Sigma’s DSLR lens lineup contains no less than five true macro lenses, for all needs and purposes. While most manufacturers have one long and one short macro lens around the usual 100/105mm offer, Sigma offers two in each category: a 150mm and 180mm at the long end, a 50mm and a 70mm at the short end. The latter is reviewed here.
The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro covers the full-frame area. It yields a 105mm equivalent framing on APS-C camera bodies (112mm on Canon), which is a commonly used field of view for close-up work. It is a true macro lens, focusing close enough to reach life-size magnification.
The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 is a medium-sized lens. The weight is substantial given its size and specs (525 g / 18.5 oz, nominal). It is definitely reassuring for me. Mechanically bad lenses always feel lighter than they look.
When focused at 1:1 magnification, the lens almost doubles its length (initially 95mm), and it effectively does with the hood on.
When retracted, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro feels dense. The finish of the barrel is Sigma’s EX classic grainy tough plastic, with a distance scale plain and simply painted on the focusing ring. It turns smoothly but offers little resistance. Most importantly, there is no wobble in the focusing mechanism, even after several months of use. The bayonet mount is brass.
Although not very old, the lens has one archaic feature: the supplied, barrel-shaped metal lens hood has to be screwed on. Sure it allows for tight retention, but it is less convenient (slower to do) than the modern snap-on approach, and the front cap of the lens cannot be mounted when the hood is on.
The lens has a 62mm filter thread, a common size with short macro lenses.
There are definitely a few things to get acquainted with, like the oddball lens hood mounting and the long-extending barrel, but overall the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro’s handling just feels pleasant.
With the majority of AF lenses, photographers rely on autofocus 95 to 100% of the time. With macro lenses, this number falls down due to the control and precision needed at close focusing distances, which is provided by a manual control over focus. Let’s see how the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro fares in both categories.
The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro does not benefit from Sigma’s fast and silent focus drive, but relies on a micro-motor, resulting in a buzzy-sounding autofocusing. However, it is not much slower than the HSM is on other macro lenses, but hunts a bit more in some situations. The workaround is to make sensible use of the focus limiter, which is a very welcome feature.
It may not be the best lens to shoot action, but it is definitely usable for all around slow-paced photography on a full-frame body, and short telephoto work on APS-C.
Manual focus operation on the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro is a mixed bag. For the bad part, the narrow and low-resistance focusing ring may be a caveat when absolute pinpoint precision is required. So is the relatively short focus throw.
The good part is the location and the smoothness of the focusing ring, which I find convenient and ensures a steady grip of the lens.
In the field, I found myself relying more on the AF than I thought (unless silence was required), simply because it has proven its accuracy (on both the 5D Mark II and the 1D Mark IV), even up close. No manual focus override may be a letdown to some shooters.
Sigma generously supplies numerous graphs related to the optical behavior of the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
Sigma provides a measured modulation transfer function chart for the Sigma 70mm f/.8 EX DG Macro at the aperture of f/2.8. Being theoretical, absolute values are of little interest, but it gives a glimpse of the general behavior of the lens across the frame.
According to the MTF chart, performance remains high throughout the image. There is barely any astigmatism, and apparently no field curvature to deal with.
The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro features 10 elements in 9 groups. The lens boasts no less three SLD (Super Low Dispersion) glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations of all kinds, like the 150mm f/2.8 OS Macro. It is a lot, and it shows in the pictures.
The lens shows minor pincushion distortion. At about 0,5% near the edges, it is nothing to worry about in th field. Being linear, it can be corrected switfly for critical work (ie. flat artwork, architecture).
Vignetting is moderate wide open, which can beautifully emphasize the subject of a portrait for example.
I have yet to stumble upon a macro lens that is soft, but the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 is definitely a step beyond most. Put it simply, it is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever used. Got a not-super-sharp shot? Check your focus or your speed, because it cannot be the lens, as it affords a crystal-clear plane of focus even wide-open.
A longer lens not allows to avoid not only background distractions, but also foreground ones. This cas is a bit particular as whatever the lens, the cage bars are in the path between the subject and the sensor. Nonethless, they could be much more diffuse, and thus less distrcating, with a 150 or 180mm lens.
Being optically computed for macro work, there is nothing to criticize in its image rendition up close. A wide aperture can be used for creative effects and for the best blurring power around the plane of focus. Note the cleanliness of the out-of-focus areas and the pure colors.
I had no way to frame this better. The scene is busy with fine details, and the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro did not disappoint, showing them all.
f/5.6, minimum focusing distance. Thanks to the 9 aperture blades, the bokeh shows nicely circular highlights. A longer focal length or a wider aperture is required to further blurry the out-of-focus areas, but the latter may also blur some parts of your subject.
Along with a flat field, a consistent image rendition shows on the images made with the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro.
I find 70mm to be a convenient focal length for product photography, on both full-frame and APS-C. Generally, short focal lengths are less tedious to work with because framing is easier whatever the size of the object. One is more restricted with a long focal length, as more space is needed, and setting the tripod to get the right angle of view can be tricky with some subjects.
Short macro lenses have an inherent issue when it comes to extreme closeups: minimum focusing distance. The MFD of the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro is 25.7 cm away from the sensor plane, placing the front element at about 4 cm from the subject. Needless to say, I had hard times trying to photograph critters with this lens. Obviously it is not impossible, but more of a challenge than with a longer macro lens. If insects are you main macro subjects, Sigma has three longer macro lenses to satisfy your needs anyway.
Conversely, the 70mm focal length is versatile enough for many types of shooting, making the lens suitable for much more than macro photography.
I will try to be as fair as possible here, not listing personal preferences discussed earlier but only things that I think matter to the majority of users, with different levels of importance. To emphasize that, the more + and -, the more important the point is, to my point of view, when the question “should I buy it or not ?” arises.
- Very high sharpness at all apertures and distances (+++)
- Impressively accurate autofocus (++)
- Unusually good correction for aberrations of all kinds (++)
- Low price given the superb optics (+++)
- Short focusing throw and average tactical feel impede manual focus, which is unfortunate for a macro lens (- -)
- Mechanically a bit inferior to the latest Sigma lenses, needs a refresh with HyperSonic Motor, inner focusing and new finish (- -)
- Screw-on lens hood can be a pain to mount/unmount in the field (-)
Although the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro may lag a bit from a mechanical standpoint, the lens has proven its merits as a reliable tool, always affording surprisingly beautiful images in various scenes.
The Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro packs a lot of optical goodness resulting in crisp and clean images. When you have to stop down a lens only to get more depth of field, you know you have a winner in your hands.
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