The Mountain Nikkor covered in part 1 of this short series is a pretty unusual lens but didn’t quite fit the bill in terms of compact size. The quest for a pocketable telephoto lens continued, here’s part 2: the Chiyoko Tele Rokkor 11cm f/5.6.
A while ago I wrote about the Chiyoko Super Rokkor 45mm f/2.8 which quickly became one of my favourite lenses. Minolta made a whole set of LTM lenses to go with their Minolta-35 Barnack clone rangefinder camera that they released in the late 40s. Discovering a new brand that made lenses for LTM opens up a whole new can of worms. Luckily for my wallet, based on online reviews the other Chiyokos didn’t hold much interest for me, except one.
A post on the MF Lenses forum made me turn my attention to an obscure slow lens. “Yes, it is an amazing lens from wide open! My jaw was almost down at the pavement in Las Vegas where I got it delivered. I do not have words really, tiny little thing (smaller than the tiny canon 100mm f/3.5) and still the sharpest from wide open of all the short RF tele lenses I have. A real keeper and a perfect travel companion if size is important!” As you may imagine it was music to my ears! Even if another review said “Of course, it can’t give us a good or even average IQ, but it works enough to be used with modern digital cameras. In other words, it works much better than it can be expected. Just.., I haven’t idea about reasons for using this lens.”
Since the Chiyoko Tele Rokkor 11cm f/5.6 is another relatively rare lens, listings were sparse and prices high. But Ebay works in mysterious ways, especially if you help things by setting up a search alert. A seller listed this lens in an auction format starting at a low price but the caveat was they knew nothing about camera gear so the lens was completely untested and little to no information regarding condition was provided. I managed to get them to take a couple extra shots of the optics and while not being very detailed it looked like the lens was at least moderately clean. And even if mechanically it was poor, it would hopefully still pay off to have it CLA’ed. The other Chiyoko I have arrived in a poor state but quickly perked up when it was put to use, so I was optimistic.
Either deterred by the many unknowns or simply unaware of this lens, not many bidders turned up and I managed to snag it at a very promising price. It soon arrived and wow, that’s actually a tiny lens! You know the Canon 100mm f/3.5 that has a reputation for being very small and compact? Well, the Chiyoko Tele Rokkor 11cm f/5.6 is a centimetre shorter (while its focal length is a centimetre longer) and half a centimetre narrower. Obviously it is slower by a stop and a third. What made me hesitant to get the Canon instead was it is known for developing problems with haze and fungus. I once acquired a couple of them bundled with another lens and saw first hand how extensive the damage can be. Not to discourage anyone from getting it though, if it’s clean and ideally doesn’t come from a seller in Japan (high humidity) it should be alright. But if you’re after the tiniest lens, the Chiyoko wins.
Unlike the Nikkor, the Chiyoko 11cm f/5.6 feels very solid. No wonder, being about 40% shorter its weight is exactly the same. The gamble paid off and while my copy isn’t at all turn-focus-ring-with-tip-of-finger-velvety-smooth, it was very much usable right away (there is some grinding when I turn the focus ring like the lubricant crystalised or something, and I’ll eventually send both Chiyokos off for a CLA, I just kind of feel tempted to use this opportunity to have them repainted in some wacky colours and I’m waiting either for it to pass or raise the funds to make it happen). Visually, the lens feels very much influenced by another compact telephoto, the rigid 9cm Elmar. There even is a less common black and chrome version of the Chiyoko that could easily be mistaken for it. It features the same 34mm filter thread and allows for the use of A36 filters and accessories as well. At a glance, what gives it away is it looks stumpier due to a very similar width but shorter barrel. Being so small it won’t cause issues with viewfinder coverage as it only covers a bit of the corner of 50mm framelines when focused close. It comes nowhere near the 90mm framelines.
So, with regards to the hype… Sharpest tele from wide open? Hardly. Not even average image quality? Absolutely not. The Chiyoko Tele Rokkor 11cm f/5.6 is a perfectly usable lens that offers excellent quality at f/8 and is sufficiently sharp at maximum aperture. Again, nailing focus is surprisingly critical in the case of long lenses. Or maybe I’m badly spoiled shooting wide angle. As far as other qualities are concerned – not much in the way of subject separation (not entirely impossible but far from anything to write home about), medium/decent contrast, lovely subtle vignette. It’s definitely a winner in the size category, I’m not aware of any other >= 100mm lens that comes in such a pocketable package, except the aforementioned Canon. One would think the hunt was over… And one would be wrong!
The 3rd and last part is coming up soon. Is there a lens out there that can beat the Chiyoko Tele Rokkor 11cm f/5.6 in terms of size or weight?