Like a refined sports car, the new Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM art lens is all about high performance. Great for portrait, wedding, travel, nature, and event photography, the new Art optic is set to win your heart and turn lots of heads.
Built like a tank but luxurious to operate, the 135mm Art lens is must-have glass for those whose photographic style embraces fine bokeh, fast glass, and a narrow field of view.
Sure, small apertures are fine for traveling light, but, if you’re ready to take your photography to another level, add this beauty to your favorite camera body and buckle up. You’re in for a super-fast tele joy ride!
Design & Features
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM is one of the newest offerings in the lineup of Sigma Global Vision (SGV) optics. The 135mm finds its stable mates in the Art series of lenses. Sigma’s Art (“A”) lenses are known world-wide for their innovative optical designs and professional-level construction. Sigma’s Art lenses have set the bar for quality construction, sharp optics, and ground-breaking designs.
The 135mm F1.8 features 13 lens elements arranged in 10 groups. Two lenses are made of Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass, and two are made of “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) glass. FLD has performance equal to fluorite glass. The lenses of the 135mm are treated with Super Multi-Layer Coatings to improve image quality and minimize flare.
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is designed for use on full-frame cameras. For APS-C shooters, it becomes equivalent to a 200mm f/1.8 lens.
Measuring 3.6” in diameter and 4.5” long, the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art is medium-size lens. A plastic lens hood (included) adds another 2” to the overall length. Total weight is 40.9 ounces.
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is built from metal and Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material. TSC reduces weight and resists expansion with changes in temperature. The mount is made of brass, and a rubber ring seals the lens against the camera body.
The aperture of the Sigma 135mm is made from 9 blades. The rounded construction of the diaphragm blades helps to create pleasing out of focus highlights.
The left side of the lens barrel sports two switches. The top one allows photographers to select Autofocus (AF) or Manual Focus (MF).
The bottom switch controls three autofocus-distance modes:
- Full, i.e., 34 inches to infinity
- 5 feet to infinity
- 34 inches to 5 feet.
The minimum focusing distance for the Sigma 135mm F1.8 Art lens is 34.4 inches. While the 1:4.3 magnification ratio does not provide true macro focusing, the lens does proved for good close-up photography of moderately small subjects, from wedding couple’s hands with rings to roses blossoms and butterflies.
In AF mode, the Sigma 135mm utilizes Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for quick and quiet autofocus. Photographers can override AF by turning the generous 1 5/8 inch rubber ribbed ring while framing.
In MF mode, the 135mm focus is adjusted by turning the rubber ring through 150° of rotation from 34.4 inches to infinity. Manual focus is smooth and well-damped.
The Sigma 135mm DG HSM Art lens comes with a front cap, an end cap, a hood, and a padded lens case. As with all the Sigma Global Vision lenses, the 135mm can be mounted in the Sigma USB dock to change lens characteristics and update firmware.
All Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lenses are hand-crafted in Sigma’s single factory in Aizu, Japan. The 135mm DG HSM Art lens is covered by a four-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Handling in the Field
Shooting with the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is akin to driving a fine sports car. Every operation is finely tuned, and taking it for a spin is pure pleasure.
Even better is what you are left with afterward: supreme satisfaction. In the case of the Sigma 135mm, that supreme satisfaction comes from stellar images.
Looking through the bright f/1.8 viewfinder is the first reward of shooting with this Sigma Art lens. Bucking the recent industry trend of producing smaller and smaller maximum apertures, Sigma has shown its mastery in producing sharp, large-aperture optics that set the standard for sharpness.
The super-fast 135mm follows other Art lens gems, such as the 20mm F1.4 DG HSM, 24mm F1.4 DG HSM, 35mm F1.4, 50mm F1.4 DG HSM, and the 85mm F1.4 DG HSM, as well as zooms such as the 24-70mm F2.8 ODG OS HSM, 24-35mm F2 DG HSM, 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM, and the 50-100mm F1.8 DC HSM.
Rugged construction provides confidence while shooting with the Sigma 135mm. It is a significant but not-too-large optic, a lens that makes you feel like a professional shooter. The results confirm this feel.
The sense of quality construction comes from metal and TCM construction, as well as the nicely knurled, smooth-turning focus ring. Mounted to a body, such as my D800E, the weight distribution is well-balanced. Hand-holding is quite easy.
Sure, cameras now offer nicely reduced noise levels at high ISO settings, but shooting at your baseline ISO is always best. Having a telephoto option with f/1.8 instills confidence when heading out to shoot a portrait session, wedding event, or other photo opps. Shooting at ISO 100 is possible even at the ends of the day or for indoor events.
Autofocus is quick, even in low light. Testing the 135mm in the dark recesses of my studio, I was able to focus to EV -1.33. That’s an exposure of 8 seconds at f/1.8 and ISO 100. Even with the bright f/1.8 aperture, there’s no way I could manually focusing in such low light.
While the Sigma 85mm 1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a great choice for portraiture (I’ve written about it here) [https://blog.sigmaphoto.com/2017/lens-exploration-sigma-85mm-f1-4-dg-hsm-art/], the Sigma 135mm F1.8 offers similar exquisite performance just with a narrower field of view, which is nice when you have distracting backgrounds.
This fall I did a senior portrait session at Malabar Farm State Park. We shot at the peak of fall foliage. My goal was to include the beautiful yellows and oranges in the background but not to allow them to become distracting from my subject, Jackson. In the shot above, I opened up the 135mm to f/2, allowing the lens’s fine bokeh to throw the tree trunks and leaves nicely out of focus. At the same time, Jackson is tack sharp.
For another pose, Jackson leaned back against a sandstone wall. Here, I shot at f/2, allowing the rock column to fall out of focus. The 135mm’s narrow depth-of-field at super-wide apertures helps direct the viewer’s attention to the subject’s face, especially the eyes.
Moving in closer for a head-and-shoulders shot, I opted for down one more stop, choosing f/2.8 in order to provide just a bit more depth-of-field. This kept his eyes and face nicely in focus, yet, from only a few feet away, the wide aperture allowed the sandstone to drop nicely out of focus.
Later in the shoot, we lightened things up. Jackson changed into his football jersey, and we shot at his high school field. We worked on creating a fun image of him tossing a football into the air. I cranked up the ISO to 800 and went fully open at f/1.8. This allowed a motion-freezing shutter speed of 1/8000 second. Of course, the narrow depth-of-field meant that Jackson had to be careful to toss the ball up within the plane he occupied.
In the end, it all came together. The quick exposure froze the movement of the ball. The super-wide aperture threw everything in front of and, especially, behind Jackson beautifully out-of-focus. Our efforts resulted in a playful yet meaningful shot, emphasizing the Jackson and his interest in sports.
For one more football image, Jackson leaned against the home-team goal post. Stopping down to only f/2.8 allowed the field and surrounding trees to go out of focus while Jackson and the lettered pad appear tack sharp.
As these examples show, successful portraits more often than not depend upon a shallow depth-of-field. Nicely blurred backgrounds help directs viewers’ eyes to your in-focus subject.
The quality of the blur that a lens produces is described in terms of bokeh. The bokeh of the 135mm is quite nice. This is in part due to the design of the lens elements and in part due to the nine, thoughtfully curved diaphragm blades. Shooting with the 135mm allows for full artistic expression utilizing blur as a primary image component.
The Sigma 135mm makes a fine travel lens. Being able to shoot at high shutter speeds and narrowing the field of view makes it great for locations from city streets to tourist attractions.
On a recent trip to my favorite zoo, the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium, I photographed a number of aquatic animals with the 135mm F1.8. Despite low-light conditions in many of the exhibits, I got stellar results, frequently shooting wide open.
One particular exhibit features freshwater fish from South America. I spotted a colorful peacock bass swimming by. With the ISO on my D800E at a reasonable 1600, I was able to shoot at 1/200 second at f/1.8. The resulting close-up image of the painterly fish is sharp from its lips and forehead to its eyes and cheeks.
Similarly, I was able to capture shots of a graceful cownose ray, moon jellies illuminated by green LEDs, and a descending sea nettle. In all, having a superfast tele was just the ticket for the aquarium shots.
For something completely different, on a recent trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, I visited the Taft Museum of Art, which, though small in size, is chock full of amazing art by some of the world’s top painters, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler. His pensive “At the Piano” is full of texture and subtle color variations. In my capture of this painting, the Sigma 135mm preserves incredible details, from brush strokes to cracks in the paint. The reproduction is bursting with color and contrast.
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM is a great tool for nature photography, too. From isolating elements of the landscape to shots of wildlife, the sharpness of this prime and its fast glass are great benefits.
During a visit to the Cleveland Botanical Garden in late summer, I spotted a red-eared slider basking in the sun along the edge of a small pond. Getting down low and hand-holding, I turned the ISO up a bit and produced a frog’s-eye view of this brightly painted terrapin.
Sometimes when I travel, I like to keep a telephoto lens mounted to a camera body, and riding shotgun. I keep the camera in auto mode, allowing me to grab it and start shooting at a moment’s notice, should I spot a bear, moose, or other nearby wildlife. The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens makes a great optic to keep on-the-ready, especially in low-light situations.
Like a great sports car, the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is a top-level performer, whether shooting portrait sessions, weddings, travel images, or low-light events. Built with quality in mind from the ground up, it’s a sharp, fast, and durable optic.