It has been proven that a focal length of 135mm is the ultimate tight portrait focal length. Due to its minimal distortion, this is one focal length that minimizes common wide angle and telephoto distortions producing the most flattering end result. Canon introduced the 135mm f2.0L nearly 20 years ago in 1996 and has been one of, if not the best performing primes Canon has ever produced delivering razor sharp images wide open in a sleek, ergonomic, compact package. In fact, some regard this as Canon’s sharpest lens ever made: a testament to its design and near two decade duty cycle. This lens features Canon’s ultrasonic focusing system which performs remarkably well in demanding shooting situations such as poorly lit indoor sporting venues or strongly backlit portraits during sunset. The very fast f2.0 maximum aperture produces incredible background separation and buttery smooth bokeh. Canon’s 135mm produces stunning images that receive praise and often questions as to what lens produced them.
Build and Handling
Canon’s 135mm is immediately discernible due to its unique exterior design. The lens features a massive focus ring and infamous red ring marking it as one of Canon’s premier performers. The lens features a 72mm filter screw with a massive front element and an easy-to-view focusing distance window. Exterior construction is entirely plastic; however, the lens feels very solid in hand. This is due to the completely metal mount and interior barrel construction typically found on much more expensive super-telephoto lenses. Dissimilarly to other Canon red-ringed primes, the 135mm is not weather sealed lacking both environmental body and mount sealing. Included in the package is a large standard hood providing ample physical and lens flare protection.
Internally, Canon fitted 10 elements in 8 groups providing an 18 degree diagonal field of view on a 35mm sensor. Two of these 10 elements are UD construction providing fantastic chromatic aberration prevention and reduction. This internal construction and exterior plastic construction bring the final weight of the lens to 1.65lb (750g) which balances well on pro-consumer and professional EOS bodies.
Furthermore, Canon’s fantastic ultrasonic focusing system has been mounted to arrange the rear elements very quickly in a nearly completely silent manner. These focus systems allow for full time manual focusing and near silent operation as well. An ultrasonic motor focuses the lens elements by utilizing ultrasonic vibrations to move the rear group of elements into the correct position. Portrait and sports photographers alike have commented on the 135mm’s lighting quick focus acquisition and tracking.
As mentioned before, the extremely large manual focus ring provides ample throw allowing precise manual focus adjustments to be made. The ring offers great feedback and very smooth performance nearly achieving a Zeiss-like user experience. Additionally, the focus ring affords the photographer a sure grip during long shooting sessions.
Although the Canon’s 135mm has a rather simplistic internal design and feature-set, it is one of Canon’s best performing primes optically. Some photographers actually remark that performance is too good noting it shows every flaw when used as a tight portrait lens. Wide open at f2.0, it is well known for its sharpness, contrast, and micro detail in the center. Simply stopping the lens down to f2.8 produces full circle sharpness corner to corner on both full frame and APS-C sensors. Pleasing bokeh balls are preserved well as the lens is stopped down due to the 8 bladed aperture. Although vignetting is apparent on a 35mm sensor, it is flattering and enhances the character of the lens when shooting wide open. Stopping down to f2.8 eliminates all vignetting.
At 135mm, this is Canon’s second longest f2.0 lens only to be bested by the infamous 200mm f1.8 and newly released 200mm f2.0IS. Due to its length, the lens produces stunning background separation and incredible bokeh. Everything from tight headshots to full body portraits provide sufficient depth of field to achieve a look few lenses can match.
The 10 internal elements are able to focus at only 3 feet (.9m) from the subject providing a.19x magnification at this distance. This can further be enhanced with the use of extension tubes: Canon or third party. Not only can this lens be used as a quasi-macro lens, it takes extenders very well providing a very fast 189mm f2.8 lens on a full frame sensor with the Canon 1.4X TC; however, performance drops quickly when the 2X extender is used providing mediocre performance at f4.0 with substantial chromatic aberration when shot wide open at f4.0.
As mentioned before, the 135mm performs equally well in a studio or indoor sporting venue where action stopping shutter speeds are necessary. Additionally, stage photography or similar low-lit venues are where this very fast telephoto prime shines.
Quick Specifications & Test Charts
|Focal Length & Max Aperture||135mm f2.0 (35mm Sensor Equivalent)|
|Construction||10 elements in 18 groups|
|Angle of View (Diagonal)||18° (35mm Sensor Equivalent)|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||3 (.9m)|
|Exterior Dimensions||D:3.2” L:4.4” W:1.65lbs (82.5mmX112mmX750g)|
An MTF chart includes distance from the center of the lens outward on the horizontal axis and contrast in a percent on the vertical axis. Below you can see the vertical axis goes from .1 (10% ) to 1 (100%) and the horizontal axis goes from 0 to 20mm which covers the dimensions of a 35mm sensor.
• Thick Lines: 10LP/mm (low resolution)
• Thin Lines: 30LP/mm (high resolution)
• Black Lines: Lens performance wide open (f2.8)
• Blue Lines: Lens performance at f8
Few additional words are needed to describe Canon’s 135mm f2.0L lens. It’s affordable, has an incredible performance-to-price ratio, and delivers an extremely unique image characteristic. Although clearly not needed an optical update, Canon could improve this lens with weather sealing and image stabilization; however, these luxuries come at a price point that few can enter.