Review: The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A Revisted
30 May 2014
With all the hype about Sigma’s new 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | A that is doing the rounds currently, I thought I would revisit my favourite lens: the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM. I originally wrote this review for DigitalRev in late 2013. I have decided go back and update it and share some further thoughts.
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A lens fast became one of Sigma’s most popular lenses. It is sharp, fast-focusing with a quality build and a silky smooth bokeh when shooting wide open.
Having used this lens now for almost nine months, I am still happy to recommend this lens. It is, in my opinion, a must-have addition to your bag. If you have ever thought about purchasing a new 35mm prime, look no further.
When the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A lens was released, I was reluctant. Sigma is a brand that for so long people associate with cheap lenses with sub-par build quality and average performance. The last few years, though, the folk at Sigma have been busy at work changing that. The more I heard, read, and saw of this lens, well, I took the plunge.
Do I have any regrets? Not in the slightest.
Sigma has well and truly changed the game with this lens. This lens alone renews their brand and changes the way the world thinks when they see the Sigma brand.
As I have mentioned, I have had this lens a while now. It is constantly my go-to lens. It rarely leaves the camera. At the last wedding I shot, the lens was almost exclusively on the camera. It is a gorgeous lens to use and one you just want to use all the time.
At live music gigs, I have found the lens great for wide shots. It is spot on with focus (though, I have heard reports from friends who have had to micro-adjust focus on it) and fast to focus. Even in low light (on my Canon 5D Mk III), it does not have the issues that plague me with the Canon 50mm f/1.8, which hunts and hunts.
In terms of bokeh, the lens produces beautiful globules of round light goodness in the background when shooting wide open.
As expected by anyone who knows how I shoot, my main use of this lens is for portraiture. When I first got this lens, I took some headshots to test and to show off this lens. It performs as I came to expect. It is beautiful right through the aperture range, producing quality, sharp images. There may be the slightest bit of distortion on the edges of the frame, but nothing overly noticeable.
While this lens performs well right through the aperture range, it really hits its stride when wide open and simply excels. At f/1.4, it is beautiful. The bokeh is smooth, the depth of field beautiful, and it is as sharp as I believe possible. Admittedly, I do love a shallow depth of field with my headshots, and while it does look superb at f/4-5.6, I honestly think I’ll be taking a lot of images at f/1.4. This lens is superbly sharp through the range.
(It should be noted that the comparison shots above were all taken at the camera settings described, but with off-camera light power settings increasing and post-production exposure bumps to maintain a similar exposure throughout the apertures.)
I called upon my friend Katherine Williams to help out with comparing the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A to the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM. I stole her Canon lens and put them both to work.
Considering the Canon model can be as much as AU$800+ more than the Sigma, I was shocked. The Sigma shines. Granted, we only had a limited time to compare the lenses, but through the tests we performed, I personally preferred the Sigma.
Side by side, straight out of the camera, the distortion levels between the two lenses is almost the same. Due to each photo being taken on a slightly different angle, it’s perhaps an unfair comparison here. That said, the Canon does seem to have slightly more distortion.
Again, straight out of the camera, the Sigma lens seems to perform better, though this is my personal preference coming into play. The Sigma lens, in my opinion, reproduces colours better with better rendering of background colours and shadows, too. As you can from the above, the two photos were taken on the same camera with identical camera settings, although the images were taken about 3 minutes apart (meaning, cloud cover may have changed, despite shooting in shade). That said, we consistently reproduced this difference in colour / lighting performance. Katherine, on the other hand, loves her lens, so there’s definitely nothing wrong with it. I just found it interesting.
I’ve already stated that this lens is fast to focus and pin-point sharp. Why use more words when I can just use a few more photos, shot wide open, do the talking?
If I HAD to find faults with the lens, I would say the MF/AF switch on the side of the camera tends is a bit stiff. Then again, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to break, either. Considering that the only time I use MF is when I’m using the lens for video, it’s definitely not a deal-breaker.
On top of this, after using this lens for over six months, I’ve come to loathe how the lens cap can be easily knocked off in my bag. I definitely would prefer my lens cap to stay on the front of the lens a tad more without fear of putting it in my bag and scratching the glass with the very thing meant to be protecting it. But, if you’re careful, it’s not a big issue, either.
That geeky stuff you might want to read.
Lens Construction: 13 Elements in 11 Groups
Angle of View: 63.4º
Number of Diaphragm Blades: 9
Mininum Aperture: f16
Minimum Focusing Distance: 30 cm / 11.8 in
Filter Size (mm): 67mm
Maximum Magnifications: 1:5.2
Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 77mm x 94mm /3in x 3.7in
Weight: 665g / 23.5oz.
This lens is one you must buy.
It performs beyond expectation. Despite all the reviews and all the praise, I still cannot believe how sharp it is or how nice the bokeh looks. It is the lens that lives on the front of my camera. I never really appreciated the 35mm focal length until I obtained this lens; even when I used the Canon 35mm f/2, I didn’t love the range. Now, this is where most of my photos are captured.
Before this lens, I never would have ventured away from Canon lenses. But, to be honest, if someone offered to replace all my Canon lenses tomorrow with Sigma, I would do so in a heartbeat, especially as their new Art series continues to develop and grow. If I could get my hands on the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A lens, I would be an extremely happy man.
If you want a 35mm prime lens, don’t look any further than the Sigma. I have not regretted it and I don’t believe you will, either.