The Series E was Nikon’s budget-line of lenses back in the days. I purchased this one as a teenager in the very early 80’s, could have been 1983, and it has been with me since. I’m not sure what separated the series E from the Nikkors optically or with respect to build quality. Maybe someone would like to chime in on that? It served me very well back in the film years. When I purchased the Hasselblad X1D, first model, I didn’t have any XCD-lenses. I got it primarily as a backup for my H5D/H6D and adapted the HC/HCD lenses. Pleased with the results, quality and handling of the X1D, and out of general curiosity, I got a Nikon F to XCD adapter and this lens was the very first non-H lens I tried out. I have been generally pleased with the results, but I haven’t formally test it until now. This one, or the higher-end Nikkor version, can be found on e-bay for around 100 USD.
|Full frame equivalent focal length||ca 105 mm|
|Length (lens only)||90 mm|
|Length (with adapter and caps)||120 mm|
|Weight (lens only)||392 g|
|Weight (with adapter and caps)||528 g|
|Filter Ø||52 mm|
|Close focus||1.5 m|
|Built in hood?||Yes|
|Adapter used||Yeenon AIG-X1D|
Size and build
This lens is small! Like tiny. At least when you’re used to medium format optics. Of course the adapter adds to both size and weight, but it is still the smallest and lightest telephoto-lens I got. Handling it on a X-camera is almost like using the 45p or e.g. the 30mm. It is very well built. I see absolutely no difference from my higher-end Nikkors (including the 200mm f4, test coming shortly). Full metal body with nice built-in hood. Lovely focus throw. The focus ring on this one actually has a bit more resistance and feels even better than on the 200mm Nikkor. The aperture ring is also very sturdy with nice clicks. I could have wished for half-settings, but that’s a minor detail. The 135 has accompanied me on different excursions in all kinds of weather and temperatures throughout the years, and it has never failed me. But will it hold up optically? Surely, a 135mm lens this small must have some serious issues?
As with all these tests, this scene was chosen to challenge the lens with respect to details/sharpness and to maximize the chances of chromatic aberrations. Furthermore, the scene represents how I often use my telephoto-lenses: Fairly long-distance scene with focus close to infinity. Some depth to the scene, but no need to evaluate bokeh.
This is not a high-end know-it-all technical lens-test. I don’t photograph charts or brick-walls. I have just tested these lenses to increase my own knowledge of them, in a real-life setting similar to how I mostly use longer focal-lengths: Hasselblad X2D-100c, tripod, 2-sec timer, camera in aperture-priority, iso 64, auto white-balance, subject close to infinity, manual focus with fully open lens in 100% live-view, f11 for exposure and of course e-shutter. I have chosen f11 for several reasons. I often have some depth in my telephoto compositions and thus need some depth-of-field. Diffraction is without doubt introduced at f11. Opening up further would likely improve center-sharpness, but would probably challenge the corners and give more vignette. Stopping further down might help with that, but would introduce serious diffraction. For most of my telephoto-shots, f11 seems like a good compromise. Of course, I could have tested different distances on all apertures, but that would not have been very interesting for me, and is definitely beyond the scope of this investigation.
Raw-files have been imported to Lightroom and undergone only initial raw-sharpening (deconvolution): Amount 30, radius 0.5, details 100. No other adjustments was applied for the initial evaluation.
Distortion and vignetting
I find no distortion to speak of. Distortion is often minimal on these medium-range telephoto-lenses, so that is not really surprising.
What surprised me was the minimal vignetting. Imagine that on a lens with a maximum diameter of 62 mm! First, there is absolutely no hard vignette. Second, the soft vignette is only a slight darkening of the corners at f11 and can easily be corrected in Lightroom. Of course, automatic correction does not work, even if you select the right lens from the menu, as the correction is tailored for a different format. I found manual correction with amount 10 and midpoint 30 to fully remove the vignette with a nice, uniform result.
Sharpness and chromatic aberrations were evaluated on 300% view in centre, left edge and extreme lower left corner, corresponding to the red squares above. The crops are shown below. To the left in the crop you will se the unedited file (only raw-sharpening), and to the right you can see an edited version after removal of chromatic aberrations in Lightroom and sharpening in Topaz AI Sharpen. Drag the slider to alternate between the two versions.
I think image center looks good with only raw-sharpening. Quite acceptable. If we move to the edge, we start to see some serious softness and color-fringing. With processing, however, I think it turns out to be acceptable. There is some real trouble in the corners though, with heavy fringing and lack of details. Look at roof of the red house in the bottom of the frame. Lack of details in the stonework and heavy purple fringing on the right-hand side. With some processing I find it ok though. After sharpening, you can even make out the single stones on that roof. Remember, we are at 300%, and it represents quite an enlargement. Just compare it to the full test-shot above. Think of it as a print. Would you react to the this quality in the extreme corner of a huge print? I know I wouldn’t.
As is the case for most “vintage” film-era lenses, this one suffers rather heavily from chromatic aberrations. Even at f11.This scene, with much details and strong contrast is merciless with respect to that, but to provoke CA was one of my goals. The CA definitely contributes to the feeling of unsharpness in the image. The good news, however, is that Lightroom cleans it very nicely up with just one click!
The 135mm is a classic telephoto focal-length for full-frame cameras. On the 33×44 mm medium format sensor, however, it corresponds to approximately 105 mm. Now, that’s a classic too, but in my opinion, it makes it a bit short and too close to the XCD 90 (70mm FF equivalent). Given the extreme qualities of the latter lens, opening for some cropping on the X2D-100c, I would not bring this lens if I already carried the XCD 90. On the other hand, it makes a good supplement to the XCD zoom. With a full-frame equivalent of 58 mm in the long-end, a 105 mm would complement it nicely.
Below, you can judge my point for yourself. The image is corresponding crops of the test-scene captured with the XCD 90 and the Nikon 135mm. It is an unfair comparison for several reasons. Of course the crop represents significantly more enlargement from the 90mm file, but on the other hand, the Nikon crop is from an area closer to the edge, where the optics are more challenged. However, it is a real-world comparison to address something I have been wondering about. Do I need the 135mm or am I just as well off with cropping the XC 90mm files? Both images have undergone raw-sharpening and removal of chromatic aberrations in Lightroom. No Topaz magic on either. Can you tell which side is from which lens? You’ll find the answer in the caption.
I find the cropped XCD 90mm image to have a tad more details and sharpness, but it’s a very close call. Importantly, being so close illustrates that images from any longer- and higher-quality lens than the Nikon 135mm most likely will be technically superior to a cropped XCD 90mm file.
The build quality of the Nikon series E 135 mm f2.8 is excellent, and it is truly a joy to focus manually. If only the budget-lenses of today was built like this! The main selling point for this lens, in addition to the low price, is the size and weight, making it a viable alternative for those long, steep hikes. The image quality is acceptable and came as a pleasant surprise to me. I have used this lens on a couple of occasions before on the X1D, but haven’t really gone into details on those files. I knew it had some issues, but I never imagined that the files would clean up so nicely with some software-care. This lens actually is a good supplement to the XCD 35-75 zoom if you don’t have the XCD 90mm. If you already own a XCD 90mm, you might just as well crop instead of bringing the Nikon Series E 135mm f2.8.