If you’ve been into photography for any length of time, you probably have an assortment of lenses to do various things and, if you’re a working pro, these are part of your standard toolkit that you don’t give a second thought to – each best for specific tasks. Likewise, I don’t really think about any one piece of equipment as being better than any other – with one notable exception. If you shoot a lot of portraits, you’re probably using a 70-200 f2.8 or 85 f1.4 or maybe even a 200 f2 – all excellent choices. But there’s one that, once you’ve tried it, will hook you for good. What I’m talking about here is the Nikon 135mm f2 DC portrait lens.
First off, this is not a new lens – it’s been around since the late ’80s so you’ll notice it’s all metal, built like a brick and weighs about as much too. It also doesn’t have the Silent Wave Motor autofocus system so it’s a little slower than you might like and it won’t autofocus with some of the lower end cameras. But…what you do get are superb optics and a unique system for varying the bokeh in your photo. This is done by rotating a locking ring that optimizes the out-of-focus highlights in your image in step with the set aperture. This can be done for areas in front of the focus point (don’t know why you’d want to do this) or behind the focus point. The result is subtle but noticeably nicer than with any other lens I’ve tried. The subject just seems to pop out of the background. By the way, if you leave the adjustment ring in the neutral position, you’ll still have one of the best 135mm lenses around. If you go the other way and set the adjustment to more than the set aperture, the overall image will “soften” in a really interesting way. Highlights will take on a progressive glow depending on the setting and can vary from quite pleasing if you go 1 stop beyond the set aperture to kind of surreal if you set it 3 stops greater.
In real life use, this lens is a pleasure. The fast maximum aperture means focus just snaps in if you’re using it manually and doesn’t hunt if you’re in autofocus mode. Accuracy is dead on with graceful transitioning on either side of the focus plane. With a full frame camera, your working distance is ideal for up to about a 3/4 view. Too long for doing full length or a group in my opinion. Minimum focus distance is just under 4 feet so you won’t be doing any closeup work with this but, if you do a lot a portraits and want the ultimate control over your background, this might just be the best lens on the market.