Although Sigma was once known for cheap, low-quality optics, they rebranded themselves many years ago and have since put out consistently epic glass.
In this particular review, we’ll be looking at the Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art, an ultra-bright telephoto portrait lens that Sigma markets as “the Bokeh Master”.
There’s quite a few other lenses to choose from in the telephoto range, so how does the Bokeh Master compare to its competitors? Let’s find out.
Looking for a quick summary before diving in?
- Fabulous build quality
- Fast & Reliable AF
- Good mid-budget option
- Absolutely gigantic
Size & Weight
First up, we’re going to talk about size and weight.
A lot of the lenses in the DG HSM lineup are actually just DSLR lenses with an e-mount adapter built-in. For this reason, they tend to be absolutely massive, and this one is no exception.
The 105mm measures 5.2in (13cm) long and weighs a chunky 58oz (1644g). Yep, you read that correctly, this lens is comically heavy.
I originally got into Sony cameras to pursue a more compact kit as I was sick of my ultra-large Canon gear. Lenses like this, to be frank, are simply the opposite of what I usually like to shoot with.
With that being said, there are many photographers who don’t care about compact gear so long as it gets the job done. You won’t need to pay for a gym membership with this thing.
Is the lens well built?
The lens is incredibly heavy, so all that weight had to go somewhere right? Yep, the Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM has got spectacular build quality.
Pretty much everything is metal including the both the barrel and tripod collar (more on that in a minute).
The glass elements are heavy duty and, while I obviously didn’t disassemble the lens to get a closer look, they just FEEL high quality. The front element of the lens is like looking into a giant glass abyss.
Additionally, it has full weather sealing! Most Art lenses have just a rubber gasket but Sigma claims this one features “a highly effective dust and splash proof structure with special sealing,”.
This lens is a tank and it certainly feels built to last.
Usability & Accessories
There’s a couple things I want to talk about in terms of usability.
First up, as this lens is an absolute beast, it includes a tripod collar.
This is a great inclusion for those with lighter bodies bodies such as the a7c who may not want the camera mount supporting this gigantic piece of glass.
It’s easily removable, and they’ve even included an aesthetic “beauty ring” to fill the empty space around the lens barrel.
Next up, let’s talk about the lens hood. Believe it or not, it’s quite thoughtfully designed and there’s a few points to touch on.
Firstly, it includes a thumb screw to keep it tightly clamped to the front element. It’s also reversible for storage.
Second, it has a nice soft-touch, rubberized ring around the front. I would assume that since this lens is so large, it’ll often be placed front-down, thus the rubberized ring helps protect both the lens and surface it’s placed on.
The rest of the hood is made out of a carbon fiber/plastic mix which is apparently commonly used for airplanes.
Finally, there’s a few nice little accessories that are included.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a “beauty ring” included with is just a rubberized ring that covers where the tripod collar would nearly clamp to.
There’s also, like most Art lenses, a really nice padded carrying case that ships with the lens. As expected, front and rear caps are included.
It’s little things like accessories that really push the lens squarely into “premium” territory.
Next up, I want to talk about ergonomics. This lens is obviously huge, but even large lenses can be comfortable to use.
My advice with lenses like this is to grip the camera with one hand and the lens with the other.
I wouldn’t dare take this on a long hike or travel with it, but for shorter photoshoots closer to home it’s totally fine. This is clearly a lens intended for professional portrait photographers.
Finally, let’s talk aesthetics. Beauty is a subjective thing, but I think this lens looks gorgeous.
The lens starts small at the mount, and then continually tapers out as it gets wider and wider.
The sleek black material contrasts well with the (rather minimal) white text engravings, and the lens overall just has a very premium feel.
Next up, we’re going to talk about sharpness. If you know anything about Sigma Art lenses, you’ll know that they’re generally extremely sharp. The Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM is no exception.
My lens tests aren’t super scientific, mostly just extreme pixel peeping, so don’t expect any sort of complicated charts or graphs.
Anyways, even wide open at F1.4, centers are razor sharp and there’s only moderate fall-off around the corners. On such a telephoto lens, corner sharpness doesn’t matter as much as it might on a wide angle.
Even so, if you’re the type to shoot landscapes with a telephoto (for panorama stitching, perhaps), you’ll be happy to know that performance from edge-to-edge is essentially flawless at F5.6.
So yeah, nearly perfect sharpness even wide open. Hard to beat that, nicely done Sigma.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
Great sharpness aside, the Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM has a few optical quirks & flaws to touch on.
First up, the lens does show a bit of a vignette, but frankly it’s quite minor.
A lot of portrait photographers appreciate a bit of vignette in order to bring attention to the subject, so in my opinion the minor amount of vignette on this lens is actually a positive.
Regardless, it should be able to be easily fixed with one click in post processing if you so desire.
As is typical with telephoto lenses, distortion is barely an issue whatsoever.
The frame shows roughly 0.1% barrel distortion, so it’s virtually irrelevant, but I still thought it was worth mentioning.
Chromatic aberrations are also literally non-existent.
Even shooting in extreme cases (branches backlit by the sun for example) showed no noticeable results.
Flare resistance is quite good, but not flawless.
When shooting into the sun, there’s moderate loss of contrast. Ghosting is still pretty minimal, but in extreme situations it can be noticeable.
Use the lens hood and avoid shooting into direct sunlight too often and you shouldn’t have any problems.
If you’re buying a 105mm F1.4 lens, you’ll probably be expecting good bokeh. And good bokeh you shall receive, considering Sigma literally markets this lens as “the Bokeh Master”.
When shooting wide open (or even stopped down, to be honest), bokeh looks phenomenal. It’s soft and creamy, and subject isolation in the frame is spectacular.
The only caveat I’d like to point out is that near the edges the bokeh balls tend to warp into somewhat oblong shapes (commonly known as “cats-eye bokeh”).
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, I’m incredibly impressed with the optical performance of this lens.
It’s really hard to find something to critique, but if anything, it would be the cats-eye bokeh.
Otherwise, the Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM is razor sharp and suffers from very few optical quirks or flaws. Super happy with it.
Next up, we’re going to focus on focusing. I don’t tend to dig into autofocus too much as most modern lenses provide performance that is “great and good enough”. The Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM is no exception.
Autofocus was quick, reliable, and rarely hunted, just as I expected. It’s also whisper quiet, thanks in part to the “hyper-sonic motor” (HSM).
The lens plays extremely well with EyeAF, nailing focus on the eyes flawlessly almost every time. For fast action, it was able to keep up relatively well with AF-C (continuous AF), but I’m not sure I’d rely on it for high-speed commercial shoots like sports.
For filter users (105mm filter size by the way), the lens internally focuses so you won’t have to worry about readjusting variable filters after focusing.
Overall, great autofocus performance just as I expected.
My fellow manual focus enthusiasts will be happy to know that this lens is a joy to focus with.
First of all, the focus ring is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE and very well dampened. When coupled with Sony’s excellent focus assists such as peaking and magnifier, I was able to pull accurate focus pretty quickly.
The AF/MF switch is convenient, as I dislike having to dig through menus to switch my focusing mode.
Just like other Art series lenses, it does feature a distance scale, but I found I rarely used it as peaking is so reliable.
While the MF experience wasn’t quite the same as a dedicated manual lens, I still found it to be quite enjoyable and usable.
My Final Thoughts
Before we round out this review, I want to talk about alternatives. While there’s not any direct 105mm competitors, there’s a LOT of great options in the telephoto focal range. I’ll go over a few of them for your consideration.
Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM
First up on the list is the spectacular Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM. A bit tighter focal length and you lose a stop of light.
It is, however, an absolute monster of a lens. Built like a tank, incredible image quality, and much smaller than the Sigma. Substantially more expensive, however. You get what you pay for, in this case.
Sony FE 85mm F1.4 GM
Another beast of a lens, the Sony FE 85mm F1.4 is a bit wider, but offers similar performance.
You’ll get fantastic quality, great sharpness and a much more lightweight build versus the Sigma. Slightly more expensive, however.
Sony FE 85mm F1.8
If you’re looking for a much more budget OEM pick, consider the Sony FE 85mm F1.8. I’ve written on this lens before and ended up really liking it.
You’ll get great sharpness and a much smaller size, but you’ll be sacrificing build quality and a bit of image quality. Fantastic budget pick, however.
Viltrox 85mm F1.8
Moving onto third-party lenses, we have the Viltrox 85mm F1.8. I also wrote on this lens before and found that it was actually pretty solid as a budget pick.
You won’t get spectacular build quality and it certainly won’t be quite as sharp, but it’s hard to disparage a lens that performs so well at such an affordable price. Definitely consider it if you’re on a budget.
Samyang 135mm F2.0
Next up we have the Samyang 135mm F2.0 (also branded as Rokinon in some cases). When I tested this lens, I found that while it was fantastic for portraiture, it was shockingly well suited for astrophotography as well.
It does, ironically, match the Sigma in size (if not weight), but is still substantially cheaper. Not my favorite lens ever (due to the size), but it’s a worthy budget pick if you’re looking for a tight telephoto.
Sigma 85mm F1.4
Finally, Sigma’s own 85mm F1.4 is another solid portraiture pick. While more expensive than the other third-party alternatives, you’ll get comparable build image quality to the 105mm.
With the reasonable price, it could be a solid alternative if you’re looking for a cheaper but still mighty pick.
Whew, that was a long review. So, after going through all the alternatives, is the Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM still a good buy? I think so.
The quality that this lens offers is nearly unmatched in the price range. Sure, it’s huge, but if you’re the type of photographer who values quality over size, the 105mm is a great mid-range pick between the GM lenses and budget options.
If you’re interested in picking it up for yourself, I’ll leave purchase links below. Thanks for reading.
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