Well, I’ve owned this both lenses for about 4 years so and I am writing this to hopefully help you make a decision on which one to consider. The quick conclusion if you do not want to read any further: I much prefer the 135mm f2 over the Canon 70-200mm f2.8.
One lens might work better for other types of photography but I specialize in photographing business headshots and weddings assignments. Just keep in mind that my thoughts towards this lens are based in relation to those types of photography.
Canon 135mm vs Canon 70-200mm 2.8 Zoom: I love that the 135mm provides my photography and and my brand a consistent look. Fixed lenses will always provide constant results. And when I mean constant, I’m referring to the field of view and distortion that this particular focal length provides.
In general, I prefer fixed lenses rather than zoom lenses because it really pushes me to get a variety of shots with just a single focal length. For marketing purposes I think consistency is important. A marketing director or a client may like my portfolio and decide to hire me for what they saw on my website. I usually ask them which images they like, from there I already know which lens I used and I know what approach I can take to produce similar results. This provides a little reassurance in knowing that I’ll reproduce something along the lines of what they prefer.
Example: One of my clients only prefers the 135mm look for their clothing line. I’ve partnered with them for about 5 years now and for the first few years I would shoot at different focal lengths during the session. Everytime they would select the final image that was shot at the 135mm focal length. Now when I shoot for them, that is the only lens I take with me and I know they will be happy with the results.
Zooming: When I used the Canon 70-200mm 2.8, I found myself constantly zooming into various focal lengths, providing me with very different results and perspectives. I didn’t like the fact that I would get lazy and zoom rather than adjust my position to my subject to get the shot I needed. There in no right or wrong way to construct an image, but I like the fact knowing that I will have very consistent results each time.
Distortion: I like this lens because it has very little edge distortion. Sometimes I’ll shoot headshots and portraits around 50mm-70mm but I have to be careful with my framing. When I place the subjects head on the end of the frame, it gets distorted at these wider focal lengths.
I like the 135mm because I can place my subject anywhere in the frame and I will get less distortion and more compression. The compression comes at a cost though. It making your subjects face look slightly bigger and flatter than it actually is. Sometimes I prefer to shoot with my 24-70mm on the long end because there just seems to be more depth and less compression to the image at 70mm rather than 135mm.
Isolation: When shooting beach weddings here on Oahu, there are a shit ton of people swimming, bbq’ing, hanging out on the beach which creates a lot of distraction to an image.
I like that this lens provides such a narrow field of view to limit the amount of unwanted people I capture in the frame. Less people means less Photoshop in the end. I shoot many elopements on the beach and I have found that the narrow field of view is very helpful when the bride walks down the “isle” or when I’m shooting couple portraits. There’s not much on either side of the frame other than the subject which allows me to produce a cleaner image.
I have also shot product and portrait photography assignments with very busy and distracting backgrounds. At this focal length, the isolation aspect really comes in handy.
Canon vs. Sigma Art Lenses: Another thought, I tried the Sigma Art 135mm f1.8 which is a little bit sharper. (which I don’t prefer for portraits). I like that the Canon L lenses are sharp enough but you don’t see every detail in your subjects face.
Before I thought sharp lenses were considered “better” but now I think that’s all bullshit. It really depends on what you prefer and what you want to achieve. Sometimes I shoot portraits of people with bad skin, the extra sharpness and extra detail in the image just makes the image look worse.
But again it’s all personal preference. I recommend taking a headshot of yourself with a really sharp lens and see if you like the results. But if you’re a landscape photographer or product photographer, maybe you want a sharper lens.
Overall: When I was deciding between the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 or the Canon 135mm f2 a few years ago, I got both but I decided to keep the 135mm f2 and sell the zoom for a few reasons:
Consistency (fixed focal length)
Smaller, less weight
Extra stop for low light wedding situations
Bokeh (not much extra but a little helps in certain situations)
I don’t want to go into build quality or quality of glass, just know they are on par with any of the other Canon L series lenses. It’s durable and I am very satisfied with the images this lens is able to produce for me. I’d recommend this to anyone considering it. Again, this review is based off my experience using it for headshots and wedding photography. I didn’t need anything more telephoto than 135mm, but if you need the luxury of range or the extra reach to capture your subject, then maybe consider the 70mm-200mm 2.8 instead. Below are a few sample images I’ve taken in the past. This is just a quick review, if you have any questions just ask, aloha!
*Update: I sold the 135mm and currently use the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 MACRO VC for headshot assignments. I like this lens as well, I work in small spaces at times and being able to focus closer really comes in handy.
Mike Vidales is a photographer located in Oahu. He specializes in business headshots, musician portraits, and lifestyle photography in Honolulu.