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

Tim Gallo's picture

When I saw the title I immediately thought about Ai AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D. My God this lens is amazing. Also agree with all the above... I dont use it that often - cause of the "work" reasons. But again My God is this lens amazing :). Seems it goes the same for Canons 135. Never had a chance to use this one while I was canon shooter, but after selling all the canon staff - I has one - a 40 mm pancake. Its another lens I could not sell.

Matt Rennells's picture

I have the 105 f2 DC and yep, that would be mine. I can shoot a whole session with my 70-200 and then pull this out for a couple of quick shots and they blow away everything else I was doing.

Tom Weis's picture

Yep the 135mm f2 DC Nikkor is pretty good... but the Sigma 135mm f1.8 ART is way better. I made the switch myself late last year and the Sigma is simply incredible even at f1.8 even in the corners. The Nikkor suffers from a lot of CA wide open and isn't nearly as sharp wide open.

michaeljin's picture

Completely different lenses with completely different rendition. Even though they share the same focal length, the results from these two lenses are so different that comparing them is a bit like comparing grapes and raisins—one is not necessarily better than the other and you eat them for different reasons.

Tim Gallo's picture

What Michael Jin said. But I am looking forward trying Sigma ART lens also.

lots of ca with the dc lenses. great for their time. new tech and coatings and special lens elements make newer lenses like the sigma 135 art phenomenal . so usable sharp and creamy wide open. the dc had to be stopped down though the dreamy look gives a nice nostalgic look. those who own ( I owned the 105 dc till it was stolen) the dc lenses dont get offended. there will always be newer products that are better over time.

I wish nikon would have continued with the build quality of the dc lenses. that metal crinkle finish fells/looks great. the plastic G primes feel so cheap.

Tim Gallo's picture

It seems that everybody repeats the same mantra about about ca and not being sharp wide open and e.t.c when talking about DC lens. My 135 "looks" sharper than any new nikkor lenses I own :), its not actually sharp - its contrasty. If its fine-tuned its very close by to any other lens. But common folk cant tell the difference. What they see is a nice character of a lens.

I think its a matter of taste - but I prefer bokeh that dont looks like you did it in photoshop... too much bokeh - and than it does not matters where you shoot the picture. You need just a little bit of sense whats happening around - in that old school lenses rule :)

"It seems that everybody repeats the same mantra about about ca and not being sharp wide open and e.t.c when talking about DC lens"

facts are facts. common folks dont buy the lens. its us photogs who care for IQ results
if only common folks see our images, just invest in the old vivitar in the video below. theyll enjoy it as long as you compose and light it right.

"I think its a matter of taste"
yes, the 135 art looks way better

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KheEeli5Qqg

they still sell that 30 year old...for the price of the art.

Tim Gallo's picture

"its us photogs who care for IQ results. "
agree.

Vivitar is cool lens :) will try it out.

I like vivitar shame they disappeared

Jonathan Senécal's picture

For now my Lumix 25mm F1.7. It's all I have and I love it. I know there is better out there but still.. this is it for now :)

Timothy Gasper's picture

Hey, that's fine. Henri Cartier Bresson had only one camera and one lens for all his work. Enjoy what you have. It will help you see things more "clearly".

For me it would be my Olympus 45mm f/1.8.. i'm still impressed by the results of that tiny lens

Wasim Ahmad's picture

This lens is gem that you don't hear talked about much in the Canon lineup - maybe due to age or the fact that there are three 85mm lenses to choose from as well. It's great though, and the price of admission isn't to steep for what you get.

Jeff McCollough's picture

There are a lot of lenses that aren't talked about enough and the reviews on them suck. It's a shame.

Timothy Gasper's picture

You're right. Far too many excellent lenses. Maybe someday someone will get around to them.

Vincent Morretino's picture

I never thought I'd sell my Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 lens I used with my crop sensor bodies, but there it is on eBay. I replaced it with a Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 for my D810.

Nikon 50/1.2 even though I switched to Sony. I was looking at some old photos I shot with it and forgot how good it looked especially portraits lit with Elinchrom Deep Octa 39" and Profoto Acute 600b. I guess I will have to buy an N-Sony adapter. I also keep the Lumix 15mm and Olympus 17mm. If I only had to use one focal length it would be the 35mm sony 2.8 or distagon 35mm 1.4 for sony.

I agree on the 15mm . Even though i'm not a fan of the focal lenght, I have to admit the results are nice

Tom Lew's picture

I had a 50mm canon 1.4 lens that I thought would be funny to turn into an L lens so I used red gaff tape and taped over the yellow part to make a red ring, then i used a white sharpie and wrote 16 - 200mm f1.2 on it. Needless to say the resale value on ebay was very very bad

Michael Dougherty's picture

The Sigma 17-70 macro C for cropped frame cameras regardless of price. It's a great all-around lens that does incredible close-ups with backgrounds. It's not my best lens but if I had to have only one lens, the 17-70 would be it.

Ryan Mense's picture

Good lens that can be purchased used at a decent price

Royan Descartes's picture

hey, where is the portfolio located on here? i wish to upload my work too

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

My beat-up Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art. I don't think I could part with it even though I recently bought a Tamron 28-75. That Sigma is just so damn good and fits my style.

Funny thing me using a zoom is I would set the the focal length I want to use, and still zoom with my feet.

I could never see parting with my Canon 600/4 IS II. It has been worth every penny and love the images I’ve got with it. It is why I switched to Canon after shooting Pentax for a few years when I got into photography.

Ryan Mense's picture

Upload some photos to your portfolio with that bad boy!

Michael Aubrey's picture

Certainly the Sigma Art competitor for me, the 135mm f/1.8.

Timothy Gasper's picture

How good is this lens comparatively? I was looking at it but could use some feedback. I have only 1 Sigma lens and am very happy with it.

As long as you get the focusing right. it is insanely good.

Michael Aubrey's picture

It's as sharp or sharper as the Zeiss APO-Sonnar 135mm f/2, but it's CA correction is ever so slightly worse.

Still far less CA than the Canon L though. But of course bigger and heavier, too.

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