Equipment

Review of the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Series Macro Lens

I love my Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens. Since I got it six months ago from Lens Authority (after renting it half a dozen times for projects), it hasn’t really left my camera body. Though like most macro lenses I’ve used, it’s a bit slow to focus, and can be a little fickle when using in low light conditions. And since I’m a man of options, I was incredibly excited to see when Sigma announced their first specialty (in the sense of macro, tilt-shift, etc.) lens in their Art Series Lineup, with the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art series Macro.

Comparison of the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art to the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS

If you’ve been living under a rock over the last five years or so, Sigma has rebranded from being a third-party line for the price conscious, into becoming a competitor to the premium lens options regarding sharpness. And they did all of this while beating the pricing of the competition, giving us top-tier optics that won’t necessarily cost you an arm and a leg.

Sigma Art Series Macro Review

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series at f/22

Sigma 70mm Art Series Macro Lens Review

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series at f/22

How they did this, by in large, was with subtle compromises. For one, none of the Art series lenses are listed as being weather resistant. Another commitment that Sigma will often take is not to make sacrifices to the optics to create a more convenient lens. What do I mean by that? Well, one prominent example of this is with their Art series 85mm f/1.4. It’s huge across the board. Filter size? 86mm. Weight? Much heavier than the competition. The lens even outsizes the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II and Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Series. For those who are putting optics first, these compromises are minimal, and the cost difference between the competitors more than makes up the lack of a rubber gasket on the lens mount. And that size change allowed them to top most of the competition in sharpness.

And that is why I was so excited to see Sigma branch off with the announcement of their Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Series Macro. So enough pandering, let’s take a look into the latest in Sigma’s offerings.

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series at f/22

Note: This review is a practical look into the usability and functionality of the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Series. If there is enough interest, perhaps Roger will do MTF testings of this lens and compare it to the competition within the macro realm.

Build Quality

Sigma has built a reputation for creating sleek and sexy lenses, particularly in their Art Series, and this lens is no exception. Smaller in size than you might expect, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Macro shares the same matte black stylings of the entire lens lineup and holds itself in a rather compact design.

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro Art Series Reviewed

But compact only when not in use. When in use, the barrel will extend, quite a bit in fact, that helps achieve the macro functionalities of the lens. The idle position of the lens sits at 4.17 inches (10.6 cm) in length and extends an additional ~2 inches (5 cm). This change in size is considerable given that the lens is pretty small in design, and is undoubtedly the first thing you’ll notice when using it for the first time. The lens continues it’s size identity crisis with its incredibly small 49mm filter thread size. That said, I’d opt for a small filter size than an oversized one (looking at you, behemoth 86mm filter size on the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series).

Sigma 70mm Macro Review

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Macro at f/2.8

Features

Along with the small size, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Series packs a fly-by-wire focusing system, which is a bit of a challenge to get used to. The fly-by-wire focusing system (the same system found on the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II for example), gives you a lot of precision when manually focusing, which isn’t too uncommon when shooting macro. However, it does have some shortfalls also.

First, it’s a slow focusing system, leaving autofocus to seek a bit more than usual in low light conditions. This isn’t a particularly big problem, as I’ve never found macro lenses to be incredibly fast when focusing. Secondly, it means the lens needs to have power to extend or contract the barrel. A minor nuisance. To counteract the slowness of the focusing, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro Art Series has a split in the focusing ranges, like most macro lenses. For macro use, it’s suggested to flip the switch to the 0.258-0.5m setting. Anything else should be set to the 0.5m – infinity. 

Macro 70mm Sigma Lens Review

But these complaints are perhaps more about me being stubborn and resisting my love more than anything else; cause at the end of the day, the best feature of the Sigma 70mm f/8 Macro Art Series is its incredible sharpness. The Sigma 70mm Art Series was able to keep up with the Canon 100L Macro, despite having a better price point – a habit Sigma has developed with their latest offerings. When shooting macro, you’ll find yourself at f/14 and beyond, to help minimize some of the depth of field you lose at extremely close focusing distances. And when I stopped down the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro, I really started to see this little lens shine. 

The Fatal Flaw

However, this lens does have one fatal flaw that I encountered when using this lens for the macro beauty work that I often shoot – the focal length. The 70mm focal length on this lens is frustrating to use for macro work, especially when using off-camera lighting. In short, the focal length requires you to get in close to get 1:1 magnification; about 10 inches to achieve the true 1:1 macro capabilities. And when you get that close, you end up blocking a lot of the light on your subject. For reference, the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS, and the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Non-L Series both have a 1:1 focusing distance at about 12 inches.

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series Review

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series at f/22

Sigma 70mm Art Series Macro

Sigma 70mm Macro Art Series at f/22

And those two inches mean a lot when you’re working in small confined environments and using lights that are actually behind your lens. More often than not, when shooting with the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Art Series lens, I found myself getting in my own way when trying to get the tight 1:1 macro reproductions. And this is because of how that number is measured. The 10.2-inch focusing distance is measured at the sensor plane, not at the end of the lens. And when shooting at 1:1 macro, the lens is just over 6 inches in length (with the barrel fully extended), meaning you’re incredibly close to your subject. For comparison, the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS is shorter in length and has a larger focusing distance for 1:1 reproduction, giving you more space overall.

So is it Worth It?

Sigma’s freshman release of their specialty lenses within the Art series is no doubt an impressive one. As an avid fan of the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS, I went into reviewing this lens with a bit of skepticism and was quite surprised by the end of it all. Is it better than the Canon? Probably not; though I’d be interested to see Roger’s more scientific MTF testings on it. But at a price of $567 for the Sigma (verse $750 for the Canon), it’s hard not to recommend this lens to someone who is looking to play with Macro photography without putting too much money into it. At $567, you get an incredibly versatile and incredibly sharp lens that is continuing the legacy of the Art Series badge.

The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro Art Series is available in Canon, Sony, and Sigma mount.

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Gary Jones

    Zachary, thanks for your interesting review. I am an avid hobbyist photographer of flowers. I have the Canon
    100mm macro L and the Canon 180mm macro L. When I switched to the 5Dsr, I started using the 100 L
    exclusively per Canonusa.com advice. Was most surprised when you said you went down to f22! Below
    f9 I find diffraction a problem as well as insufficient light coming. I shot handheld and manual.
    Focal length limitations is a problem in botanical gardens like Huntington Library and Gardens in San
    Marino, Ca. where rules prohibiting walking off designated paths are strictly enforced. At times
    I use my 100-400 mm to avoid violations. 180 mm L was useful also in staying on paths.
    I added Sony fe cameras and fe lenses recently including the Sony 90mm macro G lens. Interested
    in trying out the Sigma 70 mm Sony E mount version of what you reviewed. Still getting use to
    Sony e after over a decade of Canon full frame use while travelling extensively (100 + countries so far).I
    The Sigma 70 mm Sony E mount just arrived. Will report to you on impressions.

    One specialty lens, the Canon 35 mm macro recently introduced might help your light problem.
    It features built-in lights on the lens itself. Not good enough for sole light but useful for augmenting
    ambient light especially in dark show room flower exhibitions.

  • Arty

    Focal length is a positive for the lens. There are times when 100 mm is longer than I want. The lens is very sharp, and I would like to see formal testing.
    AF is very slow if you go from infinity to macro distances. However, it is not slow when using the limiter. It is faster than some older macro lenses, like the Sigma 50 and much faster than the Tokina 35. That one is a turtle. I have used the Sigma 70 mm Art macro lens for candid portraits, and the speed and accuracy were fine.

  • UniversalCreations

    Sorry to tell you, but many Sigma Art lenses are “weathersealed” including the 85mm.

  • UniversalCreations

    No, they won’t make a Nikon version of this lens. It has to do with the focusing mechanism

  • TinusVerdino

    You mean the one lens rentals tested. Sigma offers it in Nikon F-mount.

  • TinusVerdino

    It is available in Sony E-mount

  • Carleton Foxx

    And yet, I’d be very happy with those shots. Maybe there is more to the trade off of sharpness vs depth of field than we are aware of.

  • Ruy Penalva

    No IS!

  • Shane Castle

    Here are a few guesses: 1) FF camera (5Diii, according to EXIF). 2) Sharp lens. 3) He is actually giving up some sharpness to diffraction, and I bet if he used f/8 instead you’d see an improvement, but you’d have to dl the full-res photo to tell. 4) Photos are not seen at full res. 5) None of the pics are at 1x mag.

  • William Dyer

    Another problem with this lens: it is not Nikon compatible.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Can somebody explain to me why this lens is so sharp at f/22?
    Experts on the Internet all agree that shooting smaller than f/11 will make your pictures a blurry mess because of the softening effect of diffraction.
    So how can Zach take such sharp pix at such a small aperture?

  • Adam Sanford

    Don’t forget that Canon sells a 100mm f/2.8 1:1 non-L macro for about $250 less than L that’s just about as sharp. Also has Ring USM, but it lacks IS and it is not weather sealed.

    https://goo.gl/Rb5Png

  • TinusVerdino

    the focal length is a flaw? Oh come on. You are just using the wrong lens then.

  • Turniphead

    Zach, any comments on the bokeh?

  • mpphoto

    Your points are absolutely correct, Adam. I am crazy about macro lenses and preordered this Sigma. Good build quality, great image quality (when it focuses right). I have a love-hate relationship with this lens. The autofocus is not good. I hate how slow it is, I hate the focus-by-wire, I hate that it’s not internal focusing, and it hunts sometimes. But then through luck and/or skill, you can get some great photos with this lens. It truly is best for studio or controlled situations where you’re using a rail or tripod and manual focus. If you’re just out for a walk taking random macro pics, this lens will prove frustrating. I think people are better off spending the extra ~$200 for a 100L Macro that is a refurb or on sale, unless they really want that 70mm focal length.

  • williaty

    I am absolutely interested in seeing a comparison between the Sigma 70mm macro, the Tamron 90mm G2 macro, and the Nikon 105mm VR macro. Those are the main three realistically accessible macro lenses I’m going to have to pick from for 1:1 DSLR scanning of film.

  • Munchma Quchi
  • Munchma Quchi

    This is why you never drink an entire bottle of Goldschlager (or eat asparagus) the night before a shoot with a hot model.

  • Of course, we want Roger to give us the MTF numbers for the lens!

  • Adam Sanford

    100L has ring USM = quick focusing –> it’s a great short tele prime as well as a 1:1 macro. In contrast, even with the focus delimiter on, the Sigma takes 0.7-0.8s to go from end to end (according to LensTip). That’s molasses slow, a good 4x slower than a proper AF lens.

    100L has mechanical focusing –> much more satisfying, responsive and tactile to the Sigma’s FBW setup.

    100L has IS. That’s really nice for drive-by handheld macro work on a walk or hike. The Sigma does not have that.

    100L is internally focusing. This is nice if you ‘stop and pop’ and then put your camera away — no bumping or pushing an extended front element in your bag.

    The 100L has (naturally) a larger working distance for 1:1 macro work.

    The Sigma has its virtues. It’s all be guaranteed to be sharper (need OLAF to give this one a go). But it looks like a dedicated tripod + rails macro instrument to me, while the 100L is a clearly more versatile instrument for the reasons I mentioned.

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