Sony’s ninth G Master Lens, the FE 135mm f/1.8G GM is the latest addition to its range of very high performing optics designed for use with its full-frame cameras in the A7 and A9 series.
It claims to offer ultimate sharpness, while rendering bokeh in the background very smoothly and attractively. Targeted towards professional users, the focal length is likely to appeal to portrait photographers, as well as wedding and events photographers looking for a high-quality prime lens which can be used in a variety of situations.
Sony’s G Master lenses feature a unique optical design. The 135mm f/1.8 promises to deliver sharpness with the precision of 0.01 micron. Sony says that the lens can produce images which are sharp across the frame at all aperture settings – even wide open at f/1.8. This helps it also to produce a much smoother bokeh, without the “onion ring” effect which you might see from lesser quality optics.
It features an 11-blade circular aperture and also promises focusing as close as 0.7metres, with a maximum magnification of 0.25x. The lens features four linear motors which promise to deliver super fast and precise focusing.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time shooting with a full-production version of the new lens, trying it out in a variety of different conditions to which it should be ideal for – namely portrait, weddings, close-ups and even a little bit of nature photography.
Unsurprisingly, considering the focal length and the wide aperture, the 135mm f/1.8 G Master Lens is one of the largest in Sony’s line-up. However, it balances fairly well with cameras like the Alpha 7R III – cameras in the “R” line-up make the most sense for a lens with this level of sharpness.
The 135mm lens is designed to be used with full-frame cameras, but it could be mounted on APS-C models such as the A6400 or the A6500. But it wouldn’t balance quite so well and would be a little front heavy. Pairing it with a smaller sensor would also mean the effective focal length would be around 200mm. That makes it less suitable for portraits, but arguably well matched to shooting wildlife and sports.
Around the lens barrel, you’ll find a ring for selecting aperture. It is marked with full stops, (f/1.8, f/2, f/2.8 and so on), but also has small lines which indicate a third of a stop, too. By default, the aperture ring clicks to give you both an audible and tactile indication that you’re changing aperture – but you can use a switch to remove the clicks. That’s useful for shooting video, or perhaps when you need to shoot discreetly.
Two customisable focus hold buttons can be found on the lens. These give you the option to assign various settings via the main menu. A good choice might be quick access to Eye AF, but there are a number of different options depending on what kind of thing you like to shoot.
A large focusing ring is found at the front of the lens. It also features a rubberised grip. There’s just enough give to make manual focusing precise, which is particularly important when shooting at very wide apertures and at a high resolution.
Finally, two switches are included which you can use to choose between autofocus and manual focus, as well as setting a limit on the autofocusing range. This is not a macro lens, but with 0.25x magnification and a close focusing distance of 0.7m, it can be used for close-up detail shots.
Sony’s promise of super-fast autofocusing seems to be borne out in real-world testing of the lens. It snaps into focus extremely quickly. In low light, it takes a little longer, but it’s something I’d be happy to rely on when shooting split-second moments, such as the first kiss at a wedding and so on. Focusing is also smooth and quiet, making it also well suited to shooting in churches and other quiet venues.
Switching on Eye-AF when using this lens makes a lot of sense to ensure you get the sharpest possible results – especially if you’re shooting wide-open. If your subject moves, even slightly, it’s very easy to miss the correct or most appropriate focus point. At very shallow depths of field that can be enough to miss a shot – Eye AF helps to mitigate for that problem.
Having used some of Sony’s G Master lenses before, it comes as no surprise to see just how incredibly sharp the 135mm f/1.8 lens is. You might argue that in some situations it’s unflattering, but none-the-less the amount of detail, especially when using one of the R series models, is superb. Zooming into 100% reveals super fine details that you probably wouldn’t have even noticed with the naked eye.
The promised, super-smooth bokeh is also present. Out of focus areas are rendered beautifully, helping that sharp subject leap from the frame. Shooting a wedding cake with fairy lights in the background demonstrates perfectly the rounded bokeh – look out for that shot in the sample gallery.
We’ll be keen to put the 135mm f/1.8 through further testing, including some more low light shooting, but indications are that it’s a stunning performer.
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As a focal length, 135mm is somewhat niche – it’s longer than 85mm which is regarded as a classic for portraiture, while not being quite long enough for sports and action shooters, who usually crave lengths of 200mm and beyond.
That said, if you’re a professional wedding and events photographer, this lens makes a lot of sense. You can shoot moments from a reasonable or respectable distance away while still getting beautifully blurred backgrounds and sharp details. As it can shoot close-up, you can also use it for detail shots – such as wedding rings, jewellery, flowers, cakes and so on.
While I can’t see the FE 135mm f/1.8 GM having mass appeal for the ordinary or enthusiast consumer, for professionals working in the field it seems to be an excellent addition to Sony’s G Master series. Hopefully, we’ll be able to spend some more time shooting with it soon, and can update this review accordingly.