Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cheap n' Cheerful Part Two

For my next lens test, I am reviewing something of a mystery. It's a lens by JC Penney. For those not in the US, JC Penney was a mid-tier department store that used to sell more than just clothes. They were successful enough in the 70s to sell re-branded camera gear, ranging from the Big Three (Pentax, Nikon and Canon) to numerous smaller ones (Mamiya 35mm SLRs.) Their pull in the photographic world is long gone, but examples of their presence still remain.
This 135mm f/2.8 lens for example:

I picked this lens up on eBay some years ago, in unused condition, for less than 5$US. I've used it here and there, always pleased with the results, but never really delving into its capabilities until now.
For starters, it's a solid chunk of metal and glass. The front rim claims "coated optics" (Yeah, but coated with what?) and comes with a built in retractable hood which slides into place with a pleasing sound. A slight twist of the hood locks it into place, a neat touch on a budget lens.
JC Penney didn't make this lens, but tracking down who did is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
I've read dozens of articles claiming it was originally made by Nikon/Albinar/Tokina/Sigma/etc. but no authoritative links backing anything up. After hours of reading I'd come no closer to finding out the real manufacturer. It's virtually identical to the Albinar, but Albinar itself was merely a reseller of other lenses, it never made their own, so that's no help.

Regardless of who made the lens, it's a cracking good one. For reasons I'm unclear on, 135mm f/2.8 lenses were easy to make back then with good contrast and sharpness. Here are examples from this lens both full shots, and 100 percent crops. Same rules applied to this shoot as did the Tamron one.

While the Tamron lens is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lenses I've ever seen, the JC Penney one is better built and has a nicer feel to the focusing.

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