So here we are once again in the continuing tradition of pushing the latest and greatest Sigma lenses through their paces to give you real world impressions of how these lenses will work and function on a day to day basis as a freelance photographer. This time we have Sigma’s NEW 135F1.8 which competes directly with Canon’s 135F2L, and Nikons 135F2DC. I DO have a friend with the Canon 135F2 and have shot with it before to know that the rumors about it are true in that it’s fantastically sharp and fast. I have no experience with the Nikon 135F2DC but I know that it’s from 1990. I guess Nikon figures why mess with a good thing, but I don’t know as I’ve never shot one. Going into the details of Sigma’s NEW 135F1.8 we are hot off the heals of Sigma’s 85F1.4 ART which last I checked is the current Benchmark of sharpness for a lens according to various sources on the internet. I know some folks think DXO Mark specifically has a Nikon Bias, but if you look at the Canon version of the lens on their website it still EQUALS the Zeiss Otus, which is significantly more expensive. Making a new Sharpness Benchmark is going to be a tough act to follow, but Sigma has been killing it the last couple years so I have no worries that she will perform admirably. Now that I have set the stage for where we came from, lets get into where we are going. The NEW Sigma 135F1.8.
(Image Courtesy Roberts Camera’s website)
As always, I will now mention that Neither Sigma nor Roberts is paying me for this review. Roberts Camera was kind enough to loan me a Canon 1Dx for this testing, be sure to visit their website if you need to rent some gear, or if you want to pre-order the Sigma 135F1.8 Art. (Or anything else for that matter). Sigma asked if I would review the lens for all of you, and to give them some feedback and I am beyond excited to do so as always. On that note, lets get to this.
The construction of the NEW Sigma 135F1.8 is on par with everything Sigma has been doing for the last few years. One thing that Sigma has just started doing is adding the weather sealing to the mount on ALL of their lenses. It’s just a little rubber ring so why not right? Sigma agrees, so now ALL of their contemporary and ART lenses come with the weather sealed mount gasket just like the Sports lenses always have. It’s a nice touch and as a full time pro I appreciate it. The lens itself is about the same size as Sigma’s previously mentioned 85F1.4; almost exactly in fact. The hood is a little larger and is circular instead of your standard Petal design. I’m not sure if that’s because of the 135’s field of view or to save cost. This is despite the fact that my 70-200 has a petal hood, but Canon’s 135 and Nikon’s 135 both have the same straight style hood so I’m guessing it just goes with the territory of being a 135 prime. Sigma’s 135 is a little fatter than Canon’s 135F2 and I’m betting that’s because the Sigma is a F1.8. It’s also got a 82mm filter thread, vs the Canon’s 77 likely for the same reason.
As all Sigma’s lenses it mounts firmly to the camera. The Canon 1Dx I was using was able to secure focus on several AF points in all but one occasion in the week that I had it. In that instance the camera/lens hunted significantly more than I would have liked but I was in light so low that I was shooting at 1/100th F1.8 at 25,000ISO, and I was hoping for a Silhouette being created by a non constant light source. I can NOT blame the lens for this, but the shooting conditions I was attempting to make an image at. Do I think my Nikon D5 would have faired better in this condition? Probably not, but I threw a hail mary for a cool shot, it didn’t work out. Welcome to photography. Once the light came back I was still able to come away with some images in a very low light setting without too much trouble.
(Canon 1Dx, 12,800ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8. 1/100th@F1.8).
I’ll admit, I do not currently own a 135 Prime lens so reviewing this lens required a bit of a mental adjustment for me. I love the range, but I still needed a bit more runway than I am used to. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just more a mental change for me than anything else. That said, once I got into the right mindset the lens was a breeze to work with. The AF was snappy over all, and when the focus limiter was set it was super duper fast. (You can set the limiter to be the full range, 1.5m-infinity, and also .875m-1.5m if you know your subject isn’t going anywhere). The close focus distance on this lens is especially good. For a 135 I honestly would have figured that 1.5m to be the close focus distance, but no this thing focuses as close as 34.4 inches. With a distance like that even stopping down from F1.8 to F5.6 still leaves you with a TON of bokeh.
The Depth of field is crazy shallow as you can see some of the twig in the above photo is out of focus even at F5.6. For closer inspection the FULL resolution file is HERE. Something else you’ll notice is how sharp both of the images are. Both of them. BOTH of them. Look at the one at F1.8. At the beginning of this article I mentioned that according to the internet Sigma’s 85F1.4 is the current benchmark of sharpness. In my opinion Sigma’s new 135F1.8 is equally as sharp. If not Sharper. I know; I know. Big statement but after a week I can’t get over how sharp the darn thing is. You’ll just have to get your hands on one and try it, but I’m telling you; this thing is beyond wicked sharp.
(Canon 1Dx, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8, 1/8000th@F1.8. Phottix Indra500 to camera right with a Phottix 27″ luna folding beauty dish, triggered by a Phottix ODIN1 set to TTL-1 in the Camera hot shoe).
That’s a photo of Brandon. Brandon works at Roberts Camera and before taking this he had an even more epic beard than seen in the photo. Unfortunately Brandon to give it a good cutting back thanks to an incident involving some Airline Adhesive. Seems oddly specific I know and it’s a long story I’m told, but either way how about a super close up of Brandon’s still somewhat epic beard?
Here’s a screenshot of the Adobe RAW plugin so you can see I’ve not sharpened this at all. 25 is the default setting. These are the results that I consistently saw out of the Sigma 135F1.8. Sure the depth of field is super shallow, and of course there were slight depth of field incidents where one eye was in focus and another eye wasn’t even if I swore the subject was facing me directly etc, but with depth of field this shallow it’s bound to happen. I know some folks are going to say, how does it shoot stopped down? What about at F10? F16? It shoots just fine…. I don’t buy lenses like this to shoot at F8 or F10; the only reason I would buy a lens like this is to shoot at F1.8. If I wanted to shoot at F10, I’ll use my 70-200, or even a 70-300 because even at F10 those lenses should perform rather well. Regardless, for the sake of reviewing here we go.
(Canon 1Dx, 1600ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8. 1/500th@F16).
Whew. Back to the real stuff. I saw on another site commenters were complaining about this lens’s bokeh. Let me speak to that point and say that I thought it looked great. I don’t know what the commenters were expecting? Donuts like out of a Mirror lens? Stars? Instagram-ish effects? Dunno, but in reality what you see in your depth of field is directly related to what is in your background. That’s why when I took my buddy Brad’s photo, the complicated lines created by the warehouse we were in became very visually interesting.
(Canon 1Dx, 100ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8, 1/250th@F1.8. Phottix Indra500 to camera right above Brad shot through a 46″ Octabox set to TTL. Single Phottix Indra500 set to 1/16th about 100 feet behind Brad behind two rows of metal warehouse racks with a FULL CTO. Both lights triggered by a Phottix ODIN1 transmitter on the Camera Hot shoe.)
For those still in disbelief of my sharpness claim here is a 100% crop of the shot above. Even if you are to shoot very close up the sharpness holds, and the depth of field can be manipulated to your advantage a bit with a little bit of light in the background.
(Canon 1Dx, 100ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8. 1/250th@F1.8. Phottix Indra500 behind brad about 200 feet with a full CTB over it’s reflector set to 1/8th. Main light was a Phottix Indra500 to camera right above Brad with a 46″ Octabox set to TTL. Both lights triggered by a Phottix ODIN1 Transmitter from the Camera hot shoe).
I know there are those out there that think I am a Sigma Fanboy, but lets look at the photos I’ve shared so far. I can’t help but think that this lens is a hit out of the park and it’s changed my ‘wish’ list for Sigma. Next prime I want to see from Sigma will be a 200F1.8. Who knows if it’s in their road map or not, but if they were able to do all these things with this 135F1.8, and their 85F1.4 is fast enough to shoot fast action (I shot fencing with it a few weeks ago and it totally rocked) then why on earth not go for the throat and make a lens that Canon once had an abandoned, and would compete with Nikon’s 200F2 as one of the sharpest telephoto lenses ever. On that note, the last thing I did with this 135 was to take it on an exceptionally unscientific test of action. To shoot Hockey.
(Canon 1Dx, 1600ISO, NEW Sigma 135F1.8. 1/1250th@F1.8)
This was a terrible test. This is not because the Sigma couldn’t handle the hockey; far from it in fact. If the Lexan hadn’t been there I’d venture to guess we would be able to read the text on the puck in that frame. The problem was that 1/4″ of Lexan that gets beaten on by hockey players pretty regularly. The Lexan sucked a lot of the 100% sharpness life out of it. The Lexan totally negated the fact that the lens is so stinking sharp. Did it track? Yes it did. Was the lexan a major problem for my image quality? Yes it was. Again; this was a terrible test; but it was what I had available during my time with the lens. Despite that shortcoming though, I still got some useable frames.
(Tuxedo in a cardboard box. Are camera settings important at this point?)
Did you seriously think you’d get out of this without a cat photo? For real? So there we have it. If you ask me Sigma has another winner on their hands with this 135F1.8. I am impressed beyond my expectations to the point where once my loaner lens goes back in the morning and my schedule slows down a bit I’ll likely put my name on the waiting list for one with Roberts Camera. I’ll be honest and say I don’t know how much better Sigma can make the lens. This is a relatively unscientific test, but in the week that I’ve had the lens I’ve shot about 90gb of stuff. All of these things show that the lens is fully capable of handling anything I’ve thrown at it. I did have one or two issues with the Canon 1Dx but those aren’t at all Sigma related. (Things like the black focus points or the fact that the buttons are not back lit…).
If the review here makes you think “hey I’d like one of those, it looks super sweet!”. Call or email Robert’s Camera. Robert’s Camera will treat you right and I buy 95% of all my gear there. The Sigma 135F1.8 is expected to be $1399 to buy when it comes out, which is a bit more than the Canon and Nikon equivalents but Technology trumps and after shooting with the Sigma I can tell you which one is on the top of my list. More soon.
On a total side note, about a month ago I started an instagram! It’s a work in progress but give her a look yea? Thanks!