My choice of short telephoto lens is slightly out of the ordinary. In the past I’ve tried a few Leica lenses (90mm f4 Elmar etc) but haven’t been too impressed with either their size or their image rendering. After purchasing my Canon 50mm f0.95 I got hold of a copy of the incredibly informative ‘Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939 – 1971’ by Peter Kitchingman. I read it cover to cover in a few days and one lens in particular (well, a few, but that’s another story…) stood out as of interest to me – the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM.
As mentioned in a previous post on this site, I mainly shoot a Custom Leica M with a 1963 Canon 50mm f0.95 modified to Leica M-mount. However, when I’m travelling, or even just out for a long photowalk, I’ll often try and take a wide angle and short telephoto lens. My camera bag is just about big enough for 3 lenses and the Leica M3 body. Hamish has already reviewed my Carl Zeiss Hologon 16mm f8 modified to M-mount so I thought I’d write a little about the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM, my telephoto lens of choice.
The Canon 85mm f1.8 ltm
The Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM designed by Mukai Jirou was released in March 1961 and stayed on the market for the following 10 years. The lens is popular with both users and collectors. Users like the really attractive rendering of the lens and collectors (as they tend to do) like it’s rarity.
Getting hold of one took me a while and in the end I purchased one from Japan in very good condition.There were two versions. The Type 1 had CANON LENS CCo Inc Lens Made in Japan on the front inner ID ring. The Type 2 has CANON Lens Made in Japan. I have the Type 2 (of which only around 777 were ever made) which would date my copy to between 1971 and 1975.
More detail can be found in Peter Kitchingman’s book (I highly recommend it) but the main details of note are that it weighs 470g, is 75mm long, 60mm in diameter and has 13 aperture blades. It takes 58mm screw in filters and the T-60 clamp on hood (which I don’t have). Size-wise I really like it – it seems more compact than a lot of lenses of this focal length but also has a nice solid feel in the hand. On the Leica M body it has a really good centre of balance and is still compact enough to fit well in a small bag.
Use with Leica M-mount
The Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM is native in Leica Thread Mount (M39) but with a LTM to M adaptor it works perfectly. I chose an adaptor that brings up the 90mm framlines in the M3’s viewfinder, meaning that I get ever so slightly more than the framelines suggest, although I’ve never really noticed this being an issue in the final image. I also tend to add a Match Technical E-CLYPSE 1.25 x magnifier which helps give accurate focus when paired with the M3’s effective base length of 62.33 (see Hamish’s earlier post on the subject of EBL).
Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8
The focus thread has a very long throw but is incredibly smooth in it’s operation. I have had the chance to use three different copies over the last few months and this has been consistent with all of them. One issue that some people might not like is that it has a minimum focussing distance of 1m. When using this on digital (I know, blasphemy…) a close focus adaptor really helps.
This is quite a versatile lens with fast aperture of 1.8 to 22. The only big negative I have with the lens operation is that adjustment of the aperture setting. This is done by rotating the aperture collar at the very end of the lens – the collar rotates with the focus thread which can be quite confusing at times if you want to look and see what aperture you’re currently on. Also, if the collar is fairly stiff (as mine is) it can affect the focus, i.e. if you’ve focussed and then decide to alter aperture at the last minute, you have to then re-focus which can be a real pain and in some instances has caused me to miss the shot.
Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8
Shot wide open it has a really nice (I know, it’s subjective) rendering of the out of focus areas in both the foreground and background. The above image you can really see that the 13 diaphragm blades create (to me, at least) a pleasing effect.
In the images below you can see the foreground bokeh too, which I have been really pleased with.
Portra 400 f1.8
Stopped down to f2 and beyond and the lens renders sharp images but with a vintage feel – I’m not even sure what I mean by that but I can tell going through my Lightroom images a shot with the Canon 85mm and one take on a modern lens.
I have not experienced any noticeable flare of the lens yet but I haven’t shot too much into the sun. If I do then I can always look at picking up the T-60 clamp on hood.
I have not noticed too much vignetting with this lens even when shot wide open. I’ll keep my eyes peeled, though, and if I notice any I’ll post some images.
For a 1970’s lens I really can’t fault the contrast. I’m not a particular fan of high contrast modern lenses, though.
As I’d mentioned at the start this is quite a rare lens so expect to pay £400 and up (as of November 2015). For a mint Type 2 lens with front and rear caps, the T-60 hood and the original 85mm finder (and leather Canon finder case) then it will be over £1,000.
All in all, with the exception of the slightly annoying rotating lens head, I think that the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM is a really nice short telephoto lens. It gives classic image rendering, is a sharp as it needs to be, and really fits well both in proportion and weight on a Leica M. As an alternative to a Leica 90mm, if you can overlook the slightly inaccurate frame lines this is a nice lens to have in the bag.
I really like this as a portrait lens too.
Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8
Thanks for reading,
Show your support for 35mmc
If you found this post interesting or useful, or if it helped you make up your mind about buying one of these cameras, then why not
By clicking that link, as long as you buy, bid on or win an auction within 24hrs – at no extra cost to you – I will receive a little kick back from ebay to help keep 35mmc up and running.
Additionally, if you would like to contribute a post of your own to 35mmc, click here!
Help keep this blog alive!
35mmc needs a little bit of support to help keep it going - I've never been motivated to profit from it, I'd just like it to cover its costs. If you enjoy reading the content here, please consider showing your support in one of the following ways:
Write for 35mmc: read more here, about how you can help build upon this ever growing resourceSubscribe/Follow: click here, to discover all the ways you can follow 35mmcCameraventures: follow this link to buy something off Cameraventures and 35mmc will get a little kickbackEbay: follow this link to buy something off ebay and 35mmc will get a little kickbackAdvertise: read more here, about advertising on 35mmcPaypal Donate: Read more here, or just click the donate button below. Nothing helps more than donations! Every single pound helps!
Subscribe to email updates
Join my mailing lists to receive a notification the moment I publish a blog post