The Canon nFD 3.5/135 is a small, light and very affordable tele lens. Is the 40+ years old lens it still a contender in a world full of super fast and large 135 mm lenses?
|Filter diameter||52 mm|
|Weight (ex. Adapter)||325 g|
|Minimal focus distance||1.3 m|
The Canon nFD 3.5/135 can be found in good condition
for +/- 50 €/$
Ebay.com* | Ebay.de*
(*Affiliate links, if you buy something via this link I will earn a small commission and it doen’t cost you anything extra 🙂 )
Versions and history
There are two versions major of the Canon 135mm f/3.5. The older FD which was on the market from 1970 to 1978 version and the new FD version introduced in 1979.
Of the older FD model there are three different versions. The first version of these was introduced in 1970 and consists of 4 elements in 3 groups and 8 aperture blades. The second version was introduced in 1973 and has the same optical design but is slightly lighter. It still has 8 aperture blades. The third version that consists of 4 elements in 4 groups is significantly lighter and has only 6 aperture blades. This latest version was introduced in 1976. All three FD versions have the simpler S.C. coating
The newFD version introduced in 1979 is quite a bit lighter than its predecessors and it is a 4 elements in 4 groups design. It has 6 aperture blades and the more advanced S.S.C. coating. More information can be found here and here.
Build quality and handling
Compared to cheaper modern lenses made mostly from lower grade plastics build quality is very good. Compared to the very best manual lenses build quality is less impressive. Nevertheless the lens feels much more solid than the newFD 50 mm f/1.8.
The focus ring is made of metal with a plastic grip, the aperture ring is made from high quality plastics. The lens barrel is also made from metal. All markings are engraved and filled with paint. The black finish seems to be scratch resistant, my sample looks like new despite being over 40-years-old.
The focus ring has a pleasant resistance and turns ~220° from MFD to infinity. The aperture nicely clicks with a 1/3 stop click stop between f/3.5 and f/4 and 1/2 stop click stops between f/4 and half stops between f/4-f/32.
The built in hood sits very tight and is covered with felt at the inside. The lens feels well balanced on my a7II but maybe a tad to long, especially when fully extended. In combination with an L-bracket handling is great though.
The front barrel of the lens does not rotate, this makes using a polarizer straightforward.
Wide open vignetting is roughly one stop, at f/ 5.6 it is 0.4 stop and stopped down further only 0.2 stop. Wide open you can note the vignetting in some situations, and you might want to correct it but overall these are low figures.
In the chart above focus shift is not taken into account, refocusing for the center improves center sharpness a tiny bit and significantly improves corner sharpness. See below:
f/3.5: Wide open the center already looks very good, as does the midframe. The corners look very good too.
f/5.6: Across the frame sharpness is very good to excellent now.
f/8: Across the frame sharpness is very good.
f/11: The whole image is softer due to diffraction.
The Canon newFD 3.5/135 is a very sharp lens. I would not hesitate to use this lens wide open, however I often stop down to f/5.6 to reduce aberrations and improve contrast a bit. (micro-)contrast is not very high in comparison with the best modern lenses, but this can be fixed in post quite easily.
Also near mfd and at typical portrait distances the Canon newFD 3.5/135 is very sharp across the frame from wide open. Lenses like the Pentax-M 3.5/135 are significantly less sharp at similar distances.
Wide open some longitudinal chromatic aberrations are visible, luckily it isn’t very obtrusive and still correctable in post.
Stopped down there is a moderate amount of lateral CA visible. Luckily this can be fixed in post easily. (Focus wasn’t optimal for the test shot)
There is a tiny bit bit of barrel distortion, but this is not relevant for almost very application and otherwise easily corrected in post.
The bokeh department is where this lens stands out to me. Unlike what I have observed with many similar 135 mm lenses from the same era, bokeh is very smooth with barely any bokeh fringing. Even very difficult backgrounds are rendered smoothly without outlining. In the corners mild cat’s eyes can be observed but not in the extend it becomes obtrusive.
For full body portraits with objects in the background close to the subject a maximal aperture of f/3.5 is a bit lacking. Nevertheless, the background is calm, and I often found subject isolation to be sufficient.
With objects in the background a bit further away I really like the rendering of this lens. Because of the slow aperture there isn’t too much blur, which gives the viewer more context. Because the quality of the bokeh is very good the background does not get distracting.
For half body portraits and head shots f/3.5 was always sufficient for me. At these distances bokeh is great too, even with very demanding backgrounds like in the picture below.
Near MFD bokeh is very smooth, even with difficult backgrounds.
Flare resistance is actually pretty good, much better than one would expect from a vintage tele lens. With a bright light source in the frame one can observe a small ghost, but recomposing a little bit resolves this problem easily. Contrast stays on a high level, even with the sun in the frame. With the sun just outside the frame one will observe some veiling flare, but shading with my hand always was sufficient to get rid of it.
If you use a cheaper adapter, make sure to flock it as described in this article. Before I flocked mine I had severe flare issues with appeared to be adapter reflections.
With only 6 aperture blades sunstars ain’t great, unfortunately.
Olumpus OM 3.5/135
The Oly is a bit smaller and lighter and more pleasant to handle. Flare resistance is less good though. Bokeh is busier with more bokeh fringing, and infinity sharpness is significantly less good. Sharpness at closer distances is very similar though, with maybe a touch higher contrast.
Smaller, lighter and nicer to handle. Sharpness is significantly worse at all distances and bokeh is very busy. Contrast is on a higher level though.
Canon nFD 2.8/135
The 3.5/135 its bigger brother shows a very similar performance but is also a bit bigger and heavier. If you really need the speed this could be a nice alternative. If your focus is mainly on landscape photography the 3.5/135 is the more attractive option as flare resistance is a bit better and it is lighter.
Leica APO Telyt-M 3.4/135
The Leica is very expensive, used prices start at 20x the price of the nFD 3.5/135. Bokeh is less smooth, but built quality is on a higher level. I would not know a single reason to get this one over the Canon unless money is not a restriction at all.
The price is quite similar but the Canon offers the better performance is almost any regard. The Jupiter-11 is much lighter though.
Leica 4/135 Tele-Elmar
Better corrected for LaCA, higher contrast and better build quality. The Leica is also heavier and costs about four times as much as the Canon nFD 3.5/135.
Sony GM 1.8/135
The Sony 1.8/135 offers AF, performs better in almost every regard but is much more expensive and much larger/heavier. If you are looking for an AF 135 mm portrait lens without any compromises you should consider this one.
Voigtländer 2.5/110 Macro Apo Lanthar
A great manual lens that offers 1:1 magnification. Its better in almost every regard but also much more expensive and heavier. If you like great manual lenses this is the best money can buy for E mount.
Zeiss Batis APO Sonnar 2.8/135
The modern interpretation of a 2.8/135. The Batis is, like the other modern options, a better performer in almost every regard and offers AF. It is heavier though, but I would not call it a heavy lens.
The Canon nFD 3.5/135 is a cheap but very capable tele lens.
It accompanied me on my trip through the Balkans and Alps last summer and did not disappoint me. I took some of my favorite images of this trip with this lens.
The Canon 3.5/135 still is my main landscape tele, and so far all other vintage 135 mm lenses performed significantly worse in most regards.
It still is my longest lens for serious photography and I don’t see that change in the near future. Modern (and faster) 135 mm options are all much more expensive and significantly heavier, as are zoom lenses, and are therefore not an option for me.
The Canon nFD 3.5/135 is therefore a very attractive option for whoever wants a sharp tele lens for landscape photography and traveling, but values great image quality. If you have to work with a tight budget this lens would be a great longer option in your kit.
Most sample images can be found in full resolution in this Flickr albumn.
The Canon nFD 3.5/135 can be found in good condition
for +/- 50 €/$
Ebay.com* | Ebay.de*
(*Affiliate links, if you buy something via this link I will earn a small commission and it dosen’t cost you anything extra 🙂 )
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