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Canon 135mm f2L Long Term Review | Wiltshire Wedding Photography

Canon 135mm f2L Review

Introduction

Canon’s L lenses are legendary: trusty companions for Canon shooters who use them and objects of desire for those who are saving up for them. I own two L lenses, the 50mm 1.2L and the 135mm f2L - both of them are fabulous lenses, but we definitely hear more about the 50mm than its bigger brother the 135mm. The 135mm f2 is a real sleeper lens, giving a superbly sharp and well balanced output for a fraction of the cost of most L lenses - it provides probably the best value for money of all the L primes (current Amazon price is £679). The 135 is outstanding optically and is a really practical lens - it’s comparatively light and small, and everything about it feels ergonomically sound. It’s chunky in your hand with a rubberised focus ring - everything reeks of good quality.


Having used it for 2 years I feel I’m well qualified to give you a long term review of it as a portrait lens! I use it almost entirely for location portrait photography - my studio is too small to use this long lens indoors, which is a source of frustration!!

135mm Basics

The 135 has 10 elements in eight groups and focuses completely internally - you won't see the lens move as it’s focusing. Focusing is from 0.9m or 1.6m. Using it with one of Canon’s teleconverters will make this a 189mm f2.8 lens (when paired with the Canon EF 1.4 III extender) or a 270mm f4 (when paired with the Canon EF 2x III). The lens has no real distortion (to my eyes) and Adobe Camera Raw’s lens corrector makes only the most modest of changes. The 135’s colour reproduction is similarly excellent, with ACR barely touching it.

Sharpness

10/10 here. The 135 is crazy sharp, right down to f2, but stop it down a bit and the results are really outstanding. Sharpness at the edges is fine at f2, but becomes very sharp across the spectrum a couple of stops down. It’s great for capturing detail at a pretty forensic level, but it might just give you a bit too much when doing women’s portraits! There is no noticeable colour fringing at all.

Legendary sharpness and a background that stays firmly in the background.

Blur

This is one of the reasons you’d buy this lens for portraits - the bokeh is very good, and will gently dissolve backgrounds to nothing. I will often use it at f2 or 2.8, where the subject is beautifully well defined against a compressed long-lens background.

Backgrounds dissolve away at low apertures.

Autofocus

Very, very fast. Almost instantaneous. And much, much quicker than Canon’s 85mm 1.2L, which is probably the 135’s closest cousin. I use it mostly on a 5D MKII body (not known for it’s fast AF performance) and have no problems at all.

Why would you choose this lens?

The 135mm f2 has probably the best cost to performance ratio of all of the Canon L primes. It is almost a third of the cost of the 85mm f1.2L and almost half the cost of the 50mm f1.2L. It performs subjectively as well as the 85 1.2 and could be used in most of the same situations. It gives you a similar telephoto background compression that you’d get with other Canon telephotos, without having to spend eye-watering money to achieve something similar to the 200mm f2L. The 200 f2 is probably the holy grail for portrait telephoto primes, but most of us would need to sell an organ to pay for one!

The 135 is fast, sharp and eminently practical. The only limiting factor for me is the size of my studio - I can’t get back far enough to use this indoors, but that’s hardly the lens’s fault. The lens is also a slightly unusual focal length, and not too many photographers I know are shooting with one. It’s not necessarily practical for indoor studio photography, unless you have a lot of space, but it really does shine outside, especially when you need those backgrounds to simply melt out of focus. If you hadn’t already guessed, I love the 135mm f2L and it represents excellent value for money - not exactly pocket money to buy one of these, but its relatives in the L series primes are knocked into a corner in terms of price

Dreamy bokeh and super-sharp subjects.