Review: Sony 135mm F1.8 G Master (Sony FE Mount)

The Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master is the prime lens many portrait photographers shooting with Sony mirrorless cameras have been waiting for.

Announced at the end of February, the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master is the 9th lens to join the ranks of Sony’s premium G Master lineup. Sony created the 135mm f1.8 G Master with portrait photographers in mind first and foremost; many portrait photographers gravitate toward the 135mm focal length due to the fact that subjects appear true to life with little to no discernible distortion. Since we only got to spend a few hours with the lens during the top-secret media launch (which took place on a particularly snowy February afternoon), we were excited to get our review unit in so that we can put the 135mm G Master through its paces in typical Phoblographer manner.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • Preferred focal length for portraiture
  • Dust and moisture resistant
  • Sturdy magnesium alloy construction
  • Lighter than most 135mm lenses on the market

Cons

 

Gear Used

We tested the Sony 135 f1.8 G Master with the Sony A9, Sony A7RIII, and the Sony A6400.

 

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Sony 135 f1.8 G Master taken from Sony’s official product page.

LENS SPECIFICATIONS
MOUNT Sony E-mount
FORMAT 35 mm full frame
FOCAL LENGTH (MM) 135
35 MM EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTH (APS-C) 202.5
LENS GROUPS / ELEMENTS 10–13
ANGLE OF VIEW (35 MM) 18゚
ANGLE OF VIEW (APS-C) 12゚ (With interchangeable-lens digital camera incorporating APS-C type image sensors.)
MAXIMUM APERTURE (F) 1.8
MINIMUM APERTURE (F) 22
APERTURE BLADES 11
CIRCULAR APERTURE Yes
MINIMUM FOCUS DISTANCE 2.3 ft (0.7 m)
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION RATIO (X) 0.25
FILTER DIAMETER (MM) 82
IMAGE STABILIZATION (STEADYSHOT) – (body-integrated)
TELECONVERTER COMPATIBILITY (X1.4) Incompatible
TELECONVERTER COMPATIBILITY (X2.0) Incompatible
HOOD TYPE Round, bayonet type
SIZE & WEIGHT
DIMENSIONS (DIAMETER X LENGTH) 3-5/8 x 5″ (89.5 x 127 mm)
WEIGHT 33.6 oz (950 g)
WHAT’S IN THE BOX Hood (model): ALC-SH156
Lens front cap: ALC-F82S
Lens rear cap: ALC-R1EM
Case
MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE $1898.00
AVAILABILITY End of April 2019

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics section taken from our First Impressions article.

Here’s the Sony FE 135mm f1.8 G Master (with hood attached) mounted onto a Sony A9. As you can see, it is designed much like the other Sony G Master primes. There is a big focusing ring and an aperture ring around the center of the lens.

The Linear Response Manual Focus Ring is located towards the front of the lens. With just the right amount of resistance when turning, you can easily and quickly adjust focus manually. Behind the Linear Response Manual Focus Ring are the two Customizable Focus Hold buttons, allowing you to assign custom functions like Focus Lock or Eye AF to it. The orange G badge between the two buttons signifies that this is a G Master lens. The de-clickable Aperture control ring is just behind the Customizable Focus Hold buttons. You can leave the aperture set to “A” and control the aperture using the command dial from your camera, or manually set your aperture from f1.8 all the way down to f22 if you desire. The Autofocus/Manual Focus switch as well as the Focus Range Limiter can be found on the left side of the lens, just behind the aperture ring. The Focus Range Limiter allows you to lock the focusing mechanism within a specific range (Full, Infinity to 1.5m, and 2m to 0.7m) and can be particularly useful in instances where the autofocus mechanism happens to be hunting a lot.

The Click On/Off Switch for the Aperture Control Ring can be found on the right side of the 135mm G Master. Depending on the type of photographer you are, you’ll prefer to either set your aperture via the lens or the camera. Our staff varies on how they work with this lens.

 

Build Quality

Sony’s knocked it out of the park yet again with the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master lens. Coming in just under 20mm longer and only a few ounces heavier than Sony’s own 85mm f1.4 G Master, the brand new 135mm G Master is housed within a magnesium alloy body that feels sturdy, solid, and familiar. Like the rest of the lenses in Sony’s premium G Master lineup, the 135mm  G Master features excellent dust and moisture resistance. We first tested it out in the snow without any hiccups during the 135’s launch event, and got to put the lens through some more exhaustive testing in less than ideal conditions (see photo above and below) as part of our comprehensive review. The 135mm G Master didn’t break a sweat.

We were a bit crazy to put it under a small waterfall at NYC’s Bronx Zoo. This waterfall recreates what we sometimes experience here in NYC during both the spring and summer. In fact, our rains can be so bad at times that it’s been causing problems for the city’s sewer system. Hence why we did this test. To be frank, we were quite surprised at how well built the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master is. When mounted to the Sony a6400 it survived quite a hellish spray of water and kept working flawlessly.

 

Ease of Use

Experts and novices alike will find the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master to be a very user-friendly lens to operate, although photographers not familiar with the 135mm focal length (particularly those who tend to get up close to their subjects) will need to adjust their shooting style to take full advantage of the midrange telephoto focal length. The 135mm G Master also lacks image stabilization, so you’ll want to make sure your shutter speed is reasonably fast if you’ve got shaky hands, although using the lens with a body that features in-body image stabilization has produced consistently sharp images. The Linear Response Manual Focus Ring turns smoothly and features a nicely ridged surface that makes manual focusing a breeze, even when making adjustments with gloves on (like we had to do during the launch event). The ridges also help you maintain good purchase on the ring when the lens is wet. The pair of customizable focus hold buttons are placed strategically so that your thumb naturally rests on them when holding the camera in either landscape or portrait orientation. Each button gives you the option to assign one of the many functions of your Sony camera to it (like Eye Autofocus) so that they can be accessed on the fly. The 135mm f1.8 G Master also features a de-clickable aperture ring; something that is sure to please video shooters. The Floating Focus Mechanism within the 135mm f1.8 G Master affords the lens a very close minimum focus distance of just 2.3 ft (0.7 m), allowing the lens to behave like a pseudo-macro lens which can be useful in a pinch.

 

Autofocus

Thanks to the pair of dual XD (extreme dynamic) linear motors found within the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master, its autofocus system acquired and maintained focus swiftly, accurately, and consistently throughout our time with the lens. In rare instances when shooting with the 135mm G Master in extremely low light and/or low contrast environments, the lens will hunt occasionally, but almost all autofocus lenses will experience this to some degree and the 135 almost always nailed focus. The included Focus Range Limiter is a welcomed addition and will come in handy to minimize the amount of work the lens needs to do to focus on your subject.

Here’s the Sony a7r III and the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master Lens in action tracking a California Sea Lion!

 

Image Quality

When the company announced their Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master lens, we were curious to see how it would perform. The lens Sony offered for their A mount system amazed us for years. In fact, this is the fastest aperture 135mm lens on the market with autofocus. So it would only make sense that Sony improved it for the E mount and higher megapixel sensors. Indeed, images created with the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master are consistently sharp throughout the frame, even when shooting wide open, thanks to its optics design consisting of 13 lens elements made of Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion), ED, and XA (Extreme Aspherical) arranged into 10 groups, and are paired with an 11 blade circular aperture.

Bokeh

Bokeh-hungry photographers will find lots to love about the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master. Thanks to its 11 bladed circular aperture design, the 135mm G Master is capable of producing beautifully creamy bokeh that helps to isolate your subjects from the rest of the frame. When shooting wide open, the bokeh will sometimes be oval in appearance. Photographers with a preference for more circular bokeh balls will want to stop the 135mm G Master down slightly to achieve that effect.

Chromatic Aberration

During our time with the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master, we didn’t detect any noteworthy instances where chromatic aberrations appeared in our images. The Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion), ED, and XA (Extreme Aspherical) lens elements did a superb job minimizing color fringing, flaring, and other chromatic aberrations from occurring, even when shooting directly into intense light sources.

Color Rendition

The Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master created images with colors that looked accurate and lifelike, with excellent contrast and richness. The great thing to remember here is that Sony RAW files, when imported into Capture One Pro, keep their color profile and style. So if you go with the Deep, Clear, or Landscape style, you’re going to see that. In Portrait mode, you’re going to get more muted files. If you’re a black and white shooter, this can help you create some gorgeous black and white photos. Check out our tutorial on how to take better black and white images with your Sony camera.

Sharpness

Make no mistake about it, the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master is SHARP! Whether you’re shooting wide open or stopped down, anything in focus consistently appeared tack sharp, with no perceptible degradation in sharpness, even as you move toward the edges of the frame.

Additional Image Samples

Here are some additional images we shot with the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master lens. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images seen within this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced by this lens for yourself.

 

Conclusion

Likes

  • Gorgeous bokeh
  • Distortion free focal length
  • Excellent weather resistance
  • Honestly, look at that bokeh
  • Corner to corner sharpness even when wide open
  • Exceptional image quality
  • Did we mention the magnificent bokeh?

Dislikes

  • Not stabilized, although you should be fine when using this lens on a body that has IBIS

The Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master is a lens that many portrait photographers shooting with Sony mirrorless cameras will surely be lusting after. In addition to acquiring and maintaining focus quickly and reliably, the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master creates images that marry corner to corner sharpness with lifelike colors, minimal distortion, and little to no chromatic aberrations. In focus areas appear tack sharp and defocus into velvety smooth bokeh, helping your subjects stand out from the rest of the frame. Despite lacking onboard image stabilization, the 135mm G Master will do just fine when paired with the latest Sony mirrorless bodies that feature in-body image stabilization. Photographers with shaky hands, however, will want to keep an eye on their shutter speeds when using the 135mm G Master on a non-stabilized body.

The Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master lens gets Five out of Five Stars, earning it The Phoblographer‘s coveted Editor’s Choice Award. The Sony 135mm f1.4 G Master is available for preorder now on Amazon for US$1,899.99, and is expected to ship at the end of April this year.