First Look Review: Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US Telephoto Lens

One of my test shots taken with the Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US telephoto lens. With its close focusing distance and wide aperture, the new Sony 135mm lens allows you to produce almost macro-type shots of subjects. Photo by Terry Sullivan.

In the past 12 months (from July 2018 to July 2019), there have been about twice as many pro camera introductions that sport sensors with ultra-high megapixel counts, anywhere from 42 megapixels to as much as 102 megapixels, with the Fujifilm’s GFX 100. Now, granted some, like the Fujifilm, are medium-format cameras. But as many of you know, Sony just introduced a new full-frame mirrorless camera, the Sony a7R IV, which comes with a 61-megapixel full-frame image sensor. That’s a lot of data and detail to resolve!

But what exactly does this jump in megapixel count mean? At the very least, as a photographer, what it means to you is that you need take note that as sensor resolution increases, the lenses you’ll be using will be required to do more work to capture and resolve all the tiny details.

Sony’s Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US (center) next to the A7R III full-frame mirrorless camera (right). (Soda can shown for scale.) Photo by Terry Sullivan

That’s one aspect of Sony’s 135mm F1.8 G Master prime lens, which was announced earlier this year, that the camera and lens manufacturer is claiming: Sony says that the lens is designed not just to resolve images on today’s high-resolution sensors, but also to be forward-compatible so that it can handle tomorrow’s digital imaging sensors. Sony is also claiming that it will allow you to capture all these details, where other cameras are apt to only provide you with a blurred approximation of that detail.

I can’t foretell if it will do the job with future camera bodies, but I’ll say I was very impressed with it optically and ergonomically. I got to spend some time shooting with the Sony 135mm, pairing it with Sony’s a7R III full-frame mirrorless camera. I also got a chance to use it on my vacation in Florida, which allowed me to really experiment with it in different types of lighting. Here’s my take:

Slideshow: Test Photos for Review of Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM Lens--On-lens controls

Slideshow: Test Photos for Review of Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM Lens--On-lens controls
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The Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US telephoto lens has a nice selection of controls on the surface of the lens . Photo by Terry Sullivan

First Impressions:

When the lens first came out, I felt the $1,900 price tag was a bit high. I also thought the lens might be a somewhat impractical, particularly as a travel lens. I really expected it to be larger.

But I took it to Florida with me on vacation, and was pleased with it in terms of being portable. It is a prime lens, which means it’s a little less flexible than a zoom, but overall I enjoyed shooting with this in many types of settings and lighting situations. What I found impressive is that for the various tasks I used it for. I felt it almost functioned like a zoom lens, since I could focus reasonably close on subjects. Plus, the AF seemed to lock in so quickly.  

 

Check out my YouTube Video (above) of my test footage of the Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US, which I also shot down in Florida. It gives you a nice sense of how the lens works without a gimbal.

Interested in the Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US Telephoto Lens? Check it out on B&H!

New Technology: Keeping Pace With Changes

One of the things that makes this new lens special is that it includes some of the latest technology that it’s been Including in other of its recent Sony G Master lenses. For example, this new lens includes Sony’s unique XD linear motors, which you’ll find in the Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS, as well. According to Sony, these linear motors have no gears or mechanical parts. They’re also contactless and frictionless, as well as silent.

The company also claims that this type of linear XD actuator can drive “a large focus lens group at higher speed and with greater precision.” But what, if anything, did that mean in my shooting with this lens? In short, I found the changes in autofocus were breathtakingly fast, and they worked in almost all lighting scenarios.

Another impressive aspect of this lens is that I found it had a very useable minimum focus distance. Obviously, it’s be nicer to have it even closer, but I really enjoyed the various ways I could get up-close and personal with my still lifes and other subjects.

Additionally, I liked how this lens handled throughout the entire f/stop range, from wide open apertures of f/1.8 and all the way up to f/22. In some cases, when shooting at f/1.8, there was almost a macro sensibility to the image. Just really extraordinary bokeh. I was able to produce fantastic blurs in the background that really impressed me.

A Quick Look At The Competition:

Photographers should take note, though, that there are other impressive 135mm lenses out there. For example:

  • Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Lens (available in several mounts, including the Sony E mount)
  • Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 Lens (for Sony E mount)

Both are a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Sony. So, if you’re looking to save some money, these lenses might be a good option for you.   

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed shooting landscape with this moderate telephoto prime lens. Shot at f/22, 1/160th second, ISO 2000. Photo by Terry Sulliva

Tech Specs And Other Qualities To Focus On:

Here are a few of the notable tech specs and qualities that caught my eye while using this lens, and why I think you should learn more about them:

  • Floating Focus Mechanism: Sony says it includes a “floating focus system” that “works with these aberration correction measures to ensure that the highest possible resolution is maintained right out to the image edges throughout the lens’s focus range.” It’s partially what allows the lens to provide high-resolution rendering of the subject, from far away subjects (when the lens is focused on infinity) up to close-up shots, like candids, still lifes or portraits. In looking closely at my images, I was very impressed by how it performed, in terms of images quality. But other companies, like Fujifilm, are including floating-focus mechanisms in some of their lenses, like the Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 Macro lens. (For more, go to the bottom on this very good article “Optical Anomalies and Lens Corrections Explained.”)
  • XA and Super ED Elements: The lens is said to include “XA (extreme aspherical), Super ED (extra-low dispersion) glass and ED glass elements.” These are among the 13 different pieces of glass elements in then lens that help keep the image coming through the lens from getting distorted or degrading image quality. (For more, go to Sony’s Lens terminology page.)
  • Bokeh: I mention how much I liked the bokeh on this lens, but if you don’t know what that is, it’s how the in many of my images, the details in the background have been transformed into abstract forms of light, color and shadow. This blurring effect is called bokeh, and it’s you’ll see it quite often on great lenses. For more, check out this story.
  • On-lens Controls: I really liked the way Sony allows to customize the two buttons on the lens, but I’d wish there I wish there was a short, quick-help guide to tell you in simple language how to quickly customize settings.
  • Build Quality: The build quality of this Sony lens, like many G Master lens, is very high. (The build quality of a lens is always an important thing to consider. High-end lenses, like this lens, are made of metal rather than plastic.) This lens is made of a magnesium alloy. Sony also claims that the lens is resistant to dust and dirt, and in my examination of the lens, that certainly seemed to be the case. For more on why weather-proofing is important, check out this Nikon YouTube testing video.)

Hands-on In the Field, Special Controls and Image Quality

In many of my test shots and video footage, I found a lot to like. When shooting wide open at f/1.8, my portraits and still lifes really popped, with great textures set against the wonderful blurred background bokeh. It could be a little tricky, sometimes, though, like in my shot of a bird in a white cage, in which the AF was so fast, it kept on bouncing from the front to the back parts of the cage and then to the bird and other objects. When I wanted a greater depth of field, I found the lens handled very nicely, as well.

The quick access to controls on the body of the lens were, for the most part, easy to use. There’s also a focus-mode switch: This allows you to quickly change from AF or manual focus. The lens also provides some quick ways to customize your lens and camera. For example, you can set up two customizable focus-hold buttons—so, you can set the button to change in an instant to, say, Eye AF, or to start recording video. There are lots of options to choose from in the menus. You can also “declick” the aperture f/stops and allow you smoothly change the aperture setting, which is nice feature for video

Pros, Cons & Bottom Line

This Sony G Master lens is a superior, best-in-class lens, although there are other high performers in its class, too (which I noted earlier). While it’s an expensive lens, it’s worth the high price. I’d would have liked the lens to include optical image stabilization in the lens itself, particularly at this price, although that may have increased its side and weight. So, you’ll rely on Sony’s in-body IS (IBIS). But for many of my photos it did a decent job. But for producing high-quality video, you’ll need to opt for a gimbal.

This lens is priced mostly for pros, but it’s within reach of enthusiasts. It’s a relatively versatile lens that would be well suited for portraits, street shooting, wildlife and some sports, although its reach is a but limited in terms of sports.

Interested in the Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US Telephoto Lens? Check it out on B&H!

Lens Specifications for the Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM US Telephoto Lens

The following information is also found on the manufacturer’s website: 

  • Name: FE 135mm F1.8 G Master Series Telephoto Prime Lens
  • Focal length (35mm equivalent) and (on APS-C models): 135mm (202.5mm)
  • Mount(s): Sony E-mount
  • Lens Construction:  13 elements in 10 groups
  • Image Stabilization: none (relies on in-body image stabilization or IBIS)
  • Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22
  • Number of Aperture Blades: 11 blades
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 2.3 ft.
  • Filter size: 82mm
  • Dimensions (dimeter x length in inches): 3 5/8 in. x 5 in.
  • Weight (in ounces): 33.6 oz.

Links for Additional Information:

For more information on the Sony FE 135mm F1.8GM lens, check out the following links

I used a shallow depth of field (f/1.8) and a fast shutter speed (1/3200th second) to create an intriguing image of water being sprayed out of a canon at a water park. Photo by Terry Sullivan.

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