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Canon EF 135 2.8 Soft Focus

.Soft is Sometimes Better

Peter Kun Frary

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The EF 135 2.8 SF was among Canon's original EF lens offerings during the 1987 EOS System debut. The designation Soft Focus refers to the two levels of dial-in spherical aberration that softens and imparts a beautiful glow to the image. Unlike a soft filter, you can quickly vary the effect by changing the aperture or soft focus setting. AF works perfectly with soft focus engaged, but if you change soft focusing settings after AF, you need to refocus. The soft focus effect is only visible from F2.8 to 4, so use Av or M mode and shoot slow ISO during the day. Highlights, especially on backlit subjects, enhance and intensify the glowing effect.

Blueberry | Canon EOS A2, EF 135 2.8 SF, Speedlite 430EZ & Fujichrome 100. Soft focus Level 2 at F2.8.

When soft focus is turned off, this is an extremely sharp, contrasty and flare resistant (7 elements) telephoto lens. Unlike most of Canon's consumer primes, this lens is surprisingly sharp wide open at F 2.8. Of course, it needs to be sharp as most portraits are shot at F2.8 to 4 to render distracting backgrounds out of focus.

Italian Mandolin | Canon EOS 10S, EF 135 2.8 SF, Speedlite 430EZ & Fujichrome 100. F2.8 & soft focus at zero (off).

The front element does not rotate, nor does the barrel change in length when focusing. Although it uses AFD, it focuses surprisingly fast due to its IF design, almost as fast as ring-type USM. Moreover, the sound of the AFD motor is audible but soft and muted compared to most AFD designs. It has a distance window but lacks FT-M.

Use a penlight while peering down the front of the barrel and you can see one of the odd features of this design: tiny bubbles inside one of the inner elements. I assume the bubbles are used to increase diffusion. At first I thought my copy of defective but soon found the bubble element was a feature and not a defect! Apparently the technique was used in other soft focus designs as well.

Fallen Pine | EOS 10S, EF 135 2.8 SF and Velvia 50 | Works well for general photography with the soft setting at zero.

I wish the minimum focusing distance was closer than 1.3 m (4.3'), but at least that's near enough for a head and shoulders shot. This lens has 52 mm filter threads and uses the massive ET-65 III (or ET-65 II) lens hood, a clip-on design.

EF 135 2.8 SF | This ultra sharp lens is small (98.4 mm), light (390 g) and makes women beautiful | Taken with EOS 5D, EF 24-105 4L IS USM, Bogan Tripod & White Reflectors.

Build quality is 1980s consumerville plastics and a notch down from the EF 85 1.8 USM. Manual focus is loose and gritty, but slightly better than the EF 50 1.8 (MK I). The soft focus dial feels solid and has a lock to prevent inadvertent changes.

Most women love the glamorous, blemish free glow it imparts. Heck, it looks good on men too. The 135 mm perspective makes models look thinner than 85 or 100 mm lenses. Although build quality is light and plasticky, I've had no problems with this lens after over 20 years of use.

Diamond Head Poser | Canon EOS 10S, EF 135 2.8 SF, Speedlite 430EZ & Fujichrome 100. F2.8 & soft focus at zero (off).

This lens was designed for portraits but I found it useful for indoor sports, club concerts, landscapes and street shooting. It's a little long for studio and household use. Nevertheless, it is one of Canon's hidden gems and is wonderful for a portrait shooter on a tight budget. For under $400, you won't see better quality this side of an L lens.

At Diamond Head | Canon EOS 10S, EF 135 2.8 SF, Popup flash & Fujichrome 100. F2.8 & soft focus at 1.

Diamond Head Road | Canon EOS 10S, EF 135 2.8 SF, Popup flash & Fujichrome 100. F2.8 & soft focus at zero (no soft focus).

More images taken with the EF 135 2.8 SF:

 

   
   

6/21/2001 | Revised 06/23/2017

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©Copyright 2001-2017 by Peter Kun Frary | All Rights Reserved

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