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Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE review

The Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE combines telephoto reach with real speed

5 Star Rating
Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE
(Image: © Matthew Richards)

Digital Camera World Verdict

With its 135mm focal length and fast f/1.8 aperture, this Samyang is perfect portrait lens for tight head shots. It’s sharp and crisp where you need detail, and the quality of its bokeh is lusciously soft and dreamy. Moreover, its fast autofocus system works brilliantly well with the eye-detection and tracking systems in Sony’s E-mount mirrorless full-frame cameras, ensuring excellent shot-to-shot consistency.

Pros

  • +

    Superb all-round performance

  • +

    Robust, weather-sealed build

  • +

    High-end handling characteristics

  • +

Cons

  • -

    No dedicated aperture ring

The Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE goes head to head with Sony’s own-brand Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 G Master lens. It boasts many of the same high-end features and handling exotica, as well as a tough, weather-sealed construction, but costs less than half the price to buy. It’s ideal for tight head shots in portraiture, as well as for sports and wildlife photography, and any time you want medium telephoto reach with a fast aperture for isolating the main subject with a tight depth of field, or for freezing motion under low lighting conditions.

Specifications

Mount: Sony E (FE)
Full frame: Yes
Image stabilization: No
Autofocus: Yes
Lens construction: 13 elements in 11 groups
Angle of view: 18.9 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 11
Minimum aperture: f/22
Minimum focusing distance: 0.69m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.24x
Filter size: 82mm
Dimensions: 93x130mm
Weight: 772g

Key features

Autofocus accuracy is critical, given the very shallow depth of field that this lens can achieve. As such, it features a linear stepping motor which is both fast and virtually silent. It works particularly well with Sony’s eye-tracking AF mode in portraiture, and is also consistently accurate for still life and other types of photography. The lens also features Samyang’s Astro-Focus Mode complete with LED Index for accurate infinity focusing at night.

Although not a macro lens, the Samyang has a short minimum focus distance of 0.69m which delivers a generous 0.24x magnification factor. The optical layout includes a U-ASP (Ultra-precision Aspherical) element, three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and two HR (High Refractive index) elements.

Build and handling

Build quality is very good, with a robust and weather-sealed construction. Handling exotica includes a focus hold button that can be customized to perform other functions, like the selection of Eye-detection AF where featured in the host camera. There’s also a dual-mode ‘Custom’ switch that enables you to use the focus ring for alternative functions like stepless aperture control, when in autofocus mode. You can set this up using Samyang’s optional Lens Station.

Another handling refinement is the autofocus range limiter, which can lock out either the long and short ends of the range. For a fast telephoto lens, the Samyang is fairly compact, lightweight and easily manageable, measuring 93x130mm with an 82mm filter thread and weighing 772g.

Performance

Although sharpness is very impressive, the quality of bokeh is arguably a bigger plus point in terms of image quality. It’s beautifully smooth when shooting wide-open at f/1.8 and remains excellent when stopping down a little. The 11-blade aperture diaphragm ensures that bokeh disks, formed by defocused bright spots, remain very well rounded.

As well as being super-fast for stills, the autofocus system enables smooth focus transitions for video capture, along with negligible focus breathing. All in all, the Samyang performs brilliantly well in all aspects of performance and image quality.

Sample images

Image 1 of 2

Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/2500 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

This pair of shots shows how sharpness is retained well wide-open at f/1.8, while bokeh remains pleasing when stopping down to f/2.8, with well-rounded bokeh discs.

Image 2 of 2

Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/1250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

This pair of shots shows how sharpness is retained well wide-open at f/1.8, while bokeh remains pleasing when stopping down to f/2.8, with well-rounded bokeh discs.

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/1250 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/1600 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/2500 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/1250 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

EXIF: Sony A7R III + Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE (1/40 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200) This small cropped area from an image shows how axial chromatic aberration or ‘bokeh fringing’ remains very minimal when shooting wide-open at f/1.4. (Image credit: Matthew Richards)

Lab results

We run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.

We use Imatest SFR (spatial frequency response) charts and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the center of the image frame, corners and mid-point distances, across the range of aperture settings and, with zoom lenses, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).

Sharpness:

(Image credit: Future)

Sharpness is spectacular right accross the image frame, even wide open at f/1.8. And by f/4 the lens has incredibly consistent sharpness from the centre to the corners - a very rare and impressive result.

Fringing:

(Image credit: Future)

Lateral chromatic aberration in the corners of frame is just enough to be noticable in some scenarios, but it's nothing distracting.

Distortion: 0.32

There's a trace of pincushion distortion, but you wouldn't notice any in real world shooting.

Verdict

With its 135mm focal length and fast f/1.8 aperture, this Samyang is perfect portrait lens for tight head shots. It’s sharp and crisp where you need detail, and the quality of its bokeh is lusciously soft and dreamy. Moreover, its fast autofocus system works brilliantly well with the eye-detection and tracking systems in Sony’s E-mount mirrorless full-frame cameras, ensuring excellent shot-to-shot consistency.

Read more:

• Best camera lenses to get
• Best Canon lenses
• Best Nikon lenses
• Best Sony lenses

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.