Sigma has been challenging the competition with its Global vision line-up. The combination of “no compromise” image quality and fair price is exhibiting quite a bit of pressure on such brands as Canon and Nikon. And the recent launch of Sony E mount lenses will surely disturb Sony’s glass business as well (might simultaneously drive Sony’s mirrorless business by providing true 3rd party lens support). In 2013, I bought my first Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art prime and till this day, it never leaves my camera bag. Since then, I have added Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 Art lenses to my arsenal.
This Saturday, I was eagerly waiting for the postman to deliver my newest toy, the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art. Around noon, I heard a knock on the door and it was the UPS guy with my package from Adorama. As soon as I opened the box, I knew this was no TOY – the lens means business!
First, let’s get it out of the way – the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art should be nicknamed Bokeh “Monster” instead of “Bokeh Master”. This lens is huge – not quite as enormous as the Nikon 200 f/2 but it is still big and heavy. If you use this lens in the field, you might have people come up and ask about it (yes, it happened as soon as I took it out for test shots).
Let’s go through the (not so boring) specs. I will be comparing Sigma’s three prime lenses which are in the mid to short telephoto range. They are best used for portraits, which is what I use them for, but you can obviously shoot whatever you would like.
|Description||85mm f/1.4 Art||105mm f/1.4 Art||135mm f/1.8 Art|
|Lens Construction||14 Elements in 12 Groups||17 Elements in 12 Groups||13 Elements in 10 Groups|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||85cm / 33.5″||100cm / 39.4″||87.5cm / 34.4″|
|Weight||1,130g / 39.9oz||1,645g / 58oz||1,130g / 39.9oz|
By now, I have had some time shooting with all 3 lenses and I can say this from experience – you will NOT be shooting all-day weddings with 105mm f/1.4 Art unless you spend a few hours every day at the gym (I don’t). I will be using this lens for my 1–2 hour portrait and pre-wedding / engagement sessions (and whenever I feel like working out).
If you are thinking of buying any one of these lenses, you can not go wrong with any of them. As we have size and weight out of our way, I can think of three other factors that can help you decide: Price, Aperture, and Focal length.
Price: The cheapest of the bunch is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art – almost $400 (25%) cheaper than the most expensive lens in our list. If the price is your concern, go with the 85mm and you will be happy. Buying the 105mm f/1.4 Art might not give you 25% better images. Comparing the Sigma prices to Canon and Nikon equivalent lenses, you can clearly see that Sigma will definitely give you better bang for your buck (Nikon 105 f/1.4 retails for $2,196.95). Some people might be worried about the value depreciation of 3rd party glass. But rest assured that my 5+ year old Sigma 35 f/1.4 still sells for $550–650 used on eBay )and I paid $799 for it brand new).
Aperture: I am not going to talk numbers and get all technical here – 135mm is f/1.8 vs 85 and 105 both having f/1.4 aperture. All three lenses let in lots of light and will give you creamy bokeh.
Let’s now check out some sample images.
Note: All images are shot with the Nikon D850 in RAW format and then converted to JPEG with minimal correction for exposure and exported with ‘camera portrait’ profile in Adobe Lightroom 7.4.
Blind Test: Before reading the description which image you like the best?
From left to right we have: Sigma 85mm f/1.4, 105mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 Art.
In all 3 shots, I tried to keep the exact same frame by changing my position from the model. No lens correction was applied. You can clearly see how each focal length and aperture affect the background and distort the subject.
Let’s take a look at another example:
Again, the sequence from left to right is: Sigma 85mm f/1.4, 105mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 Art.
Focal Length: Changing focal length can have a dramatic effect on your pictures. In our case, all three lenses are under short to medium telephoto range which is best suited for portraiture. As you can see in the first image samples, changing focal length from short (85mm) to long (135mm) makes the subject look slightly thinner or less distorted in the middle of the frame. This can be somewhat corrected with lens profiles in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. As of now, there is no lens profile available for the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art, but it is just a matter of time – it will probably be updated soon. In the meantime, you can create your own lens profiles or experiment with the correction sliders.
Another aspect of the image which will be affected by the focal length is the size of the background relative to the subject. As you can see from the above comparison, in the first image (135mm), the background appears larger compared to the last image (85mm), where we can see a lot more of the background elements.
The last effect of the focal length is reach. Zoom lenses have their place in my collection. Most of the weddings and events I shot with my Nikon 24–70mm f/2.8, which covers all the “run and gun” situations. But I always carry a prime lens on my second body or have the second shooter with a tally prime lens. For almost a year, I have been using either 85mm or 135mm on my second body, but it looks like the 105mm will fill that perfect middle position for me.
Here are some sample images where the subject and camera locations are static, and the only variable is the lens:
From left to right: Sigma 85mm f/1.4, 105mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 Art.
Image Quality: All three lenses are super sharp with minimum vignetting and negligible chromatic aberration. If I had a gun to my head and I had to choose strictly based on Image Quality, the Sigma 105mm would be my top choice due to its amazing sharpness, least chromatic aberration and the least amount of vignetting thanks to its optical design comprised of a total of 17 elements and a huge (and I mean HUUUGE) front element.
From my initial impression based on using the lens in the field, I can say with confidence that Sigma has a winner in their hand. If you are in the market for a portrait telephoto lens and don’t mind spending $1,600 on a lens, look no further – the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art is a stunner.
Which photos do you like in the blind test? Please let me know in the comments section below. Happy clicking!