If you’re in the market for buying a reasonably priced zoom lens that can cover the popular focal lengths, then Canon may have the answer.
The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM is made specifically for APS-C DSLRs, which works out at a real-world focal length of 29-216mm. Adding other features such as image stabilization and a reasonable minimum focusing distance, the whole lens works out to be a well thought out package.
This may be a kit lens that comes with the EOS 80D or sold separately, but it still has the potential for quality images. Let’s dig in and see what the lens can provide.
For a lens that can cover such a wide focal length, it’s pretty lightweight at 515g. This is an initial advantage, especially when you’re using it on a more lightweight crop sensor body like the 80D. The lens body is not as tough feeling as a Canon L-series lens, but it is made of very tough plastic with a metal lens mounts.
There’s no weather sealing on the lens, but it should be good enough for general weather use. Inside the lens are 16 elements arranged in 12 groups, with seven rounded diaphragm blades.
On the lens barrel itself, there is an ample zoom and focus ring, which has a rubberized grip and a very smooth action. There are also a few switches on the side of the lens for different operations.
There is an image stabilization switch, which Canon claims to have a four-stop leeway which also detects panning movement, going from Normal IS to a Panning IS mode. There is no distance scale on the lens, just a simple, straightforward design, with basic elements featured. There’s also a lock switch to make sure your chosen focal length stays in place.
There is also an auto and manual focus switch and the ability to use the optional Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1. Upfront you will find a 67mm filter thread which doesn’t rotate, meaning you can use things like polarizer filters.
Overall, everything you need to cover the basics is in this lens along with seamless communication with the camera body.
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM in Use
As the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM uses the latest focusing motor, the lens snaps into focus extremely quickly. Very silently too, which will be of benefit to the video guys. Focusing was very quick in both good and low light conditions, with the Nano USM working extremely well.
As for discrepancies in the optics, chromatic aberration shows its head quite often throughout the focal range on the high contrast areas. There’s a distinct amount of purple or blue fringing, which luckily can be removed in postprocessing.
As expected at the widest end of the range when the aperture is wide open, there is some light falloff in the corners which does diminish when stopped down to the medium of the focal lengths. As for barrel distortion, it’s most apparent when the lens is at its widest focal length, but this seems to disappear by 35mm.
When shooting subjects close-up, this lens isn’t exactly a macro beast, but it can get as close as 39cm, with a ratio of 0.28x at 135mm. Images, in this case, do come out very clear and sharp, but it’s not a lens you would immediately grab when shooting small objects close-up.
Background blur or bokeh is rendered the best at the longer focal lengths and is helped enormously by the seven rounded diaphragm blades. The lens doesn’t go super wide, only to f/3.5-5.6, but higher up in the focal range it can give pleasing background blur for things like portraits.
As for overall sharpness, the best results come from f/5.6 to f/11, with things tailing off after f/16, usually due to natural diffraction. Edge softness comes into play at the widest aperture, but from f/5.6 onwards, center and edge sharpness are comparable. As with any lens in this category, the best results usually come at the medium focal lengths and aperture ranges.
The image stabilization works extremely well. The four stops of stabilization help enormously with handheld images, especially at the longest focal lengths. This doesn’t just provide more keeper images, but also works equally well with regular moving objects and panning. A definite plus point for this lens spec.
How Does It Compare?
A close alternative would be the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM. The 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM is the basic upgrade to this lens with a faster, more silent AF motor and has image stabilization. The f/3.5-5.6 STM also has virtually the same optics and comes in a lot cheaper. If it’s just the focal range you need in a cost-effective package, then the f/3.5-5.6 STM can be a good choice.
|Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM||Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM|
|Elements||16 elements / 12 groups||16 elements / 12 groups|
|Blades||7 rounded||7 rounded|
The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM brings some new features like image stabilization to this lens, but the big question remains: is it worth the upgrade?
Unless you want the more efficient and faster Nano USM, which can be an advantage for the video people, the lens is worth a look. The addition of image stabilization also helps enormously and this could also be a dealbreaker if you shoot mostly handheld.
As an all-rounder lens, which has reasonable optics, image stabilization and, comes at a reasonable price point, then the f/3.5-5.6 IS USM is worth a look. On the flip side though, the older f/3.5-5.6 STM works equally well optically as a more basic counterpart, but still, the f/3.5-5.6 IS USM is a worthy upgrade.