135mm Lens Test & Overview PART 1 (Helios, Chinon, Promura, Dollonds)

I finally got around to doing a quick test of the few lenses I recently acquired. This is a test of 4 135mm lenses, all in m42 mount, very easily adaptable to any modern DSLR. 135mm lenses are virtually non existent in modern lens world, but back in a day, they used to be popular, so there are many of them out there, over 30 that I know of. I now have around 10 myself, so this is something that I would like to call part 1 as there will be at least one more or quite possibly a few more 135mm lens orientated tests.

I really like 135mm. The first I bought was Helios 135mm f/2.8, which I really like (more about it below). 135mm f/2.8 makes a nice, quite fast 200mm on a 1.5x crop camera like the lovely Sony Nex 5N and on 4/3 camera this becomes a 270mm 2.8, pretty incredible for the price you will pay for such lens. I’m more than happy using such lens as a 135mm on my Canon 5D MKII too, still pulls in the subject quite a lot.

All 4 of the lenses in this test can be picked up on eBay for around £5/$10-£30/$60 depending on your luck, sellers description, type of listing and condition. Some are sold in larger quantities than others, not to say that the rarer ones are the better ones.

I’ll go through every lens separately and talk about pros, cons and my opinion on each of them. I’ve made the video above to go with the write-up, so you guys can take a look at the images these lenses produce and make up your own mind them.

The closest lens that I could compare these to is my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Micro, which is a very nice, very sharp lens, but not great for video for one reason, the focusing ring has such a short through it’s virtually impossible to keep the moving subject constantly in focus. Every little adjustment on the lens shifts the focus significantly. The other problem that Canon EF lenses have, or something that they don’t have, are the hard stops, The lenses spin past the end focusing range and this can mess up the focus marks on a follow focus, if you use one.

So lets start:

Helios 135mm f/2.8. Like as said above, this was one of the first vintage lenses I bought and actually the one that I ended up using the most along side my Canon EF. Unlike the 100mm, this old Russian lens (actually made in Japan, thanks Che for correction) has very nice, long through focusing ring that really allows me to fine-tune the focusing very precisely. As I said in one of my previous posts these lenses remind me of Cine lenses. Well build, long through focus, aperture adjustment on the lens, on some lenses it is even fluid like on Cine lenses, so to me these are little budget cine-lenses, so much more suitable for video work and manual focusing than modern EF lenses. This applies to most vintage photo lenses, not just this Helios. These were made for manual focusing, so that is what they do best.
The build quality of Helios 135mm is lovely, but what about the optical quality. Well, for the amount of money I’ve paid for it ( about £15), the image quality is pretty amassing. I felt confident enough to use this lens on a few corporate jobs and even on a greens screen music video. Let me tell you, the images it produced were very crisp, with lovely colours and contrast.  You can see in the video, how it performs comparing to the others. One of the best out of 4 for sure.
One of the downside I’ve noticed in these vintage lenses, including this Helios, is a visible amount of CA (chromatic aberration), which is especially evident on silver wind chimes on the left of the frame. CA is not evident in every situation, but should be noted as a downside, although it is not uncommon in modern day lenses and can also be found in cheaper modern lenses too, so don’t let this put you of and look at more expensive, low-end modern alternatives in hope of better image quality; it is not always the case and paying more doesn’t always mean better quality, which is what these test the my lens guide will be all about.
Another little downside of Helios 135mm for some might be a 6 blade aperture which produces polygonal bokeh when the lens is stepped down, the bokeh is also much fussier than on some other lenses, which is not necessary a bad thing. Smooth like butter Bokeh might not always be the best thing, depending on what you are trying to capture and the feel you are going for. I personally didn’t have any problems with the lens. The overall look of the images matches the my other, modern lenses really well.  Will definitely be taking a closer look at this lens and will do more test videos with it.
At the moment I would give this lens overall score of 4 out of 5.

PROMURA 135mm f/2.8. Not so impressed with this lens. While colours and contras are similar to Helios, the sharpness is nowhere as soon.  Another downside is that the lens only focuses to 2.5m, which in not really acceptable considering that 3 others focused to my foreground object without any problems.  Promura has a 6 blade aperture same as Helios and CA is similar to Helios too.

The lens is made in Japan, but you wouldn’t say that by it’s optical quality. It is nicely build, no plastic parts that are usually found in modern lenses, but the focus ring is little stiff and the focusing through is very short comparing to the other 3.
I’ve paid £10 for mine and even at this price I would only give this lens 2 out 5, there are just to many other 135s that are much better.  Time to stick it back on eBay. 🙂 The only weird thing, all the other Promura 135s I found on eBay at the time of writing a completely different, so please note, that my conclusion only applies to this particular design.

CHINON 135mm f/2.8. This lens has very obvious low contrast and washed out colours. Sharpness is quite good, but CA is really evident even though the lens is Multi Coated which is suppose to cut down the CA.  The images captured through this lens looked like something shot on flat picture profile.  Contrast can obliviously be added in post production (I tried and it looks fine), but I think it should really look as good as possible straight out of the camera. Since the lens is not really cheaper than the others (I paid £10 for mine), I see no excuse for such low contrast.

The build quality is good. The focus ring is actually the nicest one of 4, very smooth and focuses easily. There is also an inbuilt, adjustable lens hood. The lens is made in Japan.
This is not the only Chinon 135mm available. Most of Chinon 135s I found on eBay at the time of writing are actually different from this one. I’ll try to buy one of them cheap and see what the image quality is like.  I suspect it might be different, so I wouldn’t judge of all Chinon 135s by this copy, but this particular copy only scores 3 out of 5 in this test.

Dollonds 135mm f/3.5.  At f/3.5 this is the slowest lens out of the lot, but in some ways the nicest. It is the smallest, lightest lens, which straight away makes it very suitable for smaller cameras like Mirrorless 4/3 cameras and Sony’s NEX range. I recently bought the NEX 5N and this lens will probably look the most organic out of 4 on such camera. There are a few more advantages this lens over other 3 lenses, which are:

The fluid aperture adjustment (no clicks), which is great for fine-tuning the exposure just like on Cine lenses. A lot of people de-click  they photo lenses to archive such adjustment ability .  There is a second ring, that lets you adjust the aperture in stops/clicks.
The other nice advantage over the 3 other lenses is the 15 blade aperture. That is really nice and creates round, soft bokeh. There is some CA in this lens, but actually much more pleasant and unnoticeable reddish colour rather than slightly annoying blue ghosting found on other 3.
So while the lens is slowest, in some ways it is the best. The lens is made in Japan, nicely build like the other 3. I paid £14 for mine which is still very cheap, the lens is well worth the money I paid.  I give it a strong 4 out of 5. If it was f/2.8 it would be 5/5.  The only bad thing, this lens is quite rare and at the time of writing there are none found on eBay.

My Conclusion: The 2 that stood out to me are Helios and Dollonds, very different but both nice in their own way. The Helios is always available is a good investment, no matter what camera you have. If you can find Dollonds and you are using something like 5N which has excellent low light performance, then this a great choice, even though it is f/3.5.
This is just the first test video. There will be more 135mm test and possibly dedicated longer test videos of Helios and Dollonds. Other than that I will be doing many more tests and my aim is to test around 100 manual lenses, so check back soon for more test. Next one will be: 4x cheap 200mm going head to head, so see you in the next post.

I try my best to make this website a great resource people interested in vintage lenses for video use, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and it will help you save some money on your future lens investments. I’ve joined the ebay partnership program to help me run this website and fund my monthly lens giveaways, so if you found this post useful and would like to help me produce more similar content, please use the links in this post if you’re planning to buy one of these lenses or use this link if you want to buy anything else on eBay. You will not be spending a penny more using these links, while still helping me as I will get a small percentage from any purchase or successful bid you make. A win-win solution for everyone!


2 Responses to 135mm Lens Test & Overview PART 1 (Helios, Chinon, Promura, Dollonds)

  1. Hi. The Helios You have purchased is not a Russian lens. Helios (When written in English) was a retailer/distributor brand in the UK originally for lenses to pair with the Russian Zenit cameras, since the Soviet side would not provide lenses in expected quantities and deadlines. As far as I know there are no Russian 135mm Helioses. There are Jupiters and Tairs. What you have was made in Japan by companies such as Tomioka, Kiron, Cosina or some other well known 3-rd party maker. Which doesn’t mean the lens is bad.

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