Let me start this off by saying I have a love/hate relationship with Sigma ART lenses. Not only that, but I've never been a huge fan of long focal lengths like the 135 for anything other than shooting ceremonies. I haven't shot with a 70-200 in over 5 years, which I know most of you reading this probably have in your bag right now. So, I had a pretty good idea of how this review would go well before I even touched the Sigma 135.
When I primarily shot with Nikon, I loved the Sigma ART line. A few of them even ended up replacing my more expensive Nikon lenses. I wrote reviews on the 24mm and 35mm and spoke very highly of them. Then, I made the switch over to Canon with the release of the 5D MarkIV and I have had nothing but issues. Issues that other Canon shooters have expressed as well. This is where my love for the Sigma ART lenses started to fade, and fade fast. So, why did I decide to test the Sigma 135 ART? To be honest, my curiousity got the best of me.
ART LENSES ON CANON BODIES
When I made the switch over to Canon, I traded in all my Nikon mount Sigma ART lenses for the same Canon versions. The first copies had pretty noticeable inconsistent AF issues that I wasn't used to seeing before and it frustrated the shit out of me. Enough so that I traded them both in for new models hoping that maybe I received a bad batch... who knows. After calibrating them (mentioning this since I know someone will ask if I calibrate my lenses) to each camera body, and testing them, there was no change. Same issues. I knew it couldn't be my 5D MarkIV bodies since all of my Canon lenses gave me no issues. The AF inconsistencies of the ART lenses were hard to ignore.
I really didn't want to spend the extra money for the Canon 24L and 35LII if I didn't have to, but after months of being disappointed, I honestly had no choice. So, I tested the ART lenses head to head with the Canon glass (which will be another review down the road when I get around to it) and it was no contest. The Canon glass had a significantly higher hit rate. The Canon 35LII was to my surprise, and still is, one of the most impressive lenses I've shot with and a better lens than the Sigma 35 all-around. Enough of a difference that I spent the extra money and bought two copies of it, one for myself and another for my wife. Once she tested the two head to head herself, she refused to use the Sigma ever again. I don't care how close the two lenses are in IQ, if you can't hit the focus it simply doesn't matter. I know... there are many of you reading this saying that you love your Sigma 35 ART. If you have a good copy and it is consistently nailing the focus, that's awesome. After two copies of the 24 and 35 with the same issues, I wasn't going to try a third. Sorry.
Then came the release of the 85mm ART, which I had been looking forward to testing since Canon didn't have a 1.4 lens at the time. I received the lens early to test, calibrated it immediately to each body like always, and after a single shoot I boxed it up and sent it back. I found the new 85 ART to be even more inconsistent with AF than the 35 was, and it was big and heavy. I was tempted to send it back to B&H and ask for another copy, but having already experienced the same issue with other ART lenses, I had no desire. The much cheaper Canon 85mm f/1.8 nailed every shot, while the Sigma 85 missed 2 out of 5 shots I took. I'm not even talking about moving subjects, I'm simply referring to shots of the groom standing still as I moved around getting different compositions. It would simply be off, not sharp, slightly missing. Other times nailing the focus like it should. I did put the 85 ART back on a tripod to check the calibration, to all 4 bodies, and it was spot on.
Ok, so let's get on with it. Is the 135 any different or plagued with the same old issues?? Hang with me, I'm getting there...
That's right, I decided to test the new 135 ART even though I was disappointed with the Sigma 85. I already own the very popular Canon 135mm f/2L, which I love, so I figured it would be a good test having them go head to head. Maybe, just maybe, Sigma would get it right and have a winner for Canon shooters. I would hope so since it costs more than the Canon version... which is a first for Sigma. So, does it out perform the Canon 135L?
It did. Would I go and trade in your 135L? It depends. I'll get to that.
For Nikon shooters, the Sigma 135 is a lens that I wouldn't hesitate to scoop up. I can honestly say that if I was still shooting Nikon there's no doubt that I would have pre-ordered this one. Not only do I believe that Sigma ART lenses simply work better on Nikon bodies, the only other option at this focal length is over 20 years old. The Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D is a solid lens, it's just old and in dire need of an update. It's actually been considered more of a special purpose portrait lens that is known for being soft wide open with a lot of CA.
The odd thing about this lens is that because of testing it, I have become a bigger fan of the 135 focal length. I'm typically not a big fan of compression, and the only time I ever use a lens longer than a 50 is during the ceremony or for headshots. When testing lenses, I always try to shoot with them as much as I can, whether it's a focal length I typically shoot with or not. The more I shot with the Sigma 135 ART, the more I liked it. I found myself really liking the 135 focal length for much more than just wedding ceremonies.
As you can see from the sample images, there aren't many ceremony photos. After really testing out the AF, noticing that the AF was surprisingly very much consistent and accurate, I found myself shooting it much more than I've ever shot the 135 focal length. It has a best in class minimum focus distance, which made it an awesome lens for shooting close up with little distortion and buttery smooth out of focus rendering. Something that's not very surprising for Sigma ART lenses, the 135 is extremely sharp even wide open. It also gains 1/3 of a stop over the Canon 135L with its f/1.8 aperture. Sure, that's not much of a difference to the f/2 of the Canon lens, but as you can see in the samples below, it's enough to add just a little, but noticable, boost of light.
After 6 weeks of shooting with the Sigma 135 ART, several weddings and other shoots, I didn't box this one up and ship it back. This one stayed. I still own both the Sigma and the Canon, but the Canon will be going up for sale soon.
- Fast and accurate AF (FINALLY)
- 1/3 stop faster than competitors
- Extremely sharp wide open
- Beautiful OOF rendering (Better than the Canon 135L)
- Handles harsh backlighting exceptionally well
- It's big and heavy (bigger and heavier than the Canon 135L)
- More expensive (Sigma is $1399 and the Canon is $999)
- Rubber focus grip popped off while pulling out of bag
HEAD 2 HEAD
So, how does it compare to the Canon 135L? For the first time since switching to Canon, a Sigma ART lens has officially out performed the Canon equivalent. Before the 135 ART came along, Canon has won hands down every time. The Canon 35mm f/1.4L II is one of the best lenses I've ever shot with, on any system. Many were shocked with its hefty price tag, but it's worth every penny and is an all around better lens than the Sigma 35 ART. This time, Sigma wins.
The Sigma 135 is hands down my favorite Sigma ART series lens. Not only because it hasn't shown any of the AF inconsistencies that all the others have shown on my Canon bodies, but also because it beats the Canon 135L all around. It wins in speed, sharpness, OOF rendering, chromatic aberration, and surprisingly... AF accuracy.
Should you trade in your Canon 135L for the Sigma? Well, it all comes down to the size and weight to be honest. I'm not a fan of carrying around big heavy gear, which I catch a lot of flak for since I'm a bigger guy, but the Sigma 135's size hasn't really bothered me. If you are considering trading in your Canon lens, I would at least try the Sigma first to see the size difference first hand. I wouldn't worry about anything else, the Sigma beats it.
In the samples above and below, you can the difference in sharpness, OOF rendering, and the 1/3 advantage in aperture.
Well, here we are, the conclusion of a review that went nothing like I expected it to. The Sigma 135 ART is by far the most impressive lens in the ART series line-up. Its IQ outperforms the Canon 135L, and for the first time with an ART lens since switching over to Canon, the 135 is consistently accurate with its AF. Since there are those who say that they love their Sigma ART lenses that I have had nothing but inconsistencies with, I wanted to at least try to rule out the idea that I may have just lucked out with a good copy of the 135. I had B&H send me a 2nd copy and same results. Could there still be a few bad eggs in there, probably, but two lenses giving me the same impressive results is good enough for me to make the purchase.
The Sigma ART lenses are popular enough that most of you reading this have either shot with one in the past or currently own one. Since that's that case, most of you know whether or not you like the Sigma ART line. Rather than go on any further, I'll leave you with a handful of fully edited shots that you can click on to view closer. Any questions, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading!