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Monday, June 05, 2006

There's That 85 Again

It would be interesting to know exactly how many iterations this venerable old design has been through now. Seen here in its brand-new Sony Alpha guise, the old Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4—the selfsame lens which reportedly began the "boke" craze amongst Japanese lens connoisseurs decades ago—is also available in Nikon ZF mount. It was briefly available as an autofocus lens for Contax film cameras with the short-lived Contax N mount. Before that, it served for many years as a stalwart of the original Contax/Yashica mount, when its popularity put the slower, smaller ƒ/2.8 Contax 85mm out of business for an extended interval. I believe it was available for the odd, modular Rollei 35mm 3003, and although I could well be mistaken, I think it was originally designed for the Zeiss Contarex mount.

It may not be the oldest design being sold as new stock (i.e., not new old stock), but it's got to be up there.

Of course, on the Sony Alpha cameras—the initial ones, anyway—it will be a 127.5mm-e, close to 135mm, never an especially popular or particularly useful focal length.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

8 Comments:

Blogger Ballistic said...

This is exactly why I didn't sell my Contax S2b and my West-Germany 85mm 1,4. A truly gorgeous combination.

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Chris Garrett said...

You say it "reportedly began the 'boke' craze amongst Japanese lens connoisseurs", why was that? It's interesting that one lens could start it, although some days I wish it never had, hah.

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Jason said...

"... 135mm, never an especially popular or particularly useful focal length."

I'd certainly agree with it not being useful, but the number of 135s in the used market (from the Age of Manual Focus that is) certainly indicates that it was popular.

Not sure why. I use my 85mm and my 200mm a lot but sold both my 135s cos they never left the bag.

I guess the guys that stuck with Minolta AF are pretty happy about their prospects now :)

9:03 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Popular" isn't really the right term. The 135mm was the longest lens that could reasonably be used with rangefinders, so during the era when rangefinder 35s predominated, the 135 was pressed into service for virtually everything that photographers needed or wanted long lenses for. The reason why the focal length was considered standard in the early SLR era was bascally a carryover from that. Cameramakers and photographers all felt that 135mm was a default necessity. However, once photographers began to really get a handle on SLR focal lengths, the 180-200mm angle of view became much more of a standard for long lenses.

--Mike

10:08 AM  
Blogger carpeicthus said...

Any focal length is useful or not depending on the way the photographer works. For some people, 600mm is very useful. For me, it's totally useless. On an APS-crop camera, I find the 17-55 f/.8 and 85mm f/1.4 to be a killer combination of focal lengths for event shooting.

10:30 AM  
Blogger DonovanCO said...

A 1.4 50mm becomes a 75; a 135 becomes a 200.
Seems like a good set up to me. Plus they are smaller than the old 85 and 200 for film cameras.

I wonder who is making the Zeiss branded lens? Cosina? But the great news is the apparent recognition of the usefullness of prime lenses!!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

I have to disagree with carpeicthus on that one--I think a lot of focal lengths are inherently more useful than others. Yes, it depends on what you want it for, what you're doing, and what you're used to, but 35mm is just more useful than 58mm, for instance, 20mm more useful than 12mm, and 105mm more useful than 135mm. Just three random examples. Maybe not for everybody. Maybe not all the time. But generally.

--Mike

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Steve White said...

Mike, I have to agree with you on the inherent utility of focal lengths, in addition to our personal vision. As a Nikon guy in love with the 105 perspective, I keep hoping for a 70mm F/1.8 (or f/1.4) to approximate that experience with their Digital cameras.

2:42 PM  

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