Perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Canon’s lens lineup is the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM. While it may not be as popular as some of Canon’s other lenses, as a prime lens photographer, I have found it to be an essential lens for photographing weddings. Two of the main events within a wedding day, both the ceremony and the reception, are moments that are best documented from a distance. It is in these events that it is critical the photographer remains discrete so as not to distract others from enjoying the moment being captured. In order to prevent attention from being drawn away from the couple, photographers must ensure that they have the necessary gear to accommodate these situations.
Before I began using the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, I purchased the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM to cover the longer focal lengths necessary for photographing weddings. I found that, while this lens is lightweight and compact, its limitation of shooting at f/4 didn’t let in enough light for capturing ceremonies in low light situations without either needing to increase my ISO or use a flash. After selling that lens, I decided to try the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Unfortunately, I soon walked away disappointed with the heavier weight of the lens and the lack of sharpness in its images. I also considered buying the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, but compared to my prime lenses, it was over twice as large and came with a hard-to-justify price for a lens I wouldn’t regularly use. Knowing that I was really only going to use it for ceremonies and in parts of receptions, and still wanting to shoot primarily with prime lenses, I simply couldn’t justify the large investment. I researched a bit more and discovered a prime lens that other photographers were using in place of a 70-200mm lens: the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM. Since then, I have come to love so many things about this lens!
The construction of the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens is wonderful! Along with a metal barrel, and a very durable focusing ring, it also comes with a long lens hood that protects the lens from damage as well as shields the glass from stray light that would wash out images. I love that the hood design is flat on the end so I can set the lens down on its hood without it tipping over. I also love the AF/MF button on this lens because it takes some force to switch. This prevents me from accidentally switching to AF or MF if it gets bumped as I put it in my lens bag. The autofocus of this lens is both quick and accurate. The lens also has a focus limiter switch under the AF/MF switch allowing for even faster focusing speed!
Size and Weight
One of my favorite things about this lens is its size. For a telephoto lens, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM is very small, compact, and at only 1.65 lbs., very lightweight. In contrast, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L weighs 3.26 lbs. While this may not sound like much of a difference, when combined with the weight of a camera and after holding it at eye level for hours, it really does add up! With the addition of a second camera, a loaded camera bag, and other various gear, the added pounds can really slow things down and take a tole on the body – especially considering the amount of time spent on your feet and moving quickly throughout the day. Canon did recently release the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM for the Canon EOS R system that is lighter and smaller than the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. However, it does still weigh 2.35 lbs. Not only is the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lightweight, it is shorter and more narrow than other telephoto lenses. It fits my hand perfectly. This is beneficial in that, even though it doesn’t have image stabilization, I can still hand hold the lens and photograph at shutter speeds down to 1/125 without camera shake.
When shooting at f/2, the background blur produced by the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM is incredible! It is extremely smooth with very large bokeh. The bokeh circles don’t get clipped in the corners even when shooting with a DSLR. I also love the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM’s f/2 aperture as I often photograph indoor weddings in very low light settings. If I were to use the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III, there would be many situations where I would still need to use a flash or set a very high ISO. The Canon EF 135 f/2L USM’s f/2 aperture allows a full stop more light being let into the camera than an f/2.8 aperture allows. This would translate to me either using an ISO of 6400 with a f/2.8 lens or using an ISO of only 3200 with an f/2.0 lens!
The Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM’s f/2 aperture also means the background is more blurred out than it would be at f/2.8. Above is a comparison photo of the difference between a photo taken at f/2 (on the left) and f/2.8 (on the right). The Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens is an incredible portrait lens! With its focal length more zoomed in, the background appears closer to the subject and becomes even more blurry. That said, lately I have favored my Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens for portraits largely because it is less zoomed in so I don’t have to stand as far away from my subjects as I would need to with a 135mm focal length. For photographers using the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM for portraits, I do recommend bringing a small stool for added height as it can be difficult to photograph your subject at a flattering “down” angle when you need to stand farther away.
Believe it or not, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens was released in 1996! Despite its age, its image quality holds up quite nicely in comparison to many of Canon’s newer released lenses! In my opinion, it is sharper than both the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. While it isn’t as sharp as the brand new Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, for being over 24 years old, it is simply incredible! For many lenses, purple fringing, called chromatic aberration (CA), will appear in high contrast areas of its images. This can often be seen along the edges of leaves that are silhouetted by the sky. I have found that this lens controls CA very well, and any CA that does show up is easily correctable in Lightroom. Overall, I have found that this lens produces great color and contrast, thus making it wonderful for portraits!
For wedding photographers who prefer to use prime lenses, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM is an excellent substitute for a 70-200mm lens. Rather than paying $1,900 for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM or $2,700 for the new Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, both heavier, f/2.8 lenses, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM can be purchased for around $1,000. I have even seen it listed, used, for around $700. It is a very lightweight and compact telephoto lens that allows photographers to capture ceremonies, receptions, speeches, and even portraits with excellent image quality and a beautiful low aperture background blur.
For a detailed video review of the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens, check out our YouTube review:
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