Focal Length: 28-135mm (37-168 APS-H, 45-216mm APS-C)
Dimensions: 3.1 by 3.8 inches
Weight: 18.9 ounces
Maximum aperture: f3.5 (wide) and f5.6 (tele)
Minimum aperture: f22 (wide) and f36 (tele)
Diaphragm Blades: 6Lens
Elements: 16 elements, 12 groups
Front element: non-extending, non-rotating
Autofocus Mechanism: Ring USM
Closest focus: 1.6 feet
Maximum magnification: 0.19x life size
Other: Image Stabilization
Released way back in 1998, the 28-135 IS was Canon's first standard zoom lens to sport image stabilization, marketed as having a 2-stop effectiveness. This lens followed the earlier (1995), successful 75-300 IS, which was Canon's first lens to sport image stabilization. With the stabilizer, the lens essentially became a f1.8-2.8 zoom, that is if the subject was stationary. This condition aside, the 28-135 IS quickly became one of Canon's most popular lenses and is, 12 years after release, often bundled with a mid level Canon dSLR (it came bundled as a kit lens with my 30D), easily transitioning from the film to digital age of photography. So, is this oldie a goody?
When it comes to build quality, the Canon 28-135 IS USM is typical consumer grade Canon fare: plastic lens built on a metal mount. Upon picking it up, the lens doesn't feel overly solid, or fragile, either. Mechanically, the lens is a mixed bag. Both zoom (outer) and focus (inner) rings are silky smooth in motion. Both rings are rubberized for a comfortable feel, too. The focus ring (to me anyway) is too small. Of course, being a USM lens, the focus ring does not spin during AF and can be turned any time while in AF mode for instant manual over ride without damaging the lens. When zooming, the lens extends quite a bit via dual inner cam. Herein lies the lens' major weakness. On my copy at least, there was obvious wobble in the cams. The good news is that zoom creep was never an issue.
Autofocus Operation: 5/5
This is a Canon USM lens. Being sonic driven, focus is fast, virtually silent, and accurate. The lens also features full time manual focus, which eliminates the need to flip switches to go from AF to MF. The switch could be thought of more as a AF disable in function.
Focus is spot-on even in low light
Optically, the Canon 28-135 IS falls on the good side of the spectrum. Sharpness is good, but it does improve when stopped down a f-stop. Despite its relatively large focal range, this lens really has no weak spots, but is consistently solid cross the zoom range. Sure, other lenses are sharper, but many of these lenses (especially the zooms) cost more. Distortion at the wide end of the range is only moderate and disappears by 35mm. Chromatic aberration, at least in my experience, is non existent. Also, the IS works as advertised. It takes a moment to power up and sounds (to me) like the ocean via shell. Flare resistance, in my brief experience, was good, as was chromatic aberration control (only slight CA). The big unknown, not having a FF camera, is how the corners would be on a larger sensor. On the APS-C 30D however, they are fine.
Center of Frame, 28mm, f3.5, decent sharpness wide open
Value: 5 and 3 (FF, crop, respectively)
When looking at value, one has to look at this $450 lens from two perspectives: FF and APS-C. For Ff users, this lens is very attractive, offering wide angle to short telephoto coverage. This, coupled with the IS makes this lens an ideal choice for FF shooters on a budget (if there is such a thing). As of this writing, it is possible to score a 5D Mark I and this lens (both used) for under $1,500 together. The only shortfalls are the slow aperture and inner barrel wobble. For crop shooters, this lens is a big trade off. The extra reach at the long end is nice, but this comes at the cost of wide angle capability. The 45mm equivalent field of view is not wide angle. For crop shooters who want a true walk around optic (as this lens is marketed as being), look elsewhere.
The biggest competitors for the 28-135 IS are from camp Canon, at least on crop, for which Canon has a lot of choices. Canon's new 18-135 IS is the biggest head-to-head competitor. Priced just a little more, this lens adds 10mm (huge) on the wide and a 4 stop stabilizer. On the down side, it loses the USM. The 17-85 IS USM and more expensive 15-85 IS USM are also strong competition, offering a similar field of view as the 28-135 IS does of FF cameras. Choices abound. On FF, the 24-105 f4L IS USM is the most direct competition. This lens has wider aperture, higher build quality, and weather sealing. Unfortunately, it costs about two and a half times more than the 28-135 IS. Sigma and Tamron also make lenses in this range, too.
So what of the canon 28-135 IS USM? It's all about perspective. If you're a cropper who wants a true general purpose lens, skip it, there are better alternatives. For everyone else, this lens is worth a look. True, it's not the best out there, but it is an all-around solid performer. Focus is top-notch, optics are good, and build decent for the most part. Add these positive attributes to the $450ish price and you have a lens that, while it won't blow other lenses away, shouldn't disappoint, either. A definite "yes" recommendation, especially for FF shooters on a budget.
In all, an above average lens that, in the right hands, can produce stunning pictures.
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