Can a lens really be perfect? Nikon thinks so, labelling its new Nikon Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena lens “the perfect bokeh lens”. Aimed at portrait photographers, the one-off Nikon ‘Plena’ is only the second mirrorless lens from the camera giant with its own name, following the Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 S ‘Noct’.
The Noct was a true showpiece portraiture lens in the Nikon Z system, with a whopping $8,000 / £8,300 / AU$14,000 list price that makes even Leica’s optics look like a bargain. The Plena, thankfully, is a relative snip at only around a third of the cost of the Noct – it’s priced at $2,600 / £2,700 / AU$4,600, and goes on sale in mid-October.
That price is still significantly costlier than Sony’s equivalent FE 135mm f/1.8 GM, not to mention the cheaper-still Samyang 135mm f/1.8 and Sigma’s own version, which is available for multiple lens mounts. However, Nikon thinks its new showstopper is next-level, promising flawless circular bokeh and no lens distortion whatsoever, with sagittal coma, onion-ring, vignetting, and flare all controlled.
If that engineering feat has indeed been achieved, the Plena will no doubt rank as one of the best Nikon lenses ever, and should prove hugely popular with pro portrait photographers – the lower price point helps, too.
Nikon’s best lens yet?
I had some hands-on time with the Plena alongside the Nikon Zf ahead of the global announcement (they’re not a natural pairing, by the way), and it’s a sizable bit of glass, with familiar design cues from Nikon’s other pro S-Line lenses, featuring a similar engraved yellow signature to the Noct (it’s pictured above), on an otherwise all-black tough exterior.
At 35.1oz / 995g, the Plena is much smaller and lighter than the Noct, and in a similar design and price bracket to the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2 S, which is significantly more expensive than a lens like the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8. And unlike the manual focus-only Nikon Noct, the Plena is an autofocus lens, with quiet internal focusing and a minimum focus distance of just 2.7ft / 0.82m.
These pro-grade S-line lenses need to offer that much more to justify the extra cost, and Nikon says the Plena has the highest overall rendering power of any Z-mount lens yet. So it will be tack-sharp across the entire image area, at any aperture, and will produce heavenly-looking bokeh that maintains its circular, buttery-smooth characteristics right into the corners, in any light.
This is what the very best mirrorless lenses do so much better than DSLR lenses: maintain the best optical performance at any aperture, with better control over lens distortions. And the Plena, with its 11 rounded aperture blades and 16 elements in 14 groups, should perform better than most, at least on paper.
It all sounds dreamy, and although I took a few photos using the lens during that sneak peak, we weren’t permitted to take those digital files away with us to look at, so for now I’ll have to make do with some sample images by Nikon pros (above), and look forward to seeing what the Plena is really made of during a full review.
I’m especially interested to see if bokeh is indeed circular and smooth in the corners of the frame – that would be something, because in other lenses bokeh usually takes a cat-eye shape towards the corners. The Plena is certainly a product test to look forward to, and should make for an enjoyable portrait shoot with a difference.