After the Nikon Z 58mm f0.95 S “Noct” the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S becomes only the second lens for Nikon’s Z-series Nikkors with a name: “Plena”. This marks the new lens as a unique Z-Nikkor and Nikon emphasizes the “beautiful, well-rounded bokeh of outstanding sharpness and clarity”. This should make the lens popular with wedding and portrait photographers. Can it beat the excellent Z 85mm f1.2 S?
With a focal length of 135mm the Plena has almost 60% more reach than a 85mm lens which should enable better background isolation and blur. But at f1.8 it collects over one stop less light than f1.2 lenses. Still, the entrance pupil of the Plena is slightly larger than from the Z 85mm f1.2 S which is a prerequisite for large Bokeh balls. Physically, the Plena is only a little smaller and lighter than the f1.2 Z-Nikkors: At 98 x 140mm and 995g (without lens hood) it is still a very large and heavy lens. Regarding features: The Plena is fully weather sealed, has two L-Fn function buttons, and sports Nikon’s latest Meso Amorphous Coat in addition to the “ARNEO” anti-reflective coating.
The Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena is made in Thailand and listed at around 2999 EUR / 2497 USD / 2699 GBP. PS – if you’re interested in the other ultra-bright prime lenses from Nikon check out my in-depth reviews of the Z 50mm f1.2 S, Z 58mm f0.95 S Noct, and Z 85mm f1.2 S.
Facts and features
Let’s compare the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena (“Plena” for short), to the Sigma Art 135mm f1.8 DG from 2017, which can still be used via FTZ adapter, Canon’s RF 135mm f1.8 L IS USM from 2022, and Sony’s FE 135mm f1.8 GM from 2019. As usual I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a  if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a disadvantage.
Size (diameter x length): 98 x 140mm (3.9 x 5.5in.). Adding 62mm for the lens hood (110mm diameter) gives a total length of 202mm which is comparable to the Sigma (incl. FTZ adapter) but about 1cm longer and wider than the Canon or Sony. So the Plena (like the Z 85mm f1.2 S) is indeed a large lens: Especially its girth at the focus ring is quite daunting. [-]
Weight: 995g (35.1 oz.) plus 65g for the lens hood. The Sigma is 1121g + 64g lens hood + 133g for the FTZ adapter which makes it 258g heavier than the Plena. Both the Canon and the Sony are only marginally lighter than the Plena. 
Optics: The Plena has 16 elements in 14 groups including 5 special dispersion elements and 1 aspherical element. The Sigma has 13 elements in 10 groups, the Canon is a 17/12 design, the Sony is 13/10. The Plena employs Nikon’s “ARNEO” anti-reflective coating plus their newest Meso Amorphous Coat to reduce flare, glare and ghosting. [+]
All lenses in this comparison cover full frame sensors or can equally be used on a cropped DX camera body. [+]
Minimum object distance / maximum magnification: The Plena achieves a maximum magnification of 1:4.8 at its MOD of 0.84m. Which is quite good and similar to the Sigma but a bit less than the Canon or Sony which go down to around 1:4. Working distance at MOD is a relatively comfortable 0.65m and the Plena achieves a magnification of 1:10 at 1.52m. [+]
Filter-thread: 82mm, which is identical to all lenses in this comparison. 
Image stabilization: None of the lenses in this comparison offers optical stabilization – except for the Canon. But Nikon’s Z full-frame bodies provide built-in sensor-shift stabilization for Z-Nikkors over 5 axis (plus an optional electronic stabilization in video mode) which has proven to be quite effective. The Sigma also profit from sensor based image stabilization but only over 3 axis: roll, pitch, and yaw. 
Auto focus: All lenses in this comparison have a built-in AF drive. Manual-focus override is by simply turning the dedicated focus ring. The focus ring of the Plena has the usual variable gearing which allows for very precise manual focus when turned slowly. You can reverse the focus ring direction and switch to linear response with different settings for focus throw. [+]
Display: No, the Plena does not features the OLED display of the Z 50mm f1.2 S or some other S-class lenses. Nikon seems to have abandoned this feature for new lenses. Of the other three lenses only the Sigma displays focus distance. 
Aperture ring and other control elements: Like many Z-Nikkors the Plena has a slim multi-function control ring at the back of the lens in addition to the dedicated focus ring. The control ring can be assigned to operate the aperture (which is the default), exposure compensation, or ISO sensitivity – or simply switched off. The Sigma does not offer an aperture ring, the Sony has one, and the Canon offers a multi-function ring similar to the Plena. The Plena also has an AF/MF switch and two extra L-Fn button on the lens which can be assigned many different functions e.g. AF-lock – which is similar to the Canon and Sony. A focus limiter can only be found on the Sigma and Sony. [+]
Lens profile: All Z-Nikkors come with a lens profile which can be controlled from the camera. Vignette control offers the usual options of High, Normal, Low and Off. Diffraction compensation and Auto distortion control can be activated or deactivated. [+]
Price: 2999 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 2497 USD / 2699 GBP which is about 10% higher than the Canon (at the time of introduction). The Sony currently sells for 1670 EUR / 2100 USD / 1500 GBP, the Sigma is at 1300 EUR / 1400 USD / 1100 GBP – add the cost for the FTZ adapter if you don’t already own one. 
The Plena comes with a flimsy pouch which has no strings to pull it close. So if you put the lens in your bag it might easily slip out of its pouch and bang around unprotected. This is simply unacceptable for a lens costing north of 2500 EUR/USD. The lens hood is included and locks in place to avoid accidentally falling off plus it is reversible for transport. 
Use with teleconverters: The Plena and Sigma cannot use teleconverters and I believe the same holds true for the Canon and Sony. This limits its use on Nikon’s non-stabilized DX camera bodies where the Plena has an equivalent focal length of 200mm – which poses quite a challenge to hand-hold. 
Sealing: Yes, a rubber grommet at the lens-mount plus further special weather-sealing throughout the construction but there’s no fluorine-coating on the front element to repel water, dust, and dirt and make cleaning easier – just like the Z 85mm f1.2 S. [+]
The score in the “features-department” is 1[-]/7/7[+]. The new Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena is very big and quite heavy and comes with a not insubstantial asking price. The feature set is good with full weather sealing, two L-Fn buttons, Nikon’s best anti-reflexive coatings, and a pretty usable maximum magnification. But the most important property of this lens certainly is the claimed superior Bokeh.
The Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena has almost 60% more reach than a 85mm lens. This gives quite a bit of extra magnification and is very visible. Here is the angle of view of the Plena (18.2 degrees diagonally) compared to Nikon’s Z 85mm f1.8 S (28.6 degrees):
Shooting upper body portraits means you need to step back from e. g. 2.4m to 3.8m or from 5.9m to 9.4m for full body shots when changing from 85mm focal length to 135mm. This might be problematic in smaller studios.
Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) of this lens is very good (measured 98.7% in Reikan FoCal) with no outliers over a series of 40 shots. There is no difference whether the lens focuses from a closer distance or from infinity but overall the variations are a bit stronger than from the Z 85mm f1.2 S. The lens focuses in around 0.5 sec from infinity to 1.52m (1:10 magnification), clearly faster than the 0.7 sec of Z 85mm f1.2 S.
The focus ring is 28mm wide. Its surface is rubberized, rotation is a bit stiff. AF-operation of the lens is audible from the outside as a faint buzz but not enough to disturb your seatmate in a theater. It is also recorded when shooting video with the built-in microphone. If you use the control ring on the lens to change the aperture in video mode this works smoothly and without noise from the aperture, but operation of the ring makes a slight grinding noise.
As you pull focus, you’ll notice a bit of focus breathing: When I adjusted the focus from infinity to 1.52m on the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena I measured a 5% increase in magnification. This is visible but probably not too distracting when shooting videos and is better than the 9% of the Z 85mm f1.2 S or the 18% from the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art.
Next check out my quality results!Check prices on the Nikon Z 135mm f1.8 S Plena at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!