I preordered the much-anticipated lens a month and a half ago and finally got it last week. I was pretty excited since I had two very big sports events to cover, it was the perfect timing to put this baby to work! Here’s my review on Sony’s latest prime telephoto lens: The 135mm f/1.8 GMaster.
Why did I buy this lens in the first place?
Some of you might ask themselves why would someone buy a rather expensive prime telephoto lens when you can have a 70-200mm f/2.8 for a $700 difference. Well, first of all, if you don’t know it yet: I’m a sucker for primes. I shoot only with primes — it’s a very personal choice. I have absolutely no problem moving around to get closer or further to my subjects to get the right composition. It’s a small sacrifice that’s well worth all the goodness a prime offers me (increased sharpness, creamier bokeh and wider apertures among other things).
I already have a 28mm, 55mm and 85mm, so the next logical step was for me to get the 135mm as I need a telephoto to reach my subjects further away in the gym. And even though I do sports photography, all I really do is portraits — the main purpose the 135mm has been created for.
I bought all my Sony equipment. I’m sharing my experiences and thoughts on my new gear because I am genuinely highly excited about it. If my articles can help some of you learn about newly released stuff or make a decision on whether or not investing in some piece of equipment, then I’d consider my mission fulfilled.
Feeling before technique
If you’ve already read some of my articles, you know I’m not a person who’s about the techs and specs of my gear. Reading specs on a computer VS using it in real life could be very different … It could be very exciting but it could be very disappointing as well. It’s like a car … I don’t care what motor is in it, all I want to know is: Is it comfortable? Will it take me to point A to point B? Will I enjoy driving it in the city as much as for multiple hours trips? Is it reliable? I’m looking for an enjoyable experience for the long ride.
I’m asking myself the exact same questions when I buy new camera gear. How much do I like it? How much do I like working with it on the field? Can I achieve the high-end results I’m looking for? Is it worth my hard earned money?
Without going deep into details, here are the most important features the caught my attention while shooting with the 135mm.
Super fast autofocus
Perhaps THE MOST important feature to me. The 135mm has the same Xtreme Dynamic (XD) linear motors the 400mm f/2.8 has. This technology has been developed and is exclusive to Sony and it’s currently integrated only on those two lenses. The 135mm has not one, but FOUR built-in motors. These motors move independently on a floating mechanism. This is the reason why the AF is so fast, accurate and precise. It also allows or a super high close-up quality images with a minimal focus distance of 70 cm (2.62 feet) — which is closer than when I shoot with my 85mm. Paired with my a9, nothing in the world can actually beat this advanced autofocus system.
Here’s an example of a Powerlifter during the bench press — I was on the left side of him. This image is exactly what I wanted to create in my mind. This composition with the blurry plates and the barbell in the foreground, right above his eyes to frame his face. This moment would’ve been impossible to get without an extremely efficient Eye AF. The bar was moving in front of the athlete’s eyes a split second before the shot had to be taken.
Insanely sharp details and delightful bokeh
The extreme aspherical lenses used in the 135mm provides superior image quality and an out of this world bokeh. When I am in really crowded places with cluttered backgrounds — which happens more often than not — being able to separate my subject from distracting elements is extremely important. Here’s an example of how sharp the image is. Notice how I was wide open with a rather high ISO.
Another example I like to share is this athlete getting primed for his lift. You can see how crowded the warmup area was and how a narrow depth of field comes in very handy to isolate your subject.
When held in hand, the 135mm is a little bit on the heavy side — exactly what I expected for a high-quality telephoto prime lens. Luckily, the lens barrel chassis is made out of lightweight magnesium alloy, which helped minimize weight. I had no problem hand-holding of for two days straight of events. It’s also tropicalized, which is a must when I shoot outdoors and in less than perfect environmental conditions.
This lens has been well thought, no doubt. It features a physical aperture ring that goes from “click” to “smooth,” a very interesting detail when I do videos. It has a focus range limiter — just like in any good telephoto lens — which speeds up even more the already insanely fast autofocus. It also features two customizable thumb buttons. I chose to enable “EYE AF,” which gives me a break from the back button on my right hand.
Remember how much I was in love with Mr. A? I’ve got the exact same feeling with this new baby. I’m having SO MUCH FUN with both of them together. Everything is just so much easier! My gear becomes invisible. I see what’s in front of me, I decide what I want to do and I take pictures. I don’t have to bother about the technical stuff because well … it has no boundaries. I have a crazy fast AF, a crazy wide aperture and a crazy image quality. There’s nothing else I could possibly ask of it … It just has it all. (Please don’t take my word for it. Just look for all the other 135mm reviews on Google. They are all unanimous.)
I understand this isn’t a cheap lens and even though it’s great, it isn’t for everyone. To me, it was a logical choice. I know I will use it to all my photoshoots. It’s an investment in my everyday work. If you already have another telephoto or if you don’t have a need for this range, you’d probably benefit more from renting it to your local store the few times you’ll need it. But if you have a budget and were looking for a new telephoto lens or a superior portrait lens for your Sony Alpha camera, I’m telling you this is the cream of the crop. It’s a total delight to work with this baby and it’s worth every penny. You can get yours at B&H for $1,898 USD.
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