I’ve been looking forward to reviewing the Canon 135mm f2L lens for The Brotographer for some time now. I’ll admit, this lens was not the most necessary of purchases. I already own the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, and that lens covers the 135mm focal length. A lot of people would never think to overlap like that. I had heard the rumors though, and needed to check it out for myself. Here is my review of that experience.
Internet stories of this lens sounded crazy. Some people called it legendary. People talked of a lens, when compared with something like the 70-200, that stood out and even surpassed the competition, at half the price. I thought that surely the extra stop of light on the 135mm focal would just about equal the compression factor from the 70-200mm, and create bokeh that would look somewhat the same. Let me start there. The 70-200mm has awesome bokeh, but the out of focus areas from the 135mm somehow just melt away even more. I can’t explain it, you just have to see the pictures side by side to see the difference. Backgrounds from the 135L are my new favorite, surpassing all my other Canon and Sigma lenses. The bokeh even surpasses my 50L.
I’m going to sound like a broken record for the rest of this review, I can tell you that. Sharpness is LEGENDARY. My 70-200 is sharp, but this thing surpasses even that. At f/2, is so sharp, and the bokeh just makes you focus in on whatever you set your focus point on. I love using this lens in conjunction with the 50L, which can be a little finicky at times, but is also dreamy. The sharpness from the 135L just kills any other lens I’ve ever used at f/2. By the time you stop down to f/2.8, the sharpness is wild. It’s almost too sharp, to be honest. When getting in close for a headshot or close portrait, I really like to keep it at f/2, because I know that if I can get both eyes on the same plain, the rest of their skin will sort of melt away, giving their skin a more flattering look. To sum it up, if you are looking for a lens with the focal length of 135mm, and want to be confident in its sharpness, look no further.
The quickest lens that I owned previously in terms of autofocus speed was my 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, which is a favorite sports and portrait lens for many photographers. In my opinion, I’d still use the 70-200 for most sports applications, or situations when the subject is moving so fast that you just HAVE to have a lens that focuses extremely quickly. The 135 focuses very quickly, and is not far behind the white giant though.
I’d put the build quality of the 135L right on par with the 50L. It is a plastic constructed lens, but feels very nice in my hands. One part of its build that is fantastic is the fact that it weighs about half as much as the 70-200 that I’m so used to lugging around. Bringing the 50L and the 135L out on a shoot seems like the perfect compliment to each other in terms of focal length, and also size and weight.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you’re probably going to need the versatility of the 70-200. However, if you have the ability to stick to prime lenses, the Canon 135mm f/2L lens should be in your camera bag. I probably sound like a fan boy when it comes to this lens, and generally most Canon “L” lenses, but if you can get past zooming with your feet, you won’t regret this purchase. At right around $1,000, for this piece of Canon glass, it is somehow one of the most affordable L lenses in their lineup. For instance, compare this price to the Canon 24-105 f/4. At around $100 more for the 135L, you’re getting a completely superior lens in every way, shape, and form. If you’re into portraiture, this may just be that legendary Canon lens for you.