Last Updated on 09/27/2023 by Lara Carretero
Giving a lens a dedicated name besides a jumble of numbers suggests high-end luxury (or perhaps arrogance) — and now the 50mm f0.95 Noct isn’t the only entitled luxury optic for the Nikon Z system. The Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena is a prime lens designed to capitalize on the wider Z mount with brighter edges and smooth bokeh that doesn’t cat-eye at the edges. But while the Plena may have a name like the Noct, it still utilizes autofocus. And at a third of the cost, the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena may be exactly what photographers who can’t afford the price or manual focus compromise of the Noct were waiting for.
The Plena emblazoned in fancy cursive on the side of the new lens is a derivative of the Latin word plenum, which Nikon says means “the state of a space being completely full.” Nikon says that fullness describes the brightness, bokeh, and sharpness that stretches to the edges of the frame.
Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena key features
- Eleven-blade aperture
- Multiple stepping motors for a faster, quieter autofocus system
- Focuses as close as 2.69 feet
- Meso Amorphous Coat and ARNEO coat to prevent ghosting and flare
- Designed with 16 elements in 14 groups
- Two Fn buttons
- 82mm filter attachments
- Dust and drip-resistant
- Weighs 2.2 pounds and measures 3.9 by 5.5 inches
The launch of the Nikon Z system came with promises that the new wider Z mount would open up more lens possibilities. The Nikon Plena doesn’t create a wider aperture than existing digital lenses like the Noct did. Instead, it focuses on consistent quality on the edges. If the S in the name is any indication, the lens will likely have the stellar sharpness of the Z system’s more high-end optics.
The 135mm focal length is favored for compression, which brings the background closer, creating larger bokeh balls. With an eleven-blade aperture and f1.8 aperture, bokeh is indeed the focus of the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena. Nikon claims the bokeh is rounded throughout the frame without taking on the cat-eye shape that typically occurs along the edges of most lenses. The first image samples that Nikon has shared from the lens support this, with bokeh on the edges that has only the slightest narrowing.
But while the longer focal length will slightly help make up for the aperture difference between the Noct and the Plena, including an autofocus system will likely sway more portrait photographers to go with the longer and cheaper lens. Nikon built the lens with multiple stepping motors, which the company says delivers both fast and quiet autofocusing.
Nikon also says that the Plena has the most anti-reflection coatings of any lens in the company’s history. These coatings are designed to reduce flare and ghosting — which may not be a good thing for artists who love to use flare for creative drama. Another oddity in this lens announcement is that Nikon is bragging about the lens having a “rendering of the finest textures in hair and skin tones.” Most portrait artists would agree with me that while sharp eyes and eyelashes are great, textured skin and visible pores are not.
The lens lacks stabilization, relying instead on the in-body stabilization of many Z system cameras.
Some fans originally predicted the lens would bring back Nikon’s defocus control, but the lens lacks such a feature. Aside from having more coatings than any other Nikon, there’s nothing terribly innovative. Sony’s 135mm f1.8 GM also has 11 aperture blades and focuses closer than the new Plena.
The design of the lens, however, uses a metal exterior and also features two custom Fn buttons. The lens is weather-sealed, though the combination of the long focal length and metal exterior gives the lens a weight of more than two pounds.
The lens pushes more for technical superiority by prioritizing flare-suppressing coatings and sharpness rather than classic character like the Noct lens inspired by vintage optics of the same name. But, the price, autofocus, and potential for big bokeh will undoubtedly draw the eye of some Nikon photographers who have long been envious of the Noct lens. The lens is expected to begin shipping in mid-October for a $2,500 list price.