Nikon is really doing some amazing things right now. They have been introducing new lenses left and right; innovative designs, lightweight solutions, and incredible autofocus. I can’t imagine shooting wildlife now without my 600mm F4 with built in 1.4x. I flipped that converter on and off so much in Africa my finger got sore, and I never had to detach a lens to do it. Recently they introduced the 600mm F6.3PF at just over 3 pounds! Who doesn’t want an incredibly light, small 600mm that is razor sharp? The Nikon 500mm 5.6PF was one of my favorite lenses ever.
If you are a portrait shooter, you also have been taking notice. First came the long awaited 85mm F1.2. I seriously considered buying this lens, one of my favorite focal lengths and apertures for portraits. But just as I was getting ready to hit the ‘BUY NOW’ button Nikon announced the 135mm F1.8. And this lens was so special they actually gave it a name, the Plena. That was enough for me, I ordered one within hours of the announcement. I have always liked a little longer focal length to narrow the angle of view resulting in very flattering face features and tighter backgrounds.
I have been using the lens now for a few weeks, and I am happy to report it lives up to the name. First, yes this lens is tack sharp, as you would expect. But even wide open at F1.8 this lens is crazy sharp across the frame, more so than other portrait primes I own. Light fall off and vignetting are almost non-existent. If you look at the front of the lens it is almost scary…one huge beautiful front element combined with eleven aperture blades mounted on the largest lens opening out there for a 35mm camera. The result…incredible acuity and no vignetting at F1.8.
What about bokeh? Most portrait lens in the 1.4 -1.8 range will create slightly edged ‘cat’s eye’ bokeh balls in the background. But the Plena largely eliminates this with nice round out of focus circles (distant small light sources). You might think at F1.8 the 135mm has more detail in the background than an 85mm F1.2. But the bokeh is close in rendering, with the 85mm just slightly more out of focus. What you gain with the 135mm is tighter backgrounds, allowing you to enlarge areas like neon and light sources directly behind your model. See the opening image at the top of this post.
What are the cons? Size perhaps…here is the lens attached to my Z8. But the Plena feels well balanced, especially so on the Z9. Price is not cheap, but what you would expect for this specialty lens…$2500.
Probably the most amazing thing about this lens is something I can’t put on paper. Certain portrait lenses have ‘a look’ that is hard to describe, a personality all their own. Cinematic, contrasty, dreamy, painterly…I can’t put a finger on it. But what I do know is the Plena has this special quality and is one of the best portrait lenses I have ever owned.