Do You Have a Lens You Will Never Sell? This Is Mine

Do You Have a Lens You Will Never Sell? This Is Mine

With so much negativity in the photography world, sometimes you just have to give credit where credit is due. This is the lens I love like a family member and could never bring myself to part with.

It feels as if brand loyalty has all but died. I'm a part of this problem. I was a staunch Canon fan, and my cameras and almost all lenses were Canon; I couldn't see myself moving away. But then the Sony a7 III came along and I tried it once only to be immediately converted. They say there's no room for sentiment in business, and that's true to an extent. I saw a way to improve my work, workflow, and to dramatically improve my photographic quality of life, and I took it. I could have written an article bemoaning Canon's lackluster innovation, or their underwhelming entry in to the mirrorless market. But what I really wanted to point out is that during my transition from Canon to Sony, there was only one constituent part of my arsenal that I outright refused to part with: the Canon EF 135mm f/2L.

This modern bokeh monster and Lord of the Red Rings (incidentally the name of my Indian restaurant should I start one,) this lens is one of my all time best purchases. While I may have bought it way back when I hadn't even begun on my road to recovery from Gear Acquisition Syndrome, it was in fact an astute purchase. Prime lenses have limited applications by their very nature, and once they have a long focal length, this is exacerbated enormously. And yet, I will find any way I can to shuffle it in to all manner of shoots.

There is a wealth of information out there on why the 135mm L is technically superior, with incredible optics even wide open at a generous f/2, relative light weight, and creamiest bokeh. However, I've never been one to get deep down and dirty with specs of lenses, and rather go on results and the feel of the images. And for me, it stands alone at #1.

Hanna Hughes

The sharpness is undoubtedly a chief selling point, but for me, it comes as part of a three-pronged attack (sharpness, separation of subject and background, and bokeh). The separation of subject from background is equally as alluring. Now, this can be achieved by longer focal lengths, this is true, but due to its wide maximum aperture you can really take that to the next level. I have shot a number of images with my 70-200mm f/2.8 at 200mm and f/2.8, and in theory that should offer the same or better separation if you can put enough distance between you and your subject. But realistically, the 135mm has something extra. It's difficult to delineate exactly what that is. After all I have bought, rented, borrowed, and sold a plethora of lenses without feeling. I've acquired a new lens, declared my love for it, and then replaced it 6 months later without a second thought. Yet this Canon prime has been a prized possession for nearly a decade and is no where near the chopping block, no matter how much Sigma Art lenses try to lure it there.

James Adler

My best guess would be that this rare quality is the combination of the parts of the three-pronged attack combining to give a look that is somewhat singular. The bokeh and the separation with a tack sharp subject gives a cinematic feel even straight out of the camera. It's one of those rare lenses that I find it difficult to take a "bad" shot with, and my keep rate is much higher. If you then take in to consideration that the 135mm is half the weight of my 70-200mm (750g versus 1490g) and it's perhaps less mysterious why I find myself reaching for the prime so often.

In fact, while doing some tuition recently I was waxing lyrical about the 135mm and decided to show the student what I meant. I manually selected the settings with the 135mm attached, and got them to take some shots; they were as thrilled as I'd hoped. They couldn't believe that they were taking such good shots as they were still very new to photography. It's true that we had good morning light and that I dialed the perfect settings, but I wholeheartedly believe I couldn't have elicited the same reaction with any other lens I own — and I own quite a few!

Caroline Royce-Redmond

Is the 135mm my most used lens? Absolutely not. It's anything but a workhorse and it's more a case of me shoehorning it in where possible. But this is where clinical logic with kit falls in to a hole. I suspect if I had to narrow down my kit and could only keep my three most used lenses, it'd be a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 90mm macro, but I'd rather sell any one of those if it meant keeping the Lord of the Red Rings. It's not a decision to be made with stats, it's a decision to be made with passion and no lens ignites my love for portraiture more than the 135mm. There are certainly ways I'd improve it (minimum focal distance would be top of the wish list) but for a lens that has been kicking around for two decades almost untouched, it's an easy and worthy investment. There are glut of 135mm Ls on the used market thanks to their lengthy time in production, and their price tag new is reasonable enough as it is.

Luke Pritchard (The Kooks)

Not to mention, Sony a7 III's Eye AF works seamlessly with the adapted Canon 135mm and takes this lens even further in to its own league for me. I have been using it for editorial work thanks to the Sigma MC-11 Mount Convertor with such confidence that even high pressure, low time shoots don't have my shying away.

Do you have a lens that defies logical decisions and that you just will never sell? Share in the comments below, or join me in my ode to the 135mm!

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82 Comments

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Johannes Lietz's picture

Get the Batis 135 for the Sony and you won’t look back.

michaeljin's picture

Rumor has it that Sony will be releasing their own 135mm f/1.8 GM. If this is true, it'll definitely be interesting to compare the results to the Batis. My only thing about the Batis line-up as a whole is that I wish that they were a bit faster. I know that Zeiss is prioritizing compactness and a shared filter thread size with the Batis line, but would a 135mm f/2 really have been all that much larger than an f/2.8?

Tim Gallo's picture

I own Batis lens and since I dont have a sony alternative - I never wanted it to be faster, since I have nothing to compare it with. As a result I also never wished for it to be more faster. Its speed is enough for professional work. But it all depends on the type of work though.

Johannes Lietz's picture

In my Nikon days, I had the 135/2 DC, which is also compact, but it is also sh#t on modern high-res cameras. It is soft at f/2, mediocre at f/2.8, and the horrible CA never go away, even at f/8. Okay for portraits, not usable for landscape/architecture, and basically only usable at f/2.8, too.

Then there is the Sigma 135/1.8, which is double the weight of the Batis at 1,2 kg. Sorry, no, portability is important to me. When there is a 135 GM, I guess it will be similar in size and weight (like the heavy 85 GM).

I wouldn't mind if the Batis was a stop faster, but it is such a stellar lens! One of the best of all E-mount lenses.

michaeljin's picture

I don't doubt that at all. I just thought it was a pretty curious decision since Zeiss already has 135mm f/2 lenses on other systems that are absolutely excellent in performance and I don't think they're all that large either. Granted, I always shot my 135mm lenses at around f/2.8 anyway, but having the extra stop is just a nice option, I guess.

I suppose they felt that they couldn't do it and keep that 67mm filter thread.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I, too, wrote what amounted to a love letter to my beloved 135L but then I bought the Batis 135 and didn't hesitate to sell the Canon. If you think the L is sharp... 😈

Robert K Baggs's picture

Why must you put my bank balance at risk?! And the integrity of my article's title no less!

Timothy Gasper's picture

Damn good lens. The one which immediately came to mind is the Nikon 105mm f2 DC. Love this lens. The 135mm as well, but for some reason I opted for the 105. Maybe bc it reminded me of the 105 f2.5 I had years ago. Another good lens.

M D's picture

I love this lens also. I often use filters on it because it's so sharp. It really exposes skin flaws when it's dead on if the lighting isn't filling in well. And because i'm not great with artificial lighting, I run in to that issue a lot.

Motti Bembaron's picture

My Nikon 180 f/2.8. Old and no VR but boy, the photos that it takes.

I have some portrait lenses I would never sell - Nikon 200 f2, and 2 others I love so much I have 2 copies of each - Fuji GFX 110 f2, Nikon 105 f1.4

Darren Loveland's picture

I completely relate to this article. I love the 135mm f/2. I use it for more than just portraits. I enjoy its focal length for long distance landscapes as well. The color rendering seems a bit unique compared to some of the newer L series lenses. Maybe it's due to older (or aged) coatings but this lens produces a look that is truly special and I love shooting with it.

When I saw the title I misread it as "Do you have a lens that will never sell?"
I have several that will never sell. Lord knows I have tried....

Those 135mm f/2, man... They're something. I have a few lenses I LOVE. My Samyang 135mm f/2. My Sony FE 55mm f/1.8. My Zeiss Batis 25mm. And my Sony 16-35 GM. All of them are impeccable. My two favorites are the 135mm and the 25mm. Their rendering is gorgeous. And it's saying something. I thought of selling the Batis since I have many wide angles and the Batis is expensive. But I just couldn't, that lens feels special.

Hi, obviously the Canon EF135 f/2. I own it for now about 10 years, used it with Canon, and now with an a7riii and a sigma MC 11 adapter.
Sharp, bokeh…

Otto Schlemmer's picture

oh yeah, i've got such a lens as well ... the sony GM 70-200 2.8 ... i'd never sell this precious piece of glass, it's just so stunning what it is capable of!

Kevin Harding's picture

Cosina MC 55/1.2, it's been with me (amid mount changes I've inflicted on it) from Pentax > Nikon > Sony.
It has many aberrations/defects but is sharp enough WO and gets much sharper stopped down to f2. A lovely portrait lens WO which also has an awesome effect on specular highlights, though haters of cat's eyes won't like it :)

135mm lenses in general are great, and there are many of them. Personally I loved the Nikon 135/2 DC.

Kornel Flint's picture

Interesting, for me personally that's the lens I would never buy, in my opinion it's on of the most overrated lenses in the canon spectrum, I much prefer the 70-200 2.8 is mk2, 85 1.2 or even the 1.8, or the 100 2.8 macro than the 135... Different strokes for different folks... It also shows how much Canon cares for it that they haven't refreshed it in over 20 years. I always said I would never sell the Canon 70-200 2.8 is mk2 but now that I bought the Sony A7 III, I think it will have to go

Dave Henshaw's picture

I'd never sell my Nikon Nifty 50, it does exactly what it says on the tin and I'd recommend one to any photographer.

Marissa Kasnya's picture

Mine is the Canon 100 F2.8 L macro. Love it. Went to Sony recently, but keeping it forever.

Jordan McChesney's picture

If I'm being completely honest with myself... probably all of them, I'm awful at selling things.
The kit lenses I bought with my D5000 back in 2009 are still sitting in my closet... alongside my old dusty D5000.

However, the two lenses I would save if my house was on fire are the Nikkor 24-70 and 70-200 f/2.8 because they cost more than all of the other camera gear I've ever bought, combined... and they're pretty darn good.

Ryan Luna's picture

Fuji XF 16mm F/1.4

user-206807's picture

Surely this is a lens with very good optical qualities.
But I am not a big fan of 135 mm lenses for portrait. It makes the face very unnatural because of the compression effect, bringing the ears on the same plan of the nose…

My FL 50mm f1.8, it’s my only 50mm i have and fell in love with it instantly the moment i bought this lens and use it for the first time. Reminiscing back in the days in 1996, when i started learning photography in my high school.

Jim Bolen's picture

Tamron 85mm 1.8 VC. This thing is amazing! Beautiful bokeh and sharp as can be. Can easily shoot location portraits handheld with no problem anymore.

Franck Budynek's picture

My old Nikkor AF-D 60 mm f2.8 Micro… bought in 1994. Just stunning.

Christian Berens's picture

Nikkor 200mm ƒ/2.0
The thing is a beast, amazing, ridiculous, i love it!!!

Steven Lelham's picture

I recently switched to Fujifilm, but I still have my 5dM3 because i didnt want to sell my 135L.

Truly a great lens!

Adriano Brigante's picture

Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 135mm f3.5, made in 1952. It's a beauty!

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