Sony Carl Zeiss 135mm F1.8 ZA Sonnar T* A-mount lens review by wingedpower

reviewer#32705 date: Nov-11-2016
sharpness: 5
color: 5
build: 4
distortion: 5
flare control: 5
overall: 4.8
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP24MP24 MP36MP36 MP42MP42 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:* Sigma 35/1.4 HSM
* Sigma 85/1.4 HSM
* Sony 135STF/2.8[4.5]
price paid:945 USD
positive:* Solid construction.
* Good focus ring dampening.
* f/1.8 at 135mm!!
* Great bokeh!
* Fast AF
negative:* Weight. It's got great build and alot of glass. It will be heavy.
* AF is screw-drive, so it isn't silent.
* Paint on Zeiss logo scratches easily.
* Focus ring has some wiggle/give.
* Because it is screw driven, if AF misses, it will take some time to hunt, especially indoors.
comment:I also own the Sony 135STF/2.8[4.5] lens, which does killer bokeh... however, that lens is MF only. With a heavily dampened focus ring, the 135STF is a bit of a bear to use on moving subjects.

At the recommendation of a friend who shoots with this lens, I managed to get a copy off of Ebay for $945.

::Focusing/Light::

After getting it, I made some test shots indoors(dark and some window light). My immediate thoughts were, f/1.8 is no joke.

The fastest "long" lens I had before this was the 70-200/2.8 and it suffered with dark indoor lighting. And the 135STF with it's effective T4.5 would mean trying to focus on a dark screen or against some grainy noise.

With the 135/1.8, focusing, whether MF or AF was solid and quick to lock on. This lens rocks at shooting a subject sharply in available light. It doesn't focus silently like the HSM/SSM lenses, nor as quickly, but it does focus quickly.

When combined with the A99's soft focus limiter, the penalty for hunting is reduced/removed and you get VERY solid lock-on. Will update this review once I get the A99m2.

::Bokeh::

It's beautiful bokeh. I would say the bokeh from this lens is just a bit grainier than that of the 135STF. If I had to choose one lens based SOLELY on bokeh, it would be the 135STF. However, for other aspects like availability of AF and ability to shoot in low light settings, I believe that the bokeh on the 135/1.8 is very nice. It's a worthwhile tradeoff.

If I had to describe it... the bokeh out of the 135/1.8 has out of focus highlights that are more solid discs, but no ringing effect. The bokeh highlights from the 135STF are gaussian blurred circles. They look like shaded spheres. But that is only the case if you shoot the 135STF wide open at 2.8. If you stop down, that beautiful effect is diminished. At f/4.5 onward, the bokeh between the two 135mm lenses are very comparable and the benefits all go in favor of the Zeiss 135/1.8.

At the time of writing this, the lens is still retailing new at $1799.99 USD. I managed to get a decent copy off of Ebay for $945USD. The typical used price for this lens is between $1200USD-$1500USD.

It's a great lens. On an APS-C sensor(or running your full frame in APS-C mode), gives a focal length crop to 202mm-210mm. So photographers who want some low-light reach that provides AF and high image quality, this is a good lens to add.

It definitely sits happily in my A99 bag with the other prime/fixed-focal-length lenses: Sigma 35/1.4 HSM Art, Sigma 85/1.4 HSM. I have the Sony 50/1.4, but I haven't liked the handling/performance of the lens while shooting enough to keep it in my bag.

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 115
  • sharpness: 4.99
  • color: 4.90
  • build: 4.77
  • distortion: 4.98
  • flare control: 4.95
  • overall: 4.92
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