The World's Best three-wheeled car. You will love
yours! The several times you drive it!
I'm currently shooting Fuji, although my weakness for IBIS is exerting a gravitational pull back toward Sony that I might not be able to resist forever. Fortunately, 2016 promises to be a good year for Fuji, what with the X-Pro2 and X-T2 rumored to be on the way.
And anyway a Fuji lens is garnering plaudits Webwide as the best lens of 2015. Didn't one of the big review sites name the Fujifilm XF 90mm ƒ/2 R LM WR ($949) as the sharpest lens it has ever tested? I can't find that. (By the way, I don't know what "LM" stands for unless it is followed by an "AO." "WR" stands for "I would never take my expensive lens out in the rain, but I could.")
I've always had this problem in photography, in that a photograph can be infinitely technically perfected, to a minute and hyperfastidious degree, yet still not be, well, a good picture. Port the same idea metaphorically to lenses and you have my problem with the Fuji 90mm ƒ/2.
...It's a 135mm focal-length equivalent.
Has anyone ever really needed a 135mm? Used a 135mm as a main go-to lens? Done more than a little good work with a 135mm?
I only know of one person—my cousin Chris. She took very nice pictures with just a 50mm and a 135mm. I don't know of anyone else. [UPDATE: All right, and Don McCullin. Of course I'm no Don McCullin! —MJ]
Fuji X-T1 with XF 90mm ƒ/2 R LM WR
135mm lenses earned what popularity they have because they were the longest telephoto focal length that could be fitted on 35mm rangefinders. That's why they existed. That's why every good gearhead had to have one back in the days when everybody loved rangefinder cameras, a.k.a. the 1950s. The legacy of that is why they were considered a mainstream focal length in the early days of 35mm SLRs, before everybody bought a 200mm or a 70–210mm zoom and it began to grow on them how useless their 135mms (back at home) actually were.
Short teles are (apparently) the easiest lenses for designers and manufacturers to optimize, so, over the years, there have been many great ones...if you consider "great" to mean optically perfected to a minute and hyperfastidious degree. Over the years I've had many friends and known many photographers who bought absolutely glorious high-performance 135mm lenses to leave at home. They loved them. In principle. They never did much shooting with them, because the focal length is kinda worthless. But they could have. The Fuji 90mm ƒ/2 is like the world's best three-wheeled car. How good can it be? It's only got three wheels.
So is the Fujifilm XF 90mm ƒ/2 R LM WR the Lens of the Year? Could be. Tell you what—you buy one and then you tell me. You'll probably love it, all several times you use it. If you've already bought one, hey, great. Use it up.
The way I look at it is, however good a 135mm-e lens is, it's only got three wheels. :-)
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
dd-b (partial comment): "I know a bunch of Canon photographers who swear by the Canon 135 ƒ/2 ('L,' I guess)."
Mike replies: Sure, because it's perfect. I'm not saying people don't swear by them, I'm saying they do swear by them. They're amazing lenses. I had a friend once who swore by his AIS 135mm ƒ/2, which was his most gorgeous hunk of glass and a prized possession. He had even used it three or four times. :-) Mostly it was too heavy to carry along.
John Krill: "In 1966 my Dad sold me his Nikon F with a 28mm, 58mm, and the 135mm. All kit lenses. I ended up using the 28mm most of the time. Never used the 58mm, and used the 135mm only three times. I went to the Cam-Am races at Laguna Seca three times in '69, '70, and '72. It turned out the 135mm was the perfect lens for that course. Still is. Never used it anywhere else. Ever again."
SeanG: "Did you fall and injure yourself this holiday season? This has to be the silliest post I've seen on this site. Seriously."
Mike replies: Just playin'. So have you gotten your XF 90mm f/2 yet? You're going to love it, it's perfect. :-)
Dave: "I wish you would've written this eight years ago. You see, back in 2007, after having my APS-C camera system stolen, I had to decide how to spend the insurance money. Should I replace my crop-sensor body and kit of zooms from 17mm up to 400mm? Or, should I upgrade to full frame and just one or two lenses?
"I opted for a Canon 5D classic, 24–70mm L, and Canon 135mm L. At the time, I talked myself into the 135mm by telling myself I was splitting the difference between 70mm and 200mm. Who needs a zoom when you've got feet? And then there were all those reviews extolling the magic of Canon's 135mm L.
"What a mistake...I've carried that brick everywhere for the better part of a decade trying to justify the purchase and I haven't yet taken a single portfolio-worthy shot with it. Yes, it's sharp with pretty bokeh, but that doesn't matter because the focal length is worthless. Last year, my wife bought me the much less expensive, non-L, Canon 85mm. I love the 85mm, use it all the time, and took more good pictures with it in the first two weeks of owning it than I ever took with the 135mm."
Andreas Weber: "You know, it's not the length but how you use it. ;-) I only got the Zeiss Apo-Sonnar 135mm ƒ/2 in April 2014—and since then it accounts for pretty exactly three-fourths of my shots with interchangeable lenses. ...And yes, it's optically perfect as well!"
Dana Thomas: "Hey Mike, 'LM' means linear motor which a few of the Fuji lenses have such as the 90mm ƒ/2. This type of motor allows for very smooth and nearly silent operation of the moving optics. This is a good thing and does help the Fuji cameras improve focus."
Mike replies: Thanks Dana!
Herb Cunningham: "I shot a distant landscape with a 135mm on Canon full frame, got it in a few shows, won a prize or two. Sold my Leica 135mm to a dealer and now plan to buy it back from him. They have a place 5% of the time."
Carl Weese: "Yes, when I had a busy commercial/editorial photography business I had Nikkor prime lenses in every focal length from 20mm to 300mm, with one exception...never got a 135mm."
Mike replies: Augh! YouTube! :-)
Joseph: "This post nailed my experience with the 135mm focal length. Shortly after getting the original Canon 5D, I found myself lusting after the 135mm L lens that everyone raved about. It was ridiculously sharp and had almost zero distortion, something that I felt was important at the time (before lens profile corrections and such in camera raw). I purchased the lens and remember using it exactly twice. Once it felt too long (for portraiture) and the other time it was much too short. After a few months, I sold it and fell in love with the 70–200mm ƒ/4 IS lens. And now I'm much more of a 28mm/35mm focal length guy for my work. It's a strange thing how these preferences develop."
Sven Erikson: "Apparently it was SLR Gear that said the Fuji 90mm was the sharpest lens they've ever tested."
Stephen Scharf: "It was Imaging Resource that found this to be the sharpest lens they have ever tested. Even sharper than the much-heralded Fuji 56mm ƒ/1.2. These test results confirm something I've consistently experienced in my three years of shooting the XF series of lenses: not only were they excellent when they started, but they are getting better and better with every release."
Lory: "Mike, thanks for the post: I finally feel less lonely (and less guilty) in feeling no attraction whatsoever to 135mm as a focal length! :-)
"And also, I now feel I'm in the right company to confess....
"Brothers, forgive me for I have sinned, but I have purchased one year ago the Zeiss 135mm ƒ/2 Apo Sonnar, literally mesmerized by its optical quality and lured by visions of acknowledgement of my quality as a photographer thanks to the images I was certainly going to make with it.
"A few shots with it, and I was sold: never, ever I had seen a similar image quality before in my life. Very expensive, manual focus only (yuck!), but what was money and manual focus compared to its brilliance and the promise of great pictures? I left the shop chock-full of enthusiasm and confidence, and with a heavily sedated conscience that I still could hear nagging me from a sidereal distance but wisely (?) chose to ignore.
"I shouldn't need to say more, but long story short: yes, it is a fabulous lens with no peer (just the new Otuses, apparently); it produces incredible image quality, and of course it is the least used lens in the cabinet, having resulted in literally zero portfolio images made with it. And to add insult to injury, it's proven even difficult to sell where I live without taking a massive hit! It sits there, hidden by other lenses, and I just know it's there waiting to remind me mercilessly of careless shopping and naïve enthusiasm!
"Sure, part of the blame goes to manual focusing. Working on a D750 or D810 and their non-discriminating viewfinders is a frustrating exercise. But the reality is: I just like 85mm and 200mm more, by a bunch, and they not only help me produce better images consistently, but also offer the pleasure of more interesting perspectives through which to look for images. So, the 85mm and the 200mm enrich my portfolio. And my expensive 135mm stays home....
"So, thanks for the post: knowing I'm not alone in this idiosyncratic detachment from 135mm, and also not alone in having collected an expensive mistake, truly has made my day! :-) "
Mike replies: That's why I wrote this post. Because I know that people naturally get "mesmerized by...optical quality" when they read reports like those the XF 90mm ƒ/2 has been getting. I'm just saying: "think twice," that's all.
P.S. The similar mistake I made was with a Hasselblad 100mm ƒ/3.5.
BH: "I agree with Herb Cunningham. The 5% (1%?) of the time a 135mm is the right focal length it can't be beat! I owned a 135mm ƒ/2L and despite its limited use it's one of the few lenses I've gotten rid of that I actually miss. When you nailed a shot it was magic.
"Truth be told I feel this way about any focal length longer than about 50mm. For me they're all specialty optics. Sometimes I'd really like to have the longer focal lengths covered, but they just sit on the shelf."