Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lenses -- a hands-on comparison review

From all the good things I had heard about these two lenses prior to going into this project I was curious to find out if, given the rather large price difference between them, one was really better than the other.  I  have to admit this is not generally a prime focal length lens I normally use on a DSLR, particularly when they tend to become as over-sized as these two. I have a Nikon 35mm f/2 I sometimes tuck in my bag for low light shooting. I prefer it because it is much, much smaller and lighter that its f/1.4 big brother.

That said, I do recognize the handiness of having such a fast aperture with quality optics in the one's arsenal of lenses. I just wish they wouldn't make them so large. It's getting so I'm going to need a pickup truck to lug around my DSLR outfit.

Two very fast aperture, f/1.4 lenses for the Nikon camera. On the left is the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens, and on the right the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM. In the background is the Nikon D800 I used for testing them.

The specifications on these two lenses come out roughly similar, with the exception of the price, of course. They are approximately the same size and weight, have the same filter size, focus the a similar close-up range, and have the same number of diaphragm blade, which, as you might expect, results in a similar, pleasant bokeh effect. Aside from price, their other major difference is in the number of lens elements.

The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G  is one of its professional lenses, with all that means in terms of durability. It has an annodized metal body and feels built like a tank. Those of us who have used Nikon lenses for years know they are champs in standing up to abuse.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM is the first lens made as part of their new Art line A-series aimed at delivering high quality optics in a stylish design.. It's body is made up of metal with some plastic parts, and with protection for internal mechanics. It feels quite solidly constructed, but time will tell how it will wear with age. My own impression is that it is solidly constructed and will hold up quite well.

Although roughly the same size, the Sigma 35mm on the right is slimmer and feels less bulky than the Nikon 35mm on the left.
I performed my typical brick wall test on the lenses to check out their apparent resolution, ability to deliver sharp corners, and distortion factors. The test results were so close the first time out, that I did it again just to be sure -- and then I did it again, and again, and even one more time just to be sure. Bottom line is: optically these two lenses are extremely close in practical use. There were very slight differences in the corners shot wide open, with the Nikon getting the nod.

At f/1.4 and f/2 both lenses suffered from vignetting and a minor touch of corner softness. Once I closed them down to f/2.8 and below they were both sharp overall. Both lenses had the expected barrel distortion of a wide angle lens. In both instances the images were easily corrected with minimal post-processing.

The bokeh of the two lenses was also quite similar, as you can see from the four images below. In fact, if I didn't carefully label each test, I would never be able to tell the difference between the results.

Sigma 35mm at f/1.4

Nikon 35mm at f/1.4

Nikon 35mm lens at f/1.4

Sigma 35mm lens at f/1.4
 I am presenting some images samples from both lenses below, but, as I already mentioned, there is really no qualitative difference between. I have provided links for some of the more illustrative examples so you can download them and judge for yourself.

Sigma lens at f/8

Sigma lens at f/5
Nikon lens at f/5.6  Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Sigma 35mm lens at f/5.6  Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Nikon 35mm lens f/9  Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Nikon 35mm lens at f/8   Click  here to download a high res version of this image.
Sigma 35mm lens at f/1.4   Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Sigma 35mm lens at f/8   Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Nikon 35mm lens at f/1.4
Nikon 35mm lens f/8  Click here to download a high res version of this image.


These are both fine lenses -- fine optically and finely constructed. The Nikon is built with a more rugged body typical of the company's pro lenses. The Sigma, while not quite as solid, is well built also and should stand up to most pro uses. After shooting these lenses side by side, and analyzing the results, I don't think that optical performance is going to be the deciding factor. Most likely the decision will come down to confidence in construction of the lens and price difference. The Sigma lens comes in at close to half the price. Sigma has been making a substantial effort recently to raise the quality of its lenses to be equal to that of major camera manufacturers. The availability of better factory machining tools coupled with computer aided design has gone a long way to leveling the playing field between lens manufactures. The fact that they can produce a competitive lens of such exceptional quality for a fraction of the cost is to be applauded. Used to be we would rarely seek to purchase an off-brand lens for our camera system. Lenses like this one from Sigma are going to go a long way to changing that attitude.

I don't have room in my crowded gadget bag for another lens of this size, but if I needed one right now and had to choose, I would go with the Sigma. All other things being close to equal, the large difference in price would be the determining factor. I have to add, that when the tests were over and I needed to pick one lens to do some personal shooting, I chose the Sigma for its comfort, compactness, and stylish design.

That said, you can't go wrong with either of these two superb lenses.

If you are planning on purchasing one of  these lenses, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon


  1. Thanks for this info - I've been browsing the net for differing opionions on the Sigma 35mm 1.4 - but not a single one is negative.

    Time to buy one :)

  2. For DX you already have the 35 mm f/1.8 G DX which gives sharp images. For FX, this Nikkor can be given a miss. No doubt it has amazing optical quality but the caveats like distortion and chromatic aberration are deal breakers after the price paid. This situation is not helped by the fact that it’s all plastic which reduces the lifespan of this glass by a great degree. The Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 for Nikon gives matching performance with reduced distortion and chromatic aberration and is cheaper but without the weather seal. Since you won’t be able to keep either of the lenses forever, it’s wise to pick up the value for money deal. If money is not the crunch, go for better 24 mm f/1.4 G and club it with a 50 mm f/1.8 and you are good to go for ages. Interested folks can read more at http://pixelarge.com/nikkor-nikon-35mm-f1-4-g-af-lens-review/ and Keep Shooting :)