Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens Review

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens Review

When someone is looking for a decent quality but very affordable walk-around lens, the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens is one of the lenses I will often recommend to them. The 28-135 IS is an upper-mid-grade consumer lens with image stabilization, a longer but still great focal length range and a low price.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.3 x 4.9"(83 x 124mm)77mm2002
Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens13.4 oz(380g)2.9 x 2.8"(73 x 70mm)67mm1996
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens23.7 oz(670g)3.3 x 4.2"(83.5 x 107mm)77mm2005
Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM Lens13.2 oz(375g)2.8 x 3.0"(72 x 75mm)58mm2000
Canon EF 28-105mm f/4.0-5.6 USM Lens7.4 oz(210g)2.6 x 2.7"(67 x 68mm)58mm2002
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens19.1 oz(540g)3.1 x 3.8"(78 x 97mm)72mm1998
Canon EF 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 USM Lens17.6 oz(500g)3.1 x 3.5"(78 x 90mm)72mm2000
Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens59 oz(1670g)3.6 x 7.6"(92 x 194mm)77mm2004

 
The Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens handles nicely and is easy-to-carry-sized. Size and weight are of course relative, but most will consider this a small and light lens. A plastic lens barrel helps keep the weight down.

While not built like the L series zooms, the Canon 28-135 lens build quality is decent and in line with Canon's better consumer zooms. Expect some slight play in the two-part extension of the barrel, expect focus and zoom rings that are not silky-smooth.

The Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens focuses reasonably fast and very quietly thanks to Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) AF. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is enabled and the manual focus ring does not rotate during AF. The manual focus ring is small/narrow and requires familiarity to quickly find it while shooting. A window provides focus distance information.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare >

While focus is internal, the 28-135 extends like most mid-focal-length zoom lenses in the while zooming until reaching its longest length at 135mm. No focal length lock is present - expect zoom-creep/gravity-zooming when carrying this lens in a downward position.

Canon Lens Comparison


Pictured above from left to right are the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Lens, the Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens, the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens.

For the price, the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens performs reasonably well optically. With a wide open aperture, the 28-135 IS is quite sharp in the center of the image throughout the focal length range. With a wide open aperture, the 28-135 IS delivers moderately soft corners at 28mm, very soft corners at 35mm and reasonably sharp corners over the middle of the focal length range. Don't expect a lot of change in sharpness from this lens when stopped down (narrower apertures selected). At f/8, there is an improvement that is noticeable compared to wide open results, but the change is not dramatic.

The most notable change from stopping down is the reduction in vignetting. The Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens vignettes very strongly at 28mm with a wide open aperture. Wide open vignetting gradually decreases to a mild amount at 100mm with a slight increase again at 135mm. Users of 1.6x FOVCF bodies will notice much less vignetting - mostly in the corners below 35mm.

Strong barrel distortion at 28mm will be noticeable even on a 1.6x FOVCF body. You will notice the effect distortion has on the ISO 12233 resolution chart sample crops - the detail in the center image (the top-most sample) will appear enlarged when barrel distortion is present. The crossover point between barrel and pincushion distortion occurs around 40mm. By 70mm, the pincushion distortion becomes relatively strong and continues through 135mm.

The Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens exhibits flare control ranging from moderate at 28mm to good at 135mm. As always, I test for lens flare with Canon's recommended lens hood in place. In this case, it is the not-included-in-the-box Canon EW–78BII Lens Hood as seen on the product images above.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is visible in the corners even on a 1.6x/APS-C body - especially at the two ends of the focal length range and especially at 135mm where it is relatively strong. This attribute is easy to see in the ISO 12233 chart samples - look for the non-black and white colors in the bottom crop.

Bokeh (foreground and background blur quality) is fine, but the 6-blade aperture is not going to deliver excellence with OOF (out-of-focus) highlights when stopped down. And, creating a diffusely-blurred background is not one of this lens' specialties due to an only moderately wide aperture. At 135mm, the background is magnified/compressed enough to create some blur if the subject is relatively close and/or the background is distant from the subject.

The 28-135 is obviously a variable maximum aperture lens. Available maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 at 28mm to f/4 at about 38mm to f/4.5 around 50mm to f/5 near 65mm and finally to f/5.6 from 85mm to 135mm. These are respectable values for a consumer zoom lens, but not low-light action-stopping specs.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens Mounted on Canon EOS 5D - Comparison

 
Use the mouseover links above to compare the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens with the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens and Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens mounted on a Canon EOS 50D.

The 28-135's best feature (in my opinion of course) is its great focal length range. It is not hard to find uses for the 28-135mm focal length range. From family shots and vacation/travel use to landscapes photography to photojournalism, this lens can cover a wide range of your focal length needs. Where this focal length range runs into a problem is the wide end on a 1.6x body. 1.6x FOVCF body owners might want to pair this lens with a Canon EF-S 10-22mm USM Lens for their wide angle needs. If you are looking for a 1-lens-does-everything solution for a 1.6x FOVCF body, a 17- or 18mm-something zoom might be a better option. Check out my Canon general purpose lens recommendations for these options.

Still, this is a great focal length range - and at the long end, 135mm is very useful. I should note that, at its 135mm setting, the 28-135 IS has a noticeably wider field of view than my Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 L USM Lens or my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens set at the same focal lengths at a relatively short distance. These lenses frame the 1200mm ISO 12233 chart at distances of 4035mm, 4700mm and 4798mm respectively. Focal lengths are rated for an infinity focus distance - so they *should* match at this focus distance if their ratings are correct.

Next to the great focal length range, Image Stabilization (IS) is my favorite Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens feature. Some debate the usefulness of IS in a shorter focal length zoom lens, but I find it very useful. If your subject is not moving, you can shoot handheld in much less light than without IS - or at a lower ISO setting. To activate IS, simply turn the IS switch to the on position and press the shutter release half way. You will hear the stabilizer start up (a click and then a continuous hum - the sounds are not loud). The image in the viewfinder will jump slightly (this is an older version of IS - but still very useful) and the viewfinder will become still (unlike a camera-based IS system). Keep in mind that the version of IS on this lens needs to be turned off when tripod-mounted. Not doing so may cause the image stabilizer to act erratically.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens15.0"(380mm).29x
Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens19.7"(500mm).16x
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens17.7"(450mm).23x
Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM Lens19.7"(500mm).19x
Canon EF 28-105mm f/4.0-5.6 USM Lens18.9"(480mm)
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens19.7"(500mm).19x
Canon EF 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 USM Lens17.7"(450mm).28x
Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens27.6"(700mm)

 
With a minimum focus distance of 19.7" (500mm), the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens delivers a rather-low maximum magnification of .19x at 135mm. This is good enough for flowers and other medium-small objects. Adding extension tubes shortens the closest focusing distance and delivers significant (macro-realm) .53x and 1.09x maximum magnifications for 12mm and 25mm tubes respectively.

I mentioned before that the Canon EW-78BII Lens Hood is not included in the box. I always recommend using the hood. Also not included is a lens pouch/case. I suggest the Lowepro Lens Case 1W if you need protection for your 28-135. Filters are another popular lens accessory - you will need the common 72mm-sized filters for this lens.

While the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens is a good value and a good choice for a walk-around lens, there are other lenses that should be considered before making this decision. Read my general purpose lens recommendations for more suggestions.

The 28-135 IS is a very popular lens. If you are looking for a good value 28mm-something zoom lens and your budget limits you to the 28-135's price range, look no farther. The Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens provides a great focal length range, reasonably sharp images and IS at a very low price point and in a relatively small package. When purchased as a kit lens with a Canon EOS DSLR, it is an excellent value.

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