Canon EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM

Old Faithful Kit Lens

Peter Kun Frary



The EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM, introduced 1997, was an impressive engineering feat in its day: wide zoom range, silent and fast AF and Image Stabilization (IS). IS was the new tech on the block, and the 28-135 was the first normal range zoom to feature this technology.

4th of July | EOS 10D & EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM | F11 & 15 seconds


It's a beefy zoom, tipping the scales at 540 g (18.9 oz.). The twist zoom action is reasonably smooth but prone to creep when pointed up or down. And it gets looser with age. After 10 years of extensive use, mine was loose as a goose! Zooming is accomplished by expanding and contracting the nested barrels. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is tiny and not as smooth or finely pitched as manual lenses of yesteryear.

The nested three-barrel design has lots of cracks to suck in dust. All lenses that expand and contract during zooming are subject to this problem. However, I have more particles on the inside of this lens than any zoom I've owned. However, dust doesn't seemed to impact image quality.

It sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives an internal lens group and, thus, AF rips. The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. However, the barrel extends considerably when zooming to 135 mm. It is nearly silent during AF. It has FTM, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is useful.

The filter size is 72 mm, making filters expensive. The instructions state that you cannot use a polarizing filter with a lens hood. However, it's easy to rotate the filter through the petal cutouts of the lens hood. Oh yeah, that hood is an optional accessory.

Waikiki | EOS 10D & EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM

Optical Quality

For a consumer zoom, it's reasonably sharp and contrasty, slightly sharper than my EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. Although quality is decent wide open, the best image quality is from 28-50mm at F8. It is a little softer at the long end. It suffers from a small amount of barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the long end. However, I haven't noticed much distortion except in macro mode, where barrel distortion at 28 mm is slightly more pronounced. Image quality is good enough for excellent 11 x 14 or 12 x 18 inch enlargements.

Latourell Falls OR | EOS Elan 7E, EF 28-135 IS USM, Hoya Polarizing Filter Velbon 343E Tripod & Portra 400UC

In terms of flare and ghosting, this is the weakest of Canon's zooms. In other words, flare and ghosting will probably occur if you shoot bright sunsets or other strong light sources. I keep the lens shade on to help keep flare in check.

Image Stabilization

Image Stabilization (IS) really sets the performance and use of this lens apart from previous zoom designs. Small gyro sensors coupled to a CPU detect the degree and direction of camera shake and counteract this vibration by moving a compensating optical group. Subsequently, I almost always get a sharp picture, even two or three stops below my normal hand held shutter speed.

IS changed the way I take pictures. I used to put away my camera when conditions got dark and murky, now I keep on shooting. However, IS is not just for low light conditions, it helps in any high vibration situation such as shooting in high wind, airplanes, automobiles or boats. Heck, I've shot one-handed while hanging off a cable car in San Francisco and nailed a sharp picture. For years this was my favorite ready-for-anything travel lens.

Multnomah Falls (upper falls) | EOS Elan 7E, EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM, Hoya Polarizing Filter Velbon 343E Tripod & Sensia 100

The instructions recommend turning IS off when using a tripod as the lack of movement may cause IS to be erratic. However, IS is extremely useful in conjunction with a tripod as long as there is some vibration. For example, when windy, I use Image Stabilization with a tripod mounted camera and it makes a major improvement in sharpness.

Nevertheless, this early IS implementation—amazing in 1997—is showing its age two decades hence. Newer designs sport panning mode and another stop of effective IS.

Anna at Kewalo Basin Park | EOS 10D & EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM

Last Blurb

If you can't afford the EF 24-105 4L IS USM, this is the next best thing and a nice lens for film and full-frame DSLRs such as the 6D or 5D MKII. It's been sold as a kit lens since the late 1990s and thus supply is abundant, causing used and refurbished samples to sell at bargain prices.

More images taken with the EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM:





06/11/2001 | Revised 06/19/2017

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


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