The Incredibly Big Sigma 135

A Top-Level Performer from Sigma’s Art Line

Shooting with the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art lens made me feel like I was going places. The lens imparts a sense of creativity, as if what you hold in your hand will deliver something special.

Sigma 135 Art: across the Duwamish Waterway.

This lens draws you in like a looking glass, and captures at an extremely high 50+ mega resolution. It’s not just the weight of the glass, the heft, but also the bigger-than-an-elephant’s-eye front element, which Sigma describes as, “incredibly big.” I connected the 135 to the Sony A7R, a camera that has close to that many pixels.

Sigma 135 Art: shoot on the Swing Bridge.

While 135s are usually categorized as portrait lenses for studio work, I decided to take this lens to the streets; on a bike commuter story assignment for Bike Hugger and then out for a drink at a taphouse just north of downtown Seattle. Naked City has been brewing craft beer for a decade and there’s always a cast of characters dropping in and pausing to taste the season’s freshest brew.

Here’s what you need to know: the 135 is a perfect portrait lens—rivaling only the 85—and is one of the sharpest Sigma has ever developed. It’s also a great low/mid-range telephoto for shooting action, as I often do on the side of a trail when the lighting is less than ideal.

The light was changing by the second at sunrise, and as you can see in the shots, the bright aperture allowed for more creative choices. The extra focal length—when matched with a minimum focus distance of around three feet—allows the compression of the longer focal length with the larger aperture, creating some truly amazing images with distinct separation from the background. Both on the side of a trail and at a blue-collar bar, I was able to pull focus away from distracting elements. My subjects were as sharp as the schedules they keep.

For the bar shots, I used ‘Flexible Spot’ focusing mode on the A7R. The 135 was connected with the MC-11. For action, I shot continuously in wide mode with a high-resolution camera that’s more adept at studio work and stills, I didn’t miss a shot or have to spend any time in post production removing chromatic aberration, fringe, or sharpening edges. The MC-11 works, transmitting native functions without hesitation, including face detection and Eye-AF.

Sigma 135 Art: tugs on the Duwamish.

It’s worth noting that I shot handheld. When the camera presented me with subjects like the urban fishermen on a Duwamish River pier, my intentions were clarified, as the fishing pole came into view from a busy port background. Sigma’s newly-developed motor drives the elements. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it would not disappoint with a faster camera, either.

Sigma 135 Art: Fishing at the Port of Seattle

The man at a bar taking a drink, I guessed, was midway through a long story about his time in this city, and I was reminded that 135 is a focal length first introduced with Leica in 1931. Ever since its introduction decades ago, it’s been a lens generally thought to be unideal for snapshots, but that’s where I felt it worked best.

Sigma 135 Art with a pint at the bar.

The smoothness was reminiscent of Sigma’s Cine lenses—which I’ve also shot with—and unlike that first Leica, there’s no softness around the edges. Scanning a scene, I noticed how well the focus transitioned from a dramatic perspective in a long shot across the bridge to a close up as the cyclists checked their phones or the barkeep pulled a beer from the taps. Unlike a shooting experience with the 85, I was forced to step back a bit and consider the background when composing the scene.

SIgma 135 Art at Naked City.

In manual focus mode, I shifted from subject to subject like a cyclist picking a bigger gear, building up speed. The lens costs as much as one of the bikes I snapped, but true to its size,  the 135 delivers an incredibly big value.
That’s worth celebrating with a fancy cocktail at the Italian joint in my neighborhood.

Sigma 135 Art: a fancy cocktail.

Lens Features

  • EF-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/16
  • Two FLD Elements, Two SLD Elements
  • Super Multi-Layer Coating
  • Hyper Sonic AF Motor, Manual Override
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • TSC Material, Brass Bayonet Mount
  • MC-11 Mount Converter for EF to Sony E

Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens ships with a Canon EF, Nikon F, or Sigma SA mount. I used it with the Sigma MC-11 Mount Converter/Lens adapter for Sony E. Announced in February of this year, the 135 is shipping now from Amazon for about $1299.

Lens construction

  • Yellow=FLD glass
  • Blue=SLD glass
Lens construction13 elements in 10 groups
Minimum apertureF16
Filter sizeφ82㎜
Angle of view (35mm)18.2°
Minimum focusing distance87.5cm / 34.4in.
Dimensions (diameter × length)Φ91.4mm × 114.9mm / 3.6in. x 4.5in.
Number of diaphragm blades9 (Rounded diaphragm)
Maximum magnification ratio1:5
Weight1,130g / 39.9oz.
Appearance and specifications are subject to change without notice.