Sigma 135mm F/1.8 Art Lens Review
Sigma Lenses have become an incredibly popular choice in many photographers camera bags over the last few years, and for good reason. They've created a very impressive lineup of prime lenses which offer a lot of quality at a fairly competitive price point.
Despite the fact that every photographer I know seems to be in love their Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art, I've simply never had a chance to really try it out. That said, when Sigma announced their 135 1.8, I couldn't wait to give it a shot. Canon's 135mm F/2L lens was my absolute favorite lens in the Canon lineup. While I don't regret my switch to Nikon, the lack of a comparable 135 was something of a disappoint. I've tried Nikon's 135 f/2, and its just not on the same level, in my opinion.
My first impression of this lens upon pulling it out of the box: WOW this thing is heavy. While not impractical, the weight and size of this lens really caught me by surprise. Canon's offering feels lightweight and compact in comparison. I honestly don't mind the weight though. For me it just adds to the impression of quality which is also evident in the materials used. The large rubber focus ring and sturdy construction definitely inspire confidence. The weather sealed gasket on the rear of the lens is also a welcome addition!
My only (very small) complaint about the build of the lens is the ease of which the switches are changed. A few times when pulling the Sigma out of my bag to swap lenses, I mounted it to my camera only to find the AF system on my D810 not engaging. This was due to the fact that the AF switch on the lens had been switched to Manual Focus while in my bag. This is certainly not a deal breaker and its something thats easily remedied in a split-second if you're aware of it, but I still found it worth noting.
The most important aspect of any lens of course is of course the image quality. In this regard, the Sigma 135 is pretty incredible. The 135mm focal length already provides a very unique look, add to that a 1.8 maximum aperture with great sharpness and contrast and you're given the ability to make some truly beautiful images.
The weekend I picked up the lens I was lucky enough to have 5 Senior Portrait sessions booked, so I feel like I really got to put this lens through its paces in a variety of environments. Regardless of location, I found that I was able to create beautifully dreamy backgrounds out of what otherwise appeared to be busy and cluttered city streets. I've shot the majority of my sessions this year with a the Nikon 85mm 1.8G, and I find I have to be a bit more conscious of my background when I shoot with the shorter focal length.
Shooting on the 36 megapixel D810, I found that the Sigma 135 resolved tons of detail, allowing me to be very creative and flexible with cropping and reframing portraits in post if need be.
Autofocus was overall accurate and reliable. I wouldn't necessarily call it slow, but its also by no means the fastest lens I've used. It was perfectly suited for my mostly stationary senior portraits, and I imagine it would also be perfectly capable of a bride walking down the aisle. As someone who has shot a lot of indoor sports in the past, I don't think this would be my first choice If I absolutely needed to capture a sharp image of fast action, but the gorgeous image quality certainly makes up for a few potentially missed shots in my opinion.
Of the 5 portrait sessions I shot in the course of my first weekend with the lens, its worth noting that 2-3 images from each session were noticeably back-focused. I'm not certain that I can blame the lens on these missed shots though, as a 1.8 aperture at 135 results in a razor thin depth of field. You'll certainly need to be a little more aware of your shooting technique when shooting with this lens as compared to something like a 70-200 F/4.
Sigma should be applauded for their innovative and unique lens lineup which they've very thoutfully developed over the last several years. The 135 1.8 Art is absolutely a worthy addition to the Art Lens lineup, and provides something that none of the first party camera and lens manufacturers offer photographers.
While its size and incredibly shallow focus plane may be a little intimidating to some, portrait photographers will be rewarded with stunning images if they take the time to master it.
At $1399 retail, I think this lens is also a very nice value. It sits right in between most companies 70-200 F/4 and 2.8 in terms of price, and the performance is arguably better. Wedding and Portrait photographers looking to add a unique tool with equally unique (in the best way) images to their repertoire should most definitely consider giving this lens a rental or purchase.
CLICK ANY IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE - ALL IMAGES SHOT FROM F/1.8 - F/2.8