Review: Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art (Canon EF)

If you’re a fan of the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens, then you’re bound to fall head over heels for the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens. When it comes to portrait lenses, photographers are typically tied to the 85mm and 135mm focal lengths: and so that makes this latest decision even harder. Both are good. In fact, both are fantastic. But with the new Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art lens, you get what seems like a smaller and lighter lens though surely longer. Plus it has weather sealing and a classic quality about it with just a bit less contrast than many of the other Sigma Art lenses.

But is it the right portrait lens for you?

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sharp
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Fast autofocus
  • Not as contrasty, so better for skin tones
  • f1.8 aperture
  • Weather sealing
  • Not as heavy as the 85mm f1.4

Cons

  • Not a darn thing.

Gear Used

We tested the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art lens with the Canon 6D, Canon 5D Mk IV, and the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom Lion Flash with transmitter. ExpoImaging gels were also used.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Sigma listing page.

Lens Construction 13 Elements in 10 Groups
Angle of View (35mm) 18.2°
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9 (Rounded diaphragm)
Mininum Aperture F16
Minimum Focusing Distance 87.5cm / 34.4in
Filter Size (mm) φ82㎜
Maximum Magnifications 1:4.3
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
Φ91.4mm × 114.9mm / 3.6in. x 4.5in.
Weight 1,130g / 40.9oz.
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma HSM
DG
Nikon HSM
DG
Canon HSM
DG
HSM -Hyper-Sonic Motor
DG – DG for Digital Full Frame and APS-C
* The appearance, specifications, and the like of the product are subject to change for improvement without notice.

Ergonomics

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens is a long and fairly skinny offering. When you look at it, the lens has all the hallmarks of a Sigma lens. There’s a metal-ish material, the massive rubber focusing ring, a pretty useless focusing scale, and the Signature A in silver and white to designed the Art series.

Turn to the front of the lens and what you’ll find is the 82mm filter thread. The lens is smaller without the lens hood on.

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens has two switches on the side. One switch is for AF/MF while the other is the focus limiter. Generally speaking, I’ve never had to use the focus limiter. But image stabilization would have made more sense.

Build Quality

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens is built with a bit of weather resistance into it. It’s not as much as Tamron’s, but it’s there. You can see it on the mount with the rubber gasket ring which completes the seal when attached to the camera you’re using.

This lens can more than withstand most of what a typical portrait photographer will throw at it.

Ease of Use

This is a long telephoto lens–it’s useless to use in manual focus. But you can use it in autofocus mode with ease. Just pop it onto your camera, choose a focusing point, focus, shoot and enjoy the image. That’s all.

My only complaint, and it’s perhaps very personal, is that the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens should have incorporated image stabilization. That would make handheld shooting easier overall. Still though, the lens isn’t all that incredibly heavy and if you use proper techniques when shooting in portrait orientation, you won’t have much of a problem.

Autofocus

When using the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens, you can trust in fast focusing abilities that are mostly reliable. In our tests, the focusing only didn’t work out that well in low light and using the outer focusing points of the Canon 6D. But otherwise, it was pretty snappy even in very low light.

For portrait photographers, this is more than all you need.

Note: at one point, the focusing didn’t work out all that perfectly when a portrait subject’s hair was flying about. But that’s sort of to be expected.

Image Quality

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens is really incredible when it comes to image quality. Like many of the other art lenses, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about. Bokeh? Oh man, do you have it. Sharpness? Yes. Colors? Well, that’s where some folks may be torn. Photographers that like the more muted colors will enjoy this lens a whole lot. But photographers that have come to admire Sigma’s saturation in many of their other lenses may not like this.

Bokeh

The bokeh of the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens is arguably the best of any Sigma prime lens designated for portraiture. At all times it is very creamy. Then when you consider how close this lens can focus, it’s no contest. However, portrait photographers will not find it that much better over the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art to justify having both lenses or perhaps “upgrading to it.”

The bokeh also isn’t majorly emphasized here due to micro-contrast or vignetting amongst other tricks.

Chromatic Aberration

There’s zero chromatic aberration with the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens. In fact, I’m sort of sad about that. I wish that this lens didn’t control flare so well as it would add a bit more character to the lens and offer a bit more differentiation from the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.

Luckily, there’s no purple fringing or other problems to complain about.

Color Rendition

Let me show you something. This image above is from the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens.

Now this image above is shot in a similar time and place with the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.

This isn’t a direct comparison, but the tonalities, times shot and the settings are all similar. But I feel like the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens offers a more muted look when it comes to skin tones. And I genuinely appreciate that more despite my pre-disposition to working with an 85mm lens instead. It will just mean that I do less post-production.

Sharpness

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens exhibits its best sharpness when a flash or strobe is used. And to that end, I believe that the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is only slightly sharper. But when you’re looking at output from both lenses, it’s going to be tough to discern the two.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Pretty much everything about it

Dislikes

  • OIS would have been a very welcome addition.

There isn’t a single reason why the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens shouldn’t receive our Editor’s Choice award. It has great bokeh, is sharp, focuses quickly, has color that will appeal to one segment of the photography population more than the other, and has no real “problems” per se. But very personally, I wish that it had more weather sealing, optical image stabilization, and I was able to get some flare out of it the way that I can with Zeiss lenses. That would put this lens over the top.

In comparison, it’s a different lens from the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens but probably not enough besides focal lengths.

With that said, the Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art lens receives not only our Editor’s Choice award but also five out of five stars. Want one? Get ready to drop $1,399 on Amazon; though it may come down in price soon.