Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Lenses that make a difference:

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

field report by Uwe Steinmueller (6/9/2005)



Digital cameras have gone a long way. We even think that cameras like the Canon 1Ds Mk. II or the Nikon D2X are often more limited by their lenses than by the cameras and chips.

Here is a list of our current Canon lenses.

One of our most used lenses is the excellent Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. Yes, this lens is a top class zoom. But we should not forget that all zooms are compromises and top prime lenses still can do better. Recently we tested (and finally bought) the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM.

Here is an example from our test session comparing these two lenses.

Our test setup:

  • Gitzo 1325 tripod
  • Arca Swiss B1G ball head
  • mirror lockup
  • same shutter speed 1/30 sec and f/11
  • same processing settings in RSE (shorpnes and detail extraction set to 0)
  • same amount of sharpening with EasyS Sharpening Toolkit

The scene (overcast)

135mm f/2 (100% magnification)

70-200mm f/2.8 IS @131mm (100% magnification)

135mm f/2 corner (100% magnification)

70-200mm f/2.8 IS @131mm corner (100% magnification)

Some more sharpening and more detail extraction can bring the results of the zoom closer to the 135mm f/2:

RSE sharpness 8 and detail extraction 15 (100% magnification)

Still the principle advantage of the 135mm f/2 lens stays as it provides more natural sharpness to begin with.

We find that the 135mm f/2 lens delivers more detail and also more contrast. Interesting how much people discuss the softness of the images from the cameras and leave the lenses out of the equation.

For us the quality difference is reason enough to use in the future the 135mm f/2 as much as the scene allows.

Many find the 135mm range kind of boring. But faced with the better image quality you would be surprised how well you can capture good frames with the 135mm lens by moving your body. Yes, there are situations where moving is not an option and here the zoom has clearly advantages.

Summary for the 135mm f/2L


  • Extremely sharp lens ( 4.5)
  • Compact
  • Good in low light with f/2
  • Bright viewfinder image
  • f/2 helps with easier manual focusing
  • Reasonable priced for its quality (about $900)


  • No IS (image stabilization)
  • Not as flexible as the zoom
  • Often not optimal for freehand photography (without IS)

We are glad to have the Canon 135mm f/2 now permanently in our bag and are sure it will be one of our key lenses from now on.


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