December 8, 2014 sovisual

Canon 135mm F2L Review

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The latest addition to my camera kit bag is the well renowned Canon 135mm F2 Prime lens. Highly regarded as “the Lord of the red rings”, this lens has a massive fan base amongst photographers due to it’s sharpness, focussing speed, and of course it’s maximum aperture of F2. I first started noticing this lens on 500px, a portfolio based website that I use for my personal “hobby” photos. I follow a number of portrait photographers on there, and the shots that really caught my eye were more often than not taken using the 135. When deciding if I was going to get this lens or not, I wasn’t worried about it’s quality, which is almost always one of the main deciding factors. The only thing I was worried about was the fact that this is a prime lens, so there is no zooming! If you can’t frame your subject, you’ve got to step back, if you want to zoom, you step closer, a concept that has never really been exercised in my photography in the past.

So, how did I end up with this lens when really I should have purchased the 70-200mm F2.8 due to it’s versatility? The reason is simple, I got it for a steal! I managed to find the lens used, in mint condition with a 6 month warranty, and saved myself around £200 off the already bargain price of around £770 a new one. I got the lens from www.ffordes.com, and I can’t recommend them enough. The lens is exactly as described, and was much cheaper than similar lenses elsewhere. Luckily for us, myself and Ollie both shoot with Canon gear, so for me to get a lens that Ollie doesn’t have and vice versa, is always a bonus for the company, as it can only make us more versatile when we’re shooting on location.

My initial thoughts on the lens were as expected, it feels well made, which is important when a lens is going to get a lot of use. If it can take a few knocks and withstand being taken on and off the camera quite often, that’s a big bonus. Despite its filter thread size of 72mm compared to my other lenses which tend to be 77mm, the surface area of the glass seems quite large, a magnet for light! One feature I noticed is the ability to switch the minimum focussing distance between 0.9m and 1.6m, something that I am more used to seeing on larger “wildlife” prime lenses. The fact that this lens is compatible with the 1.4x and 2x Canon teleconverters may make the focussing distance option more relevant. The lens comes with a lens hood, which I think feels a bit cheaper than the rest of the lens, and a soft pouch that a lot of the L lenses tend to come with. Other than quite a large manual focussing grip that’s pretty much it, to look at it’s just a very well made prime lens.

Eager to take some photos using the lens, I was more than happy that we had an event photoshoot booked in 2 days after receiving it. I instantly noticed the speed of focussing, it’s the fastest lens to focus that I’ve ever used, even in low light it’s not even phased. The 135mm zoom seemed perfect for candid photos of people at the event, at F2 this lens is very sharp, and as others have said at F2.8 it’s even sharper. Focussing, as with most Canon lenses is silent due to the Ultra Sonic Motor (USM), with manual override available at any time without having to switch to manual focus. I was greatly surprised at how quickly I got to grips with this lens, and I didn’t take it off my camera all day. The below shot was taken at F2 using the Canon 5D Mkiii. I love the shallow depth of field F2 gives at 135mm, giving a nice depth to even the simplest images. As you can see here, the bokeh this lens produces is brilliant.

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With the lens inside the “Spacebus” at an event we covered at the weekend.

Overall I am 100% convinced this is the best lens I’ve ever used, I’ve never used anything this sharp, I took my dog for a walk and took this lens with me, even at F2 the focus speed allowed me to get photos of Rosie running around that were very sharp. When she was posed the sharpness was next level, and the bokeh’d background really makes her stand out and grab your attention. If Canon could produced a lens that was 70-200mm or something (more versatile), and this sharp constantly, every photographer would want one/need one. Prime lenses are a new thing to me, I’ve only ever used the 50mm F1.8, which is also very good value for money. If someone was to ask me if I would recommend this lens to them, I would ask them if they had a use for a 135mm lens (portraits, people, sports, low light photography) if they did, I’d tell them they had nothing to worry about.

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The 135mm is available currently for £768 from Jessops and Wex, but like I did, keep an eye out for some used bargains!