I'm on the search for the perfect, fast, high quality 135mm f2.0 lens for my Nikon bodies. Any suggestions?

Latin Fashion Show on the Beach at South Beach, Miami 2001.

I'm 90% sure I'll be buying one of the Nikon 135mm f2.0 DC (defocus coupling) lenses in the next month or so. I keep stumbling across images from as far back as the first 135mm lens I owned for a Canon TX, in 1977, and being amazed at the pictorial effect of the focal length and the background rendering. I should have listened to my friend, Bernard, a few years back when he was extolling the virtues of his fast, Canon EF 135. He was certainly right to elevate this focal length's status to near legend. Especially the faster versions...

Like I said above, I'm pretty certain I'll get the Nikon DC lens because I had a loaner Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC  from Nikon for nearly six months, a few years back, and shot some of my favorite portraits with that lens. The image above is from one of the many 135mm's I've owned but I can't remember off hand which one. The sad thing is that the FujiFilm color negative film I used for the above image must have had a defect because I can't read the exif data....

It would either have been a Contax 135mm f2.8 or a Leica R series 135mm f2.8. Both were really good, but hardly stellar lenses.

Zeiss makes a nice 135mm f2.0 for Nikons as does Rokinon, but the problem is that they are both manual focus lenses and I want this particular lens to be an auto focus lens. When you are playing around with really tiny slices of sharpness, surrounded by intentional blur,  it's really nice to get the focus nailed down quickly and correctly.

Among the brain trust that constitutes VSL readers I am curious to hear of peoples' various experiences with appropriate 135mm lenses. Can you chime in and give me some advice?

I'd like to get this purchase wrapped up before my upcoming birthday.... I can't imagine a better self-present and I can probably stretch and afford a good one.

Thanks in advance.


  1. Hi Kirk,

    with this task on hand, it is simple this time:
    If you want AF with this focal length, _and_ good portrait value (meaning bokeh quality), then there is this Nikkor basically the one that will make you happy.
    MF lenses are in existence, that will offer also good quality pictures, but as MF is not wanted, they are automatically ruled out. Besides, with a look at Full Frame 135mm lenses for Nikon mount in existence, you get whether 3rd Party budget quality or a lens that is constructed for sharpness in the DOF area, where quality of bokeh (that is then mostly a bit restless) ist mostly not important.

    I myself switched a few weeks ago from Samyang (Rokinon et al.) MF lens to Nikkor AF-S 85mm 1.8 - bokeh is a bit different, not that restless wide open, but still a difference to the rendering of a Nikkor 85mm 1.4 ...

    So- for portrait use, especially the DC option is very valuable, so I think it is the one you will really want and cherish...

    On a side note: For an eperimental projekt, you could use old Leica R lenses with Leitax mount conversion quite nicely on a Nikon, although you will still end up with MF then, but verrrrry creamy bokeh...

    Alternative: Use an Nikkor Af 85mm 1.4 on a DX Nikon like the D7100... I was quite impressed what the AFS 85mm/1.8 was able to do on my D7100 the last portrait sessions on a holiday trip, but pityfully with quite restless bokeh when used in the woods and having trees as a background...

    Hope that helps a bit...

  2. I owned the Nikon 135/2 DC for a number of years. My only gripe was the comparatively slow autofocus. That screw drive AF is having to move a lot of glass and metal around.

    Of course, you likely already know this, having shot with the 105/2 DC...

  3. Are you willing to go the crop sensor route? Maybe even a non-Nikon solurion? I humbly put forward the Fuji 90mm 2.0 as a fun mirrorless alternative worth trying.
    Focus accuracy is a real strength of the Fuji X-T1 with native XF lenses.

  4. Hi Kirk,

    I have the Nikon 135 f2 DC and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Fantastic portraits from it, much better than the 85mm (both f1.8 and f1.4) which I didn't get on with.



  5. The 135 F2 DC is it. If you didn't want autofocus, get the old AIS version and let the spherical abberations give some extra character to the out of focus areas. Like using the old 55 f1.2 on DX.

  6. The 135/2.0L was the single reason I went for Canon instead of Nikon when I changed to autofocus many years ago.
    The 85mm/1.2L is quite nice too ;)

  7. Put the M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 (150mm equiv, f/3.6 DOF equiv) on your OM-D E-M5.2 and call it a day.

    OK, not even close to what you asked, but it works a treat for this fellow that has ONLY ยต4/3 equipment at his side.

  8. For what it's worth, I just clicked the order button today on the Rokinon 135 f/2. It has lovely rendering, and is sharp when you want it to be.
    But ... I have focus peaking on my camera. I know. I cheat.

  9. Oh, just thought of something. You have Olympus cameras. Why not rent the 75 1.8 for a day and see what's what?
    What made me think of this was when I was reviewing pictures taken by the Rokinon and thinking that it has as smooth background rendering as the 75 1.8. It's that nice.

  10. Try the other options, but get the 135DC. It's a lovely portrait lens!

    It has a subtile, but very nice rendering of skin tones ('better' than my 105/2.5AiS or 85/1.4G) and the slightly 'fuzzy' sharpness at f2 comes in handy for portraits of, ahem... 'mature' women. From f2.5 on it gets sharp, at f5.6 it demands very good make-up and/or good skin (even on my old D700).

    I have to admit I almost never use the DC feature, though.


  11. If you're stuck on 135 autofocus Nikon prime its kinda got to be the DC.
    Between the the 105 DC I've had since December and the recently picked up 180mm 2.8 Autofocus (older version), I have zero interest in that focal length at this time.

    They are amazing and I can't stop shooting with them.

  12. If you can get hold of a Vivitar Series 1 135mm f2.3 lens, you might be happy. I love mine.

  13. I use a Vivitar Series 1 135mm f2.3. Love it.

  14. Kirk, one 135mm to rule them all...

    the Samyang/Rokinon 135mm f/2.0! Lenstip raves about the lens and awarded it with an Editor's Choice. I know you already mentioned it in your post along with wanting the AF. But if absolute IQ is your ultimate goal, then AF is overrated in the era of one button magnify and focus peaking


    The best part about buying the Samyang/Rokinon is that you can pick it up in the Nikon F mount and adapt it to your Micro Four Thirds mount and you'll get a 270mm f/2.0 for the price of your Nikon mount 135mm lens!

    If you really must have autofocus, you can always just stay happy with that stellar little optic that is the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art which is 120mm on your Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark 2. She's served you well thus far! Or maybe the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 if you need a bit of extra bokeh capacity.

  15. I have to agree that the 135 DC is the way to go. Of course, I have it paired with the 85 1.4, and can reach for an old 105 2.5 if I want to go in the middle. The 135 is very nice with or without using the DC function.

  16. Not surprised that you are looking for something beyond the Nikon 85/1.8 mm lens. I have a love/hate rellationship with this lens. Pictures come out great on a 24m pixel Nikon FX camera, but compared to the 135mm DC lens it just feels so clinical and cold in a sort if way. And often it would be nice to get just that little bit closer.
    Having said that, while I love the silkiness of the 135mm lens and the craftman ship of it, it has some quirks of its own. It is a big, heavy lump of glass, plenty of controls that can mess with a shot if accidentaly moved and cumbersome for moving between manual focus and autofocus, without the ability to manually override focus.
    For my kind of shooting 135mm is often either too close or not close enough. Or maybe it is the gear addict in me trying to justify buying the Nikon 105mm DC lens as well!
    At any rate, if you love the 105mm DC lens and are happy with the way it works but want something that lets you get closer, the 135mm lens seems a nobrainer.


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