Scrolling through Facebook a few days ago, I came across an article on Petapixel.com that made my day. The article was titled, “Do You Have a Lens You Will Never Sell? This Is Mine.” To read the article, go here.
What made me so happy to see this article is the lens in question. The authors favorite lens? The Canon 135mm f2L. This lens just so happens to be my own personal favorite lens. I’ve owned four copies of the lens over the past ten years. Two I’ve worn out or sold, and two remain in my bag seeing near constant use. The reason I love this particular piece of glass is multi faceted.
Number 1; the focal length. 135mm offers a unique look for a short tele lens. It compresses its length far better than an 85mm or 90mm, but is not so long or unwieldy as a 200mm. For me as a portrait photographer, the artistic options with this focal length are endless. I photograph people, women mostly. The 135’s ability to flatter a subjects face is peerless. The beauty of the resulting image is created by the lens’s focal compression. The image is compressed along the focal length, creating a linear flattening of the foreground and background. Placing a subject’s face in the area of focus gives you a flattering distance between the subject’s features.
Number 2: The optical quality. The sharpness across the frame is amazing. While the there is some shading in the corners at f2, the rendering of color and clarity is so pure, that it’s a sin I can forgive. The shading is easily correctable in photoshop or by stopping down past f4 if you are shooting landscapes or long exposures. For me however, I’ve always enjoyed shooting with lenses that aren’t perfect. I love the unique characteristics that older lenses can provide. I’ve always considered my completed image far more important that the individual quality of the lens I used. The magic of the 135 is that it’s a unique lens with a wonderful look, that also just happens to be an optically excellent lens.
Number 3: The aperture diaphragm. The list could go on and on, but the aperture has to be mentioned. This thing is monster in low light. Combined with it’s short telephoto focal length, this lens is a bokeh machine. The focus falloff is beautiful, giving you a perfect lens for portraits.
The last thing I love is not a benefit over other 135mm lenses, it’s more a statement on the design of the lens itself. The lens was developed in the mid nineties, and since then it has been a staple of the Canon EF lens lineup. It has one of the fastest autofocus motors in the industry, and despite being more than twenty years old it can hang with most current primes in the industry. Not a huge thing, but still an impressive feat.
To wrap it up? I love my 135mm. I’m just chuffed to bits that someone else loves it too!