Canon 135mm f/2L usm mini review

by Enche Tjin on January 18, 2009

Canon 135mm f2 L USM is regarded as one of the best three prime lenses that Canon produce (Along with 85mm f/1.2 L USM and 35mm f/1.4 L USM).

The images from this lens are very sharp, contrasty and show a lot of details even in wide open at f/2. The depth of field is very shallow at f/2. As a result, the background will be compressed.

canon-eos-5d-mkII-135mm-f2Because of that features, Canon 135mm is ideal for portrait, especially candid portrait, street photography and indoor sports.

Build quality is very good, the best Canon can made. The lens is not as big and heavy as telephoto zoom.

But unfortunately, this lens does not have Image Stabilization built-in. Image stabilization in telephoto is quite important so you can shoot with shutter speed lower than the focal length X crop multiplier. For example, when you attach this lens into crop sensor camera such as Canon Rebel series or 0XD series, then you need to set a shutter speed to at least 1/200 or greater to get a tack sharp result. It is also depend on how steady your hand is. If you have steady hand, then 1/160 will be adequate.

This lens have a decent closing focus (1m) this is better than most of the telephoto zoom range. You can also get a extension tube to get the focusing even closer (.6m with 2x extension tube).
Therefore, this lens will be quite good for macro photography.


The application of the lens will be quiet narrow. Candid photography is one in my mind when I think about this lens. It is because the telephoto range, maximum aperture, and the size is not that big and obtrusive.

The second one will be close-up and head-shoulder portraiture, and then for indoor sports such as volleyball, basketball and so on.

The downside
This lens does not have a wide range of application because the inflexibility of fixed focal length lens (prime lens).

Although the focusing is quite fast, but it is not as fast as EF 50mm f/1.4 USM or EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. So in the fast action sport, expect to miss some shots.

Other alternatives:
Other lens that you might consider to buy is Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L or 70-200mm f/4 IS.

They are similar in price. the 70-200mm f/2.8 has more flexibility but bigger. The 70-200 f/4 L IS is great because it has IS but you don’t have the luxury of big aperture. The weight of f4L lens is almost the same, but the length is slightly longer.

Other ‘budget’ telephoto primes alternatives: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 and 100mm f/2. Both are not as sharp and detailed as the Canon 135mm f/2 but when stopped own to f/2.8-4 they will impressed you.

In conclusion
You will love this lens if you are into close-up portrait, candid photography and indoor sports shooters. With extension tube, you can transform this lens into a super sharp macro lens.

Is it worth it? This lens has a narrow application, so if you are specialized in candid portraiture or indoor sports and want the sharpest lens. This lens is definitely for you.

If you are looking for more versatile lens, then investing on high quality telephoto zoom lens will be better.

Travel and general purpose : *
Landscape : *
Portrait/Still Life : ****
Candid/Photojournalism : ***
Sports: **

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

leo November 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Quote [For example, when you attach this lens into crop sensor camera such as Canon Rebel series or 0XD series, then you need to set a shutter speed to at least 1/200 or greater to get a tack sharp result. It is also depend on how steady your hand is.]
This is not true. If you can make a sharp photo on a Full Frame with 1/135 seconde, then you can make a sharp photo with the same time on a crop factor camera. The distance between your lens and your sensor is the key factor here, not the crop factor. Ofcourse it wil depend how steady your hand is :) Also the weight of the camera will help you, the more weight the better.

admin November 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Hi leo, Honestly, I am not sure about this, but shooting at 1/135, i often get blur image. Maybe becuase of the hand steadiness, weight/balance thing.

Sean December 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

The Admin is right. You need to factor in the sensor size when estimating hand-holdable shutter speeds. Using a 1.6x sensor, a shutter speed of about 1/200 second is the best general rule (as the calculation puts it at 1/216).

leo August 31, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Sean, you say the admin is right, but can you tell me why? Why should the crop sensor play a role in the time you can hold a camera and lens in your hand? The only thing the sensor does is giving you an crop of the image of a FF. The dept of field is different ( say F4.0 on a FF becomes F6.4 on a 1.6 factor) and that’s it. It is possible you can get blurry images at 1/135, but the size of the sensor does not play a role in it. Why can you held an 17 mm theoretical with 1/17. Because your lens is closer to your sensor. The size of the sensor does not play an role at all. That is just physical law.

Enche Tjin August 31, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Leo, the extra amount of enlargement required with smaller-format cameras increases the blur due to camera motion (shake).

leo September 8, 2010 at 6:50 am

Enche, extra amount of enlargement required with smaller-format cameras ? That is new for me :) You mean smaller sensor format? With an 18 MP APS-c sensor you get bigger pictures then with an Fullframe 5D 12.8 MP. That argument does not hold.

Allen January 12, 2011 at 1:18 am

Leo is right on min speed. I think from optical perspective, there is no difference between cropped and FF , the sensor/lens distance is same. So the min speed should be same

But Leo is not accurate about DOF. If everything same (subject/camera distance, f number), then DOF is same. Remember that the internal image that the lens casted toward sensor is exactly same, it is only that cropped and FF sensor has different size, so cropped did not get all the image.

Randal January 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Geez guys. On a 1.6 cropped sensor camera, this lens is effectively 216mm. There for the old standard rule applies, speed = focal length.

admin is just applying the multiplier to the shutter speed rather than the focal length, but either way, you get the same result.

This isn’t rocket sience.

Leo September 8, 2012 at 5:16 am

Allen, you are right about the DOF . What I tryed to say is that when you the same photo, you have to get closer with a FF sensor compare to a cropped sensor or use a longer tele. Digital Camera Sizes tells it all: tells everthing.

Randal, you are right, it is not rocket science, but very simple. You say that a lens gets effectively 216mm. That is rocket science or rather science fiction. A lens that change when you put a smaller sensor behind it. A 135 mm on a cropped sensor only get cropped by the sensor. With the factor of the cropped sensor. There for the old standard rule applies, speed = focal length/1000.
135 mm/ 1000.

Meredith Sumer June 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Can I shoot engagment pictures (two people) with this lens and them both be in focus?

Enche Tjin June 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

It will be hard except you use relatively small aperture such as f/5.6 and shooting in the bright light or using strobes

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