Lens Review: Classic Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus

In the late 1980s Canon introduced a 135mm f/2.8 autofocus lens that featured selectable softfocus. In addition to delivering dreamy out-of-focus images on demand, it’s also tack-sharp and extrapolates up to the equivalent of a 216mm f/2.8 when used on a crop-frame Canon.

This image was provided by Canon USA back in 1987 when the world first met the Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus. Great for people-pictures, especially for glamour portraits or subjects with troubled complexions.

That was more than 30 years ago, around 1987, when Canon unveiled the EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus. Key features include the following:

•  Compact design (52mm filter size)
•  135mm telephoto with fast f/2.8 aperture
•  Three step ( None, Level 1 and Level 2) soft control
•  AFD autofocus system
•  1.3m closest focusing distance
•  Super Spectra lens coatings

Built like a tank, as were all Canon film-camera lenses, the EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus contains 7 elements in 6 groups and a 6-blade nearly circular aperture. Weight is a respectable 390 grams (13.8 ounces). For comparison the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM weighs 290g (10.2 ounces). This softfocus beauty measures 2.7 x 3.9 inches (69.2 x 98.4 mm) and accepts a Canon ET-65III lens hood (not included).

For the record, I’m not sure if “softfocus” is one word or two, but it is spelled as one word on Canon’s website and that’s good enough for me.

Here we see the differences between sharp and maximum softfocus effect, that is, settings 0 and 2. Even though many of the flowers are somewhat wilted, the subject takes on a dream-like magic when photographed with the Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

As a 135mm f/2.8 telephoto lens it’s excellent. It’s fun to use because it’s relatively small for its speed and consistently delivers sharp images.

As a softfocus lens it’s incredible. Yes, I know you can make images soft in Photoshop or any other pixel editor. But the results are not quite the same. Take a look at the images in this story and judge for yourself.

Besides, since you can see the effects in the viewfinder in real time, it’s a different experience to create softened images in the camera. It’s exciting and the soft nature impacts your composition and overall creative efforts.

There are three softfocus settings, None (0), Mild (1) or Moderate (2). This is my terminology and it’s based on how I perceive the results. Note that the images are pleasantly soft, not blurry or fuzzy. This image was shot at a greenhouse/garden center in New Jersey (Abma’s Farm). Garden centers are great places for photography. This particular spot also has a vegetable market and petting zoo. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

It’s been discontinued, unfortunately, along with some other classic Canon lenses of its generation. I was lucky enough to buy mine at B&H about 15 years ago for the modest sum of $265 (or thereabouts as best my frayed memory serves). I have seen used copies on eBay at prices ranging from $180 to $350 depending.

—Jon Sienkiewicz