Lenses

MS-Optics Converted Yashica T4 35mm f/3.5 Tessar – The Hunt for the Commute Camera pt.1 – By Hern Tan

September 22, 2020

My very first barn-find Yashica T5 had proven itself to be a stinker. First it made a heck of a racket every time it took a picture, and the lag between pressing the shutter button and the lens actually extending to focus and snap was far too long for my liking. The autofocus was more miss than hit, the squinty viewfinder had no real useful information, and the novelty of the Superscope wore off soon after I’d realised it didn’t fit into my style of shooting.

The battery door was coming loose, there were three hairline cracks in the plastic base of the camera, and to top it all off, the blasted thing stopped working altogether after the sixth roll I put through it.

A real shame then, since despite all the flaws that I had to endure during my time with the camera, it had exactly the lens I was looking for: a 35mm built in the Tessar formula.

The Tessar Lust

As much as Hamish is obsessed with his hunt for his perfect Sonnar, I am rather crazy about these simple triplet lenses. The 50mm f/2.8 Elmar (technically a 4-element lens), the Contax/Yashica 45mm f/2.8 Tessar, the rather finicky-to-operate Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 GN, the Tessar-equipped Rolleiflex MX, and a very short stint with MS-Optics very own 35mm f/3.5 Perar were all fondly remembered flings of mine. Trading off speed for a much lighter, compact setup, yet not losing much in terms of contrast or sharpness, I’ve always liked having at least one Tessar in my kitbag, and the Yashicas’ were one of the very few options I had in that focal length.

Foolishly, I had long since sold off the now very lifeless Yashica T5 as spares when I stumbled upon Miyazaki-san and his magic ways of adapting lenses from all sorts of compact cameras to both the LTM and M mount.

Snagging a perfectly working T4 or T5 would have cost me an arm and a leg, even back then. The ones being sold for parts were out of the question as well, with all those that I had come across having some problem or other with the lens. And the one already converted example that was selling on Map Camera was priced far out of my reach. So I quietly shelved the idea.

Until my lucky break.

Striking Gold

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Well, of course the story has a happy ending, or this review would never exist. Just a few weeks after the whole excitement and resulting disappointment had run its course, I popped onto the usual photography forums for the ritualistic browsing of threads and classified ads when there it was.

MS-Optical Converted 35mm.

There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve plonked down cash faster.

An agonizing 2 weeks passed before it arrived at my doorstep, halfway around the world from its previous owner. I tore through the box, the bubble wrap, and there it was. A tiny gem in the palm of my hand. It would take me another 2 days before I even noticed the seller had forgotten to include Miyazaki-san’s handwritten note on how the lens had performed in testing.

The Ergonomics

Two words: power pancake. This thing is tiny, and that is including the circular hood! Removing the screw-on hood just reduces the lens to the size of a lens cap, but I prefer to leave it on for the simple fact that the screw-in lens cap only fits the threads on the hood instead of the lens itself.

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The included metal cap, while it is very nice and somewhat of a novelty, is definitely not the thing you’d want to be using daily, since it is just such a hassle to be twisting it on and off all the time. In light of that, I went down to a local camera store and bought a Chinese-made plastic snap-on cap instead. 5 quid, does the job.

The lens isn’t very receptive to filters too either, since the hood occupies the threads that the filters would go on. Again, more faffing about with accessories is not my idea of a simple, compact, commuting setup. That, and the fact that it completely obscures access to the aperture controls. While we are on that topic…

The Aperture

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The aperture ring is a fiddly one, located at the front of the lens, right around the front element in fact. This makes it rather prone for fat, clumsy fingers to stamp nice oily fingerprints all over the blue lens coating. The aperture is unclicked too, so that doesn’t help with trying to make adjustments on the fly, but it is rather smooth for a hand-converted lens. There are many (rounded!) aperture blades as well, keeping the opening nice and perfectly circular at all settings, though in real-world use I find it barely makes a difference with the relatively slow maximum aperture.

Sharpness and Contrast

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This lens bites. Nail the focus right – which isn’t hard to do given the focal length and the slow maximum aperture – and you’re in for a treat. I won’t go into very much detail about how the lens performs optically, since there are tens upon tens of reviews out there for the T4/5/Slim, and even more sample images. The lens is pretty unshaken when pointed right at the sun or similarly bright and focused light sources, and I haven’t seen a peep of veiling flare from it even after quite a number of rolls with the lens. I suspect most of that is down to the mythical Zeiss T* coating, but it could just as easily be the lens hood that I’ve decided to leave on the lens at all times.

Focusing with the Lens

There is a small nubbly – or rather, minimalist – lens tab attached right at the base of the lens, which is a valiant attempt at keeping things both simple and lightweight, but it falls short of being a practical way of focusing the lens. The half crescent indentation is simply not deep enough to reliably seat your finger in, and can prove to be a frustrating experience if you are used to the very ergonomic Leica/Voigtlander tabs.
That being said though, I have found my way around this small niggle – just grab on to the much larger circular lens hood, and turn that instead!

You see, the entire front of the lens turns when you focus the lens, and that includes the entire filter thread/lens hood assembly. With a much larger surface area for my stubby fingers to grasp on, just using the hood as a sort of makeshift focusing ring works just fine for me.

Sample Pics

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Conclusion

Well, I’d say this lens does a pretty good job in creating quite the killer compact combo on an M-mount camera, making it even possible to just throw in a small canvas pouch on the days where a short walk round the block is all that I have time for. Sure, the Contax T is both smaller and faster to shoot by virtue of its aperture priority control, but for a fully manual experience, this really is quite the piece of kit!
Well, if nothing else, it has found its way into my kit bag as an extra choice of focal length with none of the weight penalties of a conventional 35mm lens. And that in itself is enough to justify keeping the lens, quirks and all.

My Instagram’s here, a little more of my writing here, and my modest portfolio here if you have time to spare in your day. Cheers!

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Eric Rose
    September 22, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    I had to laugh! We Tessar fanatics probably need our very own support group. I use Tessar lens designs for large format, medium format, digital and of course 35mm. Love the look!

    Great story, thanks for sharing.

    Eric

  • Reply
    Zvonimir
    September 22, 2020 at 5:25 pm

    Sayin Hern bey! You begin your excellent review by acknowledging your enthusiasm for triplet lenses. I share your enthusiasm for this technology, as I can always stop down my Zeiss folder for decent resolution (I shoot Kodak Tri X exclusively.)

    However, your article centers on the Tessar. To the best of my knowledge the Tessar is a four element lens, n’est-ce pas? Or did a technician forget to cement that pesky fourth element to match the concave of the third one?

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      September 23, 2020 at 3:35 am

      Absolutely absolutely right! And it was staring me in the face: tessera! This is most definitely a 4 element, 3 group lens, for some reason my mind put it together with the 3 element, 3 group MS-Optics Perar…

  • Reply
    Marco Diaz
    September 22, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    Great stuff! I had never thought about looking for these M mount conversion lenses. I will look into that as it could add an entire new range of options to my current kit.

  • Reply
    Lukas
    September 22, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Great article and great photos. Could you give some more information on the film used for the sample pics?

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      September 23, 2020 at 3:32 am

      I pretty much use only Kodak 5222, and Ilford HP5 pushed to EI 1600. It is rather hard to tell which is which on a computer screen though.

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    September 22, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    Very cool. Didn’t know there was a business that coverts point-n-shoot lenses for ILCs. I guess it’s limited to the classic German lens formulas. Interesting!

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      September 23, 2020 at 3:30 am

      MS-Optics can do quite a wide range of lenses – not just the Zeiss stuff! I recall them doing the Nikon 35Ti and 28Ti lenses, the Fuji Tiara’s 28mm lens, and other gems that would otherwise be tossed out when the electronics fail.

      • Reply
        Ryan Nethery
        September 24, 2020 at 5:27 am

        How did you go about getting them to convert this lens for you?

        • Reply
          Hern Tan
          September 24, 2020 at 11:59 am

          Oh, it wasn’t me who had it converted, I just had the good fortune of finding it already in M-mount form! You can go about this conversion process by getting in touch with Bellamy of Japancamerahunter if you so wish though.

  • Reply
    Raphael
    September 25, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Nice photos ! I have yet to try the Kodak 5222 stock ! The scans look really sharp. What gear did you use or LAB maybe ?

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      September 25, 2020 at 8:59 pm

      I’m using a Noritsu lab scanner at home – mainly for the time savings though!

  • Reply
    AJ
    September 27, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    Someone needs to make a leica adapter for the cheapest triplet, the smena 8m

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      September 28, 2020 at 4:04 pm

      Equally cheap might be the rather unloved Canon Serenar 35mm f/3.5!

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