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Canon 135mm EF f/2.8
Soft Focus Lens Review

I acquired this lens in 1997, primarily as a longer portrait lens for use outdoors on my film cameras (digital SLRs at that time were much too expensive for me at well over 10 grand). Recently, on several of the online forums I frequent, there have been numerous questions about this lens and how the SF settings effect the photographs, and the general sharpness of the lens. So, I thought I'd write a quick mini review of the lens with some examples of the Soft Focus settings at three aperture settings.

The lens itself is typical of Canon's consumer lenses. It is fairly light, with a black matt finish. The front lens element is more deeply recessed than some of Canon's consumer offerings, but it's not so deeply recessed that it wouldn't benefit from a lens hood.

The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a minimum apeture of f/32. It is not a USM lens, but it does focus fairly quickly and quietly, albeit without the manual touch-up capabilities of the USM lenses. It uses an internal focusing mechanism, so the lens does not change length as it focuses. Filter size is 52mm.

What's different about this lens is the Soft Focus Ring with its 0, 1 and 2 settings. A switch on the lens barrel allows you to set the lens to the various SF positions. The SF ring locks at SF0, but sliding the switch allows movement to SF1 and SF2 (these settings detent but do not lock). It seems that you could use the lens between settings, but I haven't tried this. The Soft Focus effect is most pronounced wide open, and decreases as the aperture setting is reduced. At f/8, the Soft Focus effect is essentially gone. I have read, but cannot confirm, that the soft focus effect is achieved by rotating specific lens elements to introduce spherical aberrations. This is what provides that dreamy, halo effect reminiscent of the very old view camera lenses.

I've found the lens to be very sharp, even wide open. The soft focus feature works well and gives an effect that I don't believe can be duplicated with filters or in Photoshop. If you're a fan of the Soft Focus look then you might consider adding this lens to your collection. Currently (August 21st, 2006) this lens retails at B&H Photo at $279.

The table below links to shots taken with this lens to show the effect of the Soft Focus settings. This wasn't an extremely controlled test, but it serves to show the Soft Focus effect at various settings/apertures. Test conditions were:

Canon EOS 1D Mark II N, ISO 400, Av Mode, handheld with natural light. The photos were JPGs straight from the camera with no post processing except file size reduction to 533x800 pixels at a JPG quality of 8. The model is my very patient daughter, Tanith (who wants me to let everyone know that she wasn't having the best hair day). Each of the thumbnails below, links to the 533x800 size photo.


1/320s, f2.8 - Soft Focus setting at 0 (99kb)
1/250s, f2.8 Soft Focus Setting at 1 (81kb)
1/320s, f2.8  Soft Focus setting at 2 (78kb)
f/2.8 - SF0
f/2.8 - SF1
f/2.8 - SF2
1/125s, f4, Soft Focus Setting at 0 (105kb)
1/125s, f4, Soft Focus setting at 1 (89kb)
1/160s, f4, Soft Focus setting at 2 (83kb)
f/4 - SF0
f/4 - SF1
f/4 - SF2
1/125s, f8, Soft Focus setting at 0 (109kb)
1/125s, f8, Soft Focus setting at 1 (108kb)
1/160s, f8, Soft Focus setting at 2 (107kb)
f/8 - SF0
f/8 - SF1
f/8 - SF2