As with many of the other 11 Sigma Art lenses before it, the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens arrived to a solid anticipation. Sigma has primed that anticipation by continually delivering great-performance in the Art lens lineup and who doesn't love the optical specs of this lens?
Do you appreciate impressively-sharp images? I know, that is a rhetorical question. How about: Do you appreciate extreme wide apertures with the ability to create a very strong background blur? Are great weather-sealed build quality and aesthetically pleasing modern looks attractive to you? Are portraits ever on your to-photograph list? Low light events perhaps?
If you checked any of those boxes, the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is a kit addition worth considering.
With a prime lens, you get one focal length. This means that prime lens focal length selection is much more critical than choosing a zoom lens such as one of the 70-200mm options. What is the 135mm focal length good for? Among many other applications, portraits are the 135mm focal length standout use for me.
This focal length, on either a full frame or APS-C crop sensor format DSLR, provides a very pleasing portrait perspective even when used for tightly framed portraits at near minimum focus distances.
This head shot was not close to this lens' minimum focus distance, but it illustrates nice feature compression and provides a peak at the background blur this lens is so good at.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from children to seniors and from individuals to groups (though large groups will require a rather long working distance with a 135mm lens). Basically, whenever people are present, this lens has uses. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, families and small groups (when adequate working space is available), senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 135mm focal length.
With my own senior in the house, I didn't have to look very far for a Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens portrait subject (though I had to wait for her schedule to free up). In case you haven't noticed, kids have this issue called "growth" and it happens unbelievably fast. And, "growth" can only be stopped by this thing we call "photography". Apply "photography" liberally within your family and the families of others so that we can contain the growth issue. If you've hung around here for very long, you know that I take my own advice in this regard and am grateful to have so many pics of the kids to take them back in time.
Before that tangent, I mentioned having a senior in the house and the 135 Art lens review made a good excuse for another senior session. A cloudy day meant that the sky was a huge softbox and I could use a variety of locations around the house without harsh light issues.
People move and another good use and another good use for this focal length is capturing people in motion, including sports action.
With the wide f/1.8 aperture, this lens can handle fast action even under very poor lighting conditions.
The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is also an incredible landscape lens.
While the 135mm focal length may not seem like a staple in a landscape photography kit, it is a great option to have available for more-compressed landscapes. And, the incredible image quality this lens delivers means that even the tiniest landscape details are tack sharp, including the extreme corners.
A short telephoto lens can fill the frame with color from even mediocre sunsets.
A 135mm lens can be used for many other purposes including product and commercial photography along with general studio applications. Videographers will find similar uses for this lens.
Those using the 135mm focal length on an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format camera will have a narrower angle of view to work with, one equivalent to a 216mm focal length used on a full frame camera. While this angle is similarly useful, the uses push toward tighter portraits, smaller products, more-compressed landscapes and away from more-general purpose uses.
From the front, this lens somewhat resembles a pipe. There is a lot of open space inside this one.
One way to step ahead of the competition is to provide a wider aperture and Sigma has checked off that box. While most alternative 135mm prime lenses feature an f/2 max aperture, the Sigma 135 Art lens opens up another 1/3 stop to f/1.8, giving it the widest max aperture available in a 135mm lens as of review time (equal to the Sony Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8 ZA Lens).
The rule is that the wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. More light reaching the sensor means that a faster shutter speed can be used and subject and camera motion can more easily be stopped in low light circumstances. While I would have loved for optical stabilization to be featured in this lens, handholding remains possible even in low light levels with the f/1.8 aperture available. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, shooting under shade conditions as well as indoors using only ambient window light. Even on the heavily overcast day of the above-referenced senior session, my camera settings were most often 1/400 and ISO 400 with the f/1.8 aperture in use.
The shallow f/1.8 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you in these circumstances, but that shallow depth of field is a very-highly desired lens capability, excellent for isolating a subject against a strongly-blurred background. The wide f/1.8 aperture combined with the 135mm focal length used at a close focus distance will turn the background into a blur of colors. The shallow DOF look that draws the viewer's attention to the subject via elimination of background distractions is a feature that will cause your imagery to stand out from the crowd. This capability also adds artistic-style imaging to this lens' strong capabilities list.
A question you may be asking is, is there much difference between f/1.8 and f/2? The 1/3 stop of light difference is rather obvious, relating directly to a difference in shutter speed or ISO setting. But, how much difference is there in the amount of background blur created by the shallower depth of field? I'll answer that question with an example:
The difference in background blur at f/1.8 vs. f/2 is probably more substantial than you expected. It is noticeable.
As you will notice at the narrowest apertures, there are essentially 3 layers in this scene. Thanks to the telephoto compression, the somewhat-distant (roughly 30'/10m) background remains blurred in even narrower aperture photos. The foreground purple iris is roughly 6' (2m) from the camera and the light blue irises are not far behind it – about 1.5-4' (.5-1.3m) farther.
At narrow apertures, this scene is busy with the viewer's eye being pulled all around the image. The subject does not stand out amidst the chaos. As the aperture widens, the background begins to melt away and the main subject begins to stand out. At f/1.8, the 3D effect leaves no question about what the subject is.
What is the widest aperture your current kit affords you at the 135mm focal length? Look at the difference between that and f/1.8. The difference between even f/2.8 and f/1.8 is quite noticeable.
It should be noted that, especially under full sun conditions, a 1/8000 shutter speed may be only marginally fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/1.8. Cameras with shutter speeds limited to 1/4000 may need the assistance of a neutral density filter to keep images dark enough at f/1.8. Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.
The closer to perfection the image quality of a lens reaches, the easier it is to evaluate the image quality of that lens and the image quality of this lens was a very easy one to review. The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens' image quality is among the best-available in any lens of any focal length.
So often, extremely wide apertures seem attractive until one starts using them and realizes that significant compromises in image quality, especially image sharpness, must be made. Fortunately, that is not the case with the Sigma 135 Art lens. Basically, this lens is extremely sharp from full frame corner to full frame corner even at its wide open f/1.8 aperture. A slight bump in contrast is realized at f/2 and again by f/2.8. However, these improvements are going to be hard to discern in real life images unless carefully captured comparisons are made.
Our standard lab test results found in the image quality tool are ideal for evaluating contrast and resolution and for comparing various lenses and settings, but I also like to share some real world examples in reviews. The images below are 100% resolution crops captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. The images were processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1". These examples are from the center of the frame.
Don't confuse the depth of field changes occurring between images (the nature of using different apertures) with any resolution and contrast changes happening here. Find the point within each image that shows the least amount of change from sample to sample and you have likely found the center of the plane of sharp focus. In the stack of C. S. Lewis books, the center-most Prince Caspian book is the one to watch most closely (these books were photographed on a slight slant to ensure that one would be perfectly in focus).
In either comparison, it is clear that this lens is extremely sharp wide open and that stopping down has only a very slight effect on resolution and contrast.
Below is a similar set of comparisons with the exception being that these crops were taken from the absolute corner of the frame. The first set of comparisons is from the top-left corner and the second is from the bottom right.
While the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art lens' extreme corners look as good or better at f/1.8 as most lenses get at any aperture setting, they show some improvements when stopped down through f/4. Much of the stopped down corner improvements stem from vignetting clearing.
All full frame lenses show vignetting when used on a full frame camera and the amount of corner shading this lens shows at f/1.8 is not bad – roughly 2 stops. Stopping down only 1/3 stop to f/2 reduces the shading to roughly 1.5 stops (typically barely noticeable) and by f/2.8, only about .5 stops remains – an amount seldom noticed in imagery. At f/4, the about-.3-stops of shading remaining is essentially negligible.
While there are times when I like the effect of vignetting, I'd much rather have to add it during post processing than to have to remove it. And, when photographing portraits, the subject's face and/or eyes quite often fall into heavily shaded portions of the frame when using some wide aperture lenses. The low vignetting attribute of this lens further strengthens its portrait photography attractiveness. Unless otherwise specified, all of the sample images in this review were captured at f/1.8 and have had no vignetting reduction or cropping applied.
APS-C format camera owners will likely not recognize the about-3/4-stop shading in f/1.8 corners.
Lateral (or transverse) CA shows as different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii). Prime lenses, especially premium-grade prime lenses, often show low amounts of lateral CA and that is the case for this lens. Here is an essentially worst-case example showing an extreme corner crop from an EOS 5Ds R:
While camera manufacturer brand lenses sometimes have lateral CA correction available in camera (and this correction is quite effective with low destructiveness at the pixel level), third party lenses are not supported in this correction feature and that makes this lens' performance especially useful for those shooting in JPG format or recording video.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
In the f/1.8 image above, we see fringing colors in out of focus specular highlights with the foreground showing purple and in the background showing a yellow-green border. While the fringing colors are present, they are quite mild for such a wide aperture lens. As the lens is stopped down, these colors disappear with a significant improvement seen in just 1/3 stop at f/2.
Flare effects are a common image quality problem that are sometimes very difficult to remove during post processing, but ... there is little worry with this lens in use. Flare effects are generally most-pronounced at narrow apertures and even stopped all the way down to f/16, this lens is just beginning to show these effects.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma becomes quite visible mid-frame and in the corners of images captured at wide apertures and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Astigmatism is another lens image quality attribute that is especially apparent in frame corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are a subject that makes both of these aberrations, along with some others, easily recognizable to me.
While the stars in the above 100% crop, taken from the near-upper-right portion of the frame, are not perfectly round, they are not looking bad, retaining most of their roundness.
When buying a prime lens, low geometric distortion is often a benefit and this lens has that feature – there is a negligible amount of distortion showing in 135 Art images. Sigma 135 Art images need no distortion correction applied during post processing with straight lines remaining straight and curved lines retaining their proper curvature. Low distortion means that critically framing a scene is easier with straight lines able to be carefully aligned with the viewfinder borders.
Those planning to use this lens only for portraiture may be thinking that linear distortion does not matter in a portrait lens. Well, perfectly straight lines are not often found in nature (aside from a flat horizon), but they are very frequently found in man-made items including structures. And, men (or women) are frequently found along with those man-made items. While I was not intentionally using the fence in the above image to show the low distortion properties of this lens (and the fence sections were not all perfectly level), the left side of this frame would have made any lens distortion clear.
This lens can create a significant amount of background blur and that highly advantageous feature is likely obvious by now. The quality of that blur, referred to as bokeh, appears quite nice with one anomaly worth pointing out.
The three images shared below are captured at f/5.6, with the rounded aperture blades affecting the results.
In the first two images, we see 100% crops showing out of focus background highlights. The first was captured indoors while the second was from an outdoor image. With a relatively round border (for over 3-stops stopped down) and a primarily smooth interior, these are looking great. Great except for that upside-down 3-pt-seatbelt-like artifact showing in them. While this artifact is not visible in all such highlights, it does show up with some frequency.
The third example shows a full image in reduced size.
With a 9-blade aperture, point light sources captured at narrow apertures with this lens show a star-like effect with 18 points.
Overall, the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens delivers stunning image quality – image quality good enough for you to look for excuses to use this lens over other options.
Like the eleven Sigma Art lenses that hit the streets prior to review time (and two additional not-yet available models), the 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens' AF system is powered by HSM, Sigma's Hypersonic Motor. "Its new large hyper sonic motor (HSM) provides ample torque to the focus group for optimal speed while the acceleration sensor detects the position of the lens for compensation [of the] focus groups for factors including gravity, producing faster and more responsive AF." [Sigma]
Overall, you are going to find this lens' AF system and the performance of this system to most-closely resemble that of the just-prior-released Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens.
The 135 Art lens autofocuses with decent speed if the focus distance change is short. Focus on a very close subject and then on a more-distant subject, or vice versa, and "fast" will not be one of the descriptors you consider for defining the focus speed of this lens. Minor AF autofocus distance adjustments are sometimes made after the initial focus acquisition with these occurrences becoming more frequent in lower light levels. Any secondary adjustments made increase the overall AF lock times of even shorter distance adjustments. While this lens may not be the fastest-focusing model available today, it focuses fast enough to be adequate for most intended uses.
This lens focuses relatively quietly with a shuffling ("shhhh") of lens elements heard during focusing and some clicking heard when short distances changes are made. Focusing is internal and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported (unless intentionally disabled using the Sigma Dock).
With the extremely shallow depth of field the 135mm and f/1.8 combination is able to produce, camera and lens AF systems are strongly challenged and AF system accuracy is of great importance and it is far more important than the autofocus speed to most of us. A miss-focused image from the lens capable of the world's best image quality will go straight to the trash can most of the time. Thus, AF accuracy performance testing is always a high priority for me.
There are an infinite number of AF situations and it is impossible to exhaust all of the test scenarios. But, I can usually get good idea of how a lens' AF system can be expected to generally perform. AF testing of this lens took on a bit of a life of its own with nearly 2,000 f/1.8 still-subject images tripod-captured from 4 different cameras.
To begin with, my Canon EOS-1D X Mark II simply loves this lens, with roughly 95% of the center AF point-focused images being consistently focused and roughly 92% of the peripherally-focused images being consistently focused. Also heavily tested were a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras. Although one camera performed slightly better than the other, both focused the 135 Art reasonably well with center point consistency percentages in the (very rough estimate) upper 80s and the outer-tested point results running slightly lower, in the mid-80s. The fourth camera I worked with was the Canon EOS 77D (nearly the same as the Canon EOS Rebel T7i). This inexpensive camera's AF system is not advertised as being as good as the 5Ds R and 1D X II systems and it trailed the others for focus consistency with this lens.
Using a variety of test scenarios confirmed that some were easier for the camera and lens to perform well together on. A small stack of white books with black printing on their bindings was highly favored by all camera models. An evergreen shrub in the yard proved most challenging overall.
Because of the extremely shallow depth of field, care must be taken when handholding this lens and when using it on a subject that moves as even breathing can move the plane of sharp focus from an eye. Recomposing after focusing can easily do the same. Thus, it is not as fair to place a strong emphasis on handheld one-shot AF testing, though it seems to work quite well based on, in part, my portrait session using a 5Ds R.
For AI Servo action tracking testing, I used the 135 Art lens during an invitational track meet, capturing about 1,000 frames of athletes running in action events ranging from 100m sprints to 1600m distance events (a slower-paced event). Overall, I was satisfied with this lens' action AF performance at this event. It is not the best-ever in this regard, but even with an only-moderately-fast AF system, it delivered a solid percentage of in-focus frames.
Note that I'm looking for consistency in the AF tests. Focus calibration is also a key to accurate focusing, but compatibility with the Sigma Dock (more later) ensures that any calibration issues, if they existed, can be easily resolved. Cameras with the autofocus microadjustment feature also have the ability to adjust AF calibration for a lens in-camera. Of course, neither of these calibration options address calibration differences between focus points – only the camera manufacturer's service center is able to make this type of adjustment.
I should note that, when AF inconsistency was shown in the testing, there were generally two similar groups of results. Determining which set of images were the inconsistent ones was a bit of an issue. Also note that very few images in my tests were misfocused more than a small amount. Most could be salvaged by down-sampling modestly.
The 135 Art lens provides a focus distance range selection switch, potentially improving AF performance and reducing AF hunting in situations when focus distance needs fall within a narrower range. Switch settings are Full, 4.92' (1.5m) - ∞ and 2.87' (0.875m) - 4.92' (1.5m). These distance ranges are fixed and not adjustable via the dock (this lens does not have a custom mode switch).
When this lens' focus distances are changed significantly, expect subjects to change size by a noticeable amount. While this attribute is not unusual, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus and anyone critically framing a scene should be aware.
A focus distance window is provided with distance markings. While both ft and m are provided, it is very difficult to see the feet markings due to the light-colored font used. No depth of field scale is provided.
Like the 85 Art lens, the 135 Art lens' manual focus ring is huge, consuming much of the exterior real estate of this lens. The sharply-ribbed, rubber-coated MF ring measures 2.23" (58mm) in length and 3.7" (95mm) in diameter. You will have no problem finding it. Although very large in the hand, the focus ring is very smooth, has no play and has ideal resistance. The 147° of rotation provides manual focusing adjustments slightly favoring fast over precise, though I do not find myself wanting for a longer rotation.
From a minimum focus distance and maximum magnification perspective, the Sigma 135mm Art lens falls into the middle of what available non-macro lenses provide and also in the middle of what 135mm f/2 lenses offer, though the latter lens class is relatively small. At 34.4" (875mm), this lens provides a 0.20x magnification that works nicely for very tight head shots (face shots), smaller to medium-sized products and flowers along with a host of other applications.
|Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens||35.4"||(900mm)||0.14x|
|Nikon 105mm f/2D AF DC Lens||36.0"||(914mm)||0.13x|
|Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens||17.3"||(440mm)||0.50x|
|Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens||35.4"||(900mm)||0.19x|
|Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens||48.0"||(1220mm)||0.14x|
|Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens||31.5"||(800mm)|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||34.4"||(875mm)||0.20x|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.25x|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.25x|
This is the Sigma 135mm Art Lens' minimum focus distance/maximum magnification illustrated:
That this lens remains very sharp even at minimum focus distance is another feather in its cap.
To reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM, mount an extension tube behind this lens. Infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed and while extension tubes will not have as dramatic of an effect when mounted behind a telephoto lens as they do behind a wide angle lens, they can still make enough of a difference to matter, permitting a smaller subject to fill the frame. Sigma does not publish extension tube specs, but expect the maximum magnification to reach about 0.3x with a 12mm ET and about 0.4x with a 25mm tube.
This lens is not compatible with Sigma teleconverters. I tried mounting them – they do not physically fit into the back of this lens.
This lens has no predecessor – there was no Sigma 135mm lens before it. However, in many regards, the 135 Art lens is very similar to the 85 Art lens, shown to the left of the 135 below.
From a visual standpoint, the 135 Art is a shortened 85 Art.
With the Global Vision series, Sigma introduced a modern, classy-looking, tightly-dimensioned, high-quality design for their lenses and those basic design qualities continue to be infused into each new GV lens. These lenses feel as great as they look, a feature that increases their fun-to-use factor.
Did I mention that the MF ring is huge? The size of that ring makes it the predominant exterior feature of this lens. That is a positive attribute of a prime lens, especially with enough barrel space remaining available for grasping the lens behind the ring. The ring is large, but sufficient space remains on the fixed barrel to grasp the lens for use and for mounting/dismounting from the camera with a significant portion of that barrel space mold-ribbed to facilitate this task.
I've already mentioned the focus distance limiter switch and remaining mention is the AF/MF switch that, like the rest of the Art lenses, has a white background indicator when in the AF position. The switches are low profile and not easy to inadvertently change. They crisply click into their positions.
This lens is weather sealed, including a rear gasket seal as seen below.
This is a relatively big lens. A wide aperture 135mm full frame lens requires significantly large lens elements for such a design, but this one is the biggest. Of course, it also has a 1/3 stop wider aperture than the other 135mm options in the following chart and it is only slightly heavier than the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 Lens.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens||16.2 oz||(460g)||3.0 x 2.9"||(75 x 74mm)||58mm||1991|
|Nikon 105mm f/2D AF DC Lens||22.6 oz||(640g)||3.1 x 4.4"||(79 x 111mm)||72mm||1993|
|Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens||24.0 oz||(680g)||3.0 x 4.4"||(76 x 113mm)||67mm||2010|
|Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens||26.5 oz||(750g)||3.3 x 4.4"||(83 x 112mm)||72mm||1996|
|Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens||28.8 oz||(815g)||3.1 x 4.7"||(79 x 120mm)||72mm||1995|
|Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens||29.3 oz||(830g)||3.2 x 4.8"||(82 x 122mm)||77mm||2015|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9 oz||(1130g)||3.7 x 5.0"||(94.7 x 126.2mm)||86mm||2016|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9 oz||(1130g)||4.0 x 4.5"||(101.6 x 114.3mm)||82mm||2017|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens||39.6 oz||(1123g)||3.5 x 4.5"||(89.7 x 115mm)||77mm||2016|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens||32.8 oz||(930g)||3.3 x 4.3"||(84 x 108mm)||77mm||2012|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
In addition to the 135 Art lens being large in your hand, you are going to feel the weight of this lens when using it for long periods of time, though it is not crazy heavy. In use, the inertia provided by the weight makes it easy hold the lens steady. In use on a tripod, this lens can cause even a good tripod head to sag slightly.
Lining up some of the lenses from the above table makes it easier to visualize their size differences.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens to other lenses.
The 135mm Art lens accepts standard 82mm threaded filters. While this filter size is relatively large and larger typically means higher cost, the 82mm size has become quite common and that means potential budgetary savings through filter sharing.
The LH880-03 Lens Hood is included. This is a semi-rigid plastic hood with a ribbed interior to cut reflections. The hood has exterior ribs and a rubberized rear surface to increase grip when attaching/detaching the hood. The front is flat (vs. petal-shaped), enabling the lens to sit upright with the hood installed, ready for use. Reversed, the hood becomes nicely compact.
Typical is for Sigma Art lenses to arrive in a nice, zippered, well-padded nylon case and this one gets the same. This case does not provide a belt loop, but a shoulder strap is included.
Sigma's Global Vision lenses get a classification of "A", "C" or "S", representing a primary Sigma-intended use of "Art", "Contemporary" and "Sports". A full description of these categories can be found in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens press release.
I know, you were waiting for my micro-rant, so ... I won't let you down. Sigma has been introducing some very nice lenses in the Global Vision series, but I'm not a fan of the narrow categorizations. This lens of course is an "Art" lens and as such, it gets an "A" stamped in a classy chrome circle on the lens barrel. While "Art" can definitely be created using this lens, the "A" could also refer to "Action Sports" in this case and the design is currently very "Contemporary" as well. While Sigma intended the letter designations to help photographers select the proper lens for their needs, I don't recommend limiting most of the GV lenses to their letter-designated use.
A great feature of the Global Vision lenses is compatibility with the Sigma Dock. The dock, working in conjunction with the Sigma Optimization Pro software, allows the lens' firmware to be updated (bug fixes, compatibility updates, feature enhancements, etc.) and allows precise autofocus calibration at four distances. FTM focusing can also be disabled/controlled via the dock.
Here are screen grabs showing some of the functionality.
The focus calibration values were set for illustration purposes only.
Just as I said in the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens review, the price of this lens is reaching into the mid-tier of lenses overall, but the incredible image quality it delivers makes the 135mm Art lens a great value. Value is often best determined in comparisons and I'll get to those comparisons next, but there is a surprise when comparing the price of this lens to the Canon and Nikon counterparts. The Sigma is modestly more expensive than the Nikon and considerably more expensive than the Canon option. Of course, the Canon and Nikon lenses are over 20 years older and a modernized version of either of these lenses would be expected to bear a considerably-higher price than the Sigma does. The Sony and Zeiss equivalents are priced considerably-higher than this Sigma lens. The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens' optical performance is comparable to or exceeds the other options and that AF is included gives it a big advantage over a couple of those competing strongly on the optical front. So again, the lens represents a great value.
The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Sony/Minolta and Sigma mounts and the Canon and Sigma versions can be used on a Sony E-mount camera body via the Sigma Mount Converter MC-11. This lens qualifies for Sigma's Mount Conversion Service in case you change your mind later. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses.
Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer electronics and algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Usually a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer via a firmware update, but this cannot be guaranteed. Compatibility with the Sigma USB Dock is risk reducing as Sigma can make dock-compatible lens firmware updates available for download. Sigma USA's 4-year warranty is superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty.
The review lens was acquired retail/online.
Being a good consumer means carefully looking at your options before making a purchase decision.
Of course, if Canon made your camera and there is a Canon "L" lens in the comparison mix, that lens is usually an excellent choice – practically a no-brainer. In this case, there is the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens, a perennial favorite and all-around great-performing lens. As I mentioned earlier, it is more than 20 years older than the Sigma 135 Art Lens and though it is aging very well, it is still an old model.
Looking at the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens vs. Canon 135mm f/2L Lens image quality comparison, we see the Sigma turning in sharper results at f/1.8 than the Canon does at f/2, especially in the periphery of the image circle. While the Canon performs well here, the difference is strong enough to be noticeable. By f/4, the two lenses are more similar in throughout-the-frame sharpness, but the Sigma still holds a slight advantage.
The Sigma has a 1/3 stop max aperture advantage. While f/1.8 is not dramatically wider than f/2, it is an advantage nonetheless. The Canon lacks weather sealing and has one less aperture blade (8 vs. 9), but it is lighter, narrower, has a smaller 72mm filter size and is compatible with Canon's extenders, adding to its versatility. That the Canon is considerably less expensive will not go un-noticed.
While similar in age to the Canon 135 f/2L, the Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens appears a generation or so older. I have not extensively used the Nikon 135 f/2, but the lens we tested did not perform so well in the lab. In the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens vs. Nikon 135mm f/2 Lens image quality comparison, the Sigma handily bests the Nikon. The Nikon is narrower, lighter, has a smaller 72mm filter size and is modestly less expensive. The Sigma again has a 1/3 stop max aperture advantage and shows slightly less distortion. The Sigma has a higher maximum magnification (0.20x vs. 0.14x) that is going to be noticeable for some work including tightly-framed portraits.
At the Sigma 135 Art lens' introduction, the lens to beat was the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens. The recently-prior-introduced Milvus lens utilized the same optical design as its predecessor, the Classic version, and the likely reason for the design carry-over was because it was already awesome. In the anticipated Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens vs. Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 Lens image quality comparison, we see a 50 megapixel sensor struggling to show any differences at f/1.8 vs. f/2. If forced to pick a winner, I'd lean toward the Zeiss, but ... it is better by only the slimmest of margins. At f/2, the Sigma is slightly better in the center of the frame with the Zeiss still having a tiny corner advantage. At f/2.8, determining a winner will make your eyes hurt.
The Zeiss has a longer focus ring rotation, turning 270° vs. the Sigma's 147° rotation. With a maximum magnification of 0.25x, the Zeiss can make subjects larger in the frame (vs. 0.20x). As in all of the comparisons included here, the Sigma has a 1/3 stop max aperture advantage. The Zeiss Milvus 135 is an excellent lens, but that it is considerably more expensive and lacks AF will weigh heavily into the decision process for most.
Those with a tight budget will want to consider the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens. You can buy two of these Samyang lenses and still not spend close to the price of the Sigma. The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art Lens vs. Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens image quality comparison belies the price difference. While the Samyang is not quite as sharp as the Sigma in the wide open aperture comparison, it is not that far off. By f/2.8, the differences are mostly gone, though the Samyang lens has some focus shift to account for at narrower apertures. At f/2, the Samyang has about 1 stop more vignetting than the Sigma has at f/1.8 and the Samyang shows flare more readily. The Sigma has a 1/3 stop max aperture, weather sealing and often highly-useful AF to its advantage.
While zoom lenses typically win the popularity contests, fixed focal length models generally have some strong advantages and the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is a "prime" example. Exceptional image quality, including impressive sharpness and negligible distortion, is right at the top of this lens' advantages. Having the f/1.8 aperture at a telephoto focal length can be a game-changer and there is a special wow factor in the background blur this combination creates.
The 135 Art lens brings more than just great image quality – it is the full package. Great looks, quality design ... perhaps the only missing feature is optical stabilization.
The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is an exceptional portrait photography lens. Even if portraits are not necessarily your thing, this lens may send you seeking portrait opportunities. And, the image quality the 135 Art delivers will cause you to pull it out for any other use you can make 135mm work for. I'm nearly certain that you are going to like this one!
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