In the quest for all-things-cheap in photo gear, a great area of exploration is older M42 screw-mount lenses, such as the Rikenon 135mm f/2.8. With a cheap adapter, you can mount these old gems to your sparkling new dSLR or mirrorless camera. The Rikenon is a great example of a cheap, good lens…albeit not without some shortcomings.
I actually got my copy of this lens for free from a coworker who knew I was into photography. But on eBay, you can expect to pay around $35 for one in decent shape. That’s a pretty good deal for a fast prime telephoto, and on crop sensor bodies, it’s got a heck of a reach. Look out for this type of lens at flea markets and yard sales.
The Rikenon 135mm is a moderately fast telephoto lens, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Minimum focusing distance is about 6ft (2m). Sharpness is good for an older, non-multicoated lens, but it doesn’t stand up to modern prime lenses in the same focal length. If you require razor sharpness, this isn’t the lens for you. On the other hand, it’s not a soft lens, either.
The aperture range is f/2.8 to f/22, but the ring only clicks on full stops (no in-between settings are possible, like f/3.5, for example). The aperture has 8 blades.
Bokeh wide open is pretty nice. At f/4 you can just start to see hints of geometry, and then the octagon shape starts to become obvious at f/5.6 onward. Overall the bokeh is pretty nice, if a little unusual (which can often be a good thing). See sample images below.
M42 Adapter Required
To use this lens on your Nikon or Canon dSLR (or your mirrorless camera), you will need an appropriate M42 adapter for your camera.
With this lens, you will have to focus and set exposure manually. This limits its application to portraiture, still life, and some types of product shots. Basically, use it in any application where there is no or very little subject movement. Sure, there are people out there that could probably shoot sports with it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Manually adjusting focus and exposure while tracking a moving subject is very difficult.
I could type a bunch more words, but I think images are far more powerful. Note the octagonal prominence of the bokeh at f/5.6 and f/11.
While not a modern autofocus lens with the latest whizz-bang stabilizers, the Rikenon 135mm f/2.8 is right at the nexus of bang vs buck. At less than $40 USD, you can have a fast prime telephoto lens that delivers reasonably sharp images with nice bokeh.