After 27 years, Canon finally released a new 135mm lens. Instead of a new EF lens, it’s an RF lens, obviously. How does this expensive lens perform, and is it worth the upgrade if you’re still using the old but trustworthy EF version?
Although many photographers often prefer an 85mm focal length for portraits, the narrow field of view of a 135mm can be a great choice. Especially in a studio setup, it will allow a for smaller backdrop while keeping enough distance between subject and background.
I always loved the EF 135mm f/2L USM lens, and even though it is a 27-year-old design, it still holds up well against the modern lenses. With a sophisticated autofocus system, the EF 135mm f/2L USM works great on modern mirrorless EOS cameras. Focusing with a shallow depth of field becomes easy and accurate.
The RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM Up Close
Now Canon has released the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM. The new lens has an additional 1/3 stop wider aperture and image stabilization built in. Although the 1/3 stop doesn’t make that much of a difference, the image stabilization does. Especially with this focal length, your own movements can lead to a loss of focus if you’re using the shallowest depth of field possible.
The lens itself is made from the same material as the other fast RF primes, like the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the RF 85mm f/1.2L IS USM. The lens barrel is a bit longer compared to the RF 85mm, but the smaller diameter makes it easier to use. The lens is well proportioned and handles well.
There are two switches located on the side, one for the image stabilization and one for the autofocus. There are two buttons that can be programmed with a selection of functions. Like every other RF lens, there is also the programmable control ring.
A Word or Two About the Image Quality
There is not much to say about the lens quality itself. The images are tack sharp, even with an f/1.8 aperture. In the corners, the image is sharp as well, although it might be a bit difficult to notice because of the limited depth of field. I only looked at real-world examples during my testing, where the subjects rarely line up across the entire plane of focus.
At f/1.8, there is vignetting visible, but only when the in-camera lens correction is turned off. Most of the vignetting is gone when stopped down to f/2.8. I didn’t notice any chromatic aberration, which is impressive. When the in-camera lens correction is switched on, the image quality is nearly perfect.
While the focused areas are sharp, the out-of-focus parts have a nice, creamy appearance. The transition from sharp to out of focus is what made the EF 135mm f/2L USM so wonderful, and the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM does not disappoint.
The bokeh rings have a nice appearance. There is no evidence of the ugly onion rings effect. At f/1.8, these rings look similar to the older EF model. When stopped down, the differences become apparent. Because of the 9-blade aperture of the new RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM, the rings keep a nice form much longer when stopping down, while the rings of EF 135mm f/2L USM change to an octagonal shape at f/4.
Using the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM
I’ve been using the RF 135mm f/1,8L IS USM for a few weeks, and it’s a wonderful lens. It is razor sharp, and the bokeh looks great as well. I used the lens mainly with the largest aperture because the appearance of the out-of-focus areas makes this lens so amazing.
The lens has a minimum focal distance of 70 centimeters, which results in a 0.26x magnification. While it’s not a macro lens by far, it’s perfect for shooting flowers and such. If you combine this lens with an extension tube, it will be an amazing semi-macro lens.
The combination of the large aperture and fast and silent autofocus make the RF 135mm f/1,8L IS USM a great lens for indoor sports photography as well. Although you might feel the reach of the focal length is a bit limited for that, the stop of extra light may turn out to be quite convenient.
Compared to the EF 135mm f/2L USM
I compared the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM to the old EF 135mm f/2L USM. Although the old EF version is a bit smaller and less heavy, you need an EF-RF adapter if you want to mount it onto a Canon mirrorless camera. In that case, the total length is quite similar.
Although both lenses perform well, the older EF lens is showing its age, especially with the high-resolution sensors. It’s still usable in many situations and for most photography. But if you need the best possible quality, there’s no question about it. The new RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM is better in every way.
Another benefit of the new RF lens is its image stabilization. It rates up to 8 stops in combination with an IBIS system. Without, it still goes up to 5.5 stops. The function buttons on the lens are nice to have, but no dealbreaker for me.
The biggest benefit of the older EF 135mm f/2L USM lens is its compatibility with Canon extenders. Combining the EF lens with a 2x extender makes it a great 270mm f/4 lens. The RF 135mm f/1.8 IS USM lacks this possibility.
There is only one conclusion possible. The Canon RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM is an amazing lens, with image quality that is nearly perfect. The lens has image stabilization, which was missing on the old model, and if you like function buttons on the lens, they’re there.
The lens is perfect for indoor sports photography thanks to its fast and accurate autofocus in combination with the available aperture. The focal length may not be ideal for every photographer, but it’s also a bit of getting used to. It has its use for many types of photography.
There is only one downside, and that’s its price tag. You must use this lens quite often to justify the investment. If you only use it on occasion, it’s too expensive. In that case, the EF 135mm f/2L USM with EF-RF adapter will be a perfect alternative.
What I Like About the Lens
- Image quality
- Lack of chromatic aberration
- Bokeh thanks to the 9-blade aperture
- Wide aperture
- Fast autofocus
- Image stabilization
- Function buttons on the lens barrel
- Magnification at the minimum focus distance
What I Don’t Like About the Lens
- Lens hood makes it quite bulky
- Not compatible with a Canon extender
I want to thank Canon Netherlands for providing me with this lens.