Canon nFD 3.5/135: A review

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?

Sample images

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5

Contents

Specifications

Category Specification
Diameter 63 mm
Length 85 mm
Filter diameter 52 mm
Weight (ex. Adapter) 325 g
Aperture f/3.5-32
Minimal focus distance 1.3 m
Elements/groups 4/4
Aperture blades 6

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.

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6

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.

 

Vignetting

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.

Sharpness

Sharpness test Canon fd 3.5/135

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.

Chromatic aberrations

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)

Distortion

There is a tiny bit bit of barrel distortion, but this is not relevant for almost very application and otherwise easily corrected in post.

Bokeh

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.

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5

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.

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5

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.

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5

Near MFD bokeh is very smooth, even with difficult backgrounds.

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5

Flare resistance

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6

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.

Sunstars

With only 6 aperture blades sunstars ain’t great, unfortunately.

Alternatives

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.

Pentax-M 3.5/135
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.

Jupiter-11 4/135
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.

Conclusion

Good Average Not good
-Sharpness

-Bokeh

-Flare resistance

-Handling

-Build quality

-Price
-Size/weight
-CA correction

-Blur potential

-Contrast
Sunstars

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 🙂 )

Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/3.5
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6
Sony a7II | Canon nFD 3.5/135 | f/5.6

Further reading

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JuriaanM

My name is Juriaan, I am a passionate photographer from the Netherlands. I mainly shoot landscapes and the milkyway and I like to travel through wild landscapes around Europe.

Latest posts by JuriaanM (see all)

27 thoughts on “Canon nFD 3.5/135: A review”

  1. thanks for the review juriaan, it sureley is a stunning lens considering its age/prictag/weight/size.
    its great to see that widopen performance for portraits is very good in terms of bokeh/separation.
    i’d rather use a 135mm lens that is lightweight/sharp and has good bokeh but is only semi-fast than a 1.8/135mm that is heavy/expensive.
    The amount of separation a 3.5/135mm gives (on FF) is definetly sufficient for my taste/usecases.

    Recently tamron/sigma introduced semi-fast f2.8 AF-lenses for emount that are very small and are good performers (as far as we know). I hope this is a trend that sticks and we can see more modern cheap/light/semi-fast primes, especially teles in the 85-135mm range that are great performers and cheap/lightweight/small.

    1. Yeah I like the concept of small and good f/2.8 lenses too. It would be great to see a Loxia 3.5/135 or 2.8/135 in the future.

      1. hm. i’d prefer AF in 135mm, so the roumors about a new loxia lens, i hope are about a UWA <18mm. Who needs AF in such a lens anyway…

  2. Just looking for a compact telephoto lens for landscape in the 70-150mm range. I had Minolta md 75-150/4 and Canon 70-150mm/4.5 but they were “curves” This compact 135/3. 5 looks / shows a good result.

  3. What kind of adapter did you use. Because i have a complete set of Canon lenses for the F1. Marvelous camera.
    Thanks
    Mathew

      1. >simple K&F adapter

        I see these recommended all the time, but I don’t get a fascination with them.
        The one I’ve got my hands on (MD-FX) weighted an outrageous 108g.
        It’s just 20g shy of Viltrox focal reducer, heavier than any of my tilt adapters, just as heavy as helicoid adapters (lighter than some, heavier than others).

        I wonder, how much K&F FD-E tips the scale?
        The ones I use for FD lenses are 65g a piece.

        1. the K&F for MD-NEX is quite heavy at 128g compared to the FD-NEX at 91g.
          These are good adapters for the money (u might want to flock them tho…).

          1. >the K&F for MD-NEX is quite heavy at 128g compared to the FD-NEX at 91g

            This confirms the trend of K&F being very heavy.
            My preferred MD-E adapter is on the heavy side at 82g, still very far from K&F 128g.

            K&F do look nice, I’ll give them that.

        2. In our experience K&F adapters offer acceptable tolerances and decent build quality for an affordable price. We have had much less success with other more affordable brands.

          Personally I also use lighter Novoflex adapters but I never considered weight an important factor when choosing an adapters. More on adapters in this article.

          Of course we have only used a couple of dozen different adapters and there might be other affordable adapters which are lighter and do the job as well, we are always open for suggestions.

          1. I have two K&F FD-NEX adapters, the older one is from 2017 (I think) and the other I bought a couple of months ago. There is a difference in length: the old one is a bit short, for example with a 35mm lens the actual focus distance is near the “8” mark in the depth of field scale, but with the new one it is very exactly at the focus mark. Also another K&F adapter (C/Y-NEX) that I bought May this year is very exact in length. With my rather limited experience, most adapters tend to be slightly short (maybe to ensure infinity focus in all cases), but it seems K&F has decided to go to very exact measurements. I think it is good, at least for floating element lenses, which work as intended only when the flange distance is correct.

    1. It probably is a good performer too. But unfortunately vintage Nikon lenses are pretty expensive in comparison to those of other brands, therefore I’m not very tempted to buy them 😉

  4. In general, I’d say the breed of 135f3.5 legacy lenses offers way more than prices may suggest 🙂 I’ve had ordinary FD version of the canon (breach-lock) with aperture stuck wide open, and was quite impressed with it, although in my case CA worried me more than your pics would suggest. In the end, I got rid of it in favour of Hexanon-AR 135 3.5 which I found had better performance overall (my copies), could be stopped down, and looks absolutely fabulous on A7 🙂 Later, in addition, I also acquired Minolta AF 135 2.8, which is absolutely fantastic “pocket rocket” too, but is AF, so tends to be used in different circumstances. My third 135 is the Jupiter 11, and have to I disagree with the conclusion above: J11 is absolutely fabulous in good light: both for portraits wo, and for landscape at f8+, where it shows comparable sharpness and less CA than canon while weighting almost nothing which makes it a unique travel lens option 🙂

    1. I haven’t had an FDn 135/3.5, but I do have an MD-III 135/3.5.
      It’s not a bad lens, but it’s not a great one either.
      I might be a spoiled GAS brat, but I would say it lacks anything special that would force me to keep it.

      Here is my post (in Russian) on this lens with some pics: https://bit.ly/2NUE7kT

      I think featured in this article FDn 135/3.5 looks better to me, although it’s 50g heavier.
      Also, If you aren’t into landscapes and you can live with poor flare resistance and weight, Jupiter-37A is great lens.
      Bokeh quality puts it above some faster 135/2.8 options, In my opinion.

    1. if i find a good+cheap copy of the fd135, i will do that comparison.
      my SEL70200G is pretty sharp @135mm so i don’t expect the canon to be significantly sharper. Bokeh might be better, but im not sure. The FD 2.8/135 would probably be the better “upgrade” if you want to use that focal lenght for portraits.
      I think for hiking/landscape the FD 3.5/135mm seems like a pretty good (budget) choice (i don’t like carrying my telezoom).

      1. I will do a comparison with the GM 70-200 and the Canon 70-200 f/4 as soon as I have time. For hiking I would probably go for the 3.5/135. If weight is no issue a zoom of course is more convenient

    1. I have no personal experience with that lens. I( probably will be decent though. Of all 135/3.5 lenses I have tested so far the Canon was the best by quite some margin.

  5. I tried Minolta md-III 135/3.5. I did some shots / portraits and I didn’t like it at all. No sharpness on the open. Maybe the instance I tried was bad. Tomorrow’ll take away Canon nFD 135/3.5, consider.

  6. Thanks for the review of another nice and affordable vintage lens.
    I have the Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 3.5/135mm (CZJ Sonnar with PB-mount) which is also small, has nice bokeh und good minimal focus distance, but in terms of sharpness and purple fringing my copy is significantly worse than the Canon here. But I can only speak for my copy because they have huge sample variantion.
    I use it very rarely, never tested flare resistance.

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