We are starting 2022 with a test of two very different lenses with a similar focal length and aperture. The Sony 90mm f/2.8 stabilized macro lens and the new Sigma 90mm f/2.8 lens.
We had our Sony 90mm macro for several years and it is a fantastic lens. Although it is a G series lens it has a different design than most G lenses (or other Sony lenses in general for this matter) and it can serve as both a full 1:1 telephoto macro lens and as a great portrait lens.
The new Sigma 90mm DG DN f/2.8 is part of the company’s compact, high-performance, and beautifully made I series of lenses which we looked at in the Sigma 65mm F2 DG DN vs. the Voigtländer 65mm F2 and even before that in 2019 with our review of the Sigma 45mm F2.8 DG DN lens.
The Sigma and Sony 90mm lenses
The Sony has a relatively complex design including 15 elements in 11 groups including two ED and one super ED elements, as well as a single aspherical element. It also has special Nano AR Coating for reduced reflections and flare.
The Sigma has a less complex optical design with 11 elements in 10 groups including no less than 5 SLD elements and a single aspherical element. It has a more conventional multi-layer coating.
The Sony is made from metal and feels very robust. We had the metal thread in the front of the lens come off but this was fixed without charge some time ago even though the lens was no longer under warranty.
Like all of the rest of Sigma’s I line of lenses the 90mm is fully metal (magnesium) and feels really robust and great in the hand.
Size and weight
The Sony is a fairly long lens at just over 14cm (5.5″) or over 19cm (7.5″) with the hood.
The Sigma is a surprisingly compact lens at about half the length of the Sony or just over 7cm (3″) long with the hood adding another 4cm (1.5″) or so.
When it comes to weight the Sony tips the scale at over 670g (23oz) with the hood while the Sigma weighs in at just over half at around 350g (12oz).
The Sigma 90mm f/2.8 is a very compact lens
The Sony has a single wide focus ring with texture on it which is different than any other Sony lens we used. The ring has a push-pull focus mechanism. We are not big fans and prefer the more traditional AF/MF switch.
What we do like about the ring aside from its interesting texture which is easy to grip is the fact that unlike almost any other Sony E-mount lens it has physical hard stops which are great for video work. The ring itself also has good resistance to it and includes distance markings and macro magnification marks as well.
The Sigma has two rings, one closer to the camera for the aperture which goes from f/2.8 to f/22 in clicks, and an Auto mode if you prefer to change the aperture from the camera, which we often do.
The thicker focus ring in the front of the lens has a fly-by-wire mechanism and has a really nice resistance which feels smoother than the Sony.
The Sony push-pull focus ring
Buttons and switches
The Sony has several buttons and switches including a focus limiter with 3 modes (full/0.5 to infinity and 0.28-0.5m) an image stabilization on/off as well as a programmable focus hold button.
The Sigma has a single AF/MF switch on the side.
Both lenses have weather sealing which is always nice to see.
The Sony 90mm comes in a full-frame Sony e-mount while the Sigma comes in both E and L mounts.
The Sony has a conventional fairly deep and narrow plastic hood.
The Sigma has the beautifully made I series grooved metal hood.
Both lenses have 9 rounded aperture blades. We will look at how this affects the bokeh later on in this review
The Sony has a 62mm front filter thread.
The Sigma has a smaller 55mm front filter thread.
In manual AF mode, the Sony has a focus throw of about 180 degrees, with hard stops as we mentioned, while the Sigma has a really surprising long focus throw of about 270 degrees but with a typical fly-by-wire mechanism.
Both lenses seem to produce fast and accurate AF in stills and video modes. This is certainly one of the better Sigma focusing lenses we tried similar to the excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN which we tested here and use ourselves which also has great focus.
Interestingly the Sigma seems to perform better than the Sony in low-light situations. This is the first time that we see a 3’rd party lens perform better than a Sony lens in terms of AF although the Sony is a significantly older design (and it is possible that being a macro lens has something to do with it as well).
The Sony has built-in image stabilization, possibly since when it was announced Sony cameras did not come with in-body-image-stabilization (actually only the A7 II which was announced a few months before had IBIS). The stabilization seems to be pretty effective based on our testing.
The sigma has no image stabilization.
We tested the sharpness of both lenses using our special large professional Imatest high-end chart on our Sony A1.
Our results are quite fascinating. In the center of the frame wide open, both lenses are very sharp, but the Sony shows quite a bit more contrast. Closing down to f/4 shows significant improvement in contrast on the Sigma and both lenses look almost identical.
Sharpness in the center – top left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sigma 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sony 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sony 90mm f/4
The situation in the corners is even more interesting. The Sigma seems to be significantly sharper wide open and even at f/4.
Sharpness in the Corner – top left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sigma 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sony 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sony 90mm f/4
Close up performance
Close-up shooting and macro capabilities are truly where these lenses differ significantly. While the Sony is a full-fledged macro lens with 1:1 magnification and a close-up distance of only 28cm, the Sigma has only 1:5 magnification and about 46cm close-up distance.
Numbers aside, looking at the sharpness of both lenses at their minimum focus distance wide open you can see that the Sony is razor-sharp. The Sigma isn’t bad, but if you really need those close-ups the Sony is the clear winner.
Close up Sharpness – top left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sigma 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sony 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sony 90mm f/4
One area where the Sigma has a huge advantage is focus breathing. While the Sony has a ton of focus breathing (like most macro lenses to be honest), the Sigma seems to exhibit almost no focus breathing at all which is really nice to see (see test footage in the video above).
Both lenses seem to exhibit almost no trace of longitudinal chromatic aberrations even wide open which is certainly impressive.
CA test center – top left Sony 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sony 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sigma 90mm f/4
From our testing, it seems that both lenses exhibit more flare than we would like to see when faced with direct front light sources so use a hood and try not to shoot directly at bright lights.
Without the automatic correction, the Sony has some darkening of the corners wide open which is completely gone by f/5.6.
The Sigma has significantly more vignette wide open which completely disappears only around f/8.
Vignette test – top left Sony 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sony 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sigma 90mm f/4
Without the automatic correction, the Sony is still perfectly free of geometric distortion while the Sigma has a very clear pincushion distortion.
Barrel (no correction) – left Sigma 90mm, right Sony 90mm
Both lenses exhibit nice smooth out of focus backgrounds wide open. Looking closely at the bokeh balls it is clear that the Sigma produces rounder balls wide open although the Sony seems to have a little more reach producing larger balls.
Bokeh in the center – top left Sigma 90mm f/2.8, top right, Sigma 90mm f/4; Bottom, left Sony 90mm f/2.8, bottom right Sony 90mm f/4
The Sony isn’t really a new lens so we mostly focused on the Sigma for some sample images. We shot with both our A7R IV and our A1 (and we even had a chance to play with it on our A7 IV when we were testing it).
The following are unedited shots unless mentioned otherwise which are part of two commercial sessions that we shot with the lens over the past few weeks.
The following are a number of images from a commercial photoshoot we have done for a client (with a really lovely model) using the Sony A1 and the Sigma 90mm f/2.8. Please note that these images are fully edited shots as we provided them to our client, however, they do show what you might be able to get from this lens under optimal conditions:
It is always a joy to test quality products and our test today is certainly one of those cases. Both of the lenses are truly fantastic in more ways than one.
Let’s start with the Sony. We love macro lenses and this is one of our all-time favorites and for a good reason. It is exceptionally sharp wide open especially in the center, it has fantastic AF, image stabilization, great build quality, no visible CA and of course, outstanding macro capabilities with very high IQ close up.
Despite all its truly excellent qualities, the Sony does have a few drawbacks that you need to be aware of, some might be attributed to its age and some to its nature as a macro lens. Wide-open it is not as sharp in the corners and you will have to close down a little to get maximum sharpness. It has a lot of breathing, quite a bit of flare and its bokeh balls could be a little rounder wide open.
Two fantastic lenses with somewhat different target audiences
Moving over to the Sigma, this lens is a thing of beauty. It is small but well made and it is just so much fun to use. It has excellent fast AF, on par with the best lenses that we worked with from any manufacturer including native Sony glass.
It is sharp across the frame (sharper than the Sony in the corners and just slightly less contrasty in the center) has zero breathing, no CA, and smooth bokeh with nice round bokeh balls in the center wide open.
The Sigma also has a few drawbacks. It is also quite susceptible to flare, has a very pronounced vignette, and very visible pincushion distortion although these last two can be easily avoided or corrected.
Two things that are missing from this lens are image stabilization which would probably make the lens bigger, heavier, and more expensive, and better close-up capabilities which would have required a completely different optical formula.
All in all, though, both lenses will be a great purchase. The sigma is the more compact, travel-friendly one with great image quality and a lower price tag, The Sony has superb full macro capabilities but adds more bulk and quite a bit to the price tag.
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