The Lightweight 135mm F/4.5 Hektor by Dick Gilcreast

Oct 17, 2018  By Dick Gilcreast
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A rangefinder 135mm lens is particularly useful for amateur sports work. Not big and heavy like a 200 with Visoflex, or a 180 on a reflex camera, and not so short as a 90, it serves to replace all of those. Add a 50 on a second camera to take care of close shots and groups, and the two lenses together are all that is needed for a day at a grandson’s high school track meets, for instance, working with two older Leica IIIc cameras. The equipment is small and light, but still able to bring back the shots. A good choice for the long lens can be one of the lightweight 135mm f/4.5 Hektors, as seen here.

The Hektor may not be quite as fast as a later f/4 Elmar lens in SM mount, and it may not have quite the ultra-flat MTF curves of the latest lenses, but it is quite sharp, and the versions made from 1949 on are lighter in weight — and this one is black! – so I can concentrate on the shooting and not be obliged to answer bystanders’ questions, as was apt to happen when I was using a more attention-getting chrome Hektor. It makes a great lens to carry in a small bag for an afternoon at the races. Sometimes without any bag at all.

The 135mm f/4.5 Hektor is of course available in black or chrome finish, both quite common on the used market. The 1949 lighterweight versions (down from 550g to 440g) first appeared in the traditional black paint, soon changed to chrome in 1950. All are identified by a black vulcanite band around the base. Thus the only black lightweight 135 Hektors were produced in 1949 – the lens shown No. 700154 from the middle of that year – and its vulcanite band is sharkskin, seen on Leica cameras made during that same period.

But why use the old screw-mount cameras? Well, they are small and relatively light, they have comfortable handling, and they have that excellent 1.5x enlarged rangefinder image (with diopter adjustment!) combined with the instantaneous shutter response that all Leicas are famous for. Also in their favor, they keep me grounded in the essentials of photography. The great latitude of modern color negative film doesn’t need precise camera metering in outdoor conditions. Distant action doesn’t need auto parallax correction. And, with rapid action, good timing on the initial shot is needed more than rapid winding for a second backup shot. So the old cameras do as well as the newer ones under these circumstances. And the lighter bag keeps my shoulder happy.

Incidentally – although not really necessary – I have always felt it a good idea to mount and dismount the screw-mount Hektor while set at its closest distance of five feet. Many of these lenses have a partial rangefinder cam segment at the back of the lens, and the close focus retracts that cam and reduces the momentary displacement of the camera’s rangefinder coupling roller while the lens is rotated during mounting.

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