The best 105mm lenses for Speed, Macro or Zoom

Feb 21, 2021

Paul Monaghan

Creative photographer based in Scotland, Sigma UK Ambassador.

The best 105mm lenses for Speed, Macro or Zoom

Feb 21, 2021

Paul Monaghan

Creative photographer based in Scotland, Sigma UK Ambassador.

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One of the great things about photography is the wide range of available equipment. Particularly with lenses.  But this can also leave people wondering what might be right for them, particularly as they can often overlap in many ways.

To help, we take a closer at three lenses that can all shoot at 105mm: a fast prime, macro, and a zoom.

 

The first thing anyone will notice about these three lenses is the size and weight difference.

This makes the 105mm f2.8 Macro less than half the weight and almost half as wide as the 105mm f1.4 Art. This makes it a much easier lens to carry and use. The 70-200 Sports lens is the largest and heaviest of them all, which is fair considering it offers a 3x zoom range.

Shooting

While these lenses’ size and weight might be different, they all share one thing in common: The ability to shoot at the same focal length of 105mm.
This makes them really nice for shooting portraiture, so I took a similar shot of my son using all three lenses to see how they compare.

First up is the 105 f2.8 Macro


Even though it’s a Macro lens, it works really well here, giving nice subject isolation and nice Bokeh.  Next is the 70-200mm f2.8 Sport at 105mm

The 70-200 is offering pretty much the same image as the Macro, being at the same focal length and aperture. Let’s check out the Bokeh Master… the 105mm f1.4 Art.


That large front element and f1.4 aperture really goes to work here, allowing the 105 f1.4 Art lens to turn the background into smooth bokeh while keeping my son nice and sharp. It also has the benefit of two more stops of light hitting your sensor for faster shutter speeds or lower ISO.

Are the extra size and weight of the 105mm f1.4 art worth it for this use?  That’s really down to personal preference unless you need that extra light, as the other two lenses still deliver great results.

Close focus

While all these lenses can shoot at the same focal length, they have one major difference, their close focus ability.  So I tested this on some snow-covered grass.

First up is the 105mm F1.4 Art.


With its minimum focus distance of 1 Meter, it can’t really get into all the little details but still offers nice subject isolation. Let’s look at the 70-200mm f2.8

While the 70-200mm f2.8 Sport has a longer minimum focus of 1.2Meters, it can zoom to 200mm, allowing it to get closer to a subject than the 105 Art, offering more versatility.  But what about the Macro?

And this is where the 105mm f2.8 Macro Art lens excels. Its ability to focus at just 0.3meter from the front element lets you get right into small details of the world if you desire.

That Zoom

One thing though that the 70-200mm f2.8 Sport offers over both the 105mm prime lens is the ability to change focal length.  Allowing you to go from this 70mm image.

To this image at 200mm without moving.

The real unique feature of a zoom lens, though, is to control perspective by combining a change in position and focal length to keep your main subject the same size in the frame.

Conclusion

What lens is better really depends on the needs of the individual photographer.

The 105mm f1.4 Art offers much more light coming into the camera for better subject isolation and faster shutter speeds in low light situations. It is a large lens that can feel front heavy on smaller camera bodies, but people who love Bokeh will really enjoy what it offers.

The 70-200 f2.8 Sport offers the most versatility, with its zoom giving you a wider range of shooting options and perspective control.

Lastly, the 70mm f2.8 Macro is a nice all-around lens. Its biggest benefit is being smaller,  lighter, and cheaper than the others here.  It still offers enough subject isolation for portraiture shots and the ability to pick up fine details.

While we focused here on lenses that can shoot 105mm,  the same principles still apply to lenses of other focal lengths and from other manufactures.  Hopefully, this post will help people make a more informed decision on what will work best for them.

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Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan

Creative photographer based in Scotland, Sigma UK Ambassador.

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14 responses to “The best 105mm lenses for Speed, Macro or Zoom”

  1. Johan Olsson Avatar
    Johan Olsson

    This here photo was taken with the sigma 105mm f2.8 and if i remember correctly either with a nikon d7100 or a d610. Absolute the best bang for the buck lens.

  2. Carlos D Avatar
    Carlos D

    Looking T the first 3 images in this article, I find the zoom lens gave the sharpest image with the art lens coming in at a close 2nd. Of course I’m looking at them on my S20 with the screen high Def settings in place. To me other than boke, the zoom seems to provide the best, sharpest, and most contrast images.

    1. D E Avatar
      D E

      Well I’m having a hard time believing that conclusion without questioning some things.(didn’t watch the video) what settings are all these at? If shot wide open that says a lot for the Sigma art as f1.4 is expected to be somewhat softer than 2.8, especially when compared to a macro and it actually competes at that f1.4 without a sweat. But if we’re talking about whole package here then the Sigma macro wins since it’s top in size/weight/price and honestly it’s a super sharp lens.

      1. Carlos D Avatar
        Carlos D

        What video? There is only photos on this article. To me very clear that the zoom was the clear winner based on what I’m seeing on my S20 phone in high definition mode

        1. D E Avatar
          D E

          My bad Carlos. The reply wasn’t specifically to you. Didn’t realize I hit reply to your comment. Also thought the thumbnail was a video. Wl
          What I am trying to stay though is that even though these fotos look the way they do we do NOT know the other variables of the shots taken.

          1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
            Paul Monaghan

            All shots here are wide open except for one. That is the very close shot of the grass by the macro lens where I stopped down to f5.6 for DoF reasons.

            The 70-200 shot on my son does indeed have more contrast than the others and each where shot wide open.

            There might have been slight difference in lighting here. I was using the low winter sun as a backlight with my wife holding a large silver reflector on the right to light my son.

            Looking closey at the three there seems to be more direct sunlight bouncing onto his face on the 70-200.

            The 24mp chip in the Sigma fp isn’t enough to strain any of the lenses here and the the 105 f1.4 art is very sharp wide open on sensors I’ve used that resolve close to 50mp.

            I hope this helps.

          2. David Anderson Avatar
            David Anderson

            Some of what might look like more contrast with the zoom could be due to the heavy vignette that lens suffers from. I also think the bokeh looks a little busier than the 2.8 macro. Don’t get me wrong. I own the Sigma 70-200 and love it. The 105 ART is on the wish list!

  3. Dinah Beaton Avatar
    Dinah Beaton

    I am a bit of a lens collector of all types and description, from the vintage Asahi Takumer to my latest purchase, my Sigma 18-35mm Art. (I just love it!!)
    I have also become a great fan of Sigma lenses and the UK based company, having had recent dealings with them for advice and then a lens repair. So talking Sigma lenses resonates with me even though my camera choice is Canon.
    But what I would like to add is that I enjoyed this article just for seeing you getting similar and also different results of the same subjects.
    Why? Because I have great fun using my lenses in quite the opposite direction they are supposedly intended for. Of course, we all do this one way or another, but I like to push them further, break the rules and really enjoy the unusual results.

    1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      I have a few old K mount lens and the odd m42 lens too. They all have their own look and feel particularly the old 85mm f2 Pentax or the classic hellos 44.

      I’d be interested in seeing your unusual results though!

      1. Dinah Beaton Avatar
        Dinah Beaton

        Oh, thanks Paul for your lovely reply and yes, will share some. I’ll have to dig around a bit but thank you for your interest.
        Have a perfect week

        1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
          Paul Monaghan

          Thank you. You too.

  4. Lê Minh Trí Avatar
    Lê Minh Trí

    Body in a picture. What is it? Thank

  5. pincherio Avatar
    pincherio

    How do the 3 compare as far as AF speed is concerned?

    1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      I didn’t test that as I’m using two with the mc21 adapter and I don’t think the Sigma fp would really do any of the lenses justice.

      I can say though that I didn’t really feel waiting on the auto focus for the stuff I do but I’m not doing any tracking.