Wednesday 17 April 2019

A New Lens for Backpacking: Sony E 18-135 f3.5-f5.6

Sony E 18-135 with lens hood

For several years my photography setup for backpacking and hillwalking has been Sony a6000 and NEX 7 bodies with Sony E 10-18mm and 16-50mm zoom lenses. This system went on the GR5 through the Alps walk last autumn and the Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk two years before that. I've found it versatile and easy to use. Two cameras, two lenses, slung across my body in padded cases. Never any need to change lenses, always accessible.

Sometimes though I've wanted a longer lens - for wildlife, to zoom in on distant features, to pick out details. I've had the Sony E 55-210mm zoom lens for many years and this often comes with me on day walks, rarely on longer ones, as I like the two cameras and lenses system and I don't want to give up either of the shorter zooms. That leaves the 55-210 in the pack, where it too often stays, forgotten.

Sony E 18-135 fully extended

I accepted this two, sometimes three, lens system as there were no compact lightweight alternative lenses to the 16-50 that had a longer reach other than an expensive Zeiss 16-70, and the extra cost and weight didn't seem worth it for a measly 20mm increase.

Then, a year ago, Sony brought out the first new lens in many years for the a6000 series cameras, the 18-135 f3.5-f5.6. Light, compact and with a 7.5x zoom as opposed to the 3x zoom of the 16-50 this interested me straight away. I then spent a year deliberating!

Of course compared with the 16-50 the 18-135 is enormous and considerably heavier - 360 grams as opposed to 127 grams. The 55-210 is 380 grams so the saving over that lens plus the 16-50 is only 147 grams. I think though that the longer reach is well worth the extra 233 grams over the 16-50.

The big benefit of the 18-135 for me is that it extends my two cameras, two lenses system considerably. 10-135mm is a big range, equivalent to 15 to 202.5mm in 35mm/full frame. This is the biggest range in two lenses I've ever had.

I've had the 18-135 for nearly two months now and I've taken 310 images with it, half of them at focal lengths over 50mm. I'm pleased with the results. Reviews - and I read quite a few - suggested the image quality was good, better than the 16-50 in fact. I'm happy with that lens so I expected to like the 18-135. It's certainly sharper than the 55-210.

I did sometimes crop images taken with the 16-50 but this does mean lower quality and, more significantly to me, I found it harder to 'see' the image. With the 18-135 I can compose much more precisely. Looking at the data (ah, the wonders of Lightroom!) I can see that I've used just about every focal length at least once.

Carrying the 18-135 hasn't felt noticeably different to the 16-50 despite the difference in size and weight. I do have a bigger case of course but I carry it the same way.

I think for now I have found an ideal combination.

Here are some 18-135 images at different focal lengths, all taken in the Cairngorms on April 5.








  1. From your posts I too considered the 18-135 lens for my a6000, as the 50mm kit lens didn't really have enough reach for my needs (my brother in law who is a keen photographer and we both laugh about some of our wildlife shots: Its not trees, its wild boar in Andalusia. These are red squirrel in France. This is a very rare bird in Spain.. Etc.. But they look like a bunch of trees!). I too carry the a6000/18-135 now in a Thinktank mirrorless 10 case. I'm really pleased with the new lens, it's an investment. I have also bought a Mefoto Backpacker Air tripod at 890gm after my Velbon wore out.. Interested to know your thoughts on that. Thanks for bringing my attention to the Sony 18-135 a while ago Chris. It really does all I need, though the 10-18mm is a tempting combination, but more weight and expense.

  2. I haven't seen the Mefoto Backpacker Air tripod. It looks good but it is a lot heavier than the Velbon V-Pod. I'll certainly consider it when I need a new tripod.