Rob Irving shows what can be done with a lens picked up for a song – subtle or rugged beauty this Silber 135mm lens does the trick!
Every now and then I peruse the old film SLR/manual focus listings in eBay where one can find dozens of those sturdy old Zeniths, Pentax’s, Canon’s and the like, typically from the 1970’s and 80’s… Now, although their 35mm film bodies are as yet of little interest to anyone, their lenses are becoming increasingly popular with DSLR users, most notably their prime lenses, and the faster the better.
There are several factors why I think DSLR photographers are turning to these old manual focus optics, most notably by those using their cameras in Movie Mode where the Auto Focus on contemporary lenses doesn’t work anyway. Perhaps the most popular (and most common) of these manual focus lenses are the 50mm primes, which naturally are pretty fast with maximum apertures around the f1.8 to f2, and so allowing for very short depth of field imagery.
I have half a dozen manual focus 50mm prime lenses, all of which are an absolute pleasure to use. In addition to their manual focus element one too has to manually set their apertures and so I feel much more involved with the picture taking process. But I think their greatest charm is how they actually render the finished photograph, especially when compared to the perfection of the professional series lenses I use on a daily basis.These old optics register colour and contrast quite differently, lending a retro 70’s/80’s feel to the pictures they take, and they’re all different.
Recently I won a little bundle of cameras and lenses on eBay for peanuts, not being a photographer the seller wasn’t able to accurately list the items, nor photograph them clearly so it was a bit of a blind gamble. Within my parcel though was a rather unusual Silber 135mm manual focus f2.8 by. Google Silber and you’ll find nothing, I’m guessing it’s either Japanese or German, from the 1970’s. It’s in near mint condition, and spotlessly clear of dust within the optics. There are several aspects which suggest this lens has a degree of quality, firstly it was made with a 12 bladed iris (cheaper lenses would have only six). The more blades – the more perfect the circle the iris makes – which results in smoother/creamier out-of-focus elements to the finished photograph, further it has a fixed aperture of f2.8 which is reasonably fast for a 135mm and finally it’s what is known as a Preset Lens which quickly allows the chosen aperture to be (manually) selected – more on this aspect in another post.
So, having played around with this lens a little (albeit only at f2.8, it’s the short depth of field and subsequent blurrrr I’m after) I can confirm it indeed has character, rendering images with that charming 1970’s feel, i.e. it lacks contrast, it’s a bit soft on the focus and renders shadows a little blue… this is all encouraged by the lens elements having no coatings whatsoever which also has it flaring very easily. It too exhibits Chromatic Aberration, i.e. a split of the light spectrum, especially on the edges of out of focus elements… seen as purple and green fringing.
I will continue to experiment with this optic but it isn’t a keeper & will in due course be sold on, no doubt at a small profit.
It’s a nice little hobby you know, trying out all these retro ‘brushes’ if you will……