Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art Lens Review
Sigma announced their first ‘Art’ lens way back in 2012, and since then they have released 17 lenses under this badge. These lenses have pushed Sigma from its ‘Prosumer’ audience firmly into the hands of professionals; with prices to match. Although the lenses they released covered everything from 14mm up to 105mm, none from this specialist range held the title of a true macro lens. This was surprising due to one of Sigma’s major strong points having always been their macro lenses – namely the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM Macro and the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro. They were very popular and performed just as well as any of the competitors’ offerings. The newest addition to the range, the Sigma 70mm F/2.8 DG Macro Art lens, fills this niche, and it certainly lives up to the Art title.
Having said that, the Sigma instantly has a few downfalls: the lens isn’t weather-proofed, it lacks image stabilisation, and the extending barrel can often make it hard to judge how far from the subject you are. It is also only available with Canon, Sony, and Sigma mounts, which does restrict it from Nikon users – sorry guys. With all this being said, the lens more than makes up for the few negatives in many ways. It comes in at the lower end of the Art range in terms of price at a very reasonable £500. This also puts it within the price range of many current macro lenses on the market such as Canon’s 100mm L and Sigma’s other 150mm. This is a very competitive market and the lens will need to stand out from a very strong and well established crowd.
As with all other Art lenses, optical quality was the priority. To achieve this with the 70mm Macro it has come at the expense of image stabilisation and autofocus speed. This worried me at first as autofocus can be an important feature when doing macro work; fast moving insects or subjects blowing in the wind often need fast autofocus to “lock on” quicker than you can by achieving it manually.
Even so, the lens performed better than I had feared on the autofocus front, it wasn’t lightning quick but more than useable in the majority of situations. When you get down close to 1:1, that’s when it struggles and often ends up hunting. However, if you pull back just a little then you’ll find no trouble locking onto small butterflies being blown in the wind, for example. The focus limiter can really help in such situations. 0.5 meters is a good middle-of-the-range area for the limiter to fall at. All-in-all, the autofocus is very usable – but don’t expect any miracles!
Manual focus on the lens uses a Fly-By-Wire focus system. This means the twisting of the focus ring controls a motor that changes the focus, as supposed to a direct connection between the two. My first impression of this system wasn’t positive (to put it sensitively). It felt unpredictable, going from very little movement to suddenly jumping the whole nine yards. After some more practice, I started to see the benefits. The focus ring travel you get from it allows you to achieve very fine adjustments, great when working from a tripod or in a studio situation. In the field I rarely use manual focus as I find moving the camera itself a more precise method. With this being said, when leaning on something the manual focus on this lens becomes very useful, achieving focus manually was better than most macro lenses I’ve used due the huge focus wheel travel.
I expected a great deal from this lens with regards to sharpness; did it perform? Yes, yes it did. From wide open at f/2.8, right through to f/5.6, it is pin-sharp. I’d have no aversion to shooting wide open at all. From f/5.6 upwards it’s exceptional. In fact, it is one of sharpest lenses I’ve used for macro, if not the sharpest. At the corners there is very little drop-off, and unless you are ‘pixel peeping’ I doubt you would even notice.
Distortion? What distortion? Even when pushing the lens to extremes, it is difficult to find any – and what is there would be easily corrected. Some macro lenses can suffer from chromatic aberration, but not this one. I’ve noticed virtually none from this lens during my testing period.
There is also next to no lens flare. The recessed front element makes it difficult to get any light onto the glass itself, unless pointing it directly at a light source. This, combined with the option to add the hood, makes getting any flare a challenge.
Full Resolution Example
You can download the following shot at full resolution, for those who want to see the real details, at this link.
The Sigma 70mm F/2.8 DG Macro Art lens is a very high-performing lens which would be welcome in any macro, or even portrait, photographer’s camera bag. Image quality is exceptional and Fly-By-Wire focusing can be very useful in studio situations. I would be most comfortable using this lens in a studio, however it has performed very well out in the field.
The only downsides I see are the average autofocus performance and the lack of proper weatherproofing. On the whole, I’d be very happy owning this lens and when used well it gets fantastic results.