This post reviews the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM macro lens, which is Sigma’s newest macro lens, replacing a few other versions of this lens with the new alphabet soup version. This lens is compatible with full frame and crop sensor DSLRs and presents a great alternative to first party Canon and Nikon macro options. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been interested in macro lenses. As exciting as photographing flies may sound to some people, it’s just not my cup of tea. However, when looking at a couple of our Christmas ornaments we just picked up at Tokyo Disneyland (see the first photo below), I thought it might be fun to test out a macro lens!
The lens is built like a tank, with serious heft to it. Aesthetically, I don’t think it looks nearly as good as the new “Art” line of lenses, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the way it looks. It has three switches on the side of the lens: one for focus distance, one for auto/manual focus, and one for OS. The manual focus switch speaks for itself, but the other switches are more interesting. Apparently, focus speed and accuracy improves by specifying the focus distance (or you can just leave it in “full,” which is the default), and the levels of OS (or off) with 2 being for moving objects. The lens also includes a carrying case and hood.
In terms of sharpness, the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS macro performs incredibly well. It’s tack sharp even wide open at f/2.8! Depth of field is razor thin at f/2.8 (all of these photos were shot wide open), so if you’re using this lens, make sure you nail focus, otherwise it might seem soft as a result of that thin depth of field. I wasn’t able to compare this lens head to head against any other macros, but in comparing photos from it to photos I’ve taken with Nikon macro lenses (a totally unscientific comparison), this lens wins.
Bokeh is incredible. Actually, it’s out of focus areas reminded me a lot of my old Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for some reason. The bokeh is smooth and buttery, and gives a nice separation between the subject and the background. It’s a bit difficult to tell in some of these photos as the large C9 Christmas lights on our tree are very harsh tests of bokeh, but the bokeh this lens produces is incredible. The bokeh is definitely best wide open, with it much less impressive stopped down at all. I was a bit surprised by this, as it seems that the drop-off between, say f/1.4 and f/2.8 isn’t that significant. In any case, you’ll want to use this lens as close to wide open as possible.
Speaking of using it wide open, when shooting with a Nikon DSLR (as I was) the camera displays the effective aperture as the focus shifts off of infinity (sort of like a variable aperture lens as you zoom). I’ve never used a macro lens that does this, so when it first occurred, I thought something was wrong with my copy. However, that’s what it’s supposed to do. I can’t really explain why this happens very well, but luckily Cambridge in Color has this helpful page offering an explanation. In any case, even though the aperture might display f/5.6 as you change your focus, you still have that razor thin depth of field that you have at f/2.8, so fear not. If you’re using any mount other than Nikon, the display will keep reading f/2.8, even though the same thing is happening with the effective aperture. I have no clue why this only happens with Nikon DSLRs.
This lens has one of Sigma’s “HSM” lenses, so autofocus should be snappy. I say should because I didn’t have much of a reason to use it, so I’m not really sure. Since I was almost exclusively photographing Christmas ornaments, and since that depth of field is razor-thin, I used a tripod and manual focus (plus live view, which is great for fine tuning manual focus) for these shots. I’ve read elsewhere that autofocus on this lens is solid, though. When I did shoot handheld, one thing that stood out was the stabilization. I shot handheld (albeit with the lens rested on my knee) down to around 1/8 second with about half of my images coming out tack sharp. Pretty impressive, I thought.
Although this is a new lens, it’s does predate Sigma’s reinvention that created the “Art” line of lenses over which I’ve been gushing in recent reviews. I didn’t experience any issues with my copy of this lens, but front and back-focusing were an issue with many of Sigma’s lenses, pre-reinvention. Google doesn’t point to that having been an issue with this particular lens, but it’s always something to keep in mind.
Even in light of this praise, the question you should definitely ask yourself before purchasing is whether you need a macro lens. Macro lenses can be a lot of fun, and for those with specialized interests (flowers, bugs, gems, etc.), this lens makes perfect sense. I know a lot of people who read these reviews have no interest in Disney theme parks (crazy, right?!), and plenty of you may have great uses for the lens. However, for the average photographer focused on Disney photography, the “need” part of the equation probably just isn’t there. Outside of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival (or park flowers in general), merchandise, and details photos, I can’t think of many subjects that really beg for a macro lens. At least, not enough that I could see purchasing the lens.
The question of need doesn’t end there, though, as it’s still a very capable 105mm f/2.8 prime lens. Again, I’m betting not many theme park photographers have a lot of use for a 105mm f/2.8 prime lens. I could be wrong, but that’s just a guess. For me personally, while it was a fun lens to play with that performs very well, I just can’t see owning it. The amount of use that I’d get out of it would be too limited. That’s to say nothing of the lens–this could score 100/100, A+, etc., but the concept is inherently something that has limited use for me. I wish I had an excuse to buy this lens because I really enjoyed using it, but I just can’t imagine using it enough to justify owning. (Maybe I could take up photographing LEGO sets…is that a thing? It seems like that would be an interesting photography niche…sort of like Disney photography!) Instead, I think it would make a fun lens to rent and play with for a weekend, especially around Christmas (check out this post for some of my Christmas photography tips) or when flowers start to bloom.
With all of that said, if you’re in the market for a macro lens, I don’t think you can go wrong here. I’ve tested a few macro lenses (including first party Nikons), and this–at a minimum–is as good as any of those lenses. I think the focal length is perfect for macro work, plus the lens is incredibly sharp and performs really well. Plus, that bokeh is just something else. Sigma always seems to deliver when it comes to bokeh, and this lens is no exception. I really can’t think of any weaknesses of the lens itself besides the drop off in out-of-focus area quality once the lens is stopped down a bit, and its potentially limited use cases. If you’re in the market to purchase a macro lens, I think you should give serious consideration to the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS. I’d highly recommend it if (and that’s a big if) you’re confident that owning a macro lens is right for you.
If you’re interested in improving your photography, check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Photography Buying Guide: Everything from Lenses to Editing Software
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!
Do you have any questions about macro lenses? Have you used the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM macro lens? Do you think a macro lens would be worth owning for you? Please share your own tips and any photos you’ve taken! Hearing from you is half the fun, so share your thoughts in the comments!