We Review the Amazing Canon RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM

We Review the Amazing Canon RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM

After 27 years, Canon finally released a new 135mm lens. Instead of a new EF lens, it’s an RF lens, obviously. How does this expensive lens perform, and is it worth the upgrade if you’re still using the old but trustworthy EF version?

Although many photographers often prefer an 85mm focal length for portraits, the narrow field of view of a 135mm can be a great choice. Especially in a studio setup, it will allow a for smaller backdrop while keeping enough distance between subject and background.

I always loved the EF 135mm f/2L USM lens, and even though it is a 27-year-old design, it still holds up well against the modern lenses. With a sophisticated autofocus system, the EF 135mm f/2L USM works great on modern mirrorless EOS cameras. Focusing with a shallow depth of field becomes easy and accurate.

The RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM next to the EF 135mm f/2L USM. 

The RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM Up Close

Now Canon has released the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM. The new lens has an additional 1/3 stop wider aperture and image stabilization built in. Although the 1/3 stop doesn’t make that much of a difference, the image stabilization does. Especially with this focal length, your own movements can lead to a loss of focus if you’re using the shallowest depth of field possible.

Although it weighs almost one kilogram, it feels not too heavy when fitted to my EOS R5.

The lens itself is made from the same material as the other fast RF primes, like the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the RF 85mm f/1.2L IS USM. The lens barrel is a bit longer compared to the RF 85mm, but the smaller diameter makes it easier to use. The lens is well proportioned and handles well.

A comparison with its kin. If you own the 50mm or 85mm lens, you have an idea of the size.

There are two switches located on the side, one for the image stabilization and one for the autofocus. There are two buttons that can be programmed with a selection of functions. Like every other RF lens, there is also the programmable control ring.

Two switches, two function buttons, and a control ring. 

A Word or Two About the Image Quality

There is not much to say about the lens quality itself. The images are tack sharp, even with an f/1.8 aperture. In the corners, the image is sharp as well, although it might be a bit difficult to notice because of the limited depth of field. I only looked at real-world examples during my testing, where the subjects rarely line up across the entire plane of focus.

The lens focuses without problems in dark situations. Its shallow depth of field separates the subject from the background and also prevents too much clutter in the background. (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/200 s, Profoto B10 with translucent umbrella)

At f/1.8, there is vignetting visible, but only when the in-camera lens correction is turned off. Most of the vignetting is gone when stopped down to f/2.8. I didn’t notice any chromatic aberration, which is impressive. When the in-camera lens correction is switched on, the image quality is nearly perfect.

Vignetting at f/1.8 is present. On the left with in-camera lens correction disabled, on the right with in-camera lens correction enabled.

While the focused areas are sharp, the out-of-focus parts have a nice, creamy appearance. The transition from sharp to out of focus is what made the EF 135mm f/2L USM so wonderful, and the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM does not disappoint.

This is were the 135mm focal length and shallow depth of field shine. A great separation between subject and background. (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/800 s)

The bokeh rings have a nice appearance. There is no evidence of the ugly onion rings effect. At f/1.8, these rings look similar to the older EF model. When stopped down, the differences become apparent. Because of the 9-blade aperture of the new RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM, the rings keep a nice form much longer when stopping down, while the rings of EF 135mm f/2L USM change to an octagonal shape at f/4.

The bokeh rings of the old and new 135mm lens. There are not many differences visible. They perform quite similarly.

The bokeh rings of the old and new 135mm lens when stopped down. Now, the differences become apparent. Look at the shape of the bokeh rings.

Using the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM

I’ve been using the RF 135mm f/1,8L IS USM for a few weeks, and it’s a wonderful lens. It is razor sharp, and the bokeh looks great as well. I used the lens mainly with the largest aperture because the appearance of the out-of-focus areas makes this lens so amazing.

The RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM also works perfectly for action photography. The autofocus is fast and silent, and the shallow depth of field separates the subject from its background. (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/500 s)

A simple portrait of our dog (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO100, f/1.8, 1/4000s)

The lens has a minimum focal distance of 70 centimeters, which results in a 0.26x magnification. While it’s not a macro lens by far, it’s perfect for shooting flowers and such. If you combine this lens with an extension tube, it will be an amazing semi-macro lens.

Although it's not a macro lens, it can be used for this kind of semi-macro photography thanks to its 0.26x magnification (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO100, f/1.8, 1/4000s)

The combination of the large aperture and fast and silent autofocus make the RF 135mm f/1,8L IS USM a great lens for indoor sports photography as well. Although you might feel the reach of the focal length is a bit limited for that, the stop of extra light may turn out to be quite convenient.

The bokeh of the background when there are lights in the frame. (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/1,000 s)

Compared to the EF 135mm f/2L USM

I compared the RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM to the old EF 135mm f/2L USM. Although the old EF version is a bit smaller and less heavy, you need an EF-RF adapter if you want to mount it onto a Canon mirrorless camera. In that case, the total length is quite similar.

The older EF version is almost the same size when used with the EF-RF adapter. 

Although both lenses perform well, the older EF lens is showing its age, especially with the high-resolution sensors. It’s still usable in many situations and for most photography. But if you need the best possible quality, there’s no question about it. The new RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM is better in every way.

Another benefit of the new RF lens is its image stabilization. It rates up to 8 stops in combination with an IBIS system. Without, it still goes up to 5.5 stops. The function buttons on the lens are nice to have, but no dealbreaker for me.

The biggest benefit of the older EF 135mm f/2L USM lens is its compatibility with Canon extenders. Combining the EF lens with a 2x extender makes it a great 270mm f/4 lens. The RF 135mm f/1.8 IS USM lacks this possibility.


There is only one conclusion possible. The Canon RF 135mm f/1.8L IS USM is an amazing lens, with image quality that is nearly perfect. The lens has image stabilization, which was missing on the old model, and if you like function buttons on the lens, they’re there.

The lens is perfect for indoor sports photography thanks to its fast and accurate autofocus in combination with the available aperture. The focal length may not be ideal for every photographer, but it’s also a bit of getting used to. It has its use for many types of photography.

(EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 1,600, f/1.8, 1/100 s, Profoto B10 with translucent umbrella)

There is only one downside, and that’s its price tag. You must use this lens quite often to justify the investment. If you only use it on occasion, it’s too expensive. In that case, the EF 135mm f/2L USM with EF-RF adapter will be a perfect alternative.

What I Like About the Lens

  • Image quality
  • Lack of chromatic aberration
  • Bokeh thanks to the 9-blade aperture
  • Wide aperture
  • Fast autofocus
  • Image stabilization
  • Function buttons on the lens barrel
  • Magnification at the minimum focus distance

What I Don’t Like About the Lens

  • Lens hood makes it quite bulky
  • Price
  • Not compatible with a Canon extender

I love using a 135mm lens. I'm still happy with my old EF lens, but it's tempting to upgrade to the RF version. (EOS R5, 135mm, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/1,250 s)

I want to thank Canon Netherlands for providing me with this lens.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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I routinely rent the Sigma 135 1.8 for my Z9, when the 70-200 just isn't bright enough. That lens is as near-perfect of an optic I've ever seen.

I’m jealous. In my city almost none of the rental houses even stock Nikon and the few that do definitely wouldn’t stock Sigma. I’d love to be able to experiment with more varied glass.

(That said, I did bite the bullet and buy the sigma 135 a year ago and agree it is amazing, tho my gas has me eyeing that 105. ;) )

Thanks for the review , but now I want one :-)

I know :)

Canon could easily sell twice as many of these if It could produce enough. For now I'll just have to wait.

It's funny you say this. I know only a hand full of photographers that would choose this lens. Most of them don't look beyond a 85mm prime, or the 70-200 zoom at 200mm focal length.

I rather use APSC mode on my R5 or crop in post when using RF 85/1.2L, which will give almost the same look as 135/1.8 afterwards, while still being at 1.2 light in bad lighting situations. It's not an AF beast, but does the job, and thanks to the huge COL, it uses IBIS up to 8ev, so the same IS efficiency as 135 has. I don't mind having 17MP too. But I am mostly 85 shooter, or I switch to 70-200 @ 200/2.8. I have no use for a dedicated 135mm, especialy for that price, but I know people who rock the 135/1.8 as a main lens.

Why use a crop mode when you can also crop in post?

You can see the cropped image directly while shooting, so a better view of that you shoot.

I think one of the most fundamental misnomers of crop factor is that crop factor only takes into account Field of view not lens compression. A 135 lens has a different compression than an 85 that's been cropped. The lenses have different looks.

Compression is distance dependend, not lens.

That's surprising, the 135 has been known as a portrait photographers B choice for 25 years.

Nice review, and it helps to stay with the older EF version.

I use my EF 135/2 sometimes with my 1.4x adapter, and rarely under conditions where I'd need a stabilised lens (and my R6 has IBIS to compensate for minor movements). The old lens still is more than good enough, and more so as I don't use it that often. My GAS cries, but so be it.

I feel the same, this one is tempting, but the old one is still perfect for my needs

I ordered mine November 6, 2022 but I am still waiting due to the backlog. I would love to get it soon. It must be a big seller in the US where I live.

Didn't Sigma make one of these a few years ago??? Old news....

No, they didn't.
What a weird thing to say

I meant making a 135mm f1.8, Sigma's was the sharpest lens in the database for a while.

For head shots i use the 100mm Zoom L and stand back....85mm and 135mm are for full body shots imho.....