Sigma has redesigned its popular 105mm macro lens for mirrorless cameras. Angela Nicholson watches closely
Since its announcement in 2011, Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM macro lens has been on nearly every macro lens recommendation list. This is a widely respected optic that is available in a range of mounts at a more affordable price than comparable options from major camera manufacturers.
However, it was designed when DSLRs were the primary focus and now, with mirrorless camera sales leading the way, Sigma has gone back to the drawing board to recreate it for this new breed. Thus was born the 105 mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art.
It is available either with the L-mount for Leica, Panasonic and Sigma cameras, or with the Sony E-mount.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art: Specifications
While the old SLR lens has 16 elements in 11 groups, Sigma has arranged 17 elements in 12 groups for this new optic. This includes an SLD (Special Low Dispersion) element to minimize chromatic aberrations while the Super Multi-Layer Coating applied to certain elements is designed to suppress flare and ghosting. Additionally, there is a water and oil repellent coating on the front element to help it shed water droplets and fingerprints.
Macro photographers who like to venture outdoors to capture their subjects in situ will also appreciate that the 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art has gaskets around every joint and moving part to keep dust and moisture out. humidity.
While macro photography can often require manual focus, the lens utilizes Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) which uses ultrasonic waves to move the focus group when the autofocus system is engaged. Focusing is internal, so the lens does not change length during focusing and the front element does not rotate either.
This first point is standard while the second is important when graduated or polarizing filters are used, because any rotation would have an impact on the orientation of the filter. Polarizing filters are especially useful for wet or shiny subjects in macro photography, as they can reduce glare and improve color.
At the closest focusing distance of 29.5cm, the working distance is 14.1cm, allowing natural light to reach the subject and giving them some breathing room. The L-Mount version is also compatible with Sigma’s two new teleconverters: the 1.4x TC-1411 (£369) and the 2x TC-2011 (£399). These provide magnification ratios of 1.4:1 and 2:1 respectively, while maintaining the working distance of 14.1cm. But sadly, there’s no sign of them becoming available in E-mount.
Unlike the old Sigma 105mm lens, the new 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art has an aperture ring. This has markings in 1/3 EV steps ranging from f/2.8 to f/22. There is also an ‘A’ setting which can be selected to allow the camera to automatically set the aperture value or when you want to use a camera dial to select the aperture setting.
Sigma gave the aperture ring click stops that provide haptic feedback as it rotates. However, there’s also a switch that allows videographers looking to avoid recording operational sounds and photographers who prefer smooth action to be “un-clicked” on the ring.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art: construction and handling
Sigma’s Art lenses are the company’s high-end optics and the construction of the 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art meets our expectations at this level. It looks smart and professional and feels well made.
Interestingly, at 74mm in diameter and 133.6mm in length, the new lens is 4.3mm narrower and 7.2mm longer than the older 105mm macro lens, and at 715g, it weighs 10g less. It’s also considerably smaller and lighter than the Sigma 105mm f1.4 DG HSM (non-macro lens) “bokeh-master” which measures 115.9mm in diameter, 131.5mm in length and weighs 1.645kg.
While the aperture ring sits near the lens mount, the wide focus ring sits at the end of the lens. It has a nice action, feeling very smooth and precise. It requires pressure from a finger or your thumb to rotate it into the correct position.
Including click control, the 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art has three switches and one button on its barrel. Sensibly, the click control sits at the 6 o’clock position on the barrel, so it’s unlikely to get in the way or be used accidentally, but it’s easy to find when you need it.
Starting from the bottom of the barrel, on the left side of the lens when you hold it to use, the focus limiter switch is next in line after the click control. This has three settings to determine the focus distance range of the lens, full, 0.5m to infinity and 0.29m to 0.5m. This last setting is particularly useful for macro photography, as it prevents the camera’s autofocus system from being distracted by background objects beyond the intended subject.
Above the focus limiter switch, at the 3 o’clock position on the barrel, is a customizable autofocus lock (AFL) button. This is perfectly positioned to press down with your left thumb as you fire. This is handy if the camera is in continuous AF mode and you want to temporarily stop focusing. However, Sony cameras offer a long list of alternative features accessible via this button. A particularly useful option for macro is the “focus magnifier” which allows focus to be checked without turning the focus ring when the lens is set to manual focus.
Higher on the lens barrel, above the focus hold button, is the AF/MF switch. When set to MF, rotating the focus ring prompts the Sony A7R IV to display a distance scale and a magnified view of the area below the focus point.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art: Autofocus
I tested the Sony E-mount version of the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art on the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony Alpha 7R IV cameras. This means that I’ve used it with one of the best (if not the best) autofocus systems currently available and generally focus is sharp and assured.
However, as is often the case, it does slow down a bit as the subject gets closer and there is a bit of chasing at times. This hunting is reduced by using the focus limiter and there were only a few occasions where I felt the need to switch to manual focus.
Sigma’s HSM focuser system is quiet but not quite silent, meaning a remote microphone will likely be needed if it’s being used to record video with ambient sound.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art: Image Quality
Even when the aperture is wide open, the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art captures very sharp images. In fact, when examining identical images taken at different aperture settings, I couldn’t see much, if any, increase in sharpness when the aperture was closed from f/2.8 to f/4, f/5.6 or f/8.
Closing down to f/22, the smallest aperture available, naturally results in a slight softening due to diffraction. But that’s minimal and often an acceptable trade-off for getting enough depth of field with close-ups, so I’d be perfectly happy to use the lens at any of its aperture settings. Detail is also well maintained in the corners of the frame with only a slight drop.
If the in-camera correction profiles are turned off, a keen eye can spot slight corner shading and the tiniest hint of pincushion distortion. However, neither is problematic and the correction profiles, which can also be applied when processing raw files in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, deal with the issues very well.
Chromatic aberration is also extremely well controlled with only very slight examples appearing occasionally, and these are easily dealt with after capture. Additionally, out-of-focus areas appear smooth and natural with no apparent aberrations in circular highlights.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art: Verdict
Although it doesn’t have built-in optical stabilization, at £699 the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro Art is almost twice the price of the 105mm F2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM. That’s a significant chunk of cash, which might be enough to convince some photographers to use the older optics with an adapter for their mirrorless camera. However, the new model is an excellent lens capable of delivering superb results, while having the advantage of being weather sealed.
The addition of an aperture ring is a particularly nice touch. I find it connects me more closely to my photography than a camera dial, and it seems particularly suitable for macro photography. However, it’s good that there’s the option to use the camera dial as some photographers may not be happy to change the way they work when they change lenses.
Sigma’s Art lenses have a solid reputation and this new macro fits in there, seeming a logical addition to the range given the popularity of the older version. However, it’s disappointing that the company hasn’t introduced it in a wider range of mounts that better reflects the mirrorless market. Neither it nor the older 105mm macro lens is available in a Nikon Z or Canon RF mount, for example, and Fujifilm and Micro Four Thirds photographers are largely ignored.