Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S ‘Plena’ Lens Hands-On: Buckets of Beautiful Bokeh

Nikon does not give many of its lenses a moniker; the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 “Noct” was the only Z-mount lens to have an official title. That is until now: introducing the new Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S “Plena”.

Plena is derived from the Latin word plenum, translated to mean “plenty” and is intended to bestow an abundance of joy to its user. I got a chance to shoot one on the shores of California and although it is a pre-production lens, let me give you a sneak peek into this lens-o-plenty.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S Badge
Nikon breaks out the trademark yellow cursive writing. We have a Plena in our midst.

Nikkor Z Plena 135mm f/1.8 S: Heaps of Heft

There is definitely plenty of size and weight to the new 135mm. Weighing in at essentially 35.1 ounces (995 grams or basically one kilogram), the Plena does have a fair amount of glass contained within. However, the Sony and Canon counterparts are only marginally lighter, and, in practical terms, it’s a wash.

Nikkor Z 135mm F/1.8 Plena S rings
Customizable controls and a very smooth manual focus ring show the quality of the135mm Plena.

I’ve come to use the Nikkor “Noct” as an official form of measurement because its weight is exactly two kilograms — a handy value that can be assigned to whatever camera or lens we review in our videos. Now I have a very handy one-kilogram  “Plena” to use as well so expect to hear that a lot going forward.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S woman on the rocks
The 135mm focal length is great for street portraits and isolating subjects at distance.

The filter thread is a hefty 82mm in diameter and the Plena comes with a very nice quick-release hood. The body is fully sealed and made to a high standard of quality, befitting of a pro series Nikkor lens. Two customizable buttons and a customizable control ring round out the responsive controls.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S Jaron portrait
The natural looking compression provided by the 135mm Plena is ideal for people pictures.
Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S
Our own editor-in-chief is an excellent writer but he could have been a model too.

Nikkor Z Plena 135mm f/1.8 S: Bountiful Image Quality

The Nikkor 135mm f/1.8 S is designed to be both incredibly sharp but also well-corrected, especially in terms of vignetting. Nikon went with a lens that projects a larger circle of light than is needed, which means the sensor uses a more central portion of the image circle. This not only reduces the natural darkening of the corners that would occur otherwise but also should deliver better corner sharpness as well.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S 'Plena' Lens Hands-On: Buckets of Beautiful Bokeh

The images show bright corners with no real signs of vignetting, even when shooting wide open. I was impressed with the level of detail in the files and can already tell that resolving power is high, but I want to reserve final judgment for when I test a full-production lens.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S Rear Element
The rather large rear element projects a big image circle onto the sensor. This is a classic way to enhance image quality.

The lens focuses to about 0.82 meters from a subject and gives a roughly 1:5 macro reproduction ratio. Nothing to write home about, but it’s perfect for tight headshots, and a 135mm lens is the ideal focal length for portraits at a distance or full body shots.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S
The 135mm is not a macro lens but you can still get some pleasing shots close up.

For video applications, the manual focus ring is smooth and has solid tolerances. Of note, while it’s not egregious, there is some lens breathing present. Lens breathing refers to how a field of view changes when adjusting focus. If you do a focus pull-in video, know that your field of view is going to change somewhat.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S Statue
I want to evaluate a production version of this lens but the early results look very sharp.

Nikkor Z Plena 135mm f/1.8 S: Buckets of Bokeh

Clearly, what Nikon has intended this lens to be is a perfect portrait tool with an immaculate rendering of the out-of-focus areas. Specular highlights in the background exhibit only a little bit of a cat’s eye effect in the corners at f/1.8. When stopped down, the aperture remains very circular and highlights show no soap-bubble effect or onion rings.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S bokeh
The out-of-focus highlights are gorgeous and this translates into some of the smoothest bokeh you’ll ever witness.

Obvious care and considerable engineering have gone into making this lens have the softest and most natural gradation from in-focus to out-of-focus areas.  It’s apparent how well this lens renders bokeh immediately upon shooting with it, and the 135mm focal length is excellent at separating your subject from that silky-smooth background.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena S
Look how the background just drifts off into softness. The “Plena” delivers some of the nicest bokeh I’ve ever seen.
Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 Plena Bike Path
Both foregrounds and backgrounds transition beautifully in to focus.

Nikkor Z Plena 135mm f/1.8 S: Plenty of Promise

The new 135mm promises to be a very high-end tool for the professional portrait photographer and is at the same a testament to the capabilities of Nikon and its engineers.

Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S 'Plena' Lens Hands-On: Buckets of Beautiful Bokeh

I can’t wait to test this lens out when we have a production unit, but at the same time, the lens we tested was fairly close to finished and blew me away. I’m confident it will perform as well as I expect it to, so stay tuned to the PetaPixel YouTube channel and here on the website for our full review.

As always, we encourage you to watch our first impressions video above to get more of the story on this excellent lens and see what we shot on our travels with it.

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