Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM is a very capable general use lens in my opinion. It was my first ‘proper’ lens for my film Canon EOS 50E back in 2001 when I finally saved enough money to upgrade from my kit lens. It may lack the fast 2.8 aperture that everyone seems to crave for these days but in my view, with today’s ISO capability, it’s more than enough if you are on a budget or just starting out using Canon EOS cameras.
This lens is a bargain and it seems to be very well respected among amateur photographers. I continued to use this lens for a few years until I turned pro and needed something more sturdier and faster. I replaced it with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM.
So why this lens?
Versatility. It’s more or less similar to the now famous Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM that everyone seems to have. It hasn’t got the ‘red’ ring but the range is very similar. It has IS which was very useful indeed. Cost is also a major factor. This lens is rather cheap by today’s standard and with its performance, it can easily match its ‘L’ sibling at f/5.6 or so. I loved this lens and in fact I travelled with it many times before I finally settled with the much heavier and more expensive 24-70 2.8. Oh yes, it’s light too which means great for travelling. There are many ultra zoom lens these days but seriously, I haven’t tried any of them. But from the photos I used to take from this lens, it’s great and easily match my L lens when stopped down.
So I guess the question is that if you are starting out photography, especially full frame and want a decent travel or general purpose lens and doesn’t want to fork out too much of your hard earn cash, then this is the lens to go for. Once you learn about everything, then you can simply sell it and get your dream lens later. In fact, because of its desirability, you won’t lose too much of money either. I actually sold it on eBay for the price I paid for it!!! Not bad huh?
Because it isn’t Canon’s pro range lens so don’t have to expect a very sturdy construction. In fact, to be fair, it’s very plasticky. The zoom barrel isn’t too well damped and has a slight rough edge to it. If you shake the lens, you will hear slight rattle, because of the IS. But don’t get put off by it. It’s just the way it’s designed and built in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I still have friends who are using this lens and after years of abuse, it’s still standing, proudly! I can’t fault it apart from the feel. Perhaps I am spoiled by the ‘L’ lenses these days.
Apart from the plastic barrels, it does have a metal mount, which is reassuring. It’s relatively heavy too, when compare to kit lenses, but light when you compare to any ‘L’ lenses. So it’s kind of in between if I have to say. Also it isn’t weather sealed so don’t take it out in the rain either but none of the non-L Canon lens is anyway.
Using it in practice, good and bad
This 28-135 lens is actually pretty good in use. Despite being plastic and a few minor nags that I mentioned above, it actually feels not bad when attached to the camera. Because of its relative light weight, I can easily carry it all day without any complaint to my back or neck. The zoom range is also rather nice from the general wide at 28mm to the very nice portrait range of 135mm! I remembered that I got so used to this zoom range and when I upgraded to the 24-70mm, I suddenly felt restricted. It just proved how versatile this range really was. So it could be your ONE travel lens! To be frank, if you are not going to get the fast 2.8 lens, then at the wide end, this lens is actually faster than 24-105 f/4! Even at the tele end, f/5.6 is respectable and can still achieve subject isolation! With IS, you just can’t go wrong with this lens.
Oh it also has a macro mode which you can shoot a little closer to bugs too, which is nice.
I can’t say too much bad stuff about this lens. Ok, if I have to be picky. I would say it doesn’t have the ‘L’ factor. It’s not a pro lens so it isn’t built like one. But it never pretends to be one either. The edges can be soft when shot wide open and the IS only compensates around two stops instead of four in the newer IS from Canon.
Also, another drawback about this lens is that for some strange reasons, it draws more power than new IS capable lenses. But only a bit more so expect around 10% less number of shots from your battery. Perhaps it’s an older design and just not as efficient.
I guess you get the idea just how much I liked this lens when I was using it. It certainly looks much better than any standard kit lens and way sharper than them too! It may lack the ‘L’ factor and don’t get too lens envy when you see others using their 24-105 L lens. It’s the photographer that makes the picture and lens is only a tool. Yes, it may lack the ultimate sharpness and micro contrast of some expensive lenses but you simply can’t go wrong with this lens. For the price, you will be hard pressed to find a better general zoom. I would have kept this lens if I wasn’t going to upgrade to the pro series. But do bear in mind that this is a lens designed for film so it’s aimed at full frame user.
It is a very good white collar worker than delivers time and time again. It may lack the ultimate born-talent but it will work hard for you, for sure!