I Like Good-Looking Lenses

I know it seems shallow, but I like my lenses to look big, heavy, powerful, and intimidating. I hate lenses that look like dog noses or pastry funnels. I like lenses that look like NASA took ten years to design them. I like lenses that seem to be capturing light in a gaping maw of glass.

The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 is pictured mounted on my Nikon D700.
The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 is pictured mounted on my Nikon D700.

One such lens that came to me recently from an odd angle is the 1970s-era Sigma – XQ 135mm f/1.8.

I got ahold of this lens recently during a visit from a fellow photographer. He said someone gave it to him free while buying another piece of photo equipment.

The “Scalematic” feature of this lens reads out the field of view at the focus spot, so you can use the lens to measure the size of objects.

It says it is multicoated, but the front element doesn’t have the characteristic blue-green reflection of any of my other multicoated lenses.

There is an extra set of distance scale on the Sigma, marked "vertical" and "horizontal," and they tell you your field of view of the scene at the point where you are focused. Using a bit of geometry, you can them divine the size of the object you are photographing.
There is an extra set of distance scale on the Sigma, marked “vertical” and “horizontal,” and they tell you your field of view of the scene at the point where you are focused. Using a bit of geometry, you can them divine the size of the object you are photographing.

Because of the way the t-mount attaches to this lens, there is no mechanical connection to the aperture operating pin, so the lens will only work at its largest aperture, f/1.8. This isn’t really a problem, since we own lenses like this so we can use them wide open.

I shot with it a bit. The contrast is very low, but sharpness is there, though the depth of field at f/1.8 is razor-thin, and it is completely unforgiving of any focus errors.

Many photographers tend to think of large-aperture lenses as “bokeh masters” or “bokeh beasts,” but they often get the fundamentals wrong. “Bokeh” isn’t how far out of focus something is, it’s the characteristics of the out of focus area. Thus, every lens has bokeh, from the humblest kit lens to the newest super-telephoto.

Every photographer on the planet is obsessed with "bokeh," and with a lens like this, it is tempting to take advantage of selective focus at its huge f/1.8 maximum aperture, which has the potential to highlight its bokeh. In my opinion, the 135's bokeh is interesting and a bit complex, and I like it.
Every photographer on the planet is obsessed with “bokeh,” and with a lens like this, it is tempting to take advantage of selective focus at its huge f/1.8 maximum aperture, which has the potential to highlight its bokeh. In my opinion, the 135’s bokeh is interesting and a bit complex, and I like it.

The focus throw, the amount you need to turn the focusing ring, is long. This particular lens has a little bit of grab toward the infinity end of the throw like a lot of lenses this old, since the grease in the mechanism tends to stiffen up over time.

The best thing about this lens is the big, gaping front element combined with its steel and brass construction. It feels like it was made to last.

The Nikon D700 is the biggest camera I own, and this huge Sigma lens makes it look small by comparison.
The Nikon D700 is the biggest camera I own, and this huge Sigma lens makes it look small by comparison.

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