Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens - a Hands on review

I already posted a comparative hands on review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens versus the similar Nikon model. Since then I found myself in need of a lens of this type for some specific photography I am doing, and the lens I settled upon was the Sigma version. This has given my more hands on time with this lens so I decided to do a review of it in its own right.

The Sigma 35mm Art series lens has a stylish, minimal look reminiscent of the new Zeiss Touit lenses, and with the a similar type of flat rubberized look to the finish. 
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens is full frame lens that is the first addition to its Art series of lenses as part of Sigma's Global Vision, which also includes a Contemporary and Sports series. As stated by Sigma, the "Art" line is "Engineered for those who see photography as a critical expression of self, our ... . offers sophisticated optical performance and abundant expressive power to deliver faithfully on your artistic vision." I'm not sure any of this nomenclature of this categorization system is of value to anyone, but there you have it.

The 35mm lens with and without its lens shade. 
Suffice it to say the "Art" line contains lenses of high pro quality optical design and construction, and features, such as very fast apertures, low distortion, and excellent auto focus abilities. In the end the proof is in the pudding, and this lens does live up to its hype. In fact, it is continually rated as the best in its class despite the fact that it cost substantially less than its Nikon and Canon competitors.

At its sweet spot of f/5.6 this lens is sharp everywhere and second to none.
This is no light weight lens. It comes in at 23.5oz (665g), with length and diameter at 3.7 x 3" (94 x 77mm). It takes 67mm filters, and focuses down to 11.8" (30cm). Most of these features are typical for this type of lens. What isn't typical is the price. At $899 it costs considerably less than its branded competitors ( $1619 for Nikon, and $1479 for Canon). When you consider that the Sigma optics are equal, if not better, than the other two, it quickly rises in the list of choices. The only main difference is that it is not weather sealed, whereas the others are. This may be a deal breaker for some, but it really depends upon how you intend to use it. I can say that the lens is very solidly constructed, and I can see it serving for many trouble-free years of professional use.

My main reason for acquiring this lens was to enable me to move in close for a candid look when  photographing situations with models like the one above done in a gym with available light.  I keep the lens at f/1.4 for the shallowest depth of field.  This sort of wide open use requires a lens with top notch resolution at its maximum aperture.
The lens has Sigma's HSM, Hypersonic Motor, which provides speedy, smooth, accurate, and quite auto focus movement.

The  9 blade aperture provides a circular diaphragm providing pleasing bokeh when used wide open.
In terms of optical performance it holds its own against any competitor, showing center sharpness with only slight corner falloff even used wide open at f/1.4. By f/2 it is sharp overall, and at f/2.8 and beyond it becomes superb. Vignetting is slight, and rectilinear barrel distortion is barely noticeable. Lateral chromatic distortion is apparent to a slight degree where it would typically appear in high contrast corner areas, but it much better than other, similar lenses, and easily controlled in post processing.

Shot in close and wide open there is a pleasing contrast between the detailed focused area and the softness of the out of focus areas. 

The lens is very flare resistant. Even with the bright sunlight reflection placed on the corner of the frame there is not extension of flare spots crossing to the other side of the image.

This lens has the advantage of working with the Sigma USB lens dock for updating firmware and tweaking focus issues.

The USB dock attaches to the back of the lens like a rear lens cap, and then connects to a computer for software control over the lens firmware.


Off-brand lenses no longer carry the stigma they once had when compared to main line Nikon, and Canon optics. In fact, technology in optics has risen to a level where some of the off-brands now surpass their branded rivals. Sigma is one of the companies making inroads in this area, and lenses in their new Art lineup deserve serious consideration. On their own website, Sigma calls the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM a "true flagship" model.  From what I have seen in my hands-on usage tests of this lens, it definitely gives them the bragging rights they now claim.

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