Equipment

First Look of the “Bokeh Master” Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series Lens

A couple of years ago I was super excited about the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E. I was so excited I wrote an ode to it. So when Sigma announced their own version with the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series, I immediately got excited. I’ve been a massive fan of the Art series primes since they first debuted, and now they were making this one? Ooh boy, lemme at it.

Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series Review

For those unacquainted, Sigma has been making a habit of creating optical forward lenses without compromise. When speaking purely from a prime lens standpoint (though some of their Art Series zooms are incredible too (Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art Series and Sigma 24-105mm Art Series individually)), Sigma has done an incredible job creating some lenses that have reached the top of their respected class, while managing to keep the price point below their competitors.

Build Quality

First things first, the lens is massive in size and dwarfs the Nikon version, which isn’t a small lens by comparison. It’s the biggest Sigma Art prime to date, besides the bigger 500mm f/4. And that filter size? 105mm. Perhaps just a good luck number for this lens, but I can’t help but think it’s a coincidence.

Sigma 105mm Comparisons

Size comparison from Left to Right – Sigma 135mm f/1.8, Sigma 105mm f/1.4, Sigma 85mm f/1.4, Nikon 105mm f/1.4

But the size difference doesn’t stop at just the size; the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series is also heavy compared to the competition. At 3.62lbs, the Sigma will give your arms a workout. And continuing the comparison to the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED, which is 2.17lbs (and a filter size of 82mm), the weight difference is very noticeable. In regards to build quality, the added weight only helps contribute to the premium feel of this lens. With its high-quality Art Series design, the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series looks nice and feels like it would comfortably hold up in a professional setting.

Sigma 105mm Review Art Series

Rubber Gasket placement of the Sigma 105mm Art Series

Complete weather sealing is generally something we don’t like to talk about on this blog because we’ve discovered time and time again, that it really doesn’t exist. Rubber gaskets help, and indeed some lenses are better than others, but we’ve yet to see a lens that can hold up in the most extreme conditions. That said, Sigma has added a rubber gasket onto the lens mount, deeming it splash and dust resistant, but I wouldn’t advise taking this lens out to sand dunes on a windy day.

Features

As previously stated, this lens is massive in size, and Sigma was fully aware of this becoming an issue for some and implemented a Tripod mount to the lens itself. Using a built-in Arca Swiss dovetail, the tripod ring not only gives you a quick mounting option for the lens but it also generally makes the lens easier to handhold as well. The tripod ring itself works well as a balancing point, allowing me to hold on to the lens better and help steady the large optics. While it may be a feature depending on the size of your hands, for me, it made hand holding the lens a whole lot easier.

However, I do worry about the hood that comes with the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series. Sigma has done an incredible job with premium optics and design, but I have to fault them a bit when it comes to their hoods. In short, they kind of start to fall apart after some use. Particularly with the Sigma 120-300mm and Sigma 150-600mm Sports Series, we’ve found that the bumpers will come unscrewed over time and begin to fall apart. That said, Sigma may have fixed this issue, as the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series falls more in line with the Canon Supertele Lenses, with a bumper secured to the lock knob with an E clip, instead of a small screw. Only time will tell.

And the price? $1600, a full $600 cheaper than the Nikon. I’m not sure how Sigma is keeping the price that low with the amount of glass that’s in that thing, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Use and Performance

But how does it perform? We don’t have hard numbers yet, because we don’t have enough copies and haven’t been able to keep them inhouse long enough to throw them on the optical bench, but, just like the Nikon, it looks dang sharp. Here are some images I shot with a couple of our other techs at the park the other day.

To test the lens, I was able to hang out with fellow Lensrentals.com employees, Lynn and Bryce. while this was just a casual testing and not as elaborate as testing charts, even wide open they look sharp through the Sigma. Just like the Nikon, the depth of field is razor thin, so autofocus micro-adjustment can be critical with this lens. This one works with the Sigma USB dock, which is always a welcome thing with these fast primes.

This lens has been called the ‘Bokeh Master’ by many, and for a good reason. At f/1.4, this lens has a razor-thin depth of field – and I say that almost literally. With a minimum focus distance of 1 meter, wide open and at its shortest focusing distance, this lens has a depth of field of just a single centimeter. Nikon shares the same reality with their own Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED, but those numbers are astounding, especially when comparing them with the numbers from other bokeh-heavy lenses like the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (Which is .81cm of in focus at its maxed settings).

Other than the size and weight, I couldn’t tell too much of a difference between the image quality of the Sigma vs. the Nikon, which is to say, they’re both fantastic. Sigma has done a stellar job with their Art series primes, and the new Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series just continues that level of excellence.

What I Liked:

  • It’s very sharp.
  • It’s very well built and balanced, and the tripod ring and foot is useful.
  • It’s $600 cheaper than the Nikon.

What Could be Improved:

  • Just like the Nikon, I wish this was stabilized.
  • 105mm filters can get pricey, but you save so much on the lens, maybe that makes up for it.
  • Maybe it’s too big? I don’t think so, but I can see how others might.

Sigma has done it again and created another groundbreaking lens while beating out the competition in price. If you were thinking about buying the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, skip it and buy this instead. The savings in cost more than makes up for the larger size and weight. If you’re shooting Canon or Sony, then it’s without question that this lens should be sitting on your wishlist. The Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art Series is available for Canon, Nikon, and Sony mounts.

 

Author: Joey Miller

I’m Joey. I love cameras, especially old film cameras, and I can’t remember the last day I didn’t take a photo. Digital cameras are great, and they keep me employed, but I also still like processing my own film. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I shoot every single day, no matter what.

Posted in Equipment
  • Michael Laing

    ‘If you were thinking about buying the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, skip it and buy this instead’. Optically, I doubt you are going to see much difference generally (though I think the Sigma has less cats eyes at f/1.4 from the images I have seen (though nobody has tested that)) but I would still take the Nikon in a heart beat over the Sigma for a couple because of the weight and the 105mm filter thread.

    The thing with the weight, yes, it can be shot hand held but that puts pressure onto your arm (I suffer from tennis elbow (which I got from photography) and the weight does make a big difference, it puts more of a strain on the tendon when shooting (it is amazing how few photographers know about tennis elbow and photography but it is surprisingly common). You then have a front heavy lens unless you use a tripod/monopod, which just gets in the way of changing angles etc a little too much. Finally, it just adds a lot of weight to a camera bag, which can be a pain if you are carrying a lot of equipment.

    As for the filter thread, you are going to need to use filters to shoot at f/1.4 and then you are buying expensive filters and are limited to the manufacturers you can buy from.

    So the Nikon 105mm f/1.4e is over priced (it has gone up to over £2000 since last year (£1849) and whilst it is good, optically it isn’t as good as the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus which is more than £500 less (and cheaper than the Sigma), of course the Milvus is heavy as well and is manual AF. The Sigma for the optics/build is good value compared to the Nikkor but I just try to find lighter alternatives now days (also a reason I am useing my Fujifilm with 90mm f/2 more (I know the depth of field is difference but most of the time I am shooting between f/2 to 2.8 anyway, so the difference isn’t that great).

  • Jo Jundt

    You’re welcome. Last night I put some primitive, strictly unscientific comparisons together, just screenshots out of Capture One. https://sojujo.smugmug.com/Testshots/10514/n-MgKPDd The yellow labeled pics are Nikkor, the blue labeled Sigma.

    Now, can someone make a Sigma 105/1.4 in the body the company dressed the 135/1.8 with? I just cannot decide right now… both are very sharp and I couldn’t tell which was used from their bokeh. But I don’t like to see this amount of bokeh fringing or CA what I see when the Nikkor has to handle frontlight.

    And I love frontlight…

  • Earle

    Thanks!

  • Jo Jundt

    As usual, Nikon is a tad warmer and shows more saturation in yellow and red tones, but it’s only visible in direct comparison. The Sigma appears a bit more balanced and it’s colours appear a bit lighter, less massive. But I’m no native speaker and can only try an approach of description.

    Best would be to rent them and see for yourself, as you already know an excellent lensrental service 😉

  • Unrest

    Not to be negative but those sample shots are awful, seriously!!

  • Earle

    Hey Jo, since you shot both lenses (presumably at roughly the same subject matter) how’s the color transmission? I haven’t shot with a Sigma of significance. My past experience with Tokina and Tamron has been that those lenses are a touch cooler in transmission. I’ll wind up renting the Sigma 105 myself but since you shot with both, I figured I’d ask.

  • Earle

    Nice! I’ve seen one video review of the Sigma that was over-the-top positive. I’ve rented the Nikon twice now (once to shoot with a D3s and once with a D750) and loved it both times.

    It’s on my “will buy eventually” list but I’ll have to rent the Sigma and see how it is (and how I feel about the weight and handling).

  • Jo Jundt

    Polarizers are a matter of taste, variable density filters? I don’t know a single one without a color drift and it will alter the lens’ resolution performance as it’s two polarizers being crossed to each other, more or less – so you’d loose resolution. Portraits wide open on a bright beach scenario… interesting, I just haven’t seen much photogs doing them. But anyway, I’d rather go for a high quality ND8 or ND16.

    One also could say, if you already decide to put optical alterations in front of the lens, you could as well use the Micro Nikkor 105/2.8, save endless dollars and since it’s the effect and not the optical performance which matter to you, you’d be cheaper off.

    I think, complaining about filter sizes excludes also a lot of UWA options as these lenses usually need big filter holders. For the 14-24 it’s one with 150 × 150 mm filters, contrary to them the M 105 are just cheapos… So, if one (like me) already has such a holder and the filters for it, that would be a much cheaper option to get an adapter ring for it – you see, it depends.

    I’m not happy with this “going heavy and big” way of Sigma, but I can’t criticize the outcome. I just don’t like to carry it. *sigh*

  • Tom

    No – it won’t consume the difference, but for B+W brand if you want a nice name-brand filter, a quick search on Amazon shows a UV + Circular Polarizer + Variable Density Filter for the thee is about $200 more. So to be fair, I did not get the data ahead of time and made a sweeping generalization. However, I’d still say the price difference in this case is closer to $400 than $600. However again, I’m not sure the buyer of the Sigma would also buy the expensive B+W filters versus a Tiffen, especially given Mr. Cicala’s data on reasonably priced filters not being much different than fancy ones. (The circular polarizer on a portrait lens gets some pretty awesome results on a beach with the waves and clouds.)

  • Jo Jundt

    Which filters do you regulary use with a portrait lens? There’s a difference between M 82 and M 105 (Nikon / Sigma), but if you like to buy filters, you have to add just the difference – and I reckon you can buy a lot filters for a difference of $ 600.- To me, this “filter are more expensive actually is no real excuse, the difference of the Sigma ceramic protector (one of the most expensive protection filters I know) are just $ 110 – so no real reason to go Nikon.

    Weight and size, though, are better reasons, but filter costs is a lame point. Even an expensive polarizer won’t consume the savings.

  • Jo Jundt

    It’s alright to post an enthusiastic article about a great lens. It’s not okay to conclude “get the Signa instead of the Nikon” without putting some direct comparison shots in the article. I’m just spending an interesting week with both lenses. The Nikon guys who prefer Nikon without having an idea how the same picture (especially bokeh) looks with the Sigma should kindly consider to shut up this blurb, because bokeh is nearly identical. Sorry to not. Care about other fantasies, I believe what I see. 😉

    The Nikon shows coma in a star sky and it shows some nasty behaviour in frontlight in a nightscape. And it shows clearly more vignetting. Else than these flaws, it’s just fantastic and has the right size and weight in my hand and bag. It evens out where the 85/1.4G fails terribly and visibly. Well done, Nikon.

    Usually I’d like to ask if a lens is double the price “is it also double the IQ?”. But here… the lens has an equal IQ at 2/3 of the price. Do you have a bigger bag and are you transporting your gear mainly in your car?

    For me it’s rather simple. If the dealer I rented the Nikon from, offers me a price equal to the Sigma and including the exchnage of my 85G Nikkor, I’m sold. If not, I’ll wait and save rhe money for Nikon’s mirrorless. The rented Sigma was nearly perfect in terms of AFMA, the Nikon needed -8 and I like to save my AFMA testing time for other projects…

  • Jo Jundt

    Brandon, that comparison would be misleading. Now that I know the 85, 105 (both Nikon and Sigma) and 135 I just say I don’t want to have to much distance to the person I like to portrait. And the 85s and 105s are all about portrait.

  • I can’t tell from the images, but do any of the versions for different mounts have a rubber gasket at the back like the OEM lenses? And does the Nikon mount version have a mechanically or electronically coupled aperture?

  • Zach T

    Totally love this lens. Here are some of my pics from this lens. Got it back in late June. https://www.flickr.com/photos/zakna/albums/72157695321988662/with/42261824795/

  • decentrist

    flat,lifeless rendering,boat anchor dimensions

  • Tom

    Thanks for the response, Joey. I do appreciate it. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is hard for me discern genuine enthusiasm versus deliberate promotion. I fully support biased opinions knowing the motivations aren’t hidden/financial, and even financial if they’re disclosed.

    Please keep posting, for I do read this pretty regularly.

  • Carleton Foxx

    How does it do with out of focus lights and fireworks? That’s the other situation we need good bokeh for. Does this lens render nice, round balls of light out to the edges of the frame or does it start squishing them at some point?
    The reason I ask is that if you watch movies closely, you’ll find that at least 60 percent of them include a night shot with lots of twinkles in the background. Judging only by what I see at my local theater, cinema lenses seem to have much better bokeh than still camera lenses. But, of course, my sample size is very small.

  • denneboom

    photo 3 looks swirly to me. and i hate swirly lenses (unless its a 25€ f1.4 -mount lens)

  • Marek Kunicki

    While optically fantastic and a great value, it appears to share the same sterile bokeh quality as the rest of the art line.

    Based on bokeh rendering alone, I’d get a used Nikon over this, which has a pleasant slight swirly look.

    But to each their own, I applaud Sigma for bringing a great value to an awesome product. Some people won’t care or find enough difference for it to matter to them and that’s fine too.

  • Joey Miller

    We are not sponsored by anyone. And I’m not anti-Nikon in the slightest. In fact my first tattoo was the lens diagram of the 58mm Noct on my left wrist. I still love shooting with Nikon gear and do so frequently. But we also really love Sigma primes because they are very well designed and produced, and our MTF testing and real world experience has shown them to be proven performers and great values. As a senior photo tech here for the last 7 years, I’ve become very spoiled by the availability of all the latest and greatest gear any time I want or need, so I’ve become pretty brand agnostic. I pick the gear that gets the job done to my liking, regardless of what the name on that gear is. I’m more of a Fuji fanboy these days, if I had to pick. But I don’t even own any digital gear beyond my cell phone. I dumped my whole Nikon kit 6 years ago while it was still worth something and have bought all the film cameras I always wanted. For most of my personal work I shoot, process, and scan my own film at home. For any paid gigs I just take stuff from here as suits the gig. If anything I’m pro this job I’ve loved for the last 7 years. I do agree this blog post is a bit biased, but not because of any sponsorship deal or behind the scenes shadiness. It’s an opinion piece, which means it’s inherently biased. YMMV

    I did mention at the end that those filters would likely be pricy and make the value a wash potentially, but not everyone shoots with a lot of filters. And I mention that the weight isn’t for everyone, so I addressed both of your final points under “What Could Be Improved”.

  • Tom

    Lens Rentals, are you sponsored by Sigma and quiet about it, or just generally anti-Nikon? This seems to be one of the more overt posts in a series that’s subtly anti-Nikon and pro-Sigma. It’s sometimes quite hard to reconcile the opinion posts that are readily biased like this one with other data-driven posts that claim to not be biased except for the lack of data from Nikon lenses, for example, because you don’t have time to test so many lenses.
    I would just appreciate candor if you do have inherent biases for or against lens companies whether it’s because of sponsorships or because, for example, Nikon may just have a genuinely horrible service department.

    1.5lbs is a really big difference for a lens like this, and 105mm filters make the cost difference almost wash one is inclined to get even just a handful of filters.

  • Tool

    It’s stabilized … on a Sony A7R3 ?
    It should come with a monopod and aspirin

  • Sean

    Stabilization would happen naturally using the Sony A7 series cameras. But the size would be even more unnatural on those same cameras. Still, the IQ intrigues me so I think I’ll try it.

  • Wesley

    Agreed. If I’m to base my purchasing decision based on these images, I’d choose the Nikon all day.

  • The_Incomparable_Douche

    “If you were thinking about buying the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, skip it and buy this instead.”

    I predict you will eventually temper that unconditional advice. Unless you’re too stubborn.

  • Samuel H

    I think I don’t go to the Gym often enough…
    But it’s great to see Sigma making great lenses time and again (the 135mm f/1.8 Art is the one I’m thinking about right now)

  • Brandon Stivers

    Sweet. I would have liked to see a comparison to the 135 f/1.8 though. Should have about the same DOF as that one. I’d be curious the difference in the bokeh though considering the compression should be more on the 135.

  • George Brandon

    Sweet. I would have liked to see a comparison to the 135 f/1.8 though. Should have about the same DOF as that one. I’d be curious the difference in the bokeh though considering the compression should be more on the 135.

  • margo2000

    Thank you for the write up! Could you please take a few head & shoulders portraits at f/1.4, just to give us an idea of what’s sharp and what’s soft? You don’t need fancy lighting or anything, just something to give us an idea of how soft the nose is when the eyes and eyelashes are sharp?

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