105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art Impression
Originally, bokeh was a generic noun meaning “out-of-focus parts.” Therefore, it was never expected to be an important element in photography before the main subject, let alone the center of attention.
However, it is the Japanese who started to regard it as a “taste” (of all things) even though it is blurred. They have established something which was nothing but “out of focus” in Western culture as one of the ways of photographic expression. The Westerners must have had a difficulty in understanding it at first, wondering what Japanese people are talking about. Even after the idea was popularized, their language did not have the word for “bokeh as a mean of artistic expression” and the expression “out of focus” simply means the state of blurring. I think it is natural because they did not even have the concept in the first place. So, they had to import the word “bokeh” as it was. Even though it has become a universal term now, it is still a young concept – first appeared in 1997 in a photography magazine in the United States.
The new “SIGMA 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art” has the longest focal length in the Art line featuring F1.4 brightness. Like some other SIGMA lenses, this one looks magnificent. When the SIGMA 135mm F1.8 DG HSM | Art was released in last March, I asked them about the possibility of F1.4. They said that they tried to design it to find out the size becoming unrealistically big. Now, they have found the fine balance by using the focal length of 105mm. Though the size almost makes me let off a half smile, it is not big to the extent that I feel unrealistic (and it exists in reality!). By the way, the focal length of 105mm was completely unexpected even though I understand that it was an empty position in the lineup.
This lens has an alias, “BOKEH-MASTER.” Needless to say, it expresses their confidence in its bokeh quality. Of course, just having a good bokeh does not make a good lens, and we can all imagine this SIGMA lens has excellent resolution and sharpness while minimizing aberration. Plus, the bokeh must “behave” to accentuate the main subject. Now, let’s check the image quality.
SIGMA already has “the portrait lens” 85mm F1.4 in the Art line. This 105mm is longer by 20mm. While the difference is small enough to allow similar applications, I must admit that the 105mm has a longer working distance to the subject and is less flexible in photographic approach. Yet, the difference of 20mm becomes strength to offer better background bokeh, provided that it is well-controlled in terms of both quantity and quality. Now, let’s check the bokeh this 105mm F1.4 DG | HSM Art generates.
All the three images were shot at wide open. The background bokeh is nothing but “creamy.” It is so beautiful and nothing like many other lenses generating ugly collapsing bokeh (which is far from melting) and unwelcome color fringing. Although the degree of creaminess decreases depending on the positional relationship between the photographer, the subject, and the background, it is still mild presenting no unpleasant line that distracts the contour of the person. The hairs on the focal plane, on the other hand, look amazingly sharp. Yet, this is something I expected. What impressed me most was the realistic rendition of the burnish. This lens has more to offer than just good bokeh. I would also like you to check the rendition of the skin texture of the three models in different generations as well as the point light sources.
There is no theory in taking snapshots. Similarly, there is no rule in choosing lenses and you can use a 400mm F2.8 on the streets if you want. In reality, however, I would not shoot with anything longer than 105mm or 135mm (I am only talking about fixed-focal lenses) because I want to be agile and look unsuspicious (very important thing these days), though I do not know about the realistic widest-end of a wide-angle lens I can use on the street. However, the longest realistic focal length does bring a lot of merits as well.
One of the merits is the easiness in composition, though I am not comparing it to wide-angle lenses because we shoot completely different subjects with them. With a telephoto lens, we do not have to be very nervous about leveling and it is easy to position the subject ideally with the ideal size (this happens almost automatically). Finally, the extremely blurry background works to highlight the subject because the unnecessary elements are diffused. This means that even an ordinary scene becomes picturesque instantly. I would also like to mention that the AF speed is simply amazing.
What kind of subject would you associate 105mm F1.4 with? Flowers is my answer and the last subject for this impression. Because they are often anthropomorphized particularly in the viewfinder, the photographic approach is similar to the one for portraits. After exploring the angle to make them look their best, assessing lighting condition, and checking whether the background is appropriate, you shoot. Although flowers never respond to our requests like humans do, we still want high-quality bokeh to clearly define them. What is more, we desire that the quality of texture rendition (such as moisture and softness of petals and leaves) to be higher than what we need for shooting portraits. In this sense, flowers are tough subjects.
Flowers are smaller than humans. Even with the 105mm focal length, composition is sometimes difficult due to the 100cm minimum focus distance. One good solution is using the already released 70mm F2.8 DG MACRO | Art in combination.
Bokeh is a mysterious phenomenon as we never see things in such a way with the naked eye. The quality of the rendition of focal plane can be pursued and evaluated in terms of the reality expressed by resolution and texture. Bokeh, on the other hand, is completely about imagination and is a question of like or dislike. Yet, for that reason, it has become a universal value.
Did the very first camera have the mechanism of aperture? Or, was it invented by someone afterwards? I do not know. At any rate, I believe that adjusting aperture to control depth of field or bokeh is the final touch a photographer puts to express his/her intension (just like the painter putting the finishing touch to the picture of a dragon). Note, however, that we can only control the quantity of bokeh and its quality depends on the character of the lens (though we can control it moderately by adjusting aperture and some lenses have special mechanism to change their bokeh tastes). In other words, you must look for the lens that has the bokeh you like best. Fortunately, if you choose this 105mm, you will only have one competitor. Take time. Carefully examine the difference. And, choose the one you prefer. Once again, SIGMA is truly confident in this lens.