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FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM

  
 
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


FM Rolling Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM
Order the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM: B&H Photo | Amazon

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When I found out that one of the highly anticipated FE 135/1.8 GM lenses was about to land on my doorsteps for testing, I literally had butterflies in my stomach. We already have great 135mm natives like the Batis 135/2.8 APO but many find the f/2.8 aperture limiting for portraits, especially when shooting at mid-distance. There is also the Sigma 135/1.8 Art, an SLR design adapted to the Sony E-mount, that is outstanding and priced right. So, what could the new FE135/1.8 GM offer to compel shooters to spend $1,900 of their hard earned cash?

Sure, there’s lots of hype surrounding the 4 linear motors for super-duper fast AF, aspherical glass production that does not cause onion ring bokeh but how does it perform in the real world?

Everyone knows that this is mostly a portrait lens, and I’m sure having sharp eyebrows is definitely a plus but what about everything else? How’s the rendering, flare resistance, CA control, MFD performance? So many questions, so many test shots, so much to analyze…here’s what I found so far.

___________________

This is an Ongoing Review. Here is a summary with links to the tests and samples images:
  1. First Impressions
  2. Resolution and contrast test at infinity distance
  3. Resolution and contrast test compared to Sigma 135/1.8 Art E-mount
  4. Resolution and contrast test compared to Sony 85/1.4 GM
  5. Resolution and contrast test compared to FE 100/2.8 STF GM
  6. Resolution and contrast at Minimum focus distance (MFD)
  7. Rendering and spherical aberration correction compared to Sigma 135/1.8 Art E-mount
  8. Rendering and spherical aberration correction compared to FE 85/1.4 GM
  9. Rendering compared to the FE 100/2.8 STF GM
  10. Field curvature at infinity distance
  11. Longitudinal CA correction
  12. Specular highlights quality and shape
  13. Specular Highlights' shape at smaller apertures
  14. Lateral CA correction
  15. Flare resistance
  16. Coma Performance (sagittal flare)
  17. Performance with an achromat close-up lens at 0.6x magnification
  18. Final thoughts
  19. Sample images
  20. Sample images 2
  21. Sample images 3
  22. Sample images 4










Size comparison from left to right: FE 24/1.4 GM, FE 50/1.4 ZA and FE 135/1.8 GM



Main Specifications:
  1. One large XA Element (molded with extreme surface precision eliminating onion ring bokeh and effectively correcting for spherical aberration)
  2. Two ED Elements (To correct color aberration. One is a super ED)
  3. Nano AR Coating
  4. Dual (front and rear) XD Linear Motor AF System (For fast, reliable and quiet AF even in low light)
  5. AF/MF Switch; Internal Focus
  6. Two custom Buttons
  7. Linear response MF (feels like operating a mechanical helicoid even though it's fly-by-wire)
  8. Physical Aperture Ring; De-Click Switch
  9. Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction
  10. Rounded 11-Blade Diaphragm aperture (For round specular highlights even at smaller apertures)
  11. Filter Thread: 82 mm
  12. Minimum focusing distance: 0.7m
  13. MFD magnification: 0.25x
  14. Dimensions (DxL): 3.52 x 5.00" / 89.5 x 127 mm
  15. Weight: 2.09 lb / 952 g (measured), 1030g with hood



Mar 17, 2019 at 01:40 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


First Impressions:

When the box from Sony arrived and I peeled it open, for a second I thought about how excited all the Sony shooters are going to be about this.






My initial thoughts on this native full frame 135mm f/1.8 lens are:
  1. It’s noticeably heavier and longer than my other portrait lens, the FE 85/1.4 GM.
  2. Operational buttons and switches you expect from the GM line - but stiffer to adjust.
  3. Two custom buttons instead of just one - great for using the lens in portrait or landscape orientation.
  4. Awesome aperture ring – facilitating easy adjustments to the aperture without touching the camera.
  5. Manual focus - linear, and precise.
  6. Weight - a bit front heavy (1030g with the hood attached – my measurement) tipping the scales at my max weight to handhold for the day.
  7. Hood – makes a noticeable difference preventing veiling flare.
  8. Four focusing motors inside – surprisingly silent, and faster than ever.
  9. Weather sealed – ready for the elements.

The Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM is a new member of G Master line and if you shoot portraits, weddings, events, or low light sports, you’re going to want to take note. Sony knew that superior Eye AF and fast action tracking was crucial to the success of this lens and therefore designed the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM with XD linear motors, a technology first introduced on their FE 400/2.8 GM super telephoto lens. However, in the case of the 135/1.8 GM, Sony goes above and beyond - designing it with Dual XD linear motors for the front and rear elements.

See illustration:





You can go, back and forth with the FE 135/1.8 GM's autofocus, blurry to sharp - as quiet as a mouse.

Putting it into perspective, this is a pretty impressive feat considering these motors are moving fairly large elements and the lens features a floating element design (FLE). I don't mind shooting with manual lenses but when I need AF, I want it to work with consistency and speed, and the practically silent shooting comes as a bonus. After a couple days of exclusively using the 135/1.8 GM, it’s going to be hard to un-glue it from my hands, and get back to reality. Which means I'll have to re-mount one of my other great lenses, like the 50/1.4 ZA or 85/1.4 GM which clearly don't share the new and efficient motor technology.

The FE 135mm f/1.8 GM features an unusual large extreme aspherical element (XA) placed towards the front of the lens right behind 2 extra-low dispersion elements. My initial tests show this optical design effectively minimizes color and spherical aberration which results in very high resolution and contrast across the image field while still providing smooth rendering for the background and foreground bokeh. Sony's XA lens elements are molded with high surface precision which in turn practically eliminates optical imperfections like onion-ring pattern in specular highlights. I was hard-pressed to even find even traces of it with this lens.





The lens shares many features found in other G Master primes like custom buttons, MF/AF button, aperture ring (de-clickable) and a three position focus range limiter. It worth noting that the buttons and switches do feel a bit stiffer compared to other GM lenses probably to help avoid accidental setting changes. Manual focusing the 135/1.8 GM feels like operating a mechanical helicoid lens even though it's still fly-by-wire. This is nothing new for GM lenses but I found that the linear MF response seems improved compared to other Sony lenses.

A full frame 135mm f/1.8 lens could never be a small optic by any measure even if designed for mirrorless cameras. It's true that wide angle lenses can be designed to be more compact taking advantage of the shorter flange distance from mirrorless bodies but that's not possible with normal or telephoto lenses. The 135mm f/1.8 GM is not light at 950g (1030g with hood) but when compared to the Sigma 135/1.8 E-mount or other fast 135mm lenses adapted to Sony, it's actually significantly lighter and better balanced in comparison.

There's no optical image stabilization (OSS) in the lens itself, but when testing the lens with the Sony A7R III featuring IBIS (in body image stabilization), I was able to handhold the lens and get sharp results up to 4 stops (~1/10s). For still portraits, I could set shutter speed to 1/60s and get very sharp eyelashes on most of my images.

My initial impressions are certainly very positive regarding image quality and rendering. Even wide open, the lens is able to capture the finest detail in landscapes at infinity across the field as well as very sharp eye-lashes in close to mid-distance portraits. There is noticeable vignetting from wide open until about f/4 but as a dedicated portrait lens, I think that vignetting wide open is actually not a negative and if needed could be corrected in-camera or in-post. Lateral and axial CA is minimal and somewhat difficult to spot in my images.
Optical vignetting is practically unavoidable for a fast full frame 135mm lens so there will be cat-eye shape bokeh at mid-frame and corners. This is an area the FE 85/1.4 GM fares better. But, I have never tested another fast 135mm lens that performed any better in this respect. Stepping the lens down to f/2.8 makes specular highlights appear more rounded across the field.

Wide open, there is a slight field curvature at infinity distance but this is completely masked when stopping the lens down a bit. If you’re a landscape photographer and you’re striving for the ultimate IQ without lugging around a heavy zoom like the 100-400 GM, the 135 GM is a great alternative - even though there are other lighter options like the Batis 135/2.8 APO which would lighten your load even more, around 300g of weight, without sacrificing quality.

Testing for this lens has just started so stay tuned for updates on this thread. For now, let's start with a resolution/contrast test at infinity distance...



Mar 17, 2019 at 02:57 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Resolution and contrast test at infinity distance

Let's get started and take a look at some crops showing how the FE 135/1.8 GM performs at infinity distance in regards to resolution and contrast.

Here is the full image thumbnail showing the areas demonstrated at 1:1 magnification.





Distance: Infinity
Focus: Center - Best of three @ 12.4x magnification
WB: Daylight for both lenses
All Lenses perfectly centered using my decentering test
Software: Lightroom FM Default Landscape Sharpening. All other settings set to default

____________________





Center crops comparison apertures from f/1.8 until f/11






Center comparison: f/1.8 vs f/2 : I would say they are equal but there is a minor improvement. (Perhaps only noticeable at 100% mag.)







Center comparison: f/2 vs f/2.8 : Another very tiny improvement in resolution but higher contrast







Center comparison: f/2.8 vs f/4: Here I can't find any difference even at 2:1 magnification. I'd say this lens is already optimal at f/2.8 or even f/2.5!







Center comparison: f/4 vs f/5.6: Nothing to see here folks. They are equal







Center comparison: f/5.6 vs f/8: Diffraction starts to take hold but f/8 is still a strong aperture







Center comparison: f/8 vs f/11: Image diffracts further...




Mar 17, 2019 at 03:54 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Mid-field crops comparison apertures from f/1.8 until f/11






Mid-field comparison: f/1.8 vs f/2: Very minor improvement. It's great the 135/1.8 GM has a strong mid-field right from wide open!







Mid-field comparison: f/2 vs f/2.8: Perhaps a tad more contrast but small resolution change







Mid-field comparison: f/2.8 vs f/4: No improvement







Mid-field comparison: f/4 vs f/5.6: Nope







Mid-field comparison: f/5.6 vs f/8: Not much different. Perhaps a slight diffraction effect







Mid-field comparison: f/8 vs f/11: Even more obvious diffraction




Mar 17, 2019 at 04:02 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Extreme edge crops comparison apertures from f/1.8 until f/11






Extreme edge comparison: f/1.8 vs f/2: Slightly better but f/1.8 is pretty amazing for the extreme corners!







Extreme edge comparison: f/2 vs f/2.8: Improves further but small change







Extreme edge comparison: f/2.8 vs f/4: Pretty much equal to me







Extreme edge comparison: f/4 vs f/5.6: I see an improvement here. Perhaps is due to more DoF and therefore less FC.







Extreme edge comparison: f/5.6 vs f/8







Extreme edge comparison: f/8 vs f/11: Not much changes but some visible diffraction




Mar 17, 2019 at 04:03 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Field curvature at infinity distance.

When shooting wide open, there is a slight field curvature at infinity and mid-distance.

This field curvature is noticeable when viewed at pixel level (1:1 magnification). Stopping the lens down for a greater depth of field pretty much masks this effect.
  1. Left crop: Image shows the center area and was focused on center
  2. Right crop: Image shows the center area but was focused on corner








Mar 17, 2019 at 04:17 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Longitudinal CA correction

The FE 135/1.8 GM is very well corrected for LoCA (longitudinal or axial CA). Even in high contrast light it's difficult to spot any green/purple color error in slightly defocused areas. Wide-open, it's not as well corrected as the Batis 135/2.8 APO but definitely not far behind.

Here are few samples comparing "focused area" versus back-focus (magenta color error) and front-focus (green color error).

As you can see, LoCA is minimal and I only see traces of it.

PS: This is not a focus test. I was in MF mode when capturing the samples below. They only illustrate the almost inexistent LoCA even in high contrast light.





Right crop: Back focused using manual focus: I finally see a little magenta in this blown-out highlight section. With less contrast lighting, this would not even show up







Right crop: Front focused: When focusing in front of the focus plane, there is only traces of green color error.







Right crop: Back focused: Same here, only a tiny magenta cast but only really noticeable at 1:1 (100% magnification)







Right crop: Front focused: Focused slightly in front of the focus plane and I can see traces of green. This is LoCA torture test and the 135/1.8GM performed great with only traces of CA.







Right crop: Back focused: Same here. Not much LoCA at all







Right crop: Front focused: Same as above with only a slight green cast







Right crop: Back focused: Not much LoCA but I find the transition zone a bit harsh on this sample







Right crop: Front focused: LoCA is close to zero




Mar 17, 2019 at 04:28 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


It's worth noting that I have all lens corrections were turned "OFF" in-camera and in-post.
However, if like me, you are a Lightroom user, you may notice there is an automatic profile applied to all images from this lens and it's an option that can't be disabled. Usually these automatic profiles only correct for lateral CA and therefore I will use a different RAW processing software when testing for this aberration.








Mar 17, 2019 at 04:38 PM
Jannik Peters
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Finally! I was already afraid that you have got a flu or something else Thank you very much!


Mar 17, 2019 at 04:43 PM
GMPhotography
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Too hard to see in my phone. But looks great


Mar 17, 2019 at 04:53 PM
 


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Jannik Peters
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


That little field curvature will probably put astrophotographers off a bit.

Otherwise spectacular performance so far.



Mar 17, 2019 at 04:59 PM
DavidBM
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Fred Miranda wrote:
Longitudinal CA correction

The FE 135/1.8 GM is very well corrected for LoCA (longitudinal or axial CA). Even in high contrast light it's difficult to spot any green/purple color error in slightly defocused areas. It's not as well corrected as the Batis 135/2.8 APO but definitely not far behind.

Here are few samples comparing focused area vs to back-focus (magenta color error) and front-focus (green color error).

As you can see, LoCA is minimal and I only see traces of it.


Not as well corrected as the Batis when both are at f2.8; or 1.8 on GM not as well corrected as 2.8 on the Batis?

(though either would be great given how this guy is shaping up!)




Mar 17, 2019 at 05:19 PM
TheEmrys
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Wow. Excellent performance, which Sony really needed to deliver.


Mar 17, 2019 at 05:23 PM
smpetty
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Is there an AF focus issue? Why the front and back focused images?


Mar 17, 2019 at 07:11 PM
Todd
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


The front / back focus was to illustrate the lack of CA.

smpetty wrote:
Is there an AF focus issue? Why the front and back focused images?




Mar 17, 2019 at 07:13 PM
Todd
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


As I recall, the Sigma doesn’t have much CA either, let us know when you compare the Sigma and Sony.


Mar 17, 2019 at 07:14 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Today shooting against the sun, I saw a slight ring effect which the hood took care of.

Here is a sample illustrating "hood" and "no hood" a few seconds from each other:







Mar 17, 2019 at 07:20 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


smpetty wrote:
Is there an AF focus issue? Why the front and back focused images?


I should've been more clear. As Todd wrote, the slight defocusing was just to show LoCA performance.

AF has been accurate but I need to take more pictures to be sure. It's definitely scary fast and quiet though.



Mar 17, 2019 at 07:24 PM
drew.a
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


It's a great time to be alive. I'm looking at an initial impression review of a lens and swooning.


Mar 17, 2019 at 07:27 PM
Fred Miranda
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · FM Review: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM


Today I tested it against the 100-400 GM at infinity just for those brave landscape photographers willing to carry heavy weight around.
I just checked the results and have to say this is a good zoom, especially at 135mm! The 135 GM is better but not much better. It definitely wins on contrast.

My Sigma 135/1.8 E-mount will be here on Tuesday for comparison. (Loan from Adorama)



Mar 17, 2019 at 07:29 PM
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