The Sony Carl Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 Telephoto Prime Lens ($1,799.99 direct) is a lens that’s sure to please portrait photographers. The 135mm focal length is a classic for capturing flattering photos of people, as it allows you to fill the frame with your subject, blur the background, and maintain a working distance that won’t distort features. There are less expensive options for other camera systems—Nikon and Canon both make 135mm f/2 lenses that sell for around $1,400 and $1,100 respectively, and if you’re a Micro Four Thirds shooter the excellent Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm F1.8 is only $899.99; but if money isn’t an object, the Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 is a tough act to follow.
The lens is big for a prime at 4.6 by 3.5 inches (HD), and very heavy at 2.3 pounds. It features a large manual focus ring, and an internal motor for fast, quiet autofocus. The front filter size is 77mm and a circular lens hood is included to reduce flare and increase contrast. The f/1.8 aperture combined with this focal length allows you to really blur the background of your photos—especially when you shoot at the closest focusing distance, just under 2.5 feet.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the 135mm at various apertures using the full-frame Alpha 99. Even at f/1.8 it is extremely sharp, recording 2,061 lines per picture height—a good deal better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. It sharpens up very slightly as you stop down, but not significantly so—at f/2.8 the score is 2,068 lines, and it peaks at 2,302 lines at f/8. Distortion is not relevant in field shooting conditions—it only exhibits 0.3 percent.
If you’re in the market for a portrait lens for your Sony D-SLR system, the Carl Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 Telephoto Prime Lens is an excellent choice. It’s sharp at every aperture, and you can really create a shallow depth of field at f/1.8. It’s best suited for use on a full-frame camera—it’s heavy to the point where the larger body of the Alpha 99 will help it balance better. But you can comfortably use it with a larger APS-C body like the Alpha 77, where its reach is effectively lengthened to 200mm. It’s by no means a budget lens, but you’re not going to find any optic that bears the Carl Zeiss name at a bargain basement price.
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