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South Jersey wedding photographer Jay Cassario blog. Writer for SLR Lounge and Shotkit.com. 

The Sigma 135 ART - Hands On Review

Jay Cassario

INTRO

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.

5D MarkIV + SIgma 135mm - 1/320 - ISO640 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV + SIgma 135mm - 1/320 - ISO640 - f/1.8

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.


20 Image Panorama (Brenizer Method)

THE SIGMA 85 ART

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. 


Canon 135L (LEFT) / Sigma 135 ART (RIGHT)

Canon 135L (LEFT) / Sigma 135 ART (RIGHT)

The Sigma 135

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.

5D MarkIV + Sigma 135ART - 1/3200 - ISO100 - f/1.8

CROP

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.

5D MarkIV + Sigma 135 ART 

5D MarkIV + Sigma 135 ART 

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.

Canon 135L (LEFT) / Sigma 85ART (RIGHT)

Canon 135L (LEFT) / Sigma 85ART (RIGHT)

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. 

Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8

Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8

Canon 135L @ f/2

Canon 135L @ f/2

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. 

THE GOOD

- 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

RAW FILE - Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8

CROP

THE BAD

- 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


5D MarkIV + SIgma 135mm - 1/320 - ISO100 - f/1.8

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.

Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8

Canon 135L @ f/2

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. 

Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8 

Canon 135L @ f/2

Sigma CROP

Canon CROP

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. 

Sigma 135 ART @ f/1.8

Sigma CROP

Canon 135L @f/2

Canon CROP


CONCLUSION

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!

5D MarkIV - 1/1250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/3200 - ISO100 - f/1.8

Canon 5D MarkIV + Sigma 135ART shot wide open

Canon 5D MarkIV + Sigma 135ART shot wide open

5D MarkIV - 1/1250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/1250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/1600 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/640 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/640 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/1250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/1250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/250 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/3200 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/4000 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/640 - ISO100 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/250 - ISO2000 - f/1.8

5D MarkIV - 1/250 - ISO1600 - f/1.8

(Nailed focus on bridesmaids walking down the aisle wide open)

5D MarkIV - 1/4000 - ISO100 - f/1.8 

5D MarkIV - 1/4000 - ISO100 - f/1.8 

The First Narrows Workshop

Jay Cassario

BTS DRONE FOOTAGE

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas...

Unless it happens to be a conversation between three friends late one night in a Vegas hotel room during WPPI. Three friends with a crazy idea that sounded more like a bad joke: An Aussie, a guy from Georgia, and a very handsome looking fella from New Jersey walk into a bar. The Aussie yells out, the three of us should team up for a workshop. The guy from Georgia said that sounds great, where should we do it? The very smart and handsome fella from Jersey responded with, how about Maine? All 3 agreed, shook hands, then changed the subject. None of them thinking it would ever actually happen.

Until it did. 

(LEFT) James Day (MIDDLE) Bud Johnson (RIGHT) Jay Cassario 

(LEFT) James Day (MIDDLE) Bud Johnson (RIGHT) Jay Cassario 

While it didn't go down quite like that, the Narrows Workshop idea did start late one night during WPPI. Myself, James Day, and Bud Johnson really wanted to team up and host a workshop together. Not only are we close friends from across the globe, we are each very successful in this tough industry. While each of us shoot a little differently, run our businesses a little differently, the heart and soul of our success has been putting our clients first.

twisted-oaks-studio-thenarrows-photos-DB-52.jpg

We ultimately wanted to offer a unique experience, in a remote location, that wasn't already very popular and overdone for wedding workshops. So, how did we end up hosting it in Maine? Well, that idea also came about during that same Vegas trip. Actually, the very next morning.

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

I had been in Vegas to give a lecture for, on The Art of Wedding Photography during WPPI. Glenn Charles, a talented Leica photographer, had seen the lecture announcement and hopped on my personal site to read more about who I was. By doing a little digging on my site, he saw that I had grown up vacationing in Maine. Glenn just happens to not only live in Maine, but is also the owner of the popular Cohill's Inn. A restaurant/bar and Inn located in Lubec, ME. While sitting in the Vegas airport waiting to board my flight back home to Philly, I received an email from Glenn introducing himself along with an invite to stop in at the Cohill's next time I was in Maine. As I read it, a light bulb went off - we had our location for the workshop! Lubec, Maine it was. 

Photo: James Day

Photo: James Day

Fast-forward a few months, a ton of work, along with the help of some awesome sponsors, and the three of us found ourselves in Maine. There we were, sitting in the Cohill's Inn, looking out at an epic view of turquoise water, old lobster boats, bald headed eagles, seals, and islands that seemed to float about with the changing of the tide. Having never been to Lubec, which is much farther North than I had ever gone, I was taken back by just how beautiful it was. All of us were. Glenn was kind enough to let us take over the entire Cohill's Inn for three days, including the restaurant area where we held the lecture part of the workshop each day. He also had his crew serve us an awesome lunch and dinner each day while making us feel right at home with his hospitality. 

Photo: John Kreidler

Photo: John Kreidler

Photo: Glenn Charles

Photo: Glenn Charles

The workshop was 3 nights, and two full days of awesomeness. The first night started off with an adventurous hike out along the cliffs near the West Quoddy lighthouse, in the pitch black, to do some star photography. It just happened to be one of the nights that was best for seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower which amped up the cool factor while trying not get lost or slip and fall before the workshop even started. 

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

The next two days were filled with tears, laughter, learning, shooting, and making new friends. It was an awesome few days that far surpassed the expectations we had when first started tossing the idea around that night in Vegas. The three of us lectured each day until around 3pm, then went out to do some shooting. We spent time teaching how we shoot and interact with clients. One of the highlights of the workshop was having the talented Stacy Childers come out to style the shoots we did each day, along with three awesome models that we worked to the bone. A big thank you to Erika Hokkanen, Lindsey Whitacre, and Matt Whitacre!

Photo: Jay Cassario

Photo: Jay Cassario

We got to explore the coast of Maine, the most eastern point of the United States, as well as shoot at the top of the West Quoddy Lighthouse. We worked our butt's off and all left with the feeling that we had just been part of something special. Our original idea was to provide a unique experience, and we couldn't be happier with the one that was had. While there were many factors that helped create that experience, it simply wouldn't have been possible without the help of our sponsors. Each played a vital role in making this idea of ours reality, and we can't thank them enough. 

Photo: Kate Kernutt

Photo: Kate Kernutt

Photo: Austin Wheeler

Photo: Austin Wheeler

Our biggest shout out goes to Vision Art, the album company that both myself and James Day use for our albums. Not only did they help make it possible for James to fly out to Maine all the way from Australia but also provided a nice discount for everyone to use on their next album order. We had a nice collection of our sample albums on display for everyone to see in person.

Vision Art Albums

Vision Art Albums

Leica had a rep, John Kreidler, come out and join us for the entire workshop with a nice selection of gear for all of the attendees to try out and shoot. Tim Hussey, the owner of Pixifi, attended the entire workshop and provided a discount along with brief overview of the software. ONA Bags provided one of their awesome Prince Street leather bags as a giveaway. The one of kind print lab, Atkins Photo Lab, provided discount cards for everyone. Magmod provided a Wedding Starter kit as a giveaway. The album design software company Fundy also provided a nice discount to all those in attendance. 

[CLICK HERE TO SEE A GALLERY OF PHOTOS TAKEN BY THE ATTENDEES]

Leica gear on hand 

Leica gear on hand 

John Kreidler (Leica) and Tim Hussey (Pixifi)

John Kreidler (Leica) and Tim Hussey (Pixifi)

Jean Bremner - Winner of the ONA bag

Jean Bremner - Winner of the ONA bag

Thanks to everyone who had a hand in making The Narrows Workshop such a success, especially Glenn and the Cohill's Inn. It simply wouldn't have been the same had we stayed anywhere else. Lubec is a unique and beautiful little town, especially for photographers or anyone looking to hit a place that isn't over-run with tourists. We will definitely be back, so now it's time to start thinking about how to make the next one even better!

[CLICK HERE TO SEE FILM SCANS]

The Narrows Workshop - Film Scans

Jay Cassario

CAMERA: Contax645 + 80mm f/2

LAB: Goodman Film Lab

FILM: Fuji400H + Portra800

SLR LOUNGE FEATURE & INTERVIEW

Jay Cassario

It wasn’t until she passed that the idea of photographing a wedding even entered my head. My first wedding was a friend of mine, like most started out, and both my wife and I decided to take the job as a way to honor her. It felt like she was there with me every step of the way, as well as every wedding since. I fell in love with the challenge. I fell in love with the artistry; the idea that each and every wedding presented its own challenges, its own story, and its own unique way of helping me keep the memories of my mom alive.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ARTICLE

ONA + Saltfish Surf Co. Collection

Jay Cassario

Last week I drove up to New York and had lunch with my good friends at ONA bags. I usually try to catch up with them every couple months, and we needed to talk about the upcoming Narrows Workshop that they are sponsoring. I've built a really solid relationship with ONA over the past few years and I have a great deal of respect for them as a company. Not only because of the awesome people running the show over there but because they are an industry leading bag company that continues to expand on the artistry of their product line. They are very much involved in the photographer community, getting out and really taking the time to know their clients. Whether it's through hosting or joining in on photo-walks, photographer collaborations, or sponsoring workshops, it's nice to see them making it a priority to get involved. It's companies like ONA that inspire me as not only an entrepreneur but also as a creative. 

While I was there, they introduced me to their newest limited edition collaboration, as well as a few other new products coming down the line soon. Their newest collection is one that I absolutely loved. They took their most popular bag, the Bowery, and merged it with the trademark style of Saltfish Surf Co's surfboard totes. The bags feature textiles designed and woven by a family-owned mill in Oaxaca, Mexico for this project, and they feel exactly like the woven blankets that I have bought every time I've been down to Mexico myself. Having them tell me about their trip down to Mexico to work with Saltfish on these bags, it only made me want one for my myself. Trust me, I don't need another camera bag. If you could only see the collection I have now, I really need to put them all together and take a photo to show them off. I always see other photographers talk about their camera bag collections and it makes me smile and think... you should see what I have stocked away. 

Well, being that there are only 100 of these bags, and I love the ONA Bowery line, I made sure that I went home with one that day. I mean, come on, it's just an early Father's Day gift. So, what am I using it for? Take a look... fits like a glove :)