Canon 135mm F/2 L USM

Canon claims this lens as the fastest 135mm prime lens and we can’t find a faster one available. So what use is a fast, short telephoto lens. We take a look.

Canon 135mm F/2 L USMSpecification

  • Focal length 135mm
  • Aperture f/2.0
  • Angle of view
  • Filter size / type 72mm
  • Construction Elements/groups 10 elements in 8 groups
  • Focusing type Internal
  • Closest focus 0.9m
  • Weight 0.750kg
  • Dimensions (Dia x length) 82.5x112mm
  • Mounts available Canon,
  • Tripod bush No
  • Price £900

Build and handling
As with all of Canons L series lenses, this one is built for professional use and will stand a fair bit of miss handling. The simple design of the prime lens helps with the single focus ring and a pair of small switches for AF/MF and focus limit being the only moving parts on the lens, a standard distance window, with a basic depth-of-field scale being the only other accoutrement.

The focus limit switch restricts focusing to 1.6m to infinity from the full 0.9m to infinity and cuts down the short focus time even more. It also helps if you are not doing any close work or are trying to shoot through a fence or the like. The USM motor keeps things nice and quiet as well as quick. Internal operation means the front element does not rotate, another plus point.

The focus ring doesn’t rotate during autofocus either, but can be manually over-ridden without switching. So generally, it is a very usable lens. The focal length is at the long end of what is normally recommended for portraiture and with the perspective it gives, this still holds true in the cropped digital age. The wide aperture does mean that this lens can be used in low lighting conditions where others might well struggle. This includes indoor sports in confined conditions as well as Gig and stage photography.

Optical Quality
L glass from the Canon camp is legendary in its reputation for producing the goods and this example is no black sheep. The simpler construction of prime lenses does make high quality easier to obtain, but even so, this is a top quality piece of glass in all respects.

Contrast, as is usual, is good and the control of chromatic aberrations is well handled. Sharpness wide open is certainly usable and improves as the lens is stopped down, peaking at around the f/8 mark.

Where this lens does score is in the out-of-focus areas, giving a pleasing effect that helps the main subject stand out.


A useful focal length for close quarter sport action, the fast aperture makes this lens just as effective indoors.

Even with a cluttered background, the depth of field helps this grabbed portrait shot jump out in the full size file.


The low light ability of this lens scores dividends where other lenses might struggle.

Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions


135mm at f/2

135mm at f/8

Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses

Verdict
A lens of this nature is a reasonably specialised piece of kit. It’s speed, both light gathering and focussing, make it ideal for indoor sport and event work. It also scores highly if you want portraits with OOF backgrounds where the focal length is near perfect.
So if you have the need for a lens of this type and can warrant the price, you will not be disappointed with the results.

In summary the main positive points of the Canon 135mm F/2 L USM are:
Fast and silent Autofocus
Simple operation
Good optical quality with nice OOF ‘Bokeh’

Negative points are:
Price
Unusual size filters.

Check the latest price of the Canon 135mm F/2 L USM here

Test performed by Ian Andrews of www.wildaboutkent.co.uk

By: chrcapi 4442 days ago
72 mm IS NOT an "unusual filter size" for Canon users, especially for those particularly interested in "L" lenses.
By: MirekE 4355 days ago
You made a rigorous test and I don't want to dispute it from a position of an ordinary user. But if I read your graphs correctly, this lens shows MTF50 at about 3.5@f8. If this lens shows significantly worse numbers than a Sigma zoom (70-200/2.8 shows 4.5-5), then I suspect there is something wrong in your tests. Also your finding that Canon 17-40 (approx. 4.5) is better than 35/1.4 (approx 4) contradicts my experience. Yes, our copies may be different, but there also could be a flaw in your methodology. Are the tests done with the same camera? Did you use the same version of the software to evaluate? Is the photographed chart the same?
By: mayaman 4345 days ago
I have this lens, it was purchased about a year ago, wide open it didn't blow my mind from a standpoint of sharpness. Stopped down to f4 it goes beyond the resolving power of my 12MP 5D. It stays beyond that at every aperture above f4.

I honestly don't understand the conclusions of this review. However there is whispering of late that Canon has had some quality control issues. There may be an unusually large sample variation.
By: common 4307 days ago
I got it and just love it.
But for Digital 1.6x crop size.
The image size is seem narrow to shoot more than single or couple people.
By: JimC 4302 days ago
"Canon claims this lens as the fastest 135mm prime lens and we can’t find a faster one available."

If by fast, you mean bright (widest available aperture) in a 135mm lens, see this Autofocus lens in Maxxum/Dynax/Alpha mount.

Sony Carl Zeiss® Sonnar® T* 135mm f/1.8

http://www.photodo.com/product_1127.html
By: DaveCham 3681 days ago
Just purchased one a couple of days ago and carried out my own usual series of tests for performance at all apertures. Very simple test, using a full double-page spread of a well known UK daily newspaper taped down firmly onto an art drawing board and photographed using the camera mounted to a good sturdy tripod, using mirror lock and a remote shutter-release cord. Obviously particular care is given to making certain everything is totally parallel and in line.

Results? Well, just one simple word defines these - FANTASTIC!

Sharpness is amazing even from full aperture with edges and corners following suit on stopping down to f2.8 when it remains in exceptional levels of sharpness until diffraction begins to take it's toll on sharpness, initially corners/edges only at f22 and then in the centre at f32.

This lens performs just as amazingly on APS-C sized sensor cameras when it effectively behaves like a 216mm f/2 prime lens (think how much such a full-frame lens would cost?!) and also produces still stunning quality when used with my SIGMA EX DG 1.4x converter, effectively providing a 302mm f/2.8 lens, losing virtually nothing in quality until stopped down to and effective f/32 and f/45 when diffraction spoils things a little.

I don't know what other converters are like, except that in a recent magazine comparison test, the SIGMA converters (both 1.4x and 2x) appeared to be significantly better than any of the others tested, including Canon's own! I know that my 1.4x SIGMA converter produces stunning results when used with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM lens. This is more applicable to use on APS-C cameras due to the smaller sensor using the central sweet spot of the image circle.

A surprisingly versatile and ultra high quality option for those like me, who work with both FF and APS-C sized sensor cameras.

David Chamberlain
By: LeoJan 3305 days ago
I am going to buy this lens this evening! I really looking forward to it.

Quote DaveCham: "This lens performs just as amazingly on APS-C sized sensor cameras when it effectively behaves like a 216mm f/2 prime lens"

This is not really the case, the 135 mm F2.0 will still behave as a 135 mm, the only thing that will hapen is a crop. You will lose a little of it's small DOF, because you also have to consider that F2.0 becomes F2.0 * 1.6 = F3.2. With other words, a full frame will give you the exact same picture by F3.2, only with a larger surrounding.
A 216 mm will behave totally different.

Let you know my experience.

Leo Jonkers
By: markk 1791 days ago
This was the best thing I have with my Canon 5D.. and still is

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