Film Photography

Shooting the 135mm f/2.8 MC Auto Sears lens for Pentax K mount

When you buy old cameras, as I do, you frequently get lenses with them. When you’re lucky, you get a really good one, like the time I got a 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor lens with a Minolta SR-T 202 body attached, for something like 30 bucks. That was a good day.

More often, however, you get third-party lenses. I’ve lost track of how many Vivitar lenses I’ve owned, for example. These lenses are decidedly a mixed bag: some are crap, most are so-so, and a few are surprisingly good. In contrast, lenses from the camera maker are usually good to great.

A number of lenses for the Pentax K mount had Sears branding on them. Sears, the once-great department store, bought them from overseas lens manufacturers. A Sears lens could have been manufactured by Ricoh, Cosina, Tokina, or others.

I forget how I came to own this 135mm f/2.8 MC Auto Sears lens. It might have come with the Pentax KM I bought from my old friend Michael many years ago; there were a lot of lenses in that camera bag. Based on the lens’s design and markings, and some Internet sleuthing I’ve done, I am guessing that Tokina made this lens.

I came upon it the other day, realized I’d never used it before, and decided to try it on my Pentax ME. I’m not sure what happened to most of the roll of Ilford Delta 400 I shot, but about a third of the images were so dark as to be useless. I hope my beloved ME is not developing a fault.

Fortunately, all of the images turned out fine from the Sunday morning our granddaughter came to visit. Here are the best of them.

At the shore

Based on these results, I’d say that this lens is optimized for portraiture. I shouldn’t be surprised; that seems to be the raison d’etre for any 135mm lens. Check out the blurred foreground in the photo below. That effect was a staple of these photos.

At the shore

It was a little tricky to focus with this lens in bright light as the focus patch tended to go black. When that happened, I guessed as best I could. That’s why the little dog is crisper than our granddaughter in this shot.

In the front yard

In this photo I was deliberately focusing on my wife’s face. The available light forced me to a wide aperture, which led to shallow depth of field.

With our granddaughter

I shot the rest of the roll at indiscriminate subjects just to see what turned out. This is the ash tree in our front yard. The blurred background is flat and lifeless, and contrast is poor. I had to boost contrast on all of these photos far beyond what I normally do after scanning negatives.

Car behind a tree

This lens is capable of good sharpness and detail.

Shed window

It would have been far wiser to test this lens making portraits. But I don’t make many portraits. This is the kind of photography I do, and no 135mm lens is suited to it. At least this 135mm f/2.8 MC Auto Sears lens handled well and is solidly built. Its built-in lens hood was a nice touch.

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24 thoughts on “Shooting the 135mm f/2.8 MC Auto Sears lens for Pentax K mount

    • I think Andy’s comment below describes the black split screen phenomenon well! Your Cosina lens is very similar – but the f/stop scale runs in the opposite direction from my lens. On my lens, f/22 is on the left and f/2.8 on the right.

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Ditto here with a Sears 28mm for Pentax K mount that just came with something or other I was buying. Sharp, contrasty, all mechanical functions fine. A little more vignetting at open to f/5.6 than I would have been used to with a far more expensive lens, but the effect would have been sort of pleasing to the person this was marketed to. I’m sure brand new it was less than 100 bucks. I still have it laying around since it’s probably not worth the time to sell, I’d have to charge more for the shipping! I also think I tracked it down to Tokina.

    Split focusing aids have to be made specific to what lenses you’d like them to work on. I don’t remember why, something with the way the light strikes the screen and the angle of the two sides of the split. They were made mostly to function with wide-angle lenses where you cannot tell that much from the ground glass. They were always dark with telephoto lenses or slow lenses, altho I seem to remember if you move your eye around the viewfinder and get it centered exactly, it might still work.

    I have to say tho, if you’re having trouble focusing a 135mm lens on just the surrounding ground glass, might be time to see your eye doctor! Anything over 85mm and that image fairly pops in and out perfectly. I know a couple of model photographers that had Nikon bodies set with full ground glass screens, no other markings or focusing aids, for use with 50mm and above. They loved the full unimpeded screen to look at for composing. I tell people the last time I used a Nikkormat with a 28mm, I could still see the image pop in and out without using the split or microprism. Something about those 70’s and 80’s era Nikon screens that were great…

    • You know what? I got so focused on the split screen that I forgot about the ground-glass patch around it! I love split-screen focusing, it’s my favorite way to go. I’m shooting my Pentax KM right now and all it has is the ground-glass patch, and it’s fine.

    • Peter Paar says:

      For cameras with interchangeable focusing screens, there are screens with micro-prisms designed for lens longer than 100mm. For Nikons they are Type F,U, and the G series.

  2. Michael says:

    If you read your old KM review, you’ll see that the Sears lens I had was an 80-200mm so you got this one from somebody else. ;)

  3. I have a beautiful, big Hanimex 80-200mm f3.5 “one touch” zoom K-mount which I bought for 99 cents plus shipping. Yup. It’s a great but heavy lens and is in fact better than the K100Ds I have to use it on. (This may be the same as the Sears lens Michael mentions.) One area where modern lenses really have improved is in getting the weight down on longer focal lengths. On the whole I don’t recommend long FL classic glass because of the weight and size factor.
    As you know buying the “house brand” lenses can be hit-or-miss for quality as they weren’t all made by the same maker despite being sold as the same lens; this year’s Sears 50mm might be Cosina in disguise and next year’s could be Hanimex. Or the retailer could just change the requirements (reduce-the-price demand) and get a lower-quality with the next batch.

    • My 80-200 is a pump zoom and f/4 across the zoom range, so not the same. But it’s a good performer, which is why I’ve kept it. Yep, hit or miss quality. I’m never excited to find a house-brand lens attached to a camera I buy, but I always try them at least once to see if I won the lens lottery.

  4. I am totally a fan of these store brand lenses. It is always a suprise and I get them quite cheap. Sometimes I get something good from Ebay.

    Personally I also struggle with 135mm lenses as I rarely do portraits. Especially for my 3 year old the minimum focus distance of these lenses is often too large. So often grab them for architectural details, sculputres and any kind of random object I find on the streets.

    • They do sell for cheap, to be sure. They also sell very slowly. I’ve listed several and they linger for months and months.

      I don’t mind zoom lenses that include 135mm; I find them more useful than a fixed 135, for the kind of photography I do.

  5. Kurt Ingham says:

    Camera magazine lens tests at the time often focused (intentional) on sharpness testing (charts)-and contrast characteristics were nearly ignored. You’ll find a lot of indep. brand lenses that are sharp-but with low contrast. Age exacerbated the issue.These days it is easy to improve things in post

    • You know, that’s been a thing I’ve found with third-party lenses a lot — low contrast. But yeah, a quick move of a slider in PS and you’re good.

  6. Andy Umbo says:

    BTW, ditto above on your Vivitar synopsis. I always thought they were crappier than their advertising made them look, until the Vivitar Series One, which were all pretty exceptional. Soligors weren’t so hot either, for a while owned by the same company that owned Miranda. As an early Miranda user, I avoided “Soligor-Miranda” lenses like the plague, and only used the Miranda stuff. For all I know, they could have all been made by Soligor, but the Miranda only could have been the ones that tested out better; not unheard of by other manufacturers. Tamron had some of the best stuff, and the Kiron (long gone), had a zoom lock so that you could lock a zoom lens at a certain focal length.

    Cheaper lenses might have had had lower contrast due to cheaper internal coatings, or not blackening the edges of the lenses like CZ, or even the internal barrel flocking. These were areas you could cut corners to make the lenses cheaper.

    Weirdly enough, when I was just a kid in photography, the 135mm seemed to be the next lens every one bought. I have no idea why, but it was really pushed by every one. I think they were cheap and sharp. When I got my first studio job in high-school; for pros, no one had a 135mm, it was all either 85mm or 100/105mm, and then right up to 180/200mm. That’s why there’s a lot of 135mm’s out there!

    • I often don’t bother shooting Vivitars when I get them, I just list them on eBay immediately.

      I’d like to explore 85mm shooting. I should look for one for my Nikons.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I spent years favoring the 105 f/2.5 Nikkor, it was a “pip” and in all the advertising when I owned my “F’s” and F2’s” back in the 70’s; really pushed by Nikon. I fell in love with the 85, especially for portraits, back when I had the Contax System; their 85mm f/2.8 was exceptional, altho didn’t quite focus close enough, I always used it with a tiny extension tube. The great thing about it was that it was literally no larger than a 50mm, and easy to hand hold.

        From that point on, I generally owned an 85mm as my favored portrait lens, I had a Canon, Nikkor, and some others depending on what camera body I had hanging around, always a ‘slow’ one like a f/2.5 or 2.8. Weird thing today? The 85’s are always crazy expensive! I’ve been looking for a clean 85mm Pentax “K” for years, and they’re anywhere between 280-400 bucks! I think I bought my super clean 100mm for 50 bucks! Same for my old Canon FT, when I can even find an FL 85mm in the shape I want it, it’s 300 bucks! Got a mint 35mm FL the other day for 50 bucks too…

        When dinosaurs ruled the earth, and real photo-journalists owned rangefinders, the 85mm was “king” because it was about the longest lens that a rangefinder would focus correctly. The base between the windows wasn’t long enough to accurate focus anything longer! The Nikon rangefinder had an 85mm and a 105mm because it had a longer window length, like the Contax rangefinder. That’s where the 85mm got it’s well deserved rep!

    • tbm3fan says:

      Long, long ago when I bought me SrT-101 the first lens I bought after the standard 55mm f1.7 was the MC Rokkor 200mm f3.5. After that was a MC Rokkor 28mm f2.8. Those were then used all through the 70s and 80s and suited me just fine as I wasn’t a portrait photographer. Of course, being a Minolta collector, I now have dozens of their lenses in their different variations. Oh, and when I started collecting Miranda I avoided the Soligor lenses also.

  7. I have found that a 135mm lens is ideal for photographing small children. It allows you to get close pictures while still staying outside their “circle of interest”. You can be far enough away that they pay no attention to you and lets you get candid pictures.

    • Makes sense! With our granddaughter, if you move into her circle of interest with your camera, she turns to the camera and moves in, expecting a portrait to be made. When you want a portrait, that’s fine, but often I just want to photograph her playing!

  8. I have a 4/100 macro Super Takumar that came to me that way. Needs a clean as it is developing some fungus and haze, but the macro shots of flowers are amazing. On my list of things for a CLA this year :)

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