Nikon 135mm f/2 DC Show and Tell

In my previous post I showed how the Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G filled my needs for a wide lens. As one of Nikon’s newest lenses it has a compact, light build and modern design. Needing a telephoto at the opposite end of the focal length spectrum I had the option of the brand new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4 VR, recently on sale for a reasonable price. What I really wanted was a nice, fast prime. I scoured online every once in a while and last week hit the jackpot. A used Nikon 135mm f/2 DC!

This is a highly regarded portrait lens and short telephoto. It’s one of the oldest lenses that Nikon still sells and has remarkable build quality with an all metal body. Mine is the non-D version (something I didn’t even notice when buying it) but that only limits flash metering. It’s somewhat rare, too, as it’s expensive when bought new. The cost of this used copy was much more reasonable.

‘DC’ stands for ‘Defocus Control’, something of a misnomer as it is actually a ‘bokeh fine tune’. A control ring at the front of the lens shifts a pair of optics to tune the spherical aberrations to optimize either the foreground or background blur as I’ll show shortly. Even without using the defocus control, the blur is spectacular. Truly.

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2.8

f/2.8

Like I said… truly spectacular. And, thanks to the super-shallow depth of field when wide open, it’s great for Brenizer Method bokeh panoramas.

15+ shot Brenizer Method bokeh panorama at f/2

15+ shot Brenizer Method bokeh panorama at f/2

Now, while the autofocus is reasonably quick for a screw-drive lens, the accuracy leaves something to be desired. When researching this lens in forums and reviews, AF accuracy was the number one complaint. I’ll demonstrate below. Here is a shot at f/2.8 that took four tries to nail the focus on my dad’s face.

f/2.8

f/2.8

With focus nailed, it’s razor-sharp, but when it’s off you really notice! Here are a couple of crops. The first is of the image above while the second is from a previous attempt.

f/2.8 (well focused)

f/2.8 (well focused)

f/2.8 (slightly out of focus)

f/2.8 (slightly out of focus)

Now on the defocus control. The method for using this feature is as follows:

  • Set the lens to the desired aperture.
  • Turn the ‘Defocus Image Control’ ring in either the forward or reverse direction from 0 to the R or F number that matches the aperture.
  • Turn to an R or F number that is greater than the set aperture and you get an unpleasent soft focus

Turning the control ring in the R direction improves the quality of bokeh behind the subject (but has a negative impact on foreground blur). Likewise, Turning in the F direction improves the bokeh in front of the subject (but noticeably hurts the background blur). Here is a demonstration, with three images of the same subject at f/4. The first is with the control ring at 0. The next is with the control ring at 4 in the R direction. The third is with the control ring at 4 in the F direction. Notice the subtle difference in bokeh at the foreground and background.

f/4 with DC ring at 0

f/4 with DC ring at 0

f/4 with DC ring at R4

f/4 with DC ring at R4

f/4 with DC ring at F4

f/4 with DC ring at F4

Here are some crops to demonstrate even further:

135mmDC-at-f4-background 135mm-DC-at-f4-slight-backbround 135mm-DC-at-f4-foregroundI’m in love with this lens. I really am. However, I hope that I can figure out a way to work around the focus inconsistencies to really get the most out of it. I know it will take some work… and I’m looking forward to it!

I’ll leave you with some more examples, including mandatory cats and Mitzy.

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/4

f/4

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/4

f/4

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Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 Show and Tell

In the past month I’ve sold off the majority of my DX lenses. The fantastic Tokina 11-16/2.8. The go-anywhere 35/1.8. The reliable and bullet-proof 17-55/2.8. And the D7000. I just didn’t have the money and space to have redundant systems. What I was left with was four prime lenses covering a range of 35 to 85mm, not exactly a dire situation as these are the focal lengths I have always used the most. Still, I needed something wider than 35mm. My choices were:

  • The affordable, small, light Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 with no VR, no nanocoating, no constant aperture.
  • The middle man Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR N, a lens with mixed reviews but with great build quality.
  • The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, a fast and affordable lens.
  • The ultimate. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 N. This lens truly is the best wide angle lens you can buy for any system. But it’s big, heavy, bulbous.

What I’ve realized in collecting lenses is that the famous saying is completely true. The best lens is the one you have with you. Sure, I could have invested the money and bought the 14-24. But it’s size and weight would keep it out of my camera bag for most of the times I would want a wide-angle lens: when traveling or hiking.  Instead I chose the new 18-35, a lens that costs and weighs less than half that of the 14-24. And I have no regrets.

The 18-35 weighs less than my f/1.4 primes and it’s about the same size. It’s as sharp as I would ever want. AF is fast enough and completely reliable. The negative features of the lens, some distortion and vignetting, are easily fixed in post processing. Chromatic aberrations are negligible.

This is a lens that I can keep in my camera bag without feeling weighted down. I can see bringing it with me on every adventure I take.

Here are a few shots with the D700.

DSC_6669-Edit DSC_6171-Edit-2 DSC_6219-Edit DSC_6437-Edit DSC_6485 DSC_6504-Edit DSC_6542-Edit DSC_6577-Edit DSC_6586-Edit DSC_6638-Edit