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Nikon 135mm f/2 DC
The King of Bokeh (1990-)
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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Nikon 135mm f/2 DC

Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2 D (72mm filters, 28.9 oz./818g, 3.6'/1.1m close focus, about $1,400). enlarge. I'd get it at Adorama or B&H Photo Video, new at Amazon, or used at eBay (see How to Win at eBay). The 135 DC is a limited-production lens, and therefore hard to find in stock; you have to order it and wait. It helps me keep adding this site when you get anything from those or these links, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

August 2011, December 2009      Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses   All Reviews

See also:

Nikon 105mm f/2 DC the same thing, just 25% smaller, lighter, shorter and less expensive.

Nikon 135mm f/2 AI-s manual-focus; a completely different lens for a fraction of the price.

 

Optics:
Mechanics:
Ergonomics:
Usefulness:
Availability:
Overall:

Ideal Uses: Arguably the world's best portrait lens, also Nikon's sharpest 135mm lens.

Not for: Cheapskates. As a pro lens, it's priced right for a lens which could last you the rest of your life.

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

adorama

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

The Nikon AF 135mm f/2 DC is Nikon's, and arguably the world's, greatest portrait lens. It has a very similar smaller brother, the 105mm f/2 DC.

The 135mm DC is also Nikon's sharpest 135mm lens, and an extraordinarily great lens for nature and landscape photography. It is worlds sharper and freer from spherical aberration than any of the the old manual focus 135mm f/2 lenses.

The hood is the best built-in hood I've ever used. It is metal, and it locks into position so it doesn't shrivel down like most other built-in hoods.

You have to move a ring to get to manual focus mode, and once you do, manual focus is fantastic.

 

Defocus Control

DC stands for Defocus Control. A lot got lost in the translation on the way from Japan. The key word is control, not defocus. This is not a soft-focus lens; it is a lens that has been specifically designed and patented both for superior bokeh (the softness of out-of-focus areas), and the ability to control this bokeh for optimum results under all conditions.

Defocus Image Control

Defocus Image Control. bigger.

How do you set this 135mm lens for optimum bokeh? Easy: set this ring to the same aperture at which you're shooting. Press the unlock button on the left in order to move it, otherwise it stays locked. Set it to the R side to make backgrounds go soft and disappear, or the F side if you want to optimize it for junk in the foreground.

Hint: You should almost never have out-of-focus objects in front of your subject or in the foreground. It looks unnatural and weird. Our eyes naturally focus on the closest thing to us, so it's uncomfortable when a photo has a soft foreground or other distractions which our eyes can't bring into focus.

The effects of this defocus control are very subtle. You won't see it through your viewfinder. When used properly, the 135 DC turns backgrounds into the softest, smoothest washes of color you've ever seen. Turn the ring in the wrong direction, and out-of-focus backgrounds get harsher. These are subtle effects. Computer people may not see these subtleties at all, but artists will.

Leave the Defocus Image Control ring at zero, and the 135 DC simply acts as the sharpest 135mm lens you've ever used.

The defocus control only controls defocus, or the parts of the image that are not in focus.

If you set the control beyond the aperture you're using, like set to f/5.6 when shooting at f/2, you can get a softer focus effect.

The in-focus part of the image is always ultra sharp. This is not a soft-focus lens. It's only the unfocused parts of the image which are made softer. No one in the USA understands this lost-in-translation subtlety, and mistakenly thinks this is a soft focus lens. That's why this lens isn't popular in the USA.

The 135 DC has a control for all of this. This is why Nikon has the patent on it. You can adjust the lens from normal to super bokeh to soft focus if you push it too far. You'll notice that dedicated soft-focus lenses have no separate defocus control; they are fixed one way and the only control you have is your shooting aperture.

This lens is so unique that Nikon will probably discontinue it just around the time people start figuring out what it does, and then the used price will skyrocket to $4,000, just like it did with the 28mm f/1.4, for exactly the same reason.

 

Focus

Focus

Nikon 135mm DC Focus Controls. bigger.

When you set the Defocus Image Control away from zero, the focus shifts. Be sure to focus after you set the Defocus Image Control (DIC). That's why the ∞ mark has a white band slopping off to the left: with the DIC set to optimize defocus behind the subject (R), infinity comes up along that bar. With the DIC set towards F, infinity comes up closer on-scale distances. Don't sweat this; this is how the optics recombobulate themselves for optimum performance. If you're an engineer and aren't getting this, leave the DIC at zero.

To switch between auto and manual focus, press the unlocking button on the left, and rotate the AF Mode selector between M or A.

For use on most Nikons made since the 1980s where aperture is set or controlled on the camera, be sure to set the aperture ring to 16, otherwise you'll see a blinking " fEE" message. There's a sliding lock to keep it set at 16, just above the 2 in the photo above.

Nikon 135/2 DC

Nikon 135/2 DC. bigger.

 

Compatibility       back to intro     back to top

This 135 DC lens works incredibly well on FX, film and DX Nikons like the D700, D3X, D300s and F6. It works fantastically on manual-focus cameras like the F2AS, F3, FE and FA, since it has a real manual-focus ring that works exactly as it should.

The 135mm f/2 DC AF works perfectly with almost every film and digital Nikon camera made since 1977. If you have a coupling prong added to the diaphragm ring, it's perfect with every Nikon back to the original Nikon F of 1959.

The only incompatibility is that it will not autofocus with the cheapest D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D5000 or D5100, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. These cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AF, AF-D (screw)" column for this lens.

 

Production and History       back to intro     back to top

1990: This AF 135mm DC was introduced as an AF lens.

1995: It was updated to "D," meaning that focus distance is coupled to 3D Matrix meters, especially helpful for flash exposures.

Nikon made about 15,000 of the first non-D version from 1990-1995, and has made about 15,000 of the current D version so far.

 

Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Name

Nikon calls this the Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2 D.

The earlier non-D version (1990-1995) skipped the D, and was called the Nikon AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2.

 

Focal Length         top

135mm.

Used on a DX camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 200mm lens would give on an FX or 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.

 

Optics         top

7 elements in 6 groups.

Multicoated.

Newer D models have an extra rear optical flat to protect against dust.

Rear Focusing.

Haruo SATO of Nikon received US Patent 5,841,590 on Nov. 24, 1998 for the defocus control design.

Its cross-section looks very much like that of the Zeiss Makro-Planar.

When an optical designer friend ran simulations and analyses on the design, he discovered another clever trick: Nikon designed the red end of the spectrum to focus in a slightly different plane to make skin look even better.

Look ma, no lens! When the 135/2 opens up, it sucks in light. The entire front of the lens is glass, so this is what a photon sees as it heads on in.

f/2

Front view, Nikon 135mm f/2 DC at f/2.

 

Diaphragm         top

at f/4

Nikon 135/2 DC at f/4. bigger.

9 curved blades.

Stops down to f/16.

The diaphragm is an "outie," meaning the tail ends of each blade go in front of the diaphragm.

Outie diaphragm

AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D at f/16.

 

Filter Thread         top

72mm, metal.

Does not rotate.

 

Close Focus         top

3.6 feet (1.1 m).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio         top

1:7.1.

 

Focus Distance Scale         top

Yes.

 

Depth-of Field Scale         top

Almost; marked only at f/16.

 

Infra-Red Focus Index         top

Yes, white dot on depth-of-field scale.

 

Size         top

4.7" (120mm) extension from flange x 3.1" (79mm) diameter.

 

Weight         top

28.850 oz. (817.8 g), measured, current D version.

Nikon specifies 30.7 oz. (870g) for the original 1990-1995 model, and 28.6 oz/810g for today's D version.

 

Teleconverters         top

Nikon suggests only the TC-14B. More at teleconverters.

 

Case         top

CL-38.

 

Hood         top

Hood

Nikon 135/2 DC with hood extended and locked.

Built-in telescoping, locking metal hood.

When you pull it out, rotate it to lock it into position.

 

Nikon Product Number         top

1935.

 

Announced         top

1990.

 

Price, USA         top

$1,370, 2011 August.

$1,300, 2009 December.

 

Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Overall         top

This lens does it all. It's fast, super-sharp, and designed for the best portraits you've ever taken.

 

Bokeh         top

Bokeh is extraordinary. It's the whole point of this lens.

Defocus is Nikon's sloppy English translation of the Japanese word bokeh.

Nikon really means that this is a lens with variable bokeh, or "bokeh control," thus the garbled English name "defocus control."

Get the happy feeling.

 

Distortion         top

The 135 DC has no distortion.

 

Falloff (dark corners)         top

For real pictures, it's got just a tiny bit of falloff at full aperture. It's gone by f/2.8. I wouldn't even notice it at f/2 except by comparison to the same shot made at smaller apertures.

I've gone out of my way to exaggerate this below. With real pictures, this is invisible.

 

Nikon AF DC 135mm f/2 falloff on FX and film at infinity.

f/2
f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6

© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Flare and Ghosts         top

If you point it ito the sun and look in the shadows, you can get a couple of soft ghosts.

 

Focus         top

AF is fast. One full turn of the AF screw pulls it from infinity to 20 feet.

One light fingertip is all that's required to focus manually, and the manual focus ring is a huge, solid, rubberized ring.

Manual focus is the best of any AF lens. It's even better than most manual-focus Nikon lenses, especially the original 135mm f/2 manual focus lens. This is because the 135 DC uses internal focus, so most of the lens stays put as it's focused. Since not much is moving inside the lens, the 135 DC requires very little effort to focus manually.

Autofocus accuracy is perfect on my D3. Every f/2 shot is dead-on.

 

Use with Filters         top

The metal 72mm filter thread doesn't rotate.

Use all the filters you want; you're not going to get any vignetting.

 

Lateral Color Fringes         top

None, on a D3.

 

Mechanics and Construction         top

Rear, Nikon 135 DC

Rear, Nikon 135 DC. bigger.

The 135mm f/2 DC is made like it should be.

It almost feels like a piece of American military equipment, except that it's not weather sealed.

It's not textured plastic like most of the toy-store trash coming out of the Orient today. Everything you see in crinkle-coat is solid metal.

 

Filter Threads

Metal.

 

Retractable Hood

Metal, internally flocked, screw-thread locking.

 

Barrel

Metal.

 

Focus Ring

Metal, rubber covered.

 

Aperture Ring

Plastic.

 

Finish

Black crinkle-coat.

 

Mount

Chromed brass.

 

Internals

Metal.

 

Markings

Paint.

 

Serial Number

Laser-engraved on bottom of aperture ring.

 

USA Models

Designated by US prefix in serial number.

 

Noises when Shaken

Assorted clunking from all the moving elements.

 

Sharpness         top

Sharpness is extraordinary.

On a 12MP D700 or D3, it's super sharp edge-to-edge at f/2, and doesn't get any softer even in the farthest corners.

It's also super-sharp on the 24MP D3X. At this high resolution, it almost gets a tad softer at f/2.8 and f/2 compared to f/4 and f/5.6, but not enough to notice except in carefully controlled tests at infinity. It's sharp!

Have no fear, I shoot this puppy at f/2 and get super-sharp, and perfectly in-focus images, edge-to-edge.

 

Spherochromatism         top

Like most fast long lenses, there is a little spherochromatism.

This means that out-of-focus highlights may have slight green tinges behind the subject, and slight magenta tinges when in front of the subject.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Nikon's 135 DC is the best 135mm lens I've ever used. If you want an ultra-sharp, zero distortion 135mm lens, this is it.

Canon's 135mm f/2 L is super-sharp, but the sample I tried was softer on the left side. The Canon has no bokeh control, but it's still excellent, and the Canon's AF system works much more conveniently if you need to swap between auto and manual focus. The Canon only has a regular 8-bladed diaphragm, boo!

If you want a superb portrait lens, optimized to let you control the look of your backgrounds, this is it.

Get one while you still can.

Nikon's 28mm f/1.4D came out at about the same time. It performed to the same extreme level, offered unique optics never seen before and was built to the same ultrahigh mechanical standard as the 135 DC. When Nikon discontinued the 28/1.4 in 2006, its used price quickly rose to over twice what the new price used to be.

The same thing could happening with this 135 DC.

The very similar 105mm f/2 DC is also a good choice, but not as good for portraits or for softening backgrounds because of its shorter focal length.

The manual-focus Nikon 135mm f/2 AI-s isn't quite as sharp at f/2, but has extraordinary bokeh for portraiture. This DC lens is better for scientific and landscape shots at large apertures, but at smaller apertures, and for portraiture at any aperture, the Nikon 135mm f/2 AI-s is as good for $1,000 less if you know how to focus.

 

More Information

US Patent 5,841,590.

 

Help me help you         top

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The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, eBay, B&H, Ritz, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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