The Bokeh Master …
Any manufacturer who decides to call their lens the “Bokeh Master“ is very much setting themselves up for a fall, so I was very intrigued to see for myself what the new SIGMA 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens (SPECIFICATION) had to offer. Many aspects about this lens seem a little bit unusual at first glance. The large front glass element (filter size 105mm) tells you straight away this is no ‘normal’ lens and that it’s going to scoop a whole bucketful of light towards the camera sensor. The unusually short squat shape seems a little unwieldy at first glance, yet it feels and sits very nicely in the hand (the solid tripod foot is very easily removed). In general, the lens feels very solid and well-built with the metal sun shield simply adding the finishing touch to the quality of engineering. Of course, such a lens begs to be used as a wedding lens, separating the loving couple from the guests/surroundings with a wonderful bokeh. Indeed both myself and Ines have regularly used the lens during our work for the organisation “Dein Sternenkind”, where the increased separation to the subject that a 105mm lens brings, as well as its wonderful low light capabilities fit perfectly to the job in hand.
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I wanted to put the lens through its paces, however, under different conditions. Creative nature photography, concentrating on colour and structure and the interplay of subject and light, is a topic that really fascinates me. Starting in the autumn of last year, there have been many opportunities to not just look at the bokeh the lens can produce, but also to see the high levels of detail the lens can capture. I like to work a lot with water, often aiming for an abstract representation based on the interplay of light with the surface ripples. Although I have to admit that a 105mm CP-Filter, which I would normally use to control reflections from the water surface, is not something I have readily to hand, I was able to find compositions where this was not an issue and was extremely pleased with the shots I was able to capture.
When exploring what the lens could offer I wanted to not just create beautiful backdrops for the subjects I would be interested in, but also to explore working creatively with the subjects themselves, that is, most recently, orchids and butterflies and that would mean getting “nice and close”. Two extension rings for the Sony E-Mount (10mm and 16mm) were thus used either individually or in combination between a Sony alpha 7RII and a SIGMA MC-11 E-SA adapter to achieve this.
Whilst the autumnal images were shot locally in the Taunus, Germany, the majority of the shots were taken on a recent tour to the South of France, whereby a short stop in Valle Verzasca in Switzerland on the return journey completed the evaluation of this captivating lens. And, actually, I really do mean captivating! As I started to work more and more in a “macro” scenario, for example exploring the differences between being near the point of furthest focus and nearest focus in combination with various F-Stop settings, ever more creative avenues seemed to open themselves up invitingly.
Of course the lens is not just all about bokeh and indeed it can capture a superb amount of detail. The water worn rocks at Valle Verzasca providing the perfect opportunity to explore colour, form and structure:
As the various butterfly images show, and as perhaps one would expect, capturing a sharp subject, which means closing the lens down somewhat, and yet maintaining or achieving a wonderful bokeh as a back-drop is somewhat of a real “tour-de-force” for the lens. I was impressed and from my perspective the lens truly is a “Bokeh Master”. The tripod collar that comes with the 105mm lens is a real bonus, fitting perfectly to how I like to work ‘in the field’. For nearly all of my macro work and independent of the lens / camera combination, I like to work from an inverted tripod. A lens collar really gives that extra degree of flexibility when composing the image.
Working with the orchids at F/1.4 the image subject is very much larger than the depth of focus and thus the subject itself drifts very quickly into a diffuse hint of the remaining structure – this was an effect I really liked. Even when closed down “significantly” the diffusion of the just out of focus subject was such that it simply drifted away into the background without any “masking” by the foreground – wonderful. By placing a reflector behind the orchids, for example, I was able to get them to fuse into the high-key white background in a really interesting way. Certainly an effect I will look to explore more in the future. Interestingly, especially since with the extension rings the depth of focus is much shallower than normal, stopping down to around F/5.6 still maintained a very interesting bokeh.
For nearly all of my photography, I currently (Spring 2019) work with a SIGMA sd Quattro H as my go-to camera body: Either I am looking to capture detail and can work in SDF-Mode (SEE HERE), or I am looking to work off the special properties the Foveon Sensor brings to the camera (SEE HERE). The Sony, excellent that it is, has been the “Back-Up” for when the sd Quattro H is no longer appropriate (very low light / astro-photography etc.). Needing to work with the extension rings meant that I “had to” work with the Sony. However, I found that the results that the lens gave when used as a “macro lens” were so intriguing, that the Sony alpha 7RII /SIGMA 105mm Art combination was becoming ever more the first choice out of the camera bag – and that was something I really didn’t expect. As a small aside: When working “free hand” with the extension rings, I set the in-camera body stabilization to a somewhat arbitrary, but nevertheless very sensible, “200mm”, therby increasing the level of stabilisation, since I was working considerably closer than the normal minimum focal distance of around 1 meter.
This lens is different! Wonderfully different! It looks different, it feels and sits beautifully different in the hand and the results are just superb – a creative photographers dream!
The images in this article were taken with the SIGMA 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art (LINK) in combination with either a Sony alpha 7RII (LINK) (sensor crop factor 1.0) camera with a SIGMA MC-11 E-SA (LINK) adapter or a SIGMA sd Quattro H (LINK) (sensor crop factor 1.3) camera and a Rollei Lion Rock 30 Mark II (LINK) carbon tripod.