Thinking Beyond 50mm, II: Going Long with the Minolta AF 135mm F2.8

Taking only a 135mm lens out for a walk proved to be just as jarring as the 24mm.   Taking the 24mm and 135mm out on separate walks has given me a new appreciation for quality zooms.   As with the 24mm, I quickly discovered I’m a poor judge of distances based on focal length.

Since this was an experiment, I decided not to use a new roll of color film.   Instead, I had a partial roll of Fuji X-tra 400 that had been lying around for over a year.   I saw no reason to attempt “keeper” images while learning the lens.   The AF 135mm is a nifty little lens with a built-in hood.   I decided to buy one because the lens reviews were uniformly good no matter where I looked.  On Dyxum, it has a rating of 4.7+/5.   When I began looking at this lens a couple of years ago, it sold for over 200.00—more than I was willing to pay.   My fortunes changed when I found the listing of a photographer who was selling off his gear.  I bought two lenses from him, and he tossed in a huge selection of specialty filters at no cost!

Because the lens is lightweight and relatively small, I mounted it on my Maxxum 5. The first few shots were taken inside, where I knew the distance to the subjects. This approach allowed me to get a feel for both field of view and how far I had to stand from a subject to get the specific framing desired. Next, I took it out as I ran errands.

What I’ve learned
Sharpness and Color
This lens is sharp, even at f2.8—as all reviews said.   Color rendition is excellent.

Field of View
When taking the picture of the globe, I had to stand back much farther than expected.    That was also true of the pumpkin images.    I found myself going to a spot to take a picture and then having to back up quite a bit to get the desired framing.

Depth of Field
The most disconcerting surprise was the narrowness of the depth of field. Usually, I shoot at f5.6 or f8 for the subjects that interest me—flowers, still-life, around the city.   Shots taken at five feet from the subject did not turn out as expected. At a distance of five feet, the DoF at f5.6 is only 1.8 inches; at f8, it’s only 2.4 inches.

When using my 100mm f2.8 macro lens, I am used to the narrow DoF and shoot at much smaller apertures, but that requires more light.   I wasn’t thinking about DoF when I loaded 100 ISO film and went outside in late afternoon.   Inside, doing studio shots, DoF was still an issue.   To get the angle to the subject I wanted, I could only stand back about 5.5 feet.  At that distance, even at f11, the DoF is very narrow.

Camera Shake
Looking over images shot using Fuji Color 100, camera shake is more of an issue than expected.

After more practice, I took the images of the glads, hosta, and balloon flowers.  They, along with the geraniums, are what I was hoping for from this lens. Standing eight to ten feet from the subject, I can get good framing and a decent DoF.

As lenses go, the 135mm f2.8 is quite good.   It’s small, lightweight, has a built-in hood, and easily fits in a pocket. Until now, I have used the 70-210mm f4, 100mm f2.8 macro, and the 50mm f2.8 macro for garden images, but this 135mm is growing on me.    It would work well in a large studio, but I fail to see any advantage over the 100mm f2.8 macro, which is more versatile. Outside of the studio, it might shine. Photography books offer the 135mm focal length as a way to isolate portrait subjects from the background. I can see that quite well from these floral portraits.

I’m getting a better feel for when and how to use various focal lengths to capture the kind of images I desire. The VMLP is about me experiencing as much Minolta gear as possible, and the AF 135mm is a respected lens.   The garden is peaking now, so I can experiment with the 135mm as much as I wish. The images of the  gladiolus, hosta, and balloon flowers hint that this might even be my best lens for garden shots.  At f6.7, the flowers are in focus with a nice bokeh.  Colors are also good.  For the next round of images, I’ll use Portra 400.  I have some in the freezer from 2019, when it was only 8.99/roll.

My time with this lens has been a valuable learning experience. As a bonus,  it is a crossed “XX” lens, making it even more special. I’m glad I bought it!