An Incredibly Big Sigma Lens For Even Bigger Sensors

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens
Out shooting street with the 135 attached to an a7R

Well, it just so happens I have a max-resolution lens in on demo that performs wonderfully on a first-gen a7R, and can’t wait to see what the Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art will do on the new Sony a7R III. I can only guess Sigma released the lens anticipating the sensors in the latest Sony, the Nikon D850 and whatever else the future of photography holds.

Shooting with the Sigma 135mm F/1.8 Art lens felt like I was going places, because the lens imparts a sense of creativity as if what you hold in your hand will deliver something special.

It’s not just the weight of the glass, the heft, but the bigger than an elephant’s eye front element, which Sigma describes as “incredibly big.”

It draws you in like a looking glass, and strongly indicates it will capture at extremely high mega resolutions. A 42-megapixel resolution is traditionally for portrait work, but the Sony a7R III is fast enough for use in all situations and with stunning results.

While 135s are usually categorized as portrait lenses for studios, I took it to the streets on a bike commuter story assignment for Bike Hugger and then out for a drink at a taphouse just north of downtown Seattle. Making craft beer for a decade, there’s always a cast of characters coming and going at Naked City, pausing to taste the season’s freshest brew.

What you need to know is, yes, the 135 is a perfect portrait lens rivaling only the 85, and is one of the sharpest Sigma has ever developed. And, it’s a great low/mid-range telephoto for shooting action, as I do on the side of the trail often when the lighting isn’t perfect.

As you can see in the shots, the bright aperture allows for more creative choices, in a light that was changing by the second when I started at sunrise. What’s going on is that the extra focal length matched with a minimum focus distance of around three feet allows the compression of the longer focal length with the larger aperture to create some truly amazing images with distinct separation from the background. Either on the side of a trail during the morning commute or at a blue-collar bar, I was able to pull focus away from distracting elements. My subjects were as sharp as the starting time of the meetings it seemed the commuters were hurrying to or for the shift workers when the clock struck 5.

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

Considering what Sony released today (the D850 before that, too), I’d have about 3x faster subject and Eye AF tracking performance, with 10 fps and 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization. As I explained in posts about Kando, the intent of Sony’s cameras is to heighten the moment so you can get your best shot with the technology doing most of the work.

This generation of cameras is doing even more of the heavy lifting, allowing a photographer to shoot in pretty much all conditions with in-focus subjects. With cameras and lenses this good, you should expect not to spend any time fixing chromatic aberration, fringe or sharpening edges.

Sigma’s newly developed motor drives the elements, and on another shoot, I’m sure it wouldn’t disappoint with a camera as fast as the D850 or a7R III. It’s worth noting, I shot handheld, and when the camera presented me with subjects like the urban fishermen on a Duwamish River pier, my intentions were clarified as the fishing pole came into view from a busy port background.

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

The man at a bar taking a drink, I guess, was midway through a long story about his time in this city, and I was reminded that 135 is a focal length first introduced with Leica in 1931. Ever since then, it’s not a lens considered for snapshots, but that’s where I felt it worked best. The smoothness was reminiscent of Sigma’s Cine lenses, which I’ve also shot with; unlike that first Leica, there’s no softness at the edges.

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

Scanning a scene, I noticed how well the focus transitioned from a dramatic perspective in a long shot across the bridge to a close-up as a cyclist adjusted his glasses or the barkeep pulled a beer from the taps. Unlike the 85, you’re forced to step back a bit and consider the background when composing the scene.

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

Parsing the extensive details in Sony’s announcement, I remembered composing these 135-based scenes and realized my street process could become even more creative because the stabilization has been fine-tuned to support the high-res shooting capacity, while the low-vibration shutter reduces vibration and image blur in all modes, including high-speed shooting.

Considering the future of photography, Sony and Nikon this year offered photographers a new class of cameras that combines speed and resolution.

That’s worth celebrating with a fancy cocktail at the Italian joint in my neighborhood.

Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM Art lens

Announced in February, the Sigma 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM is shipping now for $1,399. The Sony a7R III ships next month for $3,200. The Sony a7R I shoot with is still available for $1,898.

You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger

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