Sony is here to turn your photography world upside down with its absolutely incredible technology and equipment. A name that is now leading much of the industry, Sony’s G-Master series of lenses have become big contenders in the photography game. As such, Sony has released approximately 9 G-Master lenses for their full-frame cameras. The newest addition to the collection is the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM lens, which is now arguably the sharpest lens in the collection! I had the pleasure of testing this lens out fully at the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) show in Las Vegas late last month before the lens is even released to the public.
To get the basics out of the way, the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM is intended for full-frame cameras and is only mountable on the E-mount cameras. This lens has similar specifications to the other lenses in the G-Master line such as the Sony patented XD linear motor, Super ED glass, and Sony Nano AR (all of which we will get into later).
My primary experience with this lens was taking it for a test run at the WPPI convention in Las Vegas at the end of February and it was a pleasure to try it out before the general public.
Upon first glance, I was immediately smitten with the aesthetic of this lens. Clean, sharp, and a beautiful black – this lens looks phenomenal (as even noted by a few of my photography clients). This lens measures at about 3 5/8th inches long and 5 inches tall, and is a very decent and comfortable size for its focal length – even when held by someone like me (small hands, yikes). The lens isn’t very heavy either, clocking in at only 33 ounces (2 pounds).
For a master telephoto lens, this one is quite easy to take on travels! Comprised of magnesium alloy, the lens is lightweight yet durable. The build feels incredibly solid, and I would not hesitate to bring it to difficult or uncomfortable shooting situations such as live concerts or the beach on a windy day. The lens is rather wide, which may be a downside to some, however, you must keep physics in mind. The lens must be wide to accommodate the F/1.8 aperture.
The Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM features excellent weather sealing to help prevent wind, rain, dust, and dirt from entering important mechanical components. Alongside this, the lens is touted to be dust and moisture resistant. The lens glass has a pretty impressive build in its own right too. The glass has a fluorine coating on it to resist fingerprints, dust, water, oil, and other contaminants. If these do end up on the lens, cleaning is easy. That said, I do still suggest purchasing a glass filter – being resistant to fingerprints is not beneficial to dropping or a significant bump!
Aperture ring & additional lens features
All of the buttons on this lens made me a very happy photographer. Designed with professionals in mind, this lens features manual buttons and features such as the aperture ring, an aperture ring silencer, the focus range limiter switch, custom focus hold buttons, and an AF to MF finger switch.
As an avid Canon DSLR and EF lens user who had recently added a Sony mirrorless to the collection, the aperture ring was something a bit new to me. Intended to be beneficial during cinema work, instead of adjusting the aperture on the camera body, you have the option of adjusting its width on the lens. This ring can be adjusted to either be silent or make little clicks to indicate it is turning – very useful for silent shooting. For those that prefer to adjust the aperture on the camera body itself, you can set the dial ring to ‘A’ for automatic.
The focus ring features Linear Response MF, which gives you instantaneous and sensitive response (a big bonus if you’re brave enough to use manual focus to capture something that moves)!
A nice added feature to the Sony GM 135mm F/1.8 is the focus range limiter switch which restricts the range of distance your lens can focus. I use this feature myself when I photograph dog agility shows to ensure the lens doesn’t focus on any obstacles near me but remains locked on a running dog that is far away.
Alongside this, the lens also has customizable focus hold buttons on the side and top which let you control focus via buttons on the lens rather than just the camera. Extremely useful in low light situations where lenses tend to naturally ‘hunt’ for focus.
Where the Sony line particularly shines in the mirrorless game (if not the camera game as a whole) is in its Autofocus. For many of their mirrorless cameras, advanced algorithms provide high AF precision, and infrared technology allows autofocus to be achieved even in extremely low or difficult lighting situations. As well, various autofocus features such as “Eye Tracking” makes these kits superb pieces of machinery. Pair this with the autofocus of the lens, and you have a masterpiece.
This lens has two unique actuators called Extreme Dynamic (XD) Linear motors. These motors not only silence the autofocus but also allow the lens to focus significantly faster than many other motors.
The autofocus is speedy and constant. I can attest to this as a sports photographer. When continuous autofocus is enabled in the camera, the lens holds onto the subject of your choosing like its life depends on it. The lens won’t hunt very much (if at all) and can keep following even a spontaneously and erratically moving subject.
When I took this lens out for a spin at WPPI, I can attest that the focus was incredibly fast and sharp, and was able to follow a human subject throughout the entire range of movement, regardless of the obstacles in front or behind. Even when the subject walked into a crowd of people, the lens was able to figure out who I was photographing.
The sharpest lens in the G-Master lineup. Hands down. A bold statement, but I stand by it!
For most lenses, they are only very sharp in the center. Sony GM 135mm F/1.8 is sharp everywhere. From the corners to the center, allowing you the versatility of any composition under the sun.
The sharpness is also very consistent from shot to shot. I have had many instances in which I capture a sequence in a portrait and only the first or second shot is very sharp and the rest drop off a bit. Of course, to most photo viewers, this discrepancy isn’t very noticeable. However, the photographer’s eye can see it glaringly.
Another big bonus is that this lens does not have a vignette, which can be a common problem with wide apertures.
There is absolutely no reason to add sharpening in post-processing either.
The clarity and colors this lens produces are impressive. I found the images required significantly less retouching too.
Depth of Field
“Wide aperture” is my favorite phrase to hear. Truly. My photographic aesthetic dwells heavily on shallow depth of field. With my work as a concert photographer, the low light capability brought forth by wide apertures is a must-have. The F/1.8 aperture of this lens is terrific (although my obsession with my Canon 50mm F/1.2 L lens makes me wish this lens was an F/1.2). Even if you’re not one to shoot shallow, my rule of thumb is to always invest in lenses with a lower aperture number, so you have the option to shoot at all ranges.
The bokeh produced by this model is right on par with Sony’s unique look to out of focus areas. This is thanks to the unique lens build. To start, the XA element in the glass is developed using an exclusive glass molding process which makes it smoother than conventional aspherical lenses. Conventional lenses are rougher, which can cause rings to appear on your shallow depth of field (a pain to Photoshop out, though Gaussian Blur can do the trick if you mask it right). Secondly, Sony’s camera system aids in creating effortless-looking subject isolation. Third and final, the 11 circular aperture blades inside of the lens create a circular bokeh that maintains its shape no matter what.
I find the depth of field (DOF) looks more dreamy and a bit artificial from other similar lenses, but it has an authenticity and liveliness to it. The shallow DOF has a subtle, calmer rotation that creates a very natural look to the images (or in the least, as natural as this shallow of a field can be).
Pair that with the fact that this lens has a focal length of 135mm and you have some great subject separation. There is a typically unmentioned benefit to telephotos used for portraits. Because of the length of this lens, there is a nice separation of subject from the background and foreground. This happens because of the compression inside the lens.
As someone who photographs live concerts often, I find that flare resistance is an important factor in deciding whether to purchase a lens or not. Although some prefer the stylistic look, many of my music clients don’t want an image that is heavily washed out by colored light and lacks contrast. Flare resistance tends to stem from the glass coating of lenses, and some are better resistant than others.
Lucky for all of us, Sony’s patented Nano AR Coating is applied to reduce flare. Most of the time you can just shoot directly into the sun and you will neither have problems with a huge loss of contrast nor ghosting. This is brilliant for natural light photographers, especially during the beloved golden hour.
As previously mentioned, my primary experience with this lens was at the WPPI convention. Despite the lighting conditions being very difficult in the convention center, this lens outperformed many of the other lenses that I had tested on the same week- notably the flare resistance and overall quality. There was no real issue with the glaring back lights on any subject I had photographed.
Chromatic aberration, also known as ‘color fringing’ or ‘purple fringing,’ is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane. This issue plagues fast lenses the most, as the shallow depth of field tends to bring the optical problem forth. With this lens being an F/1.8, many are concerned about fringing issues in backlit portraits (when the light source is behind the subject).
Sony’s Super ED element reduces chromatic aberration. Some aberration does exist – it isn’t foolproof – but luckily this issue tends only to affect the off-center portions of the frame. They are very minor in comparison to similar lenses and is easy to remove in post-processing programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop.
In comparison to my other Sony lenses, this one has the least chromatic aberration (as I found my 85mm was plagued with it, unfortunately). However, the Canon L lenses I have seem to have significantly less chromatic aberration all around.
Pros and Cons of the Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM Lens
- Wide aperture at F/1.8.
- Professional lens build.
- Lighter than most alternatives.
- Very accurate autofocus, especially paired with the mirrorless autofocus system.
- Sharp throughout the entire frame, not just the center.
- Silent autofocus due to the XD linear motor.
- Convenient features physically built into the lens, such as the aperture ring, an aperture ring silencer, the focus range limiter switch, custom focus hold buttons, and an AF to MF finger switch.
- Weather sealing and dust resistance.
- Flaring and ghosting resistance Sony Nano AR coating on the glass.
- Reduced chromatic aberration due to Super ED element.
- Pricey investment.
- The lens is quite wide in physical build. Understandable for the wide aperture.
This lens is a bit of a hefty financial investment, clocking in at about $1,900. However, considering the build quality, features, and incredible final output, I’d consider the value of this lens to be worth its asking price. I am also predicting that the lens will not depreciate much overtime.
In conclusion, this lens is a stunner in its own right. For those that find a use for the 135mm (like myself), I’d go as far as to say this may be a must-have on the mirrorless list.
We had a fun jest at the WPPI show stating that you can just purchase the 24mm G-Master, 85mm G-Master, and this 135mm G-Master lens and that’s all you need for your kit! Arguably the absolute sharpest lens in the lineup, the 135mm is worth every penny for the immense amount of features included in this great lens.