Vintage Lens: Vivitar 135mm F/2.8

I picked up a vintage Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 lens at an antique store in Texas for $15. It was not well taken care of, with scratches on the glass and dust inside of it, but definitely still in usable condition. My copy of this lens is M42-mount, and I just so happen to have an M42-to-Fuji-X adapter that I’ve owned for several years now, which allows me to attach this lens to my Fujifilm X-E4.

Vivitar lenses are interesting because Vivitar didn’t actual make lenses. They contracted with other manufacturers (most you’ve probably never heard of, but a few you have) to produce lenses for them. My copy was made in 1978 by Komine (as indicated by the serial number), which has been regarded as one of the “better” Vivitar manufacturers. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of inconsistency with Vivitar lenses, but they’re generally regarded as decent, and sometimes good. My copy of the 135mm f/2.8 seems to be good, despite the wear.

One thing that’s surprising is how small the Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 lens is despite its long telephoto reach. With the adapter attached to it, it’s still smaller than the Fujinon 90mm f/2. Fujifilm doesn’t have a prime lens that’s longer than the 90mm, except for the really big and expensive 200mm f/2, so the 135mm fills a gap in the Fujinon lineup. Really, Fujifilm should consider adding a prime lens that’s longer than 90mm, such as a 135mm f/2.8. Because of the crop-factor, this lens is full-frame equivalent to 202.5mm on my X-E4, which makes it great for wildlife or headshots, but challenging for other types of photography. Because of the focal length, unless your camera has IBIS, I recommend using a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 to ensure sharp photographs.

On my copy, the aperture ring, which has 1/2 stop clicks (that used to be common, but nowadays 1/3 intermediate stops are most common), works perfect, and the minimum aperture is f/22. The focus ring is smooth—a dream to use—and the minimum focus distance is about five feet.

The image quality produced by this lens is interesting. I’m not sure if it is the scratches and dust, or if it is simply the design of the lens, but there’s a slight “romantic softness” to the pictures. It seems to have slightly less micro-contrast compared to many of the lenses that I’ve used. It’s very reminiscent of what you get when you use a diffusion filter. I actually really like it, except for when the sun is near the frame, because the glare can be intense. I read that chromatic aberrations can be quite pronounced, but my copy doesn’t appear to be prone to it… or else the camera is automatically taking care of it behind the scenes.

I love going to antique stores and flea markets to find cheap treasures like the Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 lens. It’s not for use all of the time, but this lens can be a lot of fun and highly rewarding⁠—I’m so glad that I found it and took a chance on it. For $15, I really couldn’t be happier⁠—probably the best $15 I’ve ever spent on photography!

Some pictures that I captured with the Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 lens on my Fujifilm X-E4:

Urban Cycling – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600
Chevy Mirror – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Classic Mirror – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Green – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Concrete Steps – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Urbanscaped – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
High Rise – Fort Worth, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
3 Lamps – Vernon, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Old House Roofline – McKinney, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Ballyhoo – Childress, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 & Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Golden Lake – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 + Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”
Lake Sunset – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 + Vivitar 135mm – “Fujicolor Natura 1600”

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  1. juanimal · June 4, 2022

    Beautiful shots and nice colors. Great performance that old lens!

  2. Francis.R. · June 4, 2022

    Extraordinary rendering, is amazing this comes from a digital camera, and in big part is due to your sorcery with recipes, Ritchie 🧙‍♂️ . Especially in the photos with cold tones I would really had thought in film scanned with high quality equipment. The bokeh is very nice too, with that full color aspect without textures that a time was quite present in most digital lenses due to modern manufacturing processes.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 8, 2022

      I appreciate your kind words! I’m very flattered. Thank you!

  3. Khürt Williams · June 5, 2022

    I think the softness of the images may be due to fungus on the lens.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 8, 2022

      It certainly could be, although I don’t see any fungus myself (I’m no lens-fungus-expert, so maybe that could be why I don’t spot it). It’s definitely scratched, though. Either way, I don’t think that softness is supposed to be there, but I like it nonetheless. Thanks for the input!

  4. Barnabas Hamerlik · June 5, 2022

    Hi Ritchie,

    I am glad you wrote this entry about your vintage lens. There are so many good ones out there and they seem to be underappreciated! I have a few old Minolta vintage lenses at home that I use from time to time. I especially like the 35-70mm macro zoom lens and the 50mm f1.4 prime. Both are full manual focus lenses. For me it’s hard to define what it is I like so much about these “old guys” but the truth is that they can be nearly as sharp as the new digital ones (if focusing is nailed) and they produce superb images. And I really like how they force me to think more of the composition, of the focusing. I feel that I learn a lot more about photography when I use my vintage lenses.

    Perhaps the only downside of owning them is that you need an adapter to each type of the lens to mount on your camera. But it’s not a huge investment and definitely worth the money.

    All the best,

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 8, 2022

      Thanks for your input! I agree that these lenses often don’t get the love the deserve, and the challenge of using them can make you a better photographer. I appreciate the comment!

  5. marcelfraij · June 6, 2022

    I did not like this recipe when it came out. In this article you use it for an urban environment/street photography, and now I liked it a lot. Went out with my x100v this weekend with some fantastic results I came home! The only I changed was: hi -1, shadow +2 an sharpness -1. Thank you,

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 8, 2022

      Awesome! Glad that you like it, and found a good modification for the X100V–thanks for sharing!

  6. theBitterFig · June 6, 2022

    I’d love to see some of the budget manufacturers take on 135mm f/2.8 lenses. Something like a TTArtisans. It’s a focal length which seems to have mostly gone out of favor, with 70-200 zoom lenses replacing them, but those are huge and expensive. Even all-metal lenses, done in a slightly more modern fashion, would have a lot to offer in terms of reach for the size and weight. I know Samyang/Rokinon does a 135/2 but that’s a stop faster, plus an SLR lens with the extra length that implies. Seems to be a good lens, tho.

    On paper, lenses like this often have a lot going for them. Shallow depth of field, nice close-focus distances, often lots of aperture blades for smooth highlights in OOF areas when stepped down. Vintage is an option, but there’s often something unbalanced about adapting them, an a lot of the old 135s are bad. Lots of weak 3rd party manufacturers, and 135s in particular seem to be fungus-magnets.

    Seeing some new ones would be cool, since so many of the current budget manual primes are short-telephoto to wide. Having a few real telephotos would be nice. I really enjoy my Rokinon 85/1.8, and often walk around with an old Pentax-M 200mm f/4.0.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 8, 2022

      I agree: Rokinon, TTArtisans, 7Artisans, Pergear, etc., one or two of them should tackle this. Should be an option available right now.

  7. ecosmonaut · June 10, 2022

    Hi Ritchie,

    before I start, I would like to apologize for the excesssive length of my comment, which I guess needs to be devided into smaller portions for it to actually be posted.

    first and foremost, thank you for all the incredible content you are providing on this website. Since you are doing reviews on vintage lenses as well as rankings in regard of things like most important, best beginners or worst fuji cameras, I was wondering, if you ever considered doing anything like a review or ranking on different fuji cameras in regards of how well they work with vintage lenses in particular.

    As I love combining vintage glass with your film recipes (they are so much fun to use in combination with one another and I actually haven’t picked up my Fujinon 18-55mm kit lense ever since I started getting into vintage lenses after reading your article on the Helios 44-2) and since I can consider myself one of the lucky few (or maby not so few) that purchased an x-t30 less then a year before the mark ii version was released, I am somewhat yearning to buy a newer model that would include color chrome effect blue and the other features that allowed you to create most of the latest recipes.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 13, 2022

      It’s hard to rank Fujifilm cameras because so much comes down to preference, as the internals are identical. For some IBIS is very important, for others weather-sealing, etc.. The Fujfilm X-E4 might be the “worst” for vintage-lenses because it lacks the M/S/C switch, but here I am using it for that very purpose and liking it. The X-T30 is excellent (I’m sorry that Fujifilm didn’t give it the Kaizen update that it deserved to have), and I’m sure the X-T30 II is excellent, too–both for vintage lenses and Fujinon glass. The Helios 44-2 is s fun lens to use.
      I appreciate your comment! Thank you for your kind words!

      • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

        Thank you for getting back to me that quickly. I didn’t expect that to happen as soon, with all the content you are currently posting. The Helios 44-2 sure is a fun lens to use. When shot wide open, my copy actually add’s an amount of haziness to the center of the image that I haven’t seen in pictures posted by other people using the Helios 44-2. I guess the 44-2 really has it’s own character with every copy out there. I don’t know why I still haven’t experimented with it yet, but for that reason I actually always wanted to see how the lens would work in combination with your Polaroid recipe, since I would assume it could add more of a lower quality glass aesthetic to it, then what you would get out of other vintage lenses that usually are a lot more »accurate« …

      • Ritchie Roesch · June 14, 2022

        It’s my understanding that, with a lot of old Soviet products, there was significant variations in quality. Thankfully, if one did get a bum copy, they’re pretty inexpensive… or, in your case, you might actually prefer the “bum” copy for its character.

      • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

        absolutely, although I am currently getting the most out of my 35mm Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon, since it’s more versatile and the minimum focus distance is just amazing and allows you to do fun stuff without the hassle of further modification as having to add a macro extension ring for one particular shot while strolling around town. To me the Helios really is a lense for special or lets say particular occasions or intentions. But thats where it definitely has and adds it’s beauty.

  8. ecosmonaut · June 10, 2022

    Despite IBIS probably being an excellent feature when using vintage glass, the x-s10 was removed from my list due to aesthetic and functional reasons (I just enjoy using actual buttons and dials as much as I can, since I’ve already put myself into the position of having to focus manually all the time).
    Therefore I was actually aiming straight at the x-t30 mark ii version for quite some time now, just cause I like the regular x-t30 so much. But just recently the x-e4 drew my attention. Now seeing you actually shoot a 135mm vintage lens with the x-e4 and my latest purchase being a 135mm f/2.8 Olympus Zuiko lens itself, I was wondering what it is like to shoot, having a lense of that size plus an additional adapter mounted to the front of a camera, which, as you said, has a bulge-free body and at the same time is pretty small and lightweight as well.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 13, 2022

      I agree on the X-S10… it’s not for me for the same reasons it’s not for you. The X-T30 (and X-T30 II) are better platforms for these lenses, due to better grip and inclusion of the M/S/C switch. I like the X-E4 a lot, and so I make it work, but the X-T30 (and X-T30 II) would be better for vintage lenses. I hope this is helpful!

      • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

        Absolutely, the experience and information you are sharing with me is incredibly helpful! Although I now feel even more temped to give the x-e4 a shot, just to see what it’s like to use something different and maybe more limited then the x-t30

      • Ritchie Roesch · June 14, 2022

        I have an X-T30 and X-E4… and I use the X-E4 far more than the X-T30.

    • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

      That is good to know. Thanks for sharing the information!

  9. ecosmonaut · June 10, 2022

    I am aware of the fact that you are not a shopping assistant and I am not in search of a definite recommendation on what to buy. But I would be very happy if you would be willing to share your thoughts and experience when it comes to mounting vintage lenses on different fuji bodies, in case you have the time and would enjoy to put your thoughts into considerations of that kind yourself.
    I know I could just stop by at a nearby retailer and pop one of my adapters and lenses onto an x-e4, but I also do think that field experience is the best experience, especially since I would feel somewhat awkward standing in a store while holding a camera in my hands for hours, trying to figure out when or if it starts feeling tiring at some point. And even more, since weight and handling might not be the only factors when it comes to making that decision. I would assume that other limitations, might come along when actually using a camera with less physical dials and a slightly different setup. Limitations or maybe even advantages I probably wouldn’t even be able to anticipate when just trying out the combination at a shop. The only other thing I could really think of so far, was that the missing MCS-switch wouldn’t really be an issue when using vintage lenses, since all you really need is manual focus mode anyway.

    All the best,

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 13, 2022

      If you only use manual lenses, the lack of M/S/C switch would be no big deal, but if you used both Fujinon and vintage lenses, it can be a hassle. I do recommend the X-T30 II over the X-E4 for vintage lenses, because of the switch and because of a better body for holding, but at the same time I enjoy the X-E4 and use vintage lenses with it and enjoy it. The X-E4 works better for me mostly because it fits with my X100V in a small camera bag that’s great for travel. The X-T30, while not that much bigger at all, doesn’t fit quite as well.

      • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

        And size might really become a factor with future travels …
        Since I am actually posting underneath an article on a vintage lense: Have you or anyone else reading this ever found a way around most vintage lenses focussing past infinity when combined with an adapter due to the lense thereby being slightly off in distance to the sensor (I think it’s the case, when the lense is slightly to close to the sensor)?
        Thanks again for taking your time and sharing your experience with me/us. I highly appreciate it.

      • Ritchie Roesch · June 14, 2022

        I haven’t, but I use the manual focus assistant tools: Focus Peak Highlight Red (High) and focus check magnification, which really help to nail the focus. Only problem is if its at night and a dark scene (such as photographing stars), the tools are less helpful. Otherwise, the tools make manual focus easy.

      • ecosmonaut · June 14, 2022

        That’s how I’ve been working myself around the »issue« as well. As long as you are not aiming for infinity focus, one has to rely on at least one of these options (or magnificent eye sight) anyway to make sure things are in focus. On other occasions I actually even like the look when I don’t nail focus to 100 percent. I’ve had the situation several times by now, where I preferred the slightly out of focus shot of a certain object over the ones where I actually nailed focus on it.
        But when aiming for infinity focus, I sometimes wish I could just crank up the focus ring all the way without having to worry, that I’m actually at, where I want to it to be.

      • Ritchie Roesch · June 15, 2022

        That would certainly be nice. My experience is that even “new” manual focus lenses have this issue, and I’m not sure why.

  10. ecosmonaut · June 20, 2022

    As I am rather new to photography, I wasn’t aware of that. Thanks for letting me know! That certainly makes it more bearable.
    This probably isn’t news to you, but it has something to do with too little distance to the sensor. I also read somewhere that the companies that sell the adapters, tend to keep their products »short« so they are closer to the sensor, since the opposite would make it impossible to even reach infinity focus, what then again would be a bigger issue.

    • Ritchie Roesch · June 21, 2022

      That would make sense, especially considering that one adapter is supposed to work on a whole host of lenses, and, in this case (m42), by many brands. It’s would be better to err on the side of too short by a hair than too long. Thanks for the comment!

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