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Sony 135mm F1.8 GM
By Sam Coran

I’m one of those photographers who will not buy gear unless I’ve tested it with my own hands. Knowing that I love shooting portraits with prime lenses, Sony MEA was kind enough to lend me a 135 G-Master 1.8 for a couple of days.

My current lens line-up for portraits is Sony FE 35mm 1.4 Distagon, Sony FE 55mm 1.8, Carl Zeiss Batis 1.8 and the sharp Sony FE 90 mm macro 2.8. I don’t shoot portraits with zoom lenses, I zoom with my feet.

• Diameter: 89,5 mm
• Field of view: 18° (diagonally)
• Length: 127 mm
• Weight: 950g
• Filter Diameter: 82 mm
• Number of Aperture Blades: 11 (rounded)
• Elements/Groups: 13/10
• Close Focusing Distance: 0.7 m
• Maximum Magnification: 1:4
• Mount: Sony E

This review is based on an actual shoot with a model. I always test lenses on real world professional photography sets and not with any random subject. I wanted to know if this lens can fit into my workflow and give me the look and feel where my current lens line-up is lacking.

I had a model in for her set card. Knowing this lens is perfect for close up shot of the face up to 1/3rd body crop. Anything for a half body or a full body shot I’d bring out the 55 mm or the 35 mm. This was all done in my home studio. The camera used for this set is the Sony A7R3. I wanted to see the detail I can get with this lens and 42 MP combo.

Let’s review the basics before moving into the shots.

BOKEH.

What is bokeh? It’s the blurred portions of the out of focus areas in an image.

FALL-OFF.

The boundary between the sharp in-focus portions of an image to the bokeh is never a strict line.  It’s a region where the focus gradually blurs into the bokeh.

There are several factors that will affect fall-off :

• Focal length
• Distance to subject
• Plane of focus
• Aperture and optical design

The way a lens goes from sharp to bokeh is aesthetically important. I’ll expand more of this towards the end of the article.

Now let’s move to our set.

Shooting outdoors, given the rising temperature ranging from 34º in the morning up to 45º midday is not an option. It’s practically all-indoor shoots upto September.

Settings:
1/200th  f1.8 @ ISO 50
Lit with Broncolor move 1200L + Para 88

“Do you want everything in focus? Or just part of an image?”

That’s the question I ask myself before I start with my set. Given that I have a lens known for an abrupt focus fall-off, I’d start with a wide aperture f1.8.

I love the dreamy effect of this lens. I get the eyes sharp then everything else outside focus just turns into creamy blur. With the help of Eye AF it’s easier to nail the focus on the eyes. Remember that eyes are the main focus for any portrait. They are the window to the soul.

Settings:
1/200th  f1.8 @ ISO 50
Lit with Broncolor move 1200L + Para 88

Same settings as the first image, I only moved the light to the front to give a different look.

In theory, corporate photos or headshots are shot around 5.6 or 8 to make sure you get the focus sharp from the tip of the nose up to the ears in order for viewers to easily recognize the person. The room for error of having an unfocused image is slim with smaller aperture though it’s not as creative as getting shallow depth of field.

Settings: 1/200th SS f8 at ISO 100
Lit with Broncolor move 1200L + PARA 88 as front light
backlight: siros 800L 30x120CM stripbox with grid

This is the regular setting for my portrait shots. It will range from f8-f14. The longer the lens, the more compressed the background will be. This background is only around 2×2 Meters. It’s a cut-out from a seamless grey paper and by using this lens, I don’t need to Photoshop the background to make it even. If I had shot this with the 55mm 1.8, there’s a big chance that I would see parts of my white wall and that would need to be edited during post-production.

I wanted to do a bokeh test as well. So I created a set where we can see lights behind the subject rendered out of focus.

Setting: 1/125th SS f1.8 @ ISO 250

Cat’s eyes. That’s how I see bokeh coming out of this lens by shooting wide open.
The point is not whether or not the bokeh looks beautiful. The point is: How well does it serve the subject in focus?

There are three things to consider when thinking about good or bad bokeh:
1. Fall-off
2. Patterns in the bokeh / shape of highlights
3. Overall aesthetic impression of the whole image

This is the reason why the term bokeh is “relative”.

I’ve also tried to have some props as foreground and render it out of focus. I used artificial plants that served as a front element to add interest in the image. Shot this in natural light.

Settings: 1/200TH SS F1.8 @ ISO 2000

Same settings as the one on the left
Settings: 1/200TH SS F1.8 @ ISO 2000

I wanted to add more creativity in the shot. So I placed a glass in front of the model and sprayed it with water. It still nails the focus to where you want it to be

Settings: 1/200th SS f8 @ ISO200
Lit with Broncolor para88 overhead

Settings: 1/200th SS f8 @ ISO200
Lit with Broncolor para88 overhead

Conclusion:

In general, the focus is very fast and almost instantaneous. The focus limiter can help to minimize hunting. In my short time of use, the lens had no issues nailing the focus, even in a set where there are objects in front of the subject.

This lens is more of a niche lens. Mostly for portrait photographers and wedding photographers especially during ceremony on a dimly lit location. The Bokeh is not as rounded as I wanted it to be but this topic is relatively subjective. If you shoot mostly in natural light and well-lit situations, you’ll find this lens perfect for your need, as it will give you that dreamy effect in your subjects – totally isolating them from the background.

Now, go out and shoot. But don’t come back and show me bokeh as I’ll be more interested with your visual concept of the subject in focus and your creativity that shows in your images.

Happy Shooting!

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