Saturday, 1 August 2015

Palinar 135mm f/3.5

Palinar 135mm f/3.5 / Canon 5D MkII / vodka and Mountain Dew

Off to eBay again. A while back I had a look at an old lens from long ago, a Palinar 35mm f/2.8 from the early 1960s. It was manufactured in Japan by one of Tokina's early incarnations and imported to the UK by a chap called Charles Strasser, who was himself an import (from Czechoslovakia). Palinar was one of those made-up brands, and the lens was also sold as a Soligor, Hanimex, Sears, Lentar etc. Every time I check eBay another brand name appears - as I write these words eBay has a Solitel 135mm for all of £8. As the saying goes, if it floats like a butterfly but stings like a bee, it's a duck.

On a Pentax Spotmatic. It's very compact. It appears to be single-coated. Minimum focus is just under six feet, which is I suppose the price to pay for the compact design.
I used a 5D for the flavour images, reason being that it was a dull day and I needed higher ISOs.

And, yes, all brands are made-up, but some brands are more substantial than others - obviously, giants such as DeHavilland or Woolworths are unlikely to vanish overnight, and in America the likes of Pan-Am, Branff, and AMC will almost certainly still be around by the year 2000. People will always need to fly and/or drive places.

Palinar, on the other hand, was invented on a whim and vanished unmourned sometime in the early 1970s, if Google Books is to be believed. The lenses still turn up on eBay.

The subject of this post is a short telephoto that would probably have been sold as part of a kit, perhaps paired with a 35mm f/2.8. It would have complemented an SLR's standard 50mm lens at the long end. 135mm is a classic focal length - from what I remember it was the longest that could be easily focused with a rangefinder - and of course nowadays it has been displaced by 70-300mm telephoto zooms, although there are a few 135mm primes still on the market.

It seems that the focal length is easy to design for, and 135mm primes are amongst the best-performing lenses available (the vintage Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 and the modern Canon 135mm f/2.0, for example, always do well in tests). On the other hand it can be awkward, too long and slow for indoors, not long enough for birding or aeroplanes, nowhere near long enough for safaris. On an APS-C camera 135mm becomes a more useful 200mm.

My assumption is that if I see a photographer with a modern 135mm, he has probably thought long and hard about his choice, and he knows what he's doing.

As you can see, the minimum focus distance is frustratingly long. Also, cats can leap a surprisingly long distance. 

Proto-Tokina made lenses with a special screw mount, and fitted adapter rings for popular camera models - mine has an M42 adapter. It's unproblematic on a Canon 5D. The front element group unscrews and the lens is easy to clean up, although as with my 35mm f/2.8 it was surprisingly free of fungus and even dust. The lens is solidly made out of metal, which might explain why it has survived so well for so long.

The aperture uses a preset system, where you set a stop ring to the appropriate position, and when you want to meter or take the shot you quickly twist the aperture ring so that it hits the stop. It's really easy to use and, if you're filming, the stepless aperture is a nice touch.

A full-sized crop of the centre of a 21mp full-frame image, wide open (top) and then at f/8 (bottom), with no sharpening. The difference is noticeable but not really *notable*.

Ditto in the corners. There's some greeny-purple CA, which I could heave easily fixed. As you can see it's not bitingly sharp, quite probably no better than a modern 70-300mm zoom, but again I don't have a problem with its performance. If there's any distortion, I can't measure it.

A real-world example, shot wide open at ISO 400. It's a manual focus lens, and I use the 5D's EG-S manual focus screen, which seems to work.

By all accounts the classic Zeiss 135mm f/3.5 is sharp across the frame wide open, and of course if you want a 135mm there's no reason not to buy that instead - they consistently go for £50 on - but I didn't want a 135mm. In fact I bought this lens because it had one of Tokina's M42 adapters, and also the Palinar name stood out.

eBay has masses of old 135mm lenses for almost nothing because no-one wants them, but very few Palinars. But then again they are half a century old, and no-one cared much about the brand, so old examples have been thrown away. Like Austin Princesses they are rare and unwanted, a melancholic condition shared with snowflakes and human beings, who are similarly unique but mostly worthless.