Our Review of the Canon 135mm f/2 Camera Lens
The Canon 135mm f/2 lens was our first longer focal length lens. It was purchased at a time where it was necessary to have a lens that could get closer to the action without being up close - particularly for shooting wedding ceremonies. Needless to say, we have put this prime lens to task over the past few years, and since growing our lens collection to include other quality, longer focal length, lenses such as the Canon 85mm f/1.2 II and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II, our review of the 135mm in this context should prove helpful for you!
The 135mm as a starter, longer focal length lens & portrait lens
There are several major selling points of the Canon 135mm f/2 camera lens. In a world where Canon prime lenses tend to cost upwards near $2,000 retail, this lens is unique in it's cost of ~$999. While not necessary "cheap" by any means, being half the cost of the 85mm and 70-200mm we had mentioned in the intro certainly gives reason to at least consider this as an option for your kit. Additionally, if considering the 135mm for portrait photography, it is quite frankly an excellent lens and is only really rivaled by the 85mm prime.
As we had mentioned, at the time when we bought this lens, the purpose was fairly simple - we need a lens that can get closer to our subject in environments that require more discretion. We certainly don't like being right up front and center-of-attention as would happen using lenses like a 50mm or 24mm. To this extent, the 135mm works okay. The mileage will vary depending on the location, and no doubt since we have grown as photographers, having acquired the 70-200mm has essentially replaced the 135mm for this purpose. For a starting photographer on a limited budget, the 135mm can be usable, though.
As we came to discover, the 135mm lens really excels most in the context of shooting portraits. Generally, the difference between the 135mm and 85mm in practical use is fairly small when it comes to the quality of photo and look of the photo. In our experience, both produce a really beautiful compression and bokeh effect when shooting wide open. The 85mm f/1.2 provides a little more room for widening the aperture even further, but at the 135mm's f/2 you should have no issue creating the depth of field illusion you are looking for in your photograph. The main area of difference lies in the actual physicality of the lenses. Because of the longer focal length, you will not be able to use the 135mm in tighter spaces, and you will generally need to be more distant from your subject. This is something that did not work well for us unless one of us was operating as a "background" second shooter. As the primary lens, it just doesn't work with our style of photography.
Additionally, while we have mentioned in our 85mm review that there is some potential for camera shake impacting the sharpness of an image, this is exacerbated in the 135mm. You really need still hands, and an understanding that it can be slow to focus. While these are negatives, it comes with the territory of using longer focal length lenses that do not include image stabilization.
Let's talk about the good in this 135mm prime Canon lens
It's sort of easy to talk down about the Canon 135mm f/2 lens after having used it many times, and essentially found replacements for it in many shooting contexts. But, this lens offers a lot of value depending on your style of photography and actual need. Our thoughts on it are primarily shaped by how it performs during a wedding day full of ever changing photography situations.
For portraits, this lens is beautiful and parallels the 85mm f/1.2 quite well. If you have the ability to setup on a tripod and take more formal portraits in a studio environment, this could work excellently. In low pressure shooting situations outdoors, being able to experiment with this lens for natural and candid portraiture is also great. As should be expected, the image quality, clarity, color depth, etc. is all exceptional - we don't think anyone would dispute these facts - unless your image is being impacted by the aforementioned camera shake.
For a long time, we used this lens as the "permanent second" lens to be used by the secondary photographer on our team. Typically, one of us would take the reigns during a session, directing and posing the couple we are working with and generally shooting with a 50mm. The other person would use the 135mm and be able to find different angles of those poses. This worked quite well in this context, and remains a reason why we may pull the 135mm out from time to time to get certain shots.
is the canon 135mm f/2 camera lens worth your money?
This is the $1,000 dollar question.
Based on our extended use of the 135mm lens at many sessions and weddings, we would say this is a good lens for those on a budget. If you are not made of money (like us), and only have a budget for just a couple lenses - a 135mm could suit your needs in covering a high quality, longer focal length lens that is perfect for portraits and for getting tighter shots where you need to stand back a bit. Our experience has shown us that this works reasonably well, but does have its limitations - particularly when the environment you are shooting in is just too distant from your subject. We learned this while shooting in the back of a Catholic church from the balcony, it could not reach the couple at the altar.
In the context of the current lenses we use, the 135mm is the least frequently touched lens, and we are considering selling it to make space in our gear bag. It is a strange situation to be in, because the actual lens is very good, but it's hard to make sense of why we really need it when we have other lenses at similar (or overlapping) focal lengths that output similar image quality - namely the 85mm f/1.2 and 70-200mm f/2.8. The first of these takes precedence in portraits for us, and the latter is in constant use during wedding ceremonies.
Ultimately, only you can decide if you will get enough value from purchasing a 135mm. For us, we can sum it up like this: it's an excellent lens without much of a purpose.
If you do decide to buy one (or anything for that matter), consider using our Amazon referral links. We make a small commission of anything sold through the use of them, and this allows us to continue creating useful content like this for you. As usual, if you have any comments/questions about this lens, leave them for us below and we will get back to you!