A while back you may remember I wrote up the Canon FD 135/2. That is a great lens, but people are getting wise to it, and prices have crept up pretty high. My primary complaint was that it wouldn’t focus to infinity on my EOS DSLR. It was awesome on my mirrorless body. I have paraded a whole bunch of 135mm lenses through my little Tenba travel bag that I use for my EOS M series cameras. I had the aforementioned FD 135/2 but I have also tried several others including the following:

  • Nikkor Q F mount 135/2.8 (1970-ish) Street price $20-$80 rough to mint
  • Nikon E Series 135/2.8 (1980-ish) Street Price $50-$150 rough to mint
  • Canon FD 135/3.5 (1980-ish) Street Price $30-$80 rough to mint
  • Canon FD 135/2.0 (1980-ish) Street Price $250-$550 rough to mint
  • Canon FL 135/2.5 (1960-ish) Street Price $50-$120 rough to mint
  • Takumar PK 135/2.5 (1975-ish) Street Price $40-$90 rough to mint
  • Super-Takumar Universal 135/3.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $40-$100 rough to mint
  • Super-Takumar Universal 135/2.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $90-$220 rough to mint

I have used all of these and found them all to be at least very good, and few are outstanding performers. I am that guy that buys stuff plays with it for a while and then either keeps or gives it back to the market. I have been doing this for the last 30 years. This is how I have managed to own at least 500 lenses and a couple hundred cameras over the years. Every now and then I find a gem and hold it indefinitely. In this modern world of DSLR and Mirrorless bodies that can adapt to shoot nearly any lens, it has become even more fun for me to play around with lenses across a wide spectrum of brands and mounts.

Of the lenses listed above all of them could be adapted to fit my EOS M-5. All but the Canon FD/FL models would adapt perfectly to my EOS 5D Mk II. The FD/FL lenses will mount with an adapter but you can’t focus to infinity. Minolta MD lenses will also suffer from no-infinity focus when mounted to a Canon DSLR. The M will take them all and just about anything else every made!

So what of these classic 135mm lenses? I’ll start with the Nikkor F. This lens was a classic heavy weight. I mean seriously heavy and fat! Although it took Nikon’s standard 52mm thread filters, the lens was way fatter than that diameter. I’ll say it was a sharp lens right out to the corners on my full frame body. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely a solid performer. This was the early late 60’s early 70’s design and the focus ring was not buttery smooth. The real issue was its obesity, it was nearly as heavy as my early 60’s FL 135/2.5.

picture of dog

Canon EOS M3 Nikon E Series 135/2.8 @f/2.8

The Nikon Series E was an even better lens optically than the old school F series. Nikon’s E series was designed to be “economical” and suited to the new line of amateur cameras Nikon released in the late 1970s. Nikon EM and FG. To Nikon’s credit, they did not skimp on optics but rather made the lenses out of lighter weight materials and eliminated the “Metering Fork” that allowed metering on the older non-AI Nikons like Nikkormats and the F. Despite the “lighter” materials these E-series lenses had a silky smooth focus that I really like.

The Canon FD 135/3.5 was a small lens with the second gen FD mount which I always liked since it was faster to mount. Many purists prefer the original breech lock for reliability, but that was a slower to use system. This lens, like the Nikon E, had a silky smooth focus. The deal with using FD lenses on modern cameras is you need the adapter with the aperture lock. Otherwise the lens is stuck wide open. It wasn’t as sharp as the Nikon E series and was a half stop slower.

The FD 135/2.0 is brilliant and I wrote about it on the blog already. The reasons that led me to sell it were the fact that I could not get infinity focus on my 5D Mk II and prices for it were skyrocketing. All that juicy cash was calling to me 😉

picture of cat

Canon EOS M3 Canon FL 135/2.5 @f/2.5

The Canon FL 135/2.5 is a fabulous lens. This lens is quite the tank. It is lighter than the FD 2.0 but much heavier than the others on this list. The FL lens is a “preset” style. This means it has two aperture rings. One “presets” the F stop and when the camera fires the automatic lever will quickly stop the lens to that F value. To focus you typically want the lens wide open but the older cameras had to stop down (make it darker) to meter. The other ring allowed you to do that, meter and flick it back wide open for focusing. When the shutter was pressed that original preset ring would determine how far the lens would stop down. When using on modern digital cameras this is almost a moot point. It sucks a bit on a DSLR but a mirrorless with electronic viewfinder of LCD screen is fine. This lens has a fabulous Bokeh and with the 8 curved-blade diaphragm, out of focus highlights are always circular. This old dinosaur is delicious. The old single coatings Canon used back in those days was decent but color contrast suffers a bit compared to modern coatings from the mid-1970s on. The only reason it isn’t still in my bag is besides the heaviness is the inability to focus at infinity on my DSLR. PS I am selling mine, click here.

I tried the Takumar 135/2.5 because it was as fast as the burly Canon FL but about 40% lighter and smaller on all dimensions. This one used the Pentax K mount which works fine on Canon DSLRs with a simple ring adapter. But this lens really isn’t that sharp. I was a bit underwhelmed. Now don’t get me wrong it wasn’t terrible, but it was a tad soft and not just at the corners, this guy was a bit squishy in the middle too. I am kind of a sharpness nut however so understand it did get a 7 which is well above “average”.

So after the Takumar fail, I looked a couple of Super-Takumars. The first was the little 3.5 that was in universal mount. This lens was mint and tiny. It was fairly lightweight but there was nary a piece of plastic anywhere. It was beautifully made. Focus ring was smooth but not buttery smooth like some of the more modern lenses. This lens was pretty sharp corner to corner even on the full frame and was noticeably better than the Takumar 2.5. I was so delighted with the Super-Tak that I ordered a 2.5 version that I use now.

picture of flowers

EOS M5 Super-Takumar 135/2.5 @f/2.5

Both the 3.5 mentioned above and my current 2.5 Super-Takumar are 42mm Universal thread mount. These work fine on Canon DSLRs and of course on the mirrorless bodies. The 2.5 is optically even BETTER than the 3.5 and that is awesome. It is 30% lighter than to beastly FL Canon and dimensionally about 20% smaller. This is a tiny lens for having such a big opening. My only complaint is that they chose to use a 6 blade diaphragm which can leave out of focus highlights a little ‘hexy’ if you get my drift. My version is an older single coated lens the coveted SMC versions are worth the bigger bux if you want really good contrast and virtually no flare.

I created a chart based on my results with these various lenses. The 1-10 scale stuff sans bokeh is rated 5 average, 10 is top 1%, 1 just sucks terribly. So for perspective a crappy 1970s  spirotone cheapo lens might rate a 2 or 3; a simple kit lens might rate a 5-6, and better lenses up the line. My Zeiss 35/2 Biogon gets a 10. The bokeh rating is just too subjective but the faster lenses tend have a more favorable bokeh. Other factors play in. The ∞ Canon DSLR indicates whether the lens can achieve infinity focus on a Canon DSLR. The lenses that get a “no” here can be mounted on the DSLR with appropriate adapter, but will fail to focus at infinity. Weight stats were found on various collector and fan forums as well as personal weighing on my scale.

P.S. some of you may wonder why I write so much about the Canon DSLRs. One: I use them. Two: Canon DSLRs are the best bet for people that want to use older glass. With few exceptions Canon can mount nearly any 35mm SLR lens ever made. Some, such as Minolta MD and Canon FD will not focus to infinity. But the Canon EOS mount is very wide and allows ample room for adapters to fit other lenses. If you are thinking about an DSLR and you like the idea of mounting old school glass, Canon is the ticket. But the best option for using old school glass is a mirrorless body from Canon or Sony.

Last fall Canon released a completely new EOS M series camera to elevate its game. To those not married to Canon, the newest member of the “M” line up is finally competitive with the established brands in this arena, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, etc. But the M5 for a Canon DSLR user is ‘camera nirvana’. I owned the EOS M, the M3, and now the M5. I wrote about them on this blog.

As much as I like the M3, it still wasn’t that effective when using the EOS DSLR lenses. The focus was too slow. Let’s be clear, the M3 with an EF lens mounted on the EF adapter was not quite as fast as my original Canon EOS 1 film body from the early 1990s. Ouch! The M3 was plenty fast at acquiring focus with the EOS M series lenses but Canon has a weak stable of proprietary lenses for this camera. The trick with these M cameras is to use a fixed focus point. The AF tracking is not that good.

The M5 however is not monkeying around. With the EF adapter and any of my many EF lenses the M5 can acquire focus as quickly as an older DSLR like the 50d, 60d, etc. It is close to the speed of my 5d mk II or a 7d. It isn’t going to threaten the performance of Canon’s latest 80d or 5d Mk IV. But it is fast enough. With the EF-M lenses it is spot on and lightning quick. The camera does have focus issues with slower lenses like f/5.6 in low light.

picture of drink

M5 with 18-55mm at 55mm, 1/80sec at f/5.6, 800 ISO

All of this focus improvement comes under the aid of Canon’s dual pixel autofocus system found in its latest DSLRs. The camera features the all new Digic 7 processor and can shoot at speeds up to 9 fps. Although the camera does not support 4k video, which has surprised every professional reviewer, it does benefit greatly from the dual pixel AF.

At first glance one may wonder why Canon called this the M5 and not the M4. Well the M3 was a replacement for the M2 which replaced the M. The M5 is not a replacement for the M3. it is a bold step up model with a built-in electronic finder that gives the camera a mini SLR appearance like the Sony A7 cameras. So skipping a number seemed to make sense… well to Canon at least. I sort of see the logic. You see Canon has announced a replacement for the M3 and it is the M6. The M6 looks and feels almost exactly like the M3. The only difference is that it gets the internals from the M5. It will use the same EVF as the M3 or a newer, slimmer version of the EVF Canon just announced.

The revised lineup for Canon EOS-M cameras will be the entry-level EOS M10 which looks and feels like the original M, the M6 which is an updated clone of the M3 and the M5 that I have.

The M6 will be available in black and a new silver trimmed camera, reminiscent of the old “chrome body” SLRs or the 60s and 70s. The M5 comes in black only thus far.

I really like the performance of this new M5. I take the lion’s share of my photos with these M cameras so I have no regrets dropping the king’s ransom of $979 on the body. I will say that I am a bit disappointed in the “feel” of the camera. Although it appears to be built with the same basic pieces, the M3 had a better finish on the body and dials. I don’t think it is better built, just a better finish that looks richer. The M5 is a barn burner of a camera and finally does everything well enough that I have no worries about what Sony or Olympus are doing.

Canon has added a digital in body 5 axis stabilizer for video. I believe that Canon could unlock this with firmware in the future to allow for a digital IS in camera for use with vintage lenses. This is something Sony has on the A6500 camera and I would love to see Canon give us that. It won’t deter us from buying Canon’s IS lenses, so hopefully the bean counters will let them unlock it for manual lenses and still image use. Canon has either failed to see or refuses to accept that a bold number of people buying these mirrorless cameras are doing so to operate older rangefinder glass and other oddball lenses that cannot be used on ANY DSLR due to the mount flange to sensor distance. Sony’s A6500 runs about $1300 for the body and offers the 5 axis image stabilization for both still and video use.

picture high iso

M5 22/2 1/640 sec at f/4. Shot in mirror ISO 25600 no edit except flip

So as far as the performance goes the M5 is excellent. Picture quality is great, speed improved and ISO is better than the M3. My M3 delivered solid results up to ISO 1600 and this camera seems to get an extra stop of ISO before really degrading. That said, here is a shot at the maximum ISO, 25600. The shot is completely unedited other than a mirror flip to compensate for the backward image created by shooting into a mirror. Yes, it is noisy, but frankly it is pretty good since the shot was taken at 1/1600 sec at f/4.0 at night, under dim interior light. This is a usable ISO setting, it won’t yield any gallery grade detail, but it will get you that elusive shot of the Sasquatch at night that you keep failing to get at ISO 6400 😉

The new M6 will be equally as good since it will have all the internals of this M5. The price range for the new lineup will look something like this:

  • EOS M10 w/15-45mm             $449
  • EOS M6 w/15-45mm               $899
  • EOS M5 w/15-45mm               $1099

Frankly, the M6 is too much money. It does share all the juicy tech guts with the M5 but the control setup is stripped a bit, the screen is lower resolution and it has no built-in EVF. Canon gets some $230 for an EVF to fit the M6 (same one as old M3 or a new slimmer model) Why not just buy the M5 and be done with it? Without the EVF the M6 is smaller on all dimensions, but just by a millimeter or two. When you add the EVF to the M3 or M6 the camera is taller than the M5 and the EVF when mounted to the camera makes the camera awkward to get in and out of a bag.

The M10 is completely different. It is a basic aim and shoot with interchangeable lenses and the old M2, 18 MP sensor. It is truly a stripped down entry-level unit. I am glad Canon has it as it allows new users to buy into the system at a low price and know they can upgrade later to more serious models, and for those foregoing a DSLR it can be a great second body.

Canon still trails its competition in a pure spec shootout. The Sony A6000 compares well to it and some may prefer it. Sony has a better AF tracking system. But the Canon will make better pictures with less tweaking in post processing. For users not interested in adapting virtually any lens ever made to the camera, a Rebel SL1 is only slightly larger and actually a little lighter and may be the better choice. It is dirt cheap, not quite as well made, but faster at almost everything.

But the Rebel takes the EF lenses and EF lenses are by default BULKY as the EF lens mount is one of the widest mounts in the market place. The Rebel SL1 will never offer the same tight compact design and minimalist travel size with multiple lenses as the M series cameras can. With the M series (or a Sony A6000 series) I still get to carry and use classic rangefinder and custom old school glass. I bought the original M to use old glass and just happened to discover an AMAZING travel camera. Whether you buy a Sony A6xxx or the Canon M series, you will NEVER fail to be amazed by its indomitable travel spirit. I have been shooting seriously for nearly 40 years, I have owned Leicas, 4×5 Linhof, Hasselblad, and literally more than a hundred cameras over the years, I have never owned a better camera for travel than this EOS M series. NEVER. I made a video showing just how much stuff can fit into a tiny travel bag.

I talked about how I resurrected and old Tenba travel bag I have had since the late 1980s when I wrote the original M camera up. I am still using that little bag for this M5. I can carry the M5 and as many as 6 lenses in a bag as small as a lady’s clutch purse. That ain’t happening with a DSLR, even the world’s smallest DSLR, the Canon Rebel SL1. My standby, carry set with the M5 in the tiny Tenba includes the EFS 55-250 IS, EFM 11-22, EFM 22/2, Zeiss M 35/2, Samyang 8mm.

This M5 and presumably the new M6 will work exceptionally well with the entire lineup of EF lenses and all the after market EF mount stuff as well. Sure, some of the EF lenses are unwieldy on the little mirrorless camera, but some are not. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and the 85mm f/1.8 USM are both great on the M5 and they focus very fast. The 50 is comparable to an 80mm on full frame and the 85 is like a 135mm on full frame. So until someone releases a fully coupled EF-M prime portrait lens my EF 50/1.4 will have to do, and it does. I was goofing around with the camera and the EF 50/1.4. I really think Canon should unlock the 5 axis digital stabilization for still photos, it is hard to hold the little camera steady and even at 1/80 sec I see a little touch of camera shake in these images.

man holding camera

M5 EF 50/1.4 1/80th@f1.4 ISO 320

Lab (dog)

Betsy, M5 EF 50/1.4 1/60 sec @ f1/4 ISO 1600 some camera shake 😦

Sheltie (dog)

Maggie, M5 EF 50/1.4 1/200 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 1600

picture of woman

M5 18-55 at 55mm 1/50 sec at f/5.6 ISO 3200

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