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Problems with Nikon 135mm f2 DC

Todd Hendon , Jan 27, 2011; 12:12 p.m.

Hi Everyone,
I was extremely excited to receive my long awaited 135mm f2 DC lens. I popped on my D7000 and started taking shots. For some reason, many of the shots seem a bit soft. I have taken photos at f2 and f2.8 as I am looking to get the nice Bokeh that I have read about.
Some of the shots were in lower lighting but I used a tripod to minimize any camera shake. I have read so often how sharp then lens is and I'm just not seeing that sharpness. I am taking the photos in RAW at the full 16 megapixel size that the D7000 delivers.
I'm just wondering if it may be my technique or whether it is possible I received a 'non-perfect' lens. Am I expecting too much? Do most images look soft at 100% when using 16mp?
Any suggestions/recommendations would be helpful.


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Michael Ging , Jan 27, 2011; 12:18 p.m.

THe DOF on this lens is measured in millimeters when you are shooting at F2 or 2.8 and close focus, so make sure its focused on exactly what you want to be sharp. Putting a camera on a tripod might keep the camera still for low light shots, but if you are photographing a living being, or something that can move, you might have subject movement. Are you sharpening the photos in a processing program like Photo shop? If not then you will never see true sharpness. If you can post a photo , it will help us find the problem.

Ilkka Nissila , Jan 27, 2011; 12:49 p.m.

The 135/2 DC performs best on FX and stopped down a bit, like f/2.8 to f/5.6. Using it on a very pixel-rich DX camera probably results in disappointment especially at the wider apertures f/2-f/2.8. Also, getting the focus spot on can take some effort.

Dan Brown , Jan 27, 2011; 12:58 p.m.

Might be worth trying some AF fine tuning to see if you can hit the sweet spot. Take a photo of a yard stick at 45-degrees from the lens axis. Carefully focus on the 18" position, and then study the results to see where the sharpest point is.

Keep us posted, this lens is on my "short list".

Richard Snow , Jan 27, 2011; 12:58 p.m.

Todd, in addition to the DOF of this lens being very shallow at close distances, one must also understand how to use the DC adjustments to take full advantage of this lens's potential.

Please make sure that the DC ring is in the dead center to use the lens as a conventional 135mm f/2 and get the best sharpness out of the lens. To get the best bokeh out of the lens, you will want to move the DC ring to the left and set it at the f-stop you are currently using. If you go beyond the f-stop you are using, the lens goes soft, as if you had a soft focus filter on it.

EXAMPLE: You are shooting a portrait at f/4. You can control the background bokeh by turning the DC dial to the left one, two, or three clicks (2, 2.8, 4). Adjust to get the bokeh effect you desire. If you go beyond 4 to the 5.6 setting, your lens will soften and blur some of the in-focus objects, giving you a soft focus look.

On a side note, my 105mm f/2 DC is sharpest at f/5.6 and f/8 with the DC dial set at dead center.

Hope this helps,


Andrew Garrard , Jan 27, 2011; 01:17 p.m.

I don't have much to add, other than agreeing with the existing suggestions, but I'll confirm that - especially with DC set to non-neutral - this lens seems to confuse the autofocus system (for me, it usually front-focuses). I never got around to setting the fine tuning on mine, but it's certainly worth a try. Different apertures and DC settings might require different offsets. IIRC the manual actually talks about manual focus when using non-neutral DC. I can't vouch for 16MP-level sharpness, but it seems pretty okay to me (if not very contrasty) on my D700, with the right focal plane. Good luck with the new toy - the bokeh is lovely.

John Deerfield , Jan 27, 2011; 01:26 p.m.

I completely agree with Ilkka, this lens is soft until stopped down. Ours was useable @ f/4, but I wasn't happy till f/5.6.

Richard Snow , Jan 27, 2011; 01:57 p.m.

I will point out that I use the 105mm f/2 DC, not the 135mm, and it is tack sharp at f/2.8. You just have to understand how shallow the DOF is and how to get the most out of the lens as I described in my previous post. It took me literally 500 shots to really understand how this lens works and how to squeak all of the potential and quality out of it. I shoot a D300s and I will admit that the lens performs better on film and FX format DSLRs.

Keep in mind that I do not sit around and test lenses all day long nor do I shoot photos of grids to test sharpness and distortion, nor do I shoot white pieces of paper to test light falloff. I'm talking about real life shooting. I've never used the 135mm because it is so hard to come by and I find it a bit long for portraits. I'd expect similar results, if not better bokeh, out of the 135mm as I get out of my 105mm.

The only issue that crops up from time to time about this lens is it's LoCA, which I have learned to live with since the positives about this lens greatly outweigh the little time I need to fix a bit of purple/green fringing in Lightroom/Photoshop

Wouter Willemse , Jan 27, 2011; 02:03 p.m.

Apart from potential lens issues, how do you view and judge the RAW files?
If you use ViewNX 2, click the RAW button to see the image with a picture style (which includes sharpening) applied. Else, indeed 100% shots may seem a bit soft, even when viewing files of properly focussed lenses at their best apertures. I use the Nikon software, and see strange differences in the amount of sharpening in the full screen view prior to clicking that RAW button. Some (older) lenses seem disadvantaged, and show their full potential only after clicking that button. Strange, but then again, many things are strange about Nikon's software.

David Pinkerton , Jan 27, 2011; 03:41 p.m.

I've done a lot of research on this lens after receiving it for Christmas and I can tell you that it's performance wide open varies greatly with the conditions of the lighting. My recommendation would be to shoot some test subjects under lighting that is more "contrasty." My initial shots wide open were done indoors under tungsten lighting and I have to say that I was disappointed. I almost returned it when I suddenly found myself getting very sharp f/2 shots with window light. I was completely confused since I've not had a lens perform like this before but the quality of the light really does seem to matter with this one. I don't know that I would shoot a professional gig at f/2 but I know that with my copy I can shoot pretty safely at even f/2.5. Here's just one example:
I also posted a whole bunch of links related to this lens here:

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