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SteveFE 11:02pm, 8 December 2008
Well somebody had to do it.

Name: Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f/3.5
Mount: M42
Tested On: Canon EOS 30D and Praktica SuperTL
Zoom/Prime: Prime
Focal Length: 135mm
Maximum Aperture: f/3.5
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Diaphragm Blades: 6
Price Paid: GB £40
Serial Number (or Approx.): 68448

Product Ratings (1=miserable, 5=excellent):
Construction Quality: 4
Image Quality: 4.5

Overall Value For Price (for what I paid anyway—beware of eBay sharks talking these up and demanding ripoff prices; they are still findable relatively cheap if you're patient): 5
Recommended: Yes

Lens Photos:

Schematic: just look at those superthick elements! (and am I developing a thing for old 4 element/3 group designs? This and the Macro-Tak are my two new favourite lenses, and despite their simplicity they give very little away to far more modern and sophisticated designs)
(schematic from www.praktica-users.com)

Here it is on my SuperTL, surrounded by a bevy of M42 beauties.
M42 mayhem


Review:
--------------------------------------------------------

Wow. I'm onto my second one of these. The first had a jammed aperture (but I paid next to nothing for it), and it died a horrible death while I had it in bits for "fixing". The second is in mint condition, with flawless glass and nice smooth mechanicals. The tendency for CZJ lenses to have bashes and mechanical problems is why I marked construction quality as 4. They just don't feel quite as indestructible as the best Japanese lenses. A good one will have pretty smooth focus and a snappy aperture though. It's quite a bit smaller and lighter than the Meyer Orestegor 135/2.8.

Anyway, what matters is how it takes pictures. and the answer is, pretty damn well. I think the lens has all the characteristic qualities of the East German Zeisses in spades, and more so even than the legendary Flektogon. Contrast and colours are unmatched, with maybe just the slightest tendency to warmth, making it an excellent lens for use with film cameras where you either don't have the opportunity or inclination to jazz up the results like you would a digital shot. It doesn't flare much (look at that diagram again: hardly any air-glass boundaries).

It focusses very close for a 135. A couple of feet gets you sharp shots, making it similarly near-macro-capable as the Flek (I haven't tried it on tubes yet but I'm sure it'd work well on them). It's also pretty sharp wide open, and maintains good contrast wide open as well, partly thanks to its sensible built-in hood, that extends quite deep to give good shading. The multicoating on later models seems very deep and effective, with a deep reddish-purple tint.

Bokeh is very good indeed, almost textbook neutral wide open with a Leitz-like creaminess on distant highlight objects. It gets hexagonal on point lights as you stop down, like the Flek, but is still pleasant enough and a lot better than many more expensive lenses.

I don't do brick walls or test charts, but I haven't noticed any barrel or pincushion distortions. They're not usually any sort of an issue with tele primes anyway.

I've only marked the image quality down half a point because it can display quite strong red-fringe chromatic aberration at high-contrast boundaries towards the edges. C'est la vie. Nobody's perfect. I think the positive qualities outweigh one small flaw by so far that you'd stupid not to pick one of these up if you like the medium tele perspective and get a good price for a good condition one (I'd define a good price as below £50 / €75 / $80 or so).

Some samples:

Wide open and close, digital (the first copy, RIP)
IMG_4807.jpg

f/4 or 5.6 and very close (film)
superTL024.jpg

Bokeh fun, counter-light, maybe f/6.3 or thereabouts (film)
superTL020.jpg

Did I mention colours and contrast? (digital, very little retouching)
IMG_6009.jpg

I like the 135 perspective for landscape (digital)
IMG_5960.jpg
Hi Steve,

Great review and some cracking shots.
How do you rate the IQ of this lens against your Meyer Orestegor 135/2.8.
I see the rating is higher, is it the colour / contrast (which look great in your shots), sharpness, bokeh, all of them?

Cheers,
Mark
Nigel No 4 PRO 9 years ago
Hi @Mark,
I have both of those lenses as well. I would rate the CZ quite a bit better on pretty much all counts, despite only going to f3.5. Only gripe I have is slightly warm caste sometimes but still great. It really is one of the best value manual lenses you'll find (go for the later MC versions).

I keep the Orestegor for the 15 bladed iris, which works well stopped down with points of light. Not that the Meyer Gorlitz is bad, but it lags the later Sonnar.
Hi @ Nigel,
Thanks, I just picked up another Meyer (first one had the cone missing), not had much chance to shoot with it yet but it looks like fun and at £20 inc postage, a bargain.
I know I'm a geek but it's almost worth it just to look down the lens and see that iris working!

I did seriously consider the CZ though and after this review I may well look again if one should cross my path.
The CZ prices do seem to vary a lot though so the cost part of the review and the comments on what is considered a good price are very useful.

Cheers
admin
SteveFE 9 years ago
Yeah, what Nigel said. The Orestegor's a very nice lens, with good bokeh at all apertures; this is just that bit sharper and more contrasty (well quite a lot more contrasty).

You could almost say use this on duller days or when you want your pictures to pop hard, and use the Orestegor to tame down too much contrast. I think my digital shots are almost too contrasty (but I like the film ones, they're very realistic).
artt2008 PRO 9 years ago
Hi steveFE and everyone,

I have a CZJ 135/3.5 and Orestor 135/2.8 along with Super-Takumar 135/3.5, Nikkor-Q 135/2.8, and Contax CZ Sonnar T* 135/2.8 (on the way from ebay purchase). Use them on Canon 450D with 1.6x cropped sensor, makes 135mm to become a 216mm.

I love the CZ Jena, but Orestor is my favorite for shooting portraits (as a hobby, that is shooting portraits of my family)

Here is a sample of CZ Jena
Rock the boat by artt2008

Color & contras is very nice, but tends to be too sharp for portraits (IMHO)

And this is sample of Orestor
Meyer-Optik Orestor 135/2.8 by artt2008

Perfect sharpness with a little soft on the skin-tone. Look at the nice detail of the hair. And best of all, the bokeh is the best among my other lenses.

Happy holidays to you all
fabiosvr [deleted] 9 years ago
Here are my samples:

digital / rebel xt
Camila

film (fuji provalue 200) / eos 30
Farofa-fa

film (fuji superia 200) / praktica mtl3
Ponta da Praia - Santos
Thanks Steve, good info, I guess one of the advantages of manual lenses are you can afford to have different lens of the same focal length and use them in different situations for their different characteristics.

Thanks artt2008, thanks FabioSVR
f8125 9 years ago
With extension tube

I was amazed at the quality of this £25 lens off ebay. Very sharp & contrasty and even at F3.5 you can still get nice shallow depth of field

frankmf.tw 9 years ago
Hi, Steve

I got this one back in 2006 , and it is good to use in cloudy day

IMG_0425
AndreP_ Posted 8 years ago. Edited by AndreP_ (member) 8 years ago
Thanks for the review.
Actually this is a very nice manual lens. The sharpness, bokeh, color rendition are great, and the thing I enjoy the most, the very very smooth focus ring. It makes it a very usable manual lens.

Here is my sample:

New Lens

And a image taken today:

First Truly Macro Series

Outside macro, it stands out too.
A good price performance lens, besides reaching the 100$ on the marked today.
Schizoo from Paris PRO 7 years ago
now I'm just wondering why I didn't use mine yet. 0_0
C&S Designer 6 years ago
The 3.5/135 CZJ is a great lens, BTW I love your Kitty Picture,very nice
C&S Designer 6 years ago
schizoopunk, is it for sale???
Schizoo from Paris PRO 6 years ago
I dunno
Maybe I have to check its condition in my cupboard, just behind my C/Y stuff :)
C&S Designer 6 years ago
I got my new Prakticar 3.5/135mm in, wow its different to my old M42.
May better coating ??
Or newer ??
It's labeld Aus Jena 3.5/135, I think it;s a export model.
Got it from Germany for 65.00 euro incl. shipping
MOD
ciao_chao Posted 5 years ago. Edited by ciao_chao (moderator) 5 years ago
Just got an amazingly clean MC version of one of these for £20, will be looking to test this against my Pentacon soon.
Schizoo from Paris PRO Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Schizoo from Paris (member) 5 years ago
I used mine a few days ago. I really enjoy colors and contrast, for sure it's real good. On the other hand, borders are not that good but
pretty pretty pretty

big? buy a 5D
memories of light PRO 5 years ago
I have been using this lens for a while,AMAZING LENS!!!!!!!

IMG_8932

IMG_8869

I use it mostly for portraits and flowers.The colour is amazing.

IMG_9050
IMG_9036
IMG_8766

Always a nice lens.I always carry it.I have learnt to live without auto focus.It gives me the feeling that its my picture

IMG_8899
MOD
ciao_chao 5 years ago
My conclusion is it's remarkably sharp. But f3.5 is not fast enough for what I want. 2.8 is just about fast enough, but would prefer more.

It's a decent for outdoor use though.

Window Cleaning

C6 in Ashridge
Schizoo from Paris PRO 5 years ago
A french car!! :)

I second that, It's a slow lens, not a lightsucker at all.
ramayanax 4 years ago
I love this lens. On my previous Pentax K5 the colours just pop like nobody's business. On the Canon 5D I have only used it for B&W so far but it's got charm. I don't use 135mm much, though - I don't quite like the compressed look, plus my eyesight makes it harder to manually focus a tele these days.

Minimum focus distance:
Heavy Metal Thunder.05

I keep missing focus at f4.0:
NOV | Mimi.04

Close up and wide open at dusk:
NOV | Mimi.01
ramayanax 4 years ago
This must have been at f5.6. It's good for sniping type of shots, no wonder 135mm is one of Don McCullin's duo of focal lengths (he says he only uses 28 and 135):
I hear your name on the wind.
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