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Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens Ongoing Review & Testing

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
So I was posting this over at OCF and remembered this section at XS; thus, here I am! I'll just be copying/pasting posts over here but will of course be subscribed and happy to answer any questions. This is my first non-kit lens on my first SLR. Our point & shoot is the excellent Canon S95 and has been great for a long time; I just got the SLR itch, thus the T3.

After having plenty of fun with the kit lens (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II), more focal length was calling. I read (and read and read) about various lenses, becuase lenses are not remotely close to cheap.

What I really want is an "L" series lens. They are Canon's top of the line, and as Ken Rockwell puts it the "L" stands for 'Costs a L of a lot of money.' Thus, they were totally out of my price range.

With regard to this lens, I'll start by saying that I put a whole lot of credence in what Mr. Rockwell has to say. He reviews lenses the way I like to think we review hardware - for everyperson. There are photography sites that will run through the same amount of tests that he does and give you the run-down based on complete worst case scenarios. While those are useful, they don't paint the whole picture, as it were. Mr. Rockwell tells it like it is for the regular person looking to purchase camera equipment. He tells you whether it's a good value and whether the normal person will enjoy the use of the part.

Which brings us to this lens. It was mostly (though corroborated by those other sites) his review of the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens that made me take the plunge.

That was not the only factor of course, it was also based on the fact that it can be had used for a very reasonable price from Adorama, of which I am now a very big fan (see my reseller ratings review). This lens, which retails for $499 can be purchased used in E+ condition (next to perfect, with perfect glass) for only $274, and less for worse conditions. The way you shop something used the right way (at least for me) is to go to the retail product page. If they have any used in stock, there will be a link in the middle of the page. Currently there are 9 of these lenses used in stock.

Now, remember, not all used are created equal. Not only do they differ in quality (see the ratings scale here; mine was E+), some parts for the same price may have accessories. I looked through all of the E+ lenses and found one with a pouch and a lens hood included. Most of them don't have that, but you can get lucky, so always check!

That, ladies & gents, brings us to the lens today, the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (hereinafter 18-135mm for short), which as mentioned came in a handy-dandy pouch.


In case anyone is wondering what that gobldeygook in the model number stands for, it's not too difficult.
  • Canon = Brand name, obviously
  • EF = Electronic Focus. I don't think you can even buy a lens that doesn't have electronic focus any more.
  • -S = Small format - Canon's 1.6x crop sensors, which are all EOS cameras and quite a few of their other cameras. See Ken Rockwell's summary of those models here.
  • 18-135mm = Lens focal length. Since it's used on 1.6x cameras, that is actually equivalent to 29mm - 219mm. Frankly, I'm unsure why it works like that on a lens designed specifically for 1.6x cameras; I guess for uniformity in the industry.
  • IS = Image stabilization, arguably the best feature on this lens. Canon claims four full stops of stabilization, meaning you can hand-hold the camera using much slower shutter speeds than you could without IS. IS is a huge selling point to me and I'd never buy a lens without it.

There is one other abbreviation that is not included on this lens - "USM", which stands for UltraSonic Motor. Those motors are faster and quieter. They also allow always-on manual focus. That's a significant amount of money over the ones you must use the switch for (like this lens) and it wasn't worth paying full, brand new (there were no used at the time) $549 price for one of those when I can flip a switch and get this model used for only $274.

The first thing I noticed when just picking up the box (it was packaged very well) was that this thing is h.e.a.v.y., heavy. It feels like it weighs very close to the camera body, so getting used to the new balance of the camera will take a bit of getting used to. It's also larger than I had anticipated. Going from the kit lens to this, which is an increase in length as well as girth (this one is threaded at 67mm, where the kit lens is 58mm), is a big jump.


Controls are minimal on the 18-135mm lens, with switches for AF/MF (auto focus / manual focus) and IS (image stabilization), and that's it really, other than the huge zoom ring & smaller focus ring.


There are markings to tell you where you are within the focal range and that's about it as far as any sort of visual reference goes. There are neither focus nor depth of field indicators like on the "L" series lenses.

Speaking of focal range, the zoom ring on this lens is massive. Considering it's where your hand will be spending most of its time when holding the camera, that's a very good thing. Changing focal lengths is a breeze and it's smooth throughout the range. Like most midrange zooms, the short end of the focal length is a bit cramped, with 18-24mm a whole heck of a lot closer to each other than the remaining steps up to 135mm. That's normal and to be expected, but slightly frustrating on the short end.

The focus ring is the smaller of the two and resides toward the end of the lens. This is good, as the focus ring moves when the lens is auto-focusing. Keep thy fingers off the focus ring when the lens is focusing! You don't want to strip the AF motor's gears and kill your lens.


Blissfully, even though the ring moves while focusing, the middle barrel does NOT move when focusing like the 18-55mm kit lens, so you can use hoods and polarized filters with impunity on the 18-135mm model.


Most of the lens is plastic construction -as expected at this price point- but where it actually connects with the camera is metal. You want a metal mount. If you pick up your camera by the lens (which isn't really preferred of course) without a metal mount, you stand the real risk of breaking your lens. This lens has the metal it where it counts.


Putting the hood on makes a decently long lens even longer.


Of course, then you can extend it to the full 135mm focal length.


Next we'll compare the T3's kit lens with this lens.
post #2 of 13
Thread Starter 
Kit Lens vs. The New Lens

When comparing the kit lens included with the Canon EOS T3, it seems like comparing a toy to what I now realize is a real lens. While the kit lens is fine and dandy, it is somewhat limiting, especially in the most obvious place - focal length. I'll start by showing what the T3 looks like with the kit lens.

Speaking of the S95 mentioned in the OP, that's what took these photos. Obviously the T3 was busy. smile.gif


For anyone not familiar with what an SLR (Single Lens Reflex camera) looks like without the lens part, wonder no more.



Now, the two lenses next to each other, which, as stated, is a much bigger difference than I thought it would be.


Both at their shortest. On the 18-135, that's at 18mm. On the 18-55, that's around 24mm, and can change with focus, because the middle barrel moves when focusing, which does not occur on the 18-135.


Both at their longest. (55mm and 135mm, respectively)


As mentioned before, you want a metal mount to meet your camera. The kit lens does not have a metal mount. It's not a heavy lens, so that's ok I suppose, but it's not as good as metal for sure.


Now we'll get the body and new lens to meet and say 'I do.'



...and with the lens hood.


Lastly, with the hood and at max focal length, and here is a good time to talk about lens creep. Lens creep is when you hold the camera face-down or face-up and the lens creeeeps its way to a different focal length. I'm happy to say - with my very limited use so far - that it doesn't seem to have a problem when pulled in to 18mm. If you leave it out at, say, 35mm, and point it straight down, it does creep some. I haven't measured the creep, but as long as it's not pointed straight down, it doesn't seem to creep...and how often do you actually do that? So lens creep to me is a non-issue so far. This may become an annoyance if it gets worse, and I'll absolutely report back. So far, so good though.


That's it for today folks. I'll be using the lens in our normal product photos and trying, as time allows, to get out and take some actual photos with it. I'll report back as I get to know and use it how it works for me. Shoot, if I get ambitious, I might even try to ferret out some of its reported distortion & color fringing that are supposed to occur mostly at the 18mm end.

As you'll read around the net, you really want to keep this lens up around the 24mm range to keep from the somewhat severe barrel distortion at its widest. That's common on lenses with this large of a zoom range. I'm fine with it, because that's what I expected when I bought it. Color fringing I'm not looking forward to, but some reviewers said they were bad and some (Mr. Rockwell among them) say they're not bad at all, especially for the price - and especially for the extraordinarily cheap used price I got it for.

The only other concern I have is reported softness at its largest apertures. I prefer shooting mostly with my aperture wide open a good bit of the time and will absolutely notice palpable lacks of sharpness. Several reviews said the sweet spot for this lens is f/8. We'll see how it behaves.

Thanks for reading, subscribe to the thread for results!
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Get Thyself a Filter

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday - it's always good to get a UV filter to protect your lens. Lenses are investments (even when gotten for reasonable prices). Getting a cheap filter to protect it is always a good idea. After reading around, I decided to get a better-than-the-cheapest option. Multi-coated filters let more light through and prevent filter-induced lens flares.

Thus, I went with Ken Rockwell's recommended Hoya multi-coated filter. This is supposed to be better than others because it is coated on both sides. After using it last night, it does a great job. I haven't had the chance to use it in adverse lighting conditions though, so we'll see how it works outside. So far so good.


After using the lens on a Lian Li case last night, I got to know it a bit. I'll type up a report after editing those photos.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Lens Test #1 - Fun With Flowers! (Focal Length Test)

This will probably be one of at least a couple focal length tests. These were flowers I got for my better half last week. I started by finding the closest focus point and moved in from there. This is all hand-held in aperture priority with the aperture wide open; auto white balance, auto ISO.

Lighting was FAR from good - a dining room chandelier with three small globe-type 40W bulbs - so you're also seeing how the lens can deal with detail in a low light situation. No flash was used. I'll list the focal length I thought I was setting next to the actual focal length, the aperture, then the settings the camera chose for ISO & shutter speed.

18mm - 18mm actual - f/3.5 - ISO 1250 - 1/30 sec


24mm - 22mm actual - f/4 - ISO 1250 - 1/30 sec


35mm - 35mm actual - f/4.5 - ISO 1250 - 1/60 sec


50mm - 50mm actual - f/5 - ISO 2500 - 1/80 sec


85mm - 87mm actual - f/5.6 - ISO 3200 - 1/60 sec


135mm - 135mm actual - f/5.6 - ISO 3200 - 1/50 sec


Color saturation is great; it showed the warmth of the fall colors in low light very accurately. Focus seems spot on and the photos don't seem soft to me with the aperture wide open, especially considering the adverse lighting. All in all, not a bad performance.

This series also gives you an idea of how the aperture responds to the focal length. Like most medium zooms that aren't crazy expensive (not to mention heavy), the aperture closes relatively quickly as you extend focal length.

18mm - f/3.5
24mm - f/4
35mm - f/4.5
50mm - f/5
85mm - f/5.6
135mm - f/5.6

My only complaint is that the closest focus is about 1.5 feet, which isn't much of a complaint because it does exactly what the specs said it would do. I like to get very close to the subject for this type of shot, but to get any closer would require a macro lens. Even the "L" series moderate zoom lenses have the 1.5 ft closest focus specification. It didn't budge a bit either - once you get an inch closer, it refuses to try.

I hung the camera off my shoulder (as I normally do when walking around) and there is some lens creep even starting at 18mm if you're bouncing very much, such as going up & down stairs. That's with the hood attached; I haven't tried without the hood yet, but I can't imagine that would change things significantly. It creeps to ~54mm and stays there, so it's not like you'll suddenly end up with your lens fully extended, but it does creep a bit. It seems that's basically what you get when you get a lens that's easy to zoom in & out. The trade-off is a tighter lens that's more difficult to use. I'm ok with that. I think. There is a bit of OCD inside me that wants the lens to stay where I put it, darnit.

On a positive note, I was impressed with the accuracy of the markings on the lens. It's not like there are small tic marks to tell you where 35mm, 50mm, etc really lie and with no effort at all I was able to get it either spot on or within 2mm.
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quick & Dirty Distortion Test

These were two photos taken of a Lian Li PC-Q28. Black case on white background makes barrel distortion pretty obvious.

At the short end (18mm), there is a little bit of barrel distortion. It's not huge, but it's there, especially when viewed with this kind of worst-case scenario.


There is also slight pincushion distortion at the long end (135mm), but it's not quite as pronounced as the barrel distortion at 18mm.


Again, these are worst case scenarios and you won't notice them if you're not shooting very straight lines. Without looking for it, I didn't really see any in the flower photos above, and there are plenty of straight lines in the 18mm shot. There is a very little bit there, but it's difficult to discern.
post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 
In case anyone is curious about the watermark and is unfamiliar with my meager work, I'm a reviewer at Overclockers. I batch resize photos with Light Image Resizer and this is my default setting. I'm being lazy and didn't want to change the settings, plus it also allows me to know if any of these photos are used elsewhere. So now you know. smile.gif
post #7 of 13
Great review. I'm not sure I like the idea of putting an UV filter on that lens. When the lens is that cheap, why bother to put another glass over on top when you can get a new one once it gets too scuffed up?
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post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by boxthorn View Post

Great review. I'm not sure I like the idea of putting an UV filter on that lens. When the lens is that cheap, why bother to put another glass over on top when you can get a new one once it gets too scuffed up?

As for the filter, basically it boils down to cost, even when it's cheap. I could replace a $274 scratched lens or a $24 filter. At a tenth the cost, I'll take the latter. Plus it's a quality filter, so it (in theory, and so far in practice) has no adverse effect on image quality. Better to save the $274 for a different lens down the road.

EDIT - ...or a better camera body. smile.gif
Edited by hokiealumnus - 10/23/13 at 8:44pm
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Sunstar Testing

Thought I'd test out how the lens handles its sunstars, and the result isn't great, but frankly, who's shooting directly at the sun anyway?! These were literally pointed at the sun. I barely glanced at the viewfinder and definitely didn't double-check auto focus.

The sunstar cleanliness gets better as you keep stopping it further down. I'll list aperture, ISO, shutter speed & focal length

f/13, ISO 100, 1/640 sec, 25mm


f/18, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, 24mm


f/20, ISO 100, 1/160 sec, 19mm


Of course, it improves quite a bit when you put just a few pine needles in between yourself and the sun.

f/20, ISO 100, 1/125 sec, 18mm


There is some lens flare, but it's not too horrible I suppose. The filter is on the lens, so that exacerbated the problem a bit I'm sure.

The moral of the story is, don't shoot directly at the sun!
post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 
Sharpness & 100% Crops

The moon happened to be out in the perfect spot when we were out this morning. Lighting wasn't the best - the sun was pretty much straight overhead, which is rarely an ideal circumstance.

f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 sec, 20 mm


Zooming in to the upper right...

f/8, ISO 100, 1/400 sec, 135 mm


Then I took a 100% crop (view the photo at actual size on your monitor, crop from there) to see how the moon looked and it wasn't too shabby at all.


Another random shot of the moon over the trees.

f/8, ISO 100, 1/400 sec, 135mm


I also ran across woodpecker in a tree. It was dark (relative to outside the tree) and it was going to town trying to find something to eat, but the shot was ok. I am no bird photographer, that's for sure!

f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/200 sec, 135mm


100% crop of that one.


Seems pretty sharp to me. There may well be better lenses out there, but for the money I'm very satisfied.

Also, after walking around with it for a couple hours today, I'm fine with what little lens creep there is. Occasionally it'll start creeping on you, but for the most part it'll stick at 18mm if you put it there. I was going around without the lens hood today, so maybe that played a part.
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