Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reviewing the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS HSM Macro

Remember this previous article? In it, I was presenting through a hypothetical scenario a list of questions to help you decide on the lens you truly need. Well, it's time to come clean about something: The scenario was not hypothetical! A friend of mine asked my opinion about his next lens purchase. The setup (i.e. which lenses and camera he already owned and what he wanted to get) was factual, and so were his replies (with a bit of help from me, I must admit). My friend ended up getting the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS HSM Macro, and he has been very happy with his purchase. As a "thank you" he lent me the lens for a couple of days, so that I could write this review.

Sharpness is usually a given, bokeh is not. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS bokeh is lovely!

+ optically brilliant, absolutely no flaws to speak of, both in macro and other distances
+ superb functionality and plenty of adjustments for the user (e.g. focus limiter and stabilization)
+ very reliable stabilization...

- ... which though produces a peculiar noise (you get used to though).
- on the chunky side, slightly out of balance when attached to a D3300 kind of body. Still, way smaller than any fast tele zoom
- all the new goodies (OS, HSM) means it's more expensive than its predecessor.

Intended Users
Great for:
  • excellent for macros. The OS helps even there (except perhaps when approaching 1:1)
  • brilliant lens for portraits: great focal length, OS, and f/2.8*. 
  • on a DX camera it's reasonably long so it can work (if you can't/won't use anything else) as a short tele for low light.

    * due to this being a macro lens design, f/2.8 is feasible only when focusing on infinity (or beyond a few dozen feet anyway). For portrait use, this is an f/3 lens.
The optical stabilizer is very efficient. This was taken at 1/5 - yes, that's 1/5 - with a cropped sensor Nikon. If you look at 100%, it's not entirely sharp, but it's not unusable either. Just a reminder: without OS you'd need 1/160 (on a cropped sensor) to be certain!

Not for:
  • it goes without saying that this is a lens for "special occasions". 105mm is a focal length that is a bit Goldilocks-ish (sometimes too long, sometimes too short, hopefully just right when you need it)
  • although it can work as a short tele, if  indoor sports is something you're doing regularly, an 70-200 f/2.8 zoom would realistically be a better option.
  • looking for a lens exclusively for macros? Any older Nikkor AIS lenses - such as the superb 105mm f/4 - is realistically a better bargain (although, it won't meter on entry-level bodies).
Obviously enough, it's especially tack sharp in macro distances.

Final Verdict

I really liked the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS HSM lens. It has very few flaws - when you think of it, it has no flaws apart from a slight noise from the OS system (which you get used to quickly) and that it's a tad on the heavy side when mounted on a D3300 kind of body. Still, it's much smaller and lighter than a fast zoom, and at the end of the day, if I had to pick a compromise between optical quality, focal length, speed, and weight, I'd pick a bit more weight to have everything else. Highly Recommended!

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