a shame. As a not-quite-coated piece of glass you can’t expect the fabulous contrast against the sun, yet nothing you can’t live without, if you control the direction of shooting, as well as the shade.
All photos below are unprocessed, taken on a Sony A7 in neutral mode, using an M42 to NEX adapter which adds to the length of the lenses protrusion in front of the camera as well.