FE 135mm F1.8 GM

FE 135mm F1.8 GM

Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM Review

By

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What We Love. The Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM is brilliant, and it is an invaluable tool for portrait photographers. Sony's got it equipped with rugged build and weather-sealing to make it field ready as well as features like a focus range limiter switch, an aperture de-click switch, an aperture control ring, customizable buttons, and XD (extreme dynamic) linear motors to keep your AF performing speedily and quietly. But never mind the bells and whistles. This lens produces beautiful images that are super sharp even at the widest aperture, have rich colors and boast bokeh that's a total stunner. Portrait shooters will fall in love, but so will photographers who enjoy capturing animals, landscapes, and details.

What We'd Change. The truth is, the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM isn't exactly an essential addition to every photographer's arsenal. Make no mistake: at $1898 and with limited applications, it's a lens you'd probably only invest in if 75 to 90 percent of your photography is portraiture work. Otherwise, you're spending a lot of money for a lens that you'd only be using some of the time. If it is something that would useful to you, consider its flaws. First, it does encounter a bit of difficulty minimizing ghosting and flare. Second, it doesn't have a built-in image stabilization, which we would have found very handy in certain situations. And third, even though it is a tad lighter than some 135mm lenses, it's still pretty heavy and bulky.

Pick This Up If... you've got deep pockets, you're a portrait photographer doing it professionally, or you're a landscape photographer in need of a good lens for capturing details.


INTRO

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Shooting a 135mm prime lens can be a little tricky if you haven't had much experience with it. Yes, it's one of a portrait photographer's most integral tool, and many landscape shooters have found great use in it as well.

But it can be a bit of an acquired taste if you're not used to this focal length. You might find yourself having to constantly adjust the space between yourself and your subjects. In fact, some experienced photographers are still baffled by it.

Taking a little longer to find your footing around a 135mm lens, however, is a small price to pay considering the many benefits this type of lens offers. To start, it offers a narrower depth of field and more subject separation, exceptional sharpness, and bokeh so creamy you'll want to put it in a tub and bathe in it.

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Sony's FE 135mm F/1.8 GM, the latest addition to its G Master line, offers all that and then some, just as a 135mm G Master lens should. Shooting with it is a pleasure every Sony photographer should experience at least once. Though whether or not you need it in your camera bag is a decision you have to make for yourself. 

GEAR USED

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We tested our Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM loaner on the Sony a7R III before and after the latest Sony firmware update, taking it with us to Lake Tahoe, Reno, and the LA Zoo.

FEATURES

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  • Model: SEL135F18GM
  • Fits: Sony E-mount
  • Focal Length: 135mm (35mm) / 202.5mm (APS-C)
  • Maximum Aperture: F/1.8
  • Minimum Aperture: F/22
  • Angle of View (diagonal): 18?(35mm) / 12?(APS-C)
  • Lens Construction: 13 elements in 10 groups
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 2.3ft (0.7m)
  • Filter Size: 82mm
  • Max Length: 89.5 x 127 mm
  • Weight: 33.6oz (950g)
  • Aperture Blades: 11
  • Standard Accessories: Hood, front cap, rear cap, case
BUILD QUALITY

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The Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM is a beast, built not only to last but also to be rugged enough to withstand the elements. Its chassis is constructed of magnesium alloy, making durable as well as lightweight. It has fluorine coating on its front element to make it more resistant to fingerprints, dust, and other smudge-causing pollutants. And it boasts weatherproofing to make it resistant to dust and moisture. 

Unfortunately, we didn't really get an opportunity to shoot it in bad weather. By the time we got to Lake Tahoe, the snow had already fallen so we missed the chance to shoot it in the snow. It wasn't that cold either, just in the 40s and 50s, so we couldn't test how it fares against cold weather. However, knowing Sony's record with weather sealing, we're confident that it'll perform beautifully whether you're contending with rain, snow, or minor dust storms. 

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The focus ring is rubberized, and does attract dust as well as pet hair, but the rest of the chassis is matte and texturized to keep dust and fingerprints at bay. The sizeable hood, which adds about two and a half inches to the lens' length, has a felt-like inside that also attracts dust and hair so some maintenance on your part is necessary. But the hood itself is pretty sturdy and locks in place so you never have to worry about it twisting off accidentally.

ERGONOMICS

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At 33.6oz, the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM isn't the most lightweight 135mm available, and you can really tell when you're shooting with it. Mounted on a 23.2oz a7R III, the whole thing feels slightly imbalanced and a little front-heavy. As mirrorless shooters who are used to lighter set-ups, we did find it to be quite fatiguing to shoot with, especially on the wrists. 

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Consider that if you're planning on taking this lens on backpacking or hiking trips to shoot landscapes. It isn't bad having it as a secondary lens when you're doing typical travel photography. We tested this thing around Lake Tahoe and Reno, and it was really handy to have around for capturing beautiful details. But in instances where carrying a lighter load is vital, we would recommend a lighter and more versatile lens.

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On the upside, this lens has all its rings, buttons, and switches within easy reach. Both the focus and aperture control rings are easily accessible using your left hand, as are the focus range limiter switch, the AF/MF switch, and the customizable focus hold buttons behind the focus ring. The aperture click switch, useful if you prefer to not have that tactic feedback and clicking sound every time you switch apertures, is within a quick reach of your left fingers.

And of course, we love the aperture control ring as it makes our creative process more streamlined.

SPEED & FOCUS

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With the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM's minimum focusing distance of 0.7m (or 2.3ft), it's possible to get up close and personal with your subjects and fill your frame. We've found this to be a super useful not just with portraiture, but also for shooting pets as they tend to come up to you for affection (a constant source frustration for this reviewer personally as a result of having overly affectionate cats).

Of course, it's this lens' autofocus that hits it out of the ballpark. Sony equipped it with the two Extreme Dynamic (XD) linear motors, one in the front and the other in the rear, to give it a fast, precise, and quiet autofocusing. And we must say, it's pretty impressive.

It performs beautifully with Sony's EyeAF and Face Detection, as well as the new Animal Eye Detection and Tracking feature that came with the V3.0 Firmware Update. 

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It's able to grab on to intended subjects quickly and accurately, and even though the Animal EyeAF has yet to be perfected, this lens is able to keep up with our furry subjects, rewarding (and surprising) us with quite a few excellent shots. We also had a chance to test this in some low light situations (indoors and after sunset) during which it also performed very well.

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BOKEH

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For lack of a better word, extraordinary. 

The Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM's bokeh melts in your mouth and in your hand, thanks to its 11 circular blades and its knack for subject separation at its widest apertures. The bokeh circles aren't as perfectly rounded, but if you want portraits (whether it's of the critter or the human variety) with creamy, buttery, dreamy backgrounds, this is the lens of your dreams.

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IMAGE QUALITY

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If we were given enough space in the world to back up so you can shoot every subject you want with the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM, we probably would use it all the time. There such immaculate sharpness in the images it produces, even at its widest aperture of F/1.8, that it would be hard to put this lens down if you could shoot anything with it.

Then again, every excellent lens has to be sharp; it's a requirement. What makes this lens stand out is that it integrates that extreme sharpness with rich, warm color rendition, Sony's excellent autofocusing system, and the 135mm's very shallow depth of field, practically zero distortion, and exquisite bokeh. The combination is incredible, and it makes this lens a lethal weapon for portraits where it's crucial for a lens tick off as many things off the list as possible. 

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The images the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM produces are also very clean. Thanks to its ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements, it minimizes chromatic aberration very well. We found some signs of green and purple fringing in very high contrast situations, but they were so minimal anybody can quickly fix them in post.

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Thanks to its Nano AR coating, it also does a terrific job reducing the amount of flare and ghosting. We did encounter the occasional prismatic flare in situations when we had the lens angled away from the sun, which is something that's harder to fix in post, but it can be totally avoided just by putting the hood on.

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Despite those very minuscule flaws, this is a powerhouse lens as far as image quality is concerned, and you'll enjoy every shooting moment with it.

PROS & CONS

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Pros
  • Excellent image quality
  • Stunning bokeh
  • Rugged built
  • Fast, quiet and accurate AF
  • Weather resistance
  • Aperture control ring
  • Hardly any chromatic aberration

Cons
  • Some ghosting and flare
  • Pricey
  • No built-in stabilization

FINAL THOUGHTS

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We adore the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM. Of the many lenses we have tested, it's certainly one of the sharpest ones at its widest aperture and with the creamiest bokeh. It also has a fast and accurate autofocusing system, weather sealing, and an aperture ring, among many other features.

It isn't hard to imagine portrait and pet photographers falling in love with this lens. And those who aren't, will love capturing beautiful details and filling their frame is close-ups of landscapes.

It isn't a lens we would consider necessary to have in our camera bag as it isn't the most versatile (its fixed 135mm focal length has definitely limited the things we can take photos of) and it costs $1898. And because it's a little on the heavy side, we wouldn't want it weighing us down in certain situations.

However, if you have the budget and a 135mm lens something you'll get a lot of use out of with your style of photography, the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM is definitely a top contender.

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MORE IMAGES

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