For a while, there weren’t many great options for zoom lenses on Sony’s APS-C lineup. You had the kit lens and a few other cheap, unappealing options. Then, in 2018, Sony released an 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 lens, a versatile zoom that covers a huge range and is somehow still fairly compact.
Since then, there have been a few other fantastic zoom lenses released (such as the excellent Sigma 18-50mm F2.8), so how does this versatile lens stack up in today’s environment? Let’s dive in.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Respectable sharpness across the range
- OSS w/ silent AF (for video)
- A great versatile lens
Size & Weight
First up, let’s talk about size and weight. Generally, lenses this versatile tend to be massive and heavy, but the Sony 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 breaks that stereotype.
Coming in at 3.46in (8.8cm) long and weighing a rather conservative 11.4oz (325g), this lens manages to have a smaller footprint than even some larger prime lenses.
Is the lens well built?
As for build quality, the lens achieves its low weight due to Sony cutting down on the materials. It doesn’t necessarily feel cheap, but its not up to par with a lot of other modern Sony lenses.
The lens barrel is plastic and the lens hood, though feeling quite durable and solid, is also entirely plastic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as many photographers (myself included) will take a hit to build quality to save on weight.
For those who shoot in bad weather, it should be noted that the 18-135mm lacks any sort of weather sealing. I’ve shot with a few other OEM lenses on my Sony a6000 in the rain and haven’t had any issues, however. Just don’t take it under a waterfall or throw it into a pool.
Overall, despite the rather plastic-y build, I do get the feeling that the lens is built to last. Sony’s lenses have always been quite bulletproof (maybe with the exception of the NEX line), so I feel as if this one should be no exception.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Ergonomics and handling are quite good. The lens, despite being a bit on the longer side, is still small enough to balance well on my a6000. The gigantic ribbed zoom ring makes for a nice natural spot to position your hands.
Taking the 18-135mm out for a day of shooting felt great, and I didn’t experience fatigue as I might with a heavier lens. Plus, it’s light enough to one-handed shoot on occasion as well (provided I didn’t need to change the focal length).
Alrighty, next up we’ll be talking about sharpness. I don’t tend to get very scientific in my sharpness tests, but this is a versatile zoom so there’s a lot of different focal lengths to unpack here.
At 18mm, the widest end of the zoom range, images actually render really nicely. At F3.5, centers seem to be pin sharp while the extreme corners lag behind just a little bit. Stopping down incrementally increases performance until peaking at F8. Really impressive performance on the wide end of the range.
Zooming in a bit to about 60mm, images actually get a bit sharper, I assume thanks to the F5.0 aperture (remember this lens has variable aperture). Images are pin sharp from pretty much edge-to-edge, especially when stopped down a bit.
Results are rather similar when zooming all the way in to 135mm. Sharpness takes an overall slight hit, but it’s largely similar to the other focal lengths in the zoom range.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
Next up, let’s talk about optical flaws. First up, the lens suffers from some moderate distortion and vignette issues on the wider end of the zoom range. These are both easily fixed in post processing.
One thing you can’t fix in post processing, however, is flare, which this lens suffers from quite a bit. Shooting into direct sunlight causes plenty of ghosting and moderate loss of contrast. Using the lens hood helps a lot, but I would definitely avoid extremely bright sun when using this lens.
For portraiture, this lens does a pretty alright job. The telephoto 135mm focal length makes for fantastic compression, but the rather high F5.6 aperture makes the bokeh suffer a bit.
Taking telephoto portraits is certainly possible, but don’t expect the kind of creamy bokeh you’d get out of a dedicated telephoto lens.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, the Sony 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 offers overall excellent optical performance. Sharpness is respectable across the entire zoom range, making it a worthy upgrade over the kit lens.
Distortion and vignette are easily fixable in post, and the flaring issues can be usually avoided by not shooting directly into bright sunlight.
My only real gripe is the variable aperture. At the tight end of the zoom range, the F5.6 aperture just doesn’t lend itself well to letting in a lot of light. That means this lens will greatly suffer in lower light situations, even in late evening or interiors. However, the optical image stabilization offsets that a bit, allowing for smoother handheld shots in dark environments.
Finally, let’s talk about autofocus. The AF on the Sony 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 is nothing spectacular, but its not bad at all. It’s quick enough, reliable, and I only ran into hunting issues in low light situations (due to the rather high max aperture struggling to let in light).
Autofocus is entirely silent which, when combined with the optical image stabilization, makes this a pretty damn good lens for video shooters.
As for manual focus, it’s like most other modern lenses: kinda dull. Although it does have a nice clicky physical AF/MF switch, the lens uses a focus-by-wire system, so the focus ring doesn’t have any hard stops and generally just feels lackluster.
Still though, the vast majority of people would not be purchasing a lens like this for its manual focus capabilities, so its excusable. I’m personally a big fan of MF, so I tend to mention it in all my reviews.
My Final Thoughts
Alrighty, I always like to offer alternatives before I round out my reviews. As of recently, there’s a LOT of competitive alternatives to this lens.
First up, the downright spectacular Sigma 18-50mm F2.8. You lose a LOT of focal range with it, but it’s incredibly small, razor sharp, and quite affordable.
Second, the Sony 16-55mm F2.8 is in a similar position to the previously mentioned Sigma. Its got best in class sharpness, blazing fast AF and a premium build. Only downside is that its almost twice the price of competitors.
Finally, if you’re looking to retain at least some of the versatile zoom range, the Tamron 17-70mm F2.8 is a decent middle ground. Sharper than this lens, autofocus is quite, and price is roughly similar.
Still though, if you’re looking for the absolute most versatile lens you can possibly get, there is no direct competition to the Sony 18-135mm F3.5-5.6.
This lens offers solid optical performance with a massive zoom range, good autofocus, compact size, OSS, and a decent price. For photographers who value versatility over getting the absolute sharpest images, I think this lens is the perfect pick.
If you’re interesting in picking one up yourself, I’ll drop purchase links down below. Thanks for reading!
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