The Canon EF-S 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM is the third generation redesign of the 18-135 3.5-5.6 lens, released Spring 2016 along with the EOS 80D camera. It fits APS-C (EF-s mount) cameras such as the 70D, 80D and Digital Rebels but isn't compatible with full-frame EOS DSLRs like the 5DRS and 6D. I bought this lens as part of an 80D kit but it's also available separately. Here are my thoughts about the EF-S 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM after extensive still and video use.
Shepherd's Dell, Oregon | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
The EF-S 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM covers a 7.5X zoom range of moderately wide to telephoto—similar to 28-200mm on a full-frame camera—making it ideal for general use and travel.
Optical design is identical to the EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS STM, so the most significant change is the use of NANO USM AF instead of STM. STM is silky smooth and great for video but slow for action and candid shooting. NANO USM combines the smooth focus of STM with near ring-USM speed, making it equally at home with video and still shooting.
Canon EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM | Absent the gold and chrome rings, distance scale and color lettering of prior zoom designs, it bears an uncanny resemblance to a travel mug! Photo courtesy Canon Inc.
Liliuokalani Botanical Garden | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
Construction The EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM feels solid in hand, sporting excellent fit and finish, sturdy plastics, metal mount and smooth moving parts. Cosmetics are striped down, almost Gothic, losing the chrome and gold rings of prior designs. While not a small lens, it’s reasonably light and compact considering the large zoom range. The underside has a barrel lock (to prevent zoom drift) and interface for the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1. This lens ships with the barrel lock engaged will likely befuddle many users trying to zoom their new lens...
A Nano USM Motor drives an internal lens group and the front element doesn't rotate or extend during focusing. Nano USM lives up to the marketing hype: smooth as silk for pulls and movie servo but but nearly as fast as Ring USM for stills. In fact, AF speed and accuracy compares favorably with my EF-s 15-85 3.5-5.6 IS USM.
Manual focus (MF) is possible without switching out of AF mode: simply grip and turn. However MF is wholly electronic so the shutter button must be half depressed for manual focus to work. The focus ring is wider than the prior 18-135 STM and easy to grab for pulls. Distance and DOF scales are MIA, so hyperfocal distance can't be set.
Punchbowl Crater Rim | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
The zoom ring is large, covered with ribbed rubber, well damped and does not creep. A single nested barrel extends considerably—adding about 2 inches in length—when racked out to 135mm.
The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 is an optional accessory, allowing variable speed motorized zooming during video. I'd love to play with one but it wasn't available when I bought the 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM kit in March 2016. My manual zoom technique, even with a follow focus handle, is rough so the PZ-E1 is a welcome accessory! Projected release for the PZ-E1 is August 2016.
EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM | Electrical and mechanical contacts for the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 | Photo courtesy Canon Inc.
Canon Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 on lens | Photo courtesy Canon Inc.
Optical Quality Initially my lens was slightly soft with the 45-point AF system of my 80D. The dual-pixel (contrast focus) in LiveView was tack sharp so I figured an AFMA (Autofocus Microadjustment) session was in order. The wide end needed +6 while the telephoto side required +4 to render sharp photos from close focus to infinity. While not extreme amounts, the tightening up of detail was noticeable at pixel level. The bottom line is the 18-135 is very sharp once micro-adjusted.
EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM | EOS 80D | Manfrotto MVH500AH Video Head
Flare control is excellent and one of the most effective designs I have used: blazing Hawaiian sunsets result in little or no ghosting and flare, and typical high contrast night scenes with street lights or interior lamps are normally immune from flare. Chromatic aberration is also well controlled, with only slight magenta fringing visible on high contrast edges. Finally, light falloff is evident wide open at wide angle but disappears when stopped down.
Liliuokalani Botanical Garden | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM: 135mm, F5.6, 1/250 sec and ISO 400.
Pixel-Level Crop (100%) from the above image.
I almost always get a sharp picture, even three stops below my normal hand held shutter speed. I can’t squeeze out four stops unless I brace myself against something. There isn’t a panning switch for IS mode but it detects panning and compensates accordingly.
Lens Hood The Canon EW-73D is a locking bayonet lens hood designed to protect this lens from stray light, doggie noses and raindrops. It's not included and is available for a cringe worthy 35 shekels.
To install, align the Canon logo at 9:00, press into the groove and twist clockwise a quarter turn until it clicks into place. Although it twists on easily, it feels snug once seated and locked. The lock prevents the hood from working loose due to rubbing or light whacks. To release, simply press the lock tab and turn counterclockwise.
Fit and finish are excellent: quality plastic, fingerprint resistant matte black exterior and flat black interior to nix reflections (paint, not rayon flocking). Plus, the exterior finish is perfectly matched to the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. The hood can be reverse mounted for compact storage. However, it’s on the short side for a 135mm optic. The EW-73B for the 17-85 IS USM is noticeably deeper.
Incidentally, I own two other EW-73 series hoods—EW-73C for the 10-18 STM and EW-73B for the EF-s 17-85 IS USM. They lack the lock mechanism and don’t fit the EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM, so, sadly, no hood sharing between these lenses.
The EW-73D works great but is pricey considering Canon omitted rayon flocking and moved production offshore (Taiwan) to reduce costs. The Japan made EW-73B has rayon flocking and cost me 15 shekels less! However, no clones of the EW-73D were available at launch of the 80D/18-135 USM kit and it was worth the premium to stop being careful with the front element and fiddling with a lens cap.
Hawaii Theatre | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
Who Is This Lens For?
To put the EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM in perspective, optical quality slightly trails the EF-s 15-85 3.5-5.6 IS USM and EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM. Of course the latter two lenses have less zoom range and lack video friendly Nano USM. If you shoot both video and stills and crave a 7.5X zoom range, this is the lens for you. If you mainly shoot stills, the EF-s 15-85 3.5-5.6 IS USM and EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM may be better choices, albeit heavier and more expensive.
If you're upgrading from the EF-s 18-55 3.5-5.6 IS STM, the 18-135 USM is a small upgrade in image quality but a big improvement in zoom range, focus speed and build quality. EF-s 17-85 4.0-5.6 IS USM owners will also find it a nice upgrade: better control of chromatic aberration (magenta fringing), a notch sharper, increased zoom range and one stop better IS. However, build quality and AF speed are about the same.
Diamond Head Vista | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
Once AFMA was dialed in, I was bringing back sharp images in any situation I threw at it. When used with Movie Servo, it's an able video lens, focusing quickly, smoothly and silently. I love the petite size, zoom range, AF speed/smoothness and sharpness of this lens. Coupled with the 80D, it makes a wonderfully versatile, nimble and lightweight travel and walk-around combo.
Finally, if you're buying this lens, please purchase it at Amazon and help support this website.
Honolulu Chinatown | EOS 80D/EF-s 18-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM
Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 18-135mm f/3.5–5.6