Vintage Lens Jeopardy #4: Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC – Am I far enough?

Introduction

Welcome to part #4 of Vintage Lens Jeopardy. Today I am taking a look at the Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC, the first telephoto lens on the blog. I got this one on Ebay for just 21€. Which is a good price. I already own a decent 135mm lens but being born in East Germany I have a fondness for Pentacon lenses and wanted to add this one to my collection.

About Pentacon

The company Pentacon was an East German conglomerate of different pre-war manufacturers of optical and camera equipment. As was typical with socialist industrial policy smaller firms where incorporated into so-called “Kombinate”, which essentially was a conglomerate. It was supposed to make production more efficient but it mostly just allowed for better political control. One of the incorporated firms was Meyer-Optik Görlitz which was well known for making high quality lenses before the Second World War.

East Germany being not really an innovative country simply continued producing these lenses. They were slightly updated (and often simplified) several times. In 1971 they changed the branding to Pentacon. The lens I am talking about here is the successor of the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestor 135 mm f/ 2.8 which today is a well regarded piece of lens history. Over the years Pentacon tried to rationalize production and each iteration of their lenses would be somewhat simpler and often not better. Anyway Pentacon still made great lenses that maybe can’t quite compete with it’s Japanese counterparts (especially in terms of lens coatings) but then you can get them for far less money. And they are often better than many store brands from the same era.

My Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC

Alright. Let’s have a look. The build quality is good. It is an all metal construction albeit with plastic control rings. Especially the aperture control feels a bit cheap. Focus throw is more than three quarters of the control ring which allows for precise control of the focus. These lenses are not without merit called “bokeh monster” and are ideally suited for portraits. The lens comes with an integrated hood (or “foreskin” as my wife likes to call it) which works quite well. The lens cap is a simple metal disc with very little friction. It is just waiting to fall off never to be seen again. My copy is in good condition except for the worn out paint on the aperture control. I had to relube the focus helicoid.

Pentacon auto 2.8135 MC lens

I testes this lens on my Lens Turbo II adapter allowing me to use it almost like it was designed with only a small 1.1x crop. Sadly the lens would not focus to infinity on said adapter. For a portrait lens this is likely not a big issue but for my style of photography it was. I wanted to capture compressed views into streets and blurred foreground objects. That was both not possible with this lens. I took some cute portraits of my daughter but the minimum focus of 1.7m was a too long for a small child’s head. Using a dumb adapter which makes this a 200mm lens on an APS-C camera worked for infinity. But then I have some nice 2000mm lenses already.

One of the “improvements” to reduce production cost was to change the number of aperture blades from fifteen in the original Orestor design to only six. They also brought the weight down to under 500g though and shortened the lens to about 90mm. It is a solid but compact lens that oozes a 1980s style. It is certainly a fun lens to handle.

Image Quality and Samples

Let us look at some samples. These kind of lenses are made for portrait photography. Lacking any suitable model and not wanting photos of my kid on the internet I can’t really show how and if this lens is suited for portraits. Due to the infinity focus problem all subjects had to be between around 2 and 40 meters.


poison berries
Poison Berries (2021) Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC Provia

One of the first test shots. I used Provia which is the standard color profile for Fuji cameras. The lens renders a bit flat with a lower saturation and contrast. This is actually quite good for skin tones but these deep blue berries just look lackluster. The background separation is smooth though.


drops on canvas
Waterproof (2021) Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC Provia

What I like to do with telephoto lenses is to capture smaller details. The minimum focus of 1.7m was definitely a hindrance here. Maybe I should have stopped down to get the first droplet in focus too. Sharpness is decent.


two cups of coffee
Double Shot (2021) Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC ProNeg Std

Me and my daughter love coffee. Well she is two and half so it is steamed milk for her. I love how she is running around screaming “Oatly, Oatly” whenever I switch on the espresso machine (not sponsored). Essentially just a test shot. The wooden table has a nice texture from edge to edge. But again this was the closest I got for focus.


Water puddle on stone benchwater puddle on stone bench
Stony Reflection and Stony Puddle
Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC ProNeg Std

I was playing around with different focus points at maximum aperture. I am not really thrilled by the out of focus blur.


an old chair on the street
Have a seat II (2021) Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC Acros

I took this shot from the other side of the road. I barely reached focus before the lens locked. Nevertheless I have a fondness for abandoned furniture. I found the lens to be sharp throughout the frame from F4 on and very low on distortion. The focal length of 135mm is not a very complicated one to manufacture. You can get many many 135mm lenses for little money on Ebay. In fact I bought three recently (coming soon).


CCTV camera and floodlight
Seeing You (2021) Fuji X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon auto 2.8/135 MC Acros

The lens was perfect for this kind of shot. Just the right amount of reach to capture this surveillance camera and floodlight combo. These are used to protect the valuable historical buildings but taken out of context become quite the sinister sight. Especially in Fujifilm’s beautiful Acros film simulation.

Verdict

If I had to put my verdict in one short sentence it would be “it is not a bad lens”. It renders nicely, has little distortion, pretty uniform sharpness but the out of focus background is unpleasant and the minimum focusing distance make this lens unpractical for some use cases. It is well made, not premium in any sense, but solid and pleasant to handle. I would have loved to keep this one in my collection but why would I? There are better lenses out there. I have a cheap Tokina that renders almost as good but offers a shorter minimum focus. And I own a Fujinon that although only F3.5 has beautiful bokeh.

The reason I sold this lens in the end was that infinity focus did not work with my Lens Turbo II adapter. I could have adjusted the adapter but this would affect all my other lenses that work absolutely fine. I could have adjusted the focusing of the lens but this would make the minimum focus distance even larger. So in the end there was really no reason to keep this lens. I sold it and got beautiful Fuji 135mm F3.5 which is better suited to my needs.

Pros:
– good construction
– still kind of light and compact
– integrated hood
– good image quality (uniform sharpness, low distortion)

Cons:
– somewhat unpleasant bokeh
– does not focus to infinity on some adapters
– minimum focusing distance is pretty large

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