Leica’s Ernst Leitz Hektor 135mm f/4.5 lens review

General

The Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5 is probably the least expensive Leica M lens available today - it sells for $50-$300 on eBay or the used departments of B&HAdorama and KEH. Leica manufactured this lens between 1933-1960. The serial number of mine revealed that it is produced back in 1958. The Hektor model was replaced in 1960 by the Leica Elmar 135mm f/4. Lenses with serial numbers from 1,124,000 - 1,416,000 have a 36mm filter thread; serial numbers from 1,416,000 - 1,827,000 have a 39mm filter thread. All versions produced after the WWII were coated. The aperture has 15 blades and a range of f/4.5 - f/32. The 135mm Hektor has 4 lens elements in 3 lens groups. The angle of view is 18° and the minimum focusing distance is 1.5m/5 feet.

The exact label of the lens is Ernst Leitz GmbH Weltzlar Hector f=13.5cm 1:4.5:

The lens has its own tripod mount for better balance:

The focusing ring on my copy is rather firm and can be rotated at approximately 340°. This could be helpful for getting a precise focus, but slows down the process since there is more rotation involved. For better focusing, I used this lens with the 1.25x viewfinder magnifier. The lens hood is reversible and the lens cap can fit on top of it:

The distance scale of my version was only in feet:

This is the obstruction of the lens in the viewfinder of the M9 with the lens hood on (without a viewfinder magnifier):

The Leica M9 doesn't have a dedicated manual lens setting for this lens. The closest selection is the 135mm f/4 (11851/11861):

Colors

Compared to the modern Leica lenses, the colors produced by the Hektor 135mm f/4.5 are not as saturated and vibrant (compared to the latest Summarit-M 90mm f/2.5 lens):

colors reproduction from the 135mm Hektor lens

colors reproduction from the 135mm Hektor lens

colors reproduction from the 90mm Summarit lens

Sharpness

The examples below were taken from the center of a test chart. From what I can see, the maximum sharpness is achieved at around f/5.6-8 and then stays constant all the way up to f/16 (look at the small digits for better comparison):

f/4.5

Hektor 135mm at f/4.5

f/5.6 (compared again with the Summarit-M 90mm f/2.5 lens)

Hektor 135mm at f/5.6

Summarit 90mm at f/5.6

f/8 (second image from the Summarit-M 90mm f/2.5 lens for comparison)

Hektor 135mm at f/8

Summarit 90mm at f/8

f/11

Hektor 135mm at f/11

f/16

Hektor 135mm at f/16

f/22

Hektor 135mm at f/22

f/32

Hektor 135mm at f/32

Please note that there could be a margin of error in those test chart comparisons. Here is a real world 100% crop taken at f/8:

original image

100% crop

Vignetting

When shooting with the 135mm Hektor lens wide open, I could not see any vignetting or barrel distortion:

shot at f/4.5, the white frame shows the edge of the image

Lens flare

Lens flare is strongly pronounced even when the lens is not directly pointed at a light source and the lens hood is on:

Bokeh

The 135mm Hektor is not a fast lens and is probably not a good idea to use it in low light, but you can still get out of focus background when shooting wide open (f/4.5):

Samples

Here are some sample images taken with the Hektor 135mm f/4.5 lens and Leica M9 at the Miami marathon (images were not post-processed, just directly converted from DNG->JPG in Lightroom 3):

Higher resolution are available on flickr.

Conclusion

The drawbacks of this lens is the lack of sharpness, dull colors and pronounced lens flare. For a 50+ years old lens with a price of $50+, I am willing to ignore all those weaknesses. For the rare occasion that you may want to use a 135mm focal length on a Leica M camera, this lens is a cheap alternative to the latest Leica 135mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-M model which sells for $3,295.00.

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  • zd

    It has all the traits of a vintage Leica: soft image, gradual color transition and creamy bokeh. It’s not a sharpness king but no one would expect that from a 50 years old lens (and at $50 to boot!)

    I like it a lot for portrait shots. Not all subjects, i.e. the human face, requires razor-sharp edges. Street photography is not its strength though.

    • http://www.flickr.com/genotypewriter genotypewriter

      gradual color transition

      Do you mean low contrast?

  • Richard W.

    Thanks for this Review.
    I would heartily reccomend posting as many as these as you care to do or attempt.
    Maybe even ‘guest’ reviews of a similar vein.
    Sincerely
    Richard in Michigan

    • http://leicarumors.com LR admin

      I am planning similar reviews at least for the few Leica lenses that I own. Next on the list is the 90mm Summarit.

      • Richard W.

        Good to Hear LRadmin. :-D
        – thought occurs to ask for volunteers to author some. Maybe using this review as their template?
        Richard in Michigan

  • Al

    Great idea to review older lenses, keep them coming!

  • Nobody Special

    It was always one of my favorite ‘kit’ lenses in college. I used to love using it for selective focus work with flowers (using transparency film) and protraits as well. Mine finally gave up the ghost with some coating fading, but it’s absolutely true that used with an artistic eye and even more ‘general’ imaging, many of the old lenses still offer superb results.

  • peter drijver

    what a lovely instrument

  • George

    Thanks for the review, there is no much information available online for this lens.

  • http://leica-world.livejournal.com/ Yaroslav Bozhkov

    Thank you. It’s very interesting and useful!

  • http://www.flickr.com/genotypewriter genotypewriter

    Thanks! It’s interesting to see how ancient lenses stack up against modern ones.

    Can I suggest that you use a slightly bigger subject when demonstrating the subject isolation capabilities? Even P&S cameras produce shallow DOF when doing close ups of things like flowers.

    Also, did you check whether choosing different manual lens settings resulted in different vignetting results? The same comes to mind about colours.

    Looking forward to seeing the next review!

    GTW

  • http://deirdre.net/ Deirdre Saoirse Moen

    This is a test shot I did with my own 135mm Hektor, trying to determine how good it was at infinity. There are color corrections to remove the sickly greenish cast from the mixed lighting, but no other corrections.

    It’s a 24-second night shot shot wide open on an M8. The edge of the tree line is about 5km; the furthest of the lights is at least 25km. I don’t think I’d have gotten much sharper out of a modern lens, but it might have prevened some blow-outs. I’d rather spend that $2,200 on different lenses.

    • http://deirdre.net/ Deirdre Saoirse Moen
      • http://www.flickr.com/genotypewriter genotypewriter

        Sorry, but at 1024×283 your image is a pointless waste of time.

      • http://www.flickr.com/genotypewriter genotypewriter

        Can you at least tell us where on the frame the crop is from?

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