Last Updated on 04/04/2018 by Chris Gampat
The 135mm lenses is a fantastic offering for many photographers
The 135mm lens has started to grow more in popularity as a portrait lens option for photographers. This is due to its powerful compression abilities and its ability to make every look simply stunning. Indeed, modern 135mm lenses make portrait photography look easy in so many ways. There aren’t as many on the market as one may think though. Part of this is because the 85mm is often touted as being more useful due to a 135mm lens needing a lot of room to really make it efficient. In this post, we’re going to explore a few great lens options and whether or not you really need a 135mm lens to begin with.
Before you go on: please also note that we do not include any lenses in this list that we haven’t reviewed. Some folks may be wondering about the Canon 135mm f2 L. It’s too ancient at this point. Will it make people look good? Yes. But so will these lenses. That’s our disclaimer and we adhere to the truth and our findings via tests when we write these guides.
Why Get a 135mm Lens?
Photographers going for 135mm lenses are typically landscape or portrait photographers. Landscape photographers will appreciate a good telephoto lens for treks and journeys, but by and large the photographers bound to make gainful employment and money from their investment are portrait photographers. For starters, 135mm lenses are much more difficult to work with than 85mm lenses for portraiture. Part of this comes from a lack of image stabilization and these lenses being big, heavy, and needing some sort of stabilization to really achieve their fullest potential. To get the most from an 85mm lens you need to be shooting at at least 1/160th of a second for proper stabilization. Of course, your ISO and aperture may vary accordingly.
To get the most from a 135mm lens, you should either have a whole lot of studio space or you need to shoot with this lens outside in a wide open space. For the photographers who don’t have that, you probably won’t be using a 135mm to its fullest potential. You can do a tight headshot for sure; but where this lens really shines is when you pull back a bit and get just your subject in focus and pretty much nothing else.
The reviews that we’re specifically referencing in this post are the following:
Rokinon 135mm f2: A fantastic lens for DSLRs.
Zeiss 135mm f2 Milvus: Can easily be argued to be the best on this list. It comes available in both Canon EF and Nikon F mount but can be adapted easily to Sony FE.
Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art: Given who our readers are, I expect most may be considering purchasing this lens over others. You’ll be able to pick it up in Canon or Nikon mounts.
Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis: Zeiss made this lens for the Sony FE mount, but even up to today it’s the most confusing decision I’ve seen from the company.
Fujifilm 90mm f2: Considering how many Fujifilm camera users read this website, I’d be stupid to leave you guys and gals out. This isn’t a proper 135mm lens but it’s pretty darned close.
For the most part all of these lenses are built well. They’re primes and so to that end they have the same things in common–a whole lot of smooth area and a big focusing ring for grip. In the case of Sigma though, there is a focus selection switch. Fujifilm doesn’t have image stabilization built in and that’s very much needed. They’re all simple in their construction. Ergonomically speaking though, only one of these lenses feels truly right in my hand for everyday use, and that’s the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art. My heart personally belongs to the Zeiss Milvus because I prefer its image quality the most, but in terms of simply holding and using a lens, you can’t really beat Sigma here.
Winner: Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art.
When it comes to build quality, that is a different story. Rokinon’s option isn’t one of its SP lenses, and so it isn’t the highest grade of anything that Rokinon outputs. At the same time, neither of these lenses are Otus grade for Zeiss. But if you were to hold all of these lenses, the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f2 would easily outdo all the rest. This lens is made with a metal exterior, a giant rubber ring that I wish had more texturization for better grip, and weather sealing throughout the lens’s construction. If I were told I needed to take one lens into hellish conditions, the Zeiss Milvus would be that lens.
Second on this list would be the Fujifilm 90mm f2. I’ve taken Fujifilm gear into hurricane-like winds and rain and it has survived without any sort of issues. I can always rely on this.
Winner: Zeiss Milvus 135mm f2
Some of these lenses are manual focus, with the exception of the Fujifilm 90mm f2, Sigma 135mm f1.8, and the Zeiss Batis 135mm f2.8. In terms of focusing speed, the Batis is going to blow the others out of the water due to its more narrow depth of field when shooting wide open and the fact that the Sony system is just so speedy at this point. But the Fujifilm and Sigma options are no slouches either. As with all of these lenses though, you need a camera with solid focusing.
If you want the most reliable focusing, then you’ll get that from Fujifilm in my opinion with the newest firmware updates.
Winner: Zeiss Batis 135mm f2.8, Fujifilm 90mm f2 and Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art
Oh man, this is where things get a bit more difficult. We’re going to include samples from each lens in this section for your own visual reference. But for the most in-depth analysis, we recommend checking out our full reviews previously linked in this guide.
Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art
Rokinon 135mm f2
Zeiss Milvus 135mm f2
Zeiss Batis 135mm f2.8
Fujifilm 90mm f2
Value for the Money
Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art: You’re getting damned good image quality and a bit of weather sealing for around $1,199.
Zeiss Milvus 135mm f2: Brand new, these lenses go for over $2,000, but you can find them used for a bit less.
Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis: Yeah, no. I can’t justify this purchase to myself.
Rokinon 135mm f2: The most affordable option on this list with no weather sealing or autofocus.
Fujifilm 90mm f2: A really good deal with good build quality, weather sealing, and reliability.
Winner: Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art and Fujifilm 90mm f2.
This is a pretty tough one. The best lens all around is going to be the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art lens until perhaps Tamron enters the market and finds a way to undercut Sigma. The Milvus is my personal favorite, but it requires you to work in a much different way. Otherwise, the Fujifilm 90mm f2 is an absolute no brainer for many portrait photographers out there.
Winner: Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art