GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 135mm f/2.8 Ai-s
The Nikkor 135mm has long be a favourite lens among portrait photographers. The focal length offers particularly flattering compression of the face, as well as easy subject and background separation. Coupled with a wide aperture, the depth of field achieveable with the 135mm can be very shallow, allowing the photographer to pick out the eyes and make them the focus of an image, if so desired.
It has a strong pedigree, as Nikon has been making and refining the 135mm since 1950 when it first appeared on rangefinder cameras and SLRs by the end of the decade. The f/2.8 Ai-s hit the shelves in the early 1980s and had a production run of over 20 years, when it was discontinued in 2005.
Today you can pay anything from £100-£250, depending upon condition. While it's nice to have a pristine lens, I don't worry too much about cosmetics. So long as the optics and mechanics are in good working order, unless you're a collector, who cares?
Okay, so lets get down to the good stuff. The first thing of note is the build quality. Like other lenses of this era, the 135mm f/2.8 Ai-s is built like a tank and designed to stand the test of time. Metal mount, body and even an retractable metal hood. A tough, rubber grip covers the focus barrel, which is well dampened. Being a portrait lens, there is plenty of thread to play with, which enables precise focusing where it counts. There's nothing worse than using a manual focus lens and trying to nail focus with a fractional movement of the barrel. Nikon geared this beautifully.
Closest working distance is 1.3m. Coupled with the focal length, you may find things a bit tight if shooting in some indoor locations, for anything other than headshots. If you have a nice big studio or shooting outside, then this is no problem. The aperture is controlled on the lens itself, but will meter on higher end consumer cameras and professional bodies. You can of course use it on lower end cameras but without the ability to meter. This isn't a huge issue, as you can take a couple of shots to get correct exposure or use an external light meter. Just remember to take test shots if you change locations, or if shooting at the ends of the day for a prolonged period, as rising/setting Sun will change exposures dramatically and quite quickly too.
Optically, the 135mm f/2.8 Ai-s is a very solid performer, delivering sharp images even when used wide open. Stopped down it only gets better. The bokeh is very smooth and non distracting, even with busy backdrops.