Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art
Lab Test Results
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April 14, 2017
by Andrew Alexander
The 135mm prime lens is a long-time favorite of portrait photographers, combining the compression of a telephoto lens with the thin depth-of-field of a fast aperture, resulting in really blurred-out backgrounds. Sigma's release of the 135mm ƒ/1.8 DG HSM "Art" is a timely and smartly-planned lens: current offerings by Canon and Nikon in this focal length are running a bit long in the tooth, released in 1996 and 1990, respectively.
The lens itself is relatively simple in design: 13 elements in 10 groups with two big FLD ("Fluorite Low Dispersion") elements and two big SLD ("Special Low Dispersion") elements. Available in Sigma, Canon and Nikon mounts, the lens can also be adapted to fit the Sony E-mount.
The lens accepts 82mm filters, ships with a round lens hood, and is available now for $1,399.
In a word: sharp. A few more words: absolutely sharp, one of the sharpest lenses we've ever tested. Even used wide open at ƒ/1.8, on a full-frame body, the lens produced virtually no corner softness. With a lens at this level of quality, the only reason you want to stop down is to direct how much depth-of-field you want in your image; there is no need to consider the effect on sharpness.
Once you stop down to ƒ/16, we do see some light softness across the entire frame due to diffraction, but then at that point, you're probably not using the lens as it was intended to be used -- wide open, every time, all the time.
The Sigma 135mm ƒ/1.8 DG HSM Art lens employs two types of low-dispersion lens elements, which demonstrably reduce the impact of chromatic aberration. There is a light color fringing that occurs when the lens is used at its widest aperture, showing a slight fringe of purple in areas of high contrast. Otherwise, the lens is remarkable and does not show signs of longitudinal chromatic aberration, which are sometimes present in lenses featuring very wide apertures.
The Sigma 135mm ƒ/1.8 shows some slight corner shading when used with its wider apertures on a full-frame camera body: at ƒ/1.8 on the D810E, we noted extreme corners that were two-thirds of a stop darker than the center. In other cases, corner shading is negligible.
The lens shows relatively no distortion.
The Sigma 135mm lens autofocuses very quickly, racking from closest focus to infinity in about 1 second, thanks to its electronic Hyper Sonic Motor. In basic usage, autofocus was fast, locked onto targets easily and didn't hunt while focusing. Small changes in focus happen very quickly, and the AF motor is almost silent. Attached 82mm filters won't rotate during focus operations.
While the Sigma 135mm "Art" isn't designed as a macro lens, it offers surprisingly good macro performance for its class. That said, there are certainly better lenses for this purpose. The 135mm ƒ/1.8 offers 0.2x magnification, with a minimum close-focusing distance of just under three feet.
Build Quality and Handling
The Sigma 135mm ƒ/1.8 Art lens follows other recent Sigma lenses in terms of build quality, construction and design. The lens features their characteristic sleek, matte black finish and thickly gripped zoom and focus rings. The barrel itself is constructed out of Sigma's proprietary Thermally Stable Composite material, which allows for much tighter manufacturing precision compared to standard polycarbonate plastics. The lens, therefore, feels great in the hand. The build quality is excellent and feels very solid.
However, you don't get this kind of performance without some serious weight. For a prime lens, the Sigma is surprisingly heavy, tipping the scales at over 40 ounces. This is much heavier than both the Canon 135mm ƒ/2 and the Nikon 135mm ƒ/2 lenses, though for the performance, it is unquestionably worth it. The lens features nine curved diaphragm blades to make up its aperture, which produce buttery-smooth results for bokeh.
The lens features two switches, the first used to activate or deactivate autofocus on the lens. The second is a focus limiter, which has three positions: 0.875m to 1.5m (a typical portrait distance: 3 to 5 feet), 1.5m to infinity, or FULL, where there is no focus limitation. A distance scale is provided with ranges indicated in feet and meters: there is no depth-of-field scale, nor is there an infrared index marker.
The focusing ring on the lens is generously-sized at 1 7/8" wide, composed of rubber with a deeply ribbed texture. The ring has soft stops that let you know you have reached either end of the focusing spectrum, and autofocus results can be overridden by just turning the ring at any time. Also, employing autofocus does not turn the focusing ring, making the experience quite seamless.
The lens ships with the LH880-03 round lens hood. The hood is bayonet mounted, reversing and attaching to the lens for storage.
Nikon 135mm ƒ/2 AF DC ~$1,400
Released in the early nineties, the Nikon 135mm ƒ/2 offers its unique defocus control technology. We haven't tested this lens, but can say that it uses an older mechanical autofocus technology rather than Sigma's hypersonic motor.
Canon 135mm ƒ/2L USM ~$1,000
Canon offers two flavors of 135mm lenses: the regular ƒ/2L, and a soft-focus ƒ/2.8. The ƒ/2L lens is almost as sharp as the Sigma at wide apertures: stopped-down to ƒ/4, they are quite similar in character.
Sony 135mm ƒ/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* ~$1,800
The most expensive of the 135mm lenses, Sony's offering matches the Sigma for its aperture capability, but Sigma knocks the Sony out of the park with its sharpness. On a full-frame A900 the Sony 135mm has to stop down to ƒ/8 to achieve the same edge-to-edge sharpness the Sigma achieves at ƒ/2.
Carl Zeiss 135mm ƒ/2 APO Sonnar T* ~$1,500
We haven't tested the Carl Zeiss 135mm, but Zeiss lenses are renowned for their sharpness. In this case however, you are also forgoing autofocus as the lens does not come equipped with it.
The Sigma 135mm ƒ/1.8 DG HSM "Art" is one of the sharpest lenses we've ever tested. It's not an inexpensive lens, but for what you get -- great build quality, outstanding sharpness, little to no chromatic aberration, and almost zero distortion -- the lens is worth every penny, and destined to become a modern classic.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art
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