Aikido, Creative Work, Photography & Documentary.

Its Not You, Its me. The Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 Lens


I recently was given the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm lens. It was a really kind donation towards a photography project in September we were involved with.

The Barbican, Plymouth - Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f/3.5

Its a great lens. Pin sharp with beautiful colours that are warm, vibrant, full of contrast and smooth blur. Its focus ring is buttery smooth and the aperture clicks effortless across the 3.5 - 22 range. Its hard wearing, looks great in a classy black finish with flashes of white and orange.

It focuses down to just under a meter (90cm-ish), has an automatic switch for metering on M42 systems. I shot with a Pentax Spotmatic and the two played well with each other.

Its honestly not the lens, honestly, if you love telephoto primes and 135mm is on the money for you then you could do allot worse. Allot. This is a great lens. But its not the lens, its me.

After working only with 50's and abandoning 70-200s since leaving the Airforce I felt out of my depth. Carrying it around the city for a day I found I was less interested in people, geometry or narrative. Its perhaps a good lens to compliment a body of work around a particular subject. Allowing that closer, focused perspective on details.

However as a general carry lens we didn't work well together.

The 135 took me away from any action or event, it kept me outside, vouyerism as opposed to participation. For portraits it lacked the intimacy needed to connect with a subject, I felt too distant, it took them out of their location too. unlike a 50 or 85.

 Stonehouse, Plymouth

Stonehouse, Plymouth

I'm sure my position is born out of a lack of experience with telephoto primes, perhaps its skill level too - yet I just couldn't shake the bad ju ju. I found myself shooting more cityscapes, landscapes, seascapes - lots of 'scapes', in order 'escape' shooting people. And this is for me where the lens shines, if I were to carry it would be as part of a landscape kit, a smaller player in a larger repertoire of choices and options.

I participate in a martial art called Aikido. Its metal and physically challenging, creative, artistic, difficult. Its frustrating, sometimes not enjoyable. Yet I love it. I feel the same about photography - I keep coming back for more. These two art forms fit me. Working  with the 135 Zeiss put me through all the same emotions but left me empty, without the need to come back for more.

At least for now. 

PhotographyJames Stier