© Juzo Iwaki

SIGMA 135mm F1.8 DG HSM | Art  Impression

SIGMA announced a new 135mm lens featuring an F1.8 aperture on February 21, 2017. This is the 6th and the longest focal length lens in the Art line of lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras (released before the 14mm F1.8 DG HSM announced on the same date). And, this is the first F1.8 lens as opposed to all other five F1.4 lenses. I could imagine the reason why, but I checked with a SIGMA representative who said, "We roughly designed the F1.4 version to find that it would be incredibly big!" Incredibly big? I'm curious to take a brief look at it.

After hearing the story, I expected it to be quite large even though it's F1.8. But the one I saw at SIGMA headquarter was anticlimactically "small." Of course, the diameter of the front element is so large that I feel like I could be drawn into it. What can I say. The size is reasonable. It's a heavy lens, but I'm convinced when I consider the specification.

You can view all the sample images at their original size from the gallery at the bottom of this page.
© Juzo Iwaki

I won't repeat all the technologies incorporated in this lens as they are discussed in detail in the product information page. Instead, I'll let you take a close look at the image above at its original size. Because this lens offers "high resolution compatible with DSLR cameras featuring 50+ megapixels", I choose a camera of the same class.

The subject is a tied obi belt. Each silk thread forming the pattern looks sharp, but I want you to focus on the white base part with no patterns as the texture looks very sharp as well. Depending on the performance of the monitor, it may be hard to recognize. In other words, the lens is able to depict at such a minute level. I can see the pattern of the entire tied part even though it was shot at wide open and the subject is off the center. This is what they mean by "compatible with DSLR cameras featuring 50+ megapixels."

Scene 1 : Downtown at nightfall

© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki

The first scene I shot was downtown at nightfall when the sun begins to fall and it becomes dark little by little. I should of course worry about camera-shake even at 1/200sec when shooting a 135mm handheld on a camera with more than 50 megapixels, but the speed of F1.8 saved me. After inspecting the output closely, I found it's resistant to green/purple fringe. While fringe is common when we shoot reflection of light directly, this lens corrects it almost perfectly allowing minimal fringing.

Scene 2 : Seaside village

© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki

Next, I escaped the hustle and bustle of the city and headed to the seaside. I wanted to continue shooting it at wide open, but stopped it down to F11 following the basics of landscape photography in order to shoot the evening clouds. As expected, the rendition is amazing. By looking at the clouds, ridge lines of the mountains, and the crane at the bottom right (with birds), I discovered that the drawing lines are thin and very clear as if they have a confidence. Meanwhile, the thin focal depth of F1.8 works to isolate any focal point and you don't need to place the subject right in front of you anymore. Whether it's a painting or a photograph, they are on a flat surface. And, this is why the point of attention becomes important in photography. This lens has great power to emphasize the target even if it's ambiguous. In other words, it clarifies the intension of the photographer.

Scene 3 : Portraits of a man and a woman

© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki

Many people must be interested in shooting portraits with this lens. Unlike commonly used ones around 80mm to 90mm, you are forced to step back. Yet, you'll find it easier to simplify the background. Besides, the 87.5cm minimum focus distance lets you get closer in case you cannot step back. I also wanted to shoot portraits with this lens, but I'm not interested in superficial beauty of the subjects. I wanted to capture their ages and ways of life. The first model is a blues guitarist. I'm not sure if I captured his way of life, but you can see that the strings are made by winding thin wires and that something is reflected in his eye.

© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki

Next, let's look at the portraits of a woman. As for the side shot, the focal peak is on the eyelash around the center of the eyelid. You can see that the eyelash to the front side is already out of focus. This shot demonstrates how thin the focal depth is at close range. At this level, it's difficult to focus automatically or manually and I had to magnify the image on the liveview. Of course, I also asked the model to stay unmoved and not to wear makeup to test how the lens captures the texture of the skin (I feel sorry for her, but I had to examine the resolution). At such a close distance, the bokeh of the foreground and background is extremely smooth and creamy. And, the hairs in focus clearly show their locations and I can tell which hair is above or below others. The resolution and rendition are absolutely staggering.

Scene 4 : Snapshooting with 135mm

© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki
© Juzo Iwaki

135mm is an old-school focal length which was in the very first interchangeable lens lineup of Leica back in 1931 and a member of the inaugural class of interchangeable lenses for 24x36mm full-frame cameras. Since then, it has been used as a core short-telephoto lens, though it's hardly considered to be a lens for snapshots. Naturally, the same goes for this lens and I know that a tripod is recommended for best results. Nevertheless, I ventured to take snapshots handheld and it was a whole new experience. I felt as if I were using a part of the brain which I don't use regularly. This isn't a compact/lightweight lens. Plus, it's a 135mm telephoto lens even though it's F1.8. Therefore, I had to shoot when I can get the safe shutter speeds I already mentioned. But in reality, it was easy to shoot. Nothing special is needed to take excellent images with this lens.

© Juzo Iwaki

Challenging ultra-high performance lens

In the car industry, auto-driving is being turned into actual utilization and everyone will be able to travel to anywhere easily and safely. Meanwhile, Formula 1 cars for a limited number of drivers are produced every year. The two extremes are the results of the applications of the latest technologies, and this lens definitely belongs to the latter category. It's true that everyone can enjoy the performance, but the photographer needs to meet many requirements (including understanding of the mechanism of cameras and lenses, knowing how to use a tripod properly, and knowing what s/he wants to shoot after long experience) to get the best out of it. If you have confidence in your skills, I urge you to try this lens. If you're not, you need a partner to practice and you know it's best to have the strongest one.