Recently I spent a weekend with the new Sony 135mm G Master lens. Today we'll talk about what it's like to shoot with it and if it's a valuable addition to your camera bag.
First, the reason you buy this lens is for portraiture. I spoke with my local Sony rep and he was also thinking of this lens as a possible candidate for medium distance sports. After all, it's an f/1.8 medium length telephoto lens. But, as I'll talk about in a bit, I disagree with him on that usage. For a full frame shooter, this lens is a wonderful head and shoulders portrait tool.
Even at f/5.6 this lens is amazing for its background quality. I shot it at a variety of apertures and was never displeased with the quality of my background. The 11 blade diaphragm really makes a difference in the background. Naturally the quality of the defocus becomes most prominent when placing points of lights behind the subject, such as holiday lights, but even normal background objects are rendered round and beautiful.
Next, the detail in the lens is something otherworldly. Sony has placed several lenses with coatings to lower chromatic aberration, such as their new XA coating, and it really shows. Moreover, we have nano anti-reflective coatings as well. I've pointed this lens into a light source, a street lamp in my case, and had difficulty forcing it to flare. As such, the anti-reflective and anti-chromatic aberration coatings are world class. You and I both know that's not the story. The story is, naturally enough, the detail it produces. Immense and rich subject detail is most definitely where the story is at. In all likelihood this is the single sharpest lens I have ever used.
The focusing motor is certainly good, but when I shot with it I didn't find it to be exceptional. The 100-400 or the 70-200 f/2.8 would be snappier focusing for sports or wildlife. I shot images of my son at the park and the subject tracking wasn't the speed of the 24mm G Master or some of the other sports oriented telephoto lenses. Let's be fair, there's a lot of glass in this lens and as a result it's harder to move.
The focal length is telephoto enough that for me that I would not think of the 135mm as a replacement or substitute for the 85mm G Master. On the other hand, I think it is a replacement for the 100mm G Master. The 135mm and the 85mm are, in my opinion, a perfect pairing. Combine those two with the Zeiss glass Planar 35mm and 50mm f/1.4 pairing and you have the perfect portrait bag for any occasion.
Now it's time to give this lens a Totally Important and Not-At-All Arbitrary Rating.
In the Enthusiast Usage category this lens is going to do very well. Five out of five in build quality, as it's solid and weighty and quality feeling in the hand. Next, we have another perfect score in image quality, in fact I wish I could make up additional points here as a perfect score doesn't feel high enough in IQ. Speed wasn't as ground breaking as I expected so it gets a four out of five in that section. The 135mm holds that same score in features. With a prime lens I really want not only an aperture ring (which this has) but also a focus distance and hyperfocal calculator (which it does not). Yes, I know I'm asking for the moon here as a telephoto lens has less need for hyperfocal information than a wide prime does. But a guy can dream. Lastly, let's talk value and with a lens as good as this, can there be any other score than five out of five? I don't think so. Thus, the enthusiast score is a whopping 23 out of 25.
Our new favorite prime won't fair so well in the Beginner Usage category. To start, this prime might be bright and fast, but it's still a prime and so it gets a three out of five in ease of use. It'll score the same in size and weight because, after all, it's a pretty big prime and a new photographer will likely find it awkward and ungainly. Since it's a very telephoto prime, it's flexibility score will drop all the way to two out of five, but it's growth potential will be very high, a four out of five, because of the quality of imagery one can achieve with it. Since this is a highly sought after lens it'll definitely get a five out of five in coolness. Lastly, it does achieve an extra point for dopeness, giving it a beginner score of 18 out of 25, which is respectable for a high end prime.
All that said and done, and the Sony 135mm G Master has the highest score I've ever given out: 41 out of 50.