Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art First Impressions

I’m constantly looking for better lenses at my favorite focal lengths, and when Zeiss had announced that they are making an über 55mm lens, it immediately appeared on my shopping list. Its $4000 price while not prohibitive, I have very high expectations at that price point. And the Otus fails at two of them. I don’t think that the open distance scale is a good thing to have when I’m out in the field (except for generating trips to the service), and for $4000 I would expect 11-12 rounded aperture blades and perfectly circular aperture all the way down – like on cine lenses in this price class.

So I became very excited when Sigma’s new Otus competitor was recently announced. I read every possible review on the net (just to realize how shallow these became during the last years), and actually ordered the lens without having a solid idea how will it perform.

My copy finally arrived yesterday. I spent an afternoon on comparing it with my former 50mm lens of choice, Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. Well, I can attest that most of the hype about the Sigma 50 Art is true.


Simga 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art on the Canon 5D Mark III

I’m going to use this lens for landscapes as well as for astrophotography. While f/1.4 isn’t necessary for traditional landscapes, it definitely opens up new creative possibilities. And for astro, wider usable apertures are a must. The Canon 50/1.4 isn’t really usable until f/2.8. It’s a pretty solid performer at f/4 and up, but forget about making high quality images wide open.

The Sigma is in a different league wide open. At f/1.4 it’s a bit better than the Canon at f/2.8 – and while the difference becomes smaller, there’s an edge to the Sigma at every aperture. The Sigma is a pretty damn sharp lens. And this was one of the things I was looking for.

Its high contrast also increases apparent sharpness. But high contrast is not necessarily a good thing. It’s easy to increase contrast during post-processing, but plugged shadows and burnt highlights are not that easy to deal with. I read somewhere that the engineers sacrificed a little sharpness for increased contrast – personally I would be happier with a sharper and less contrasty optic. Given the shadow-challenged nature of Canon’s current sensors, I will need to keep an eye on the shadows constantly.

Color rendering is brutally different. Reds and especially greens come alive with the Sigma, where I needed substantial amount of work with the Canon during post. Shadows are also clean, no yellowish-brown tone to them. Overall colors are on the colder side – not something that can’t be corrected in post easily.

Except for the colder color, the 50mm Art reminds me to the magical Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM. That is, they are of similar size, similar weight, similar materials and build quality and produce similar superbly clean and detailed files. Yes, this isn’t your small and light 50mm – but are perfectly in line with other high quality primes in my bag (the 135 and the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II). It’s not something I would bring to a vacation, however. The Canon 50/1.4 is a much better option for that.

I haven’t checked autofocus yet, as I plan to use Sigma in manual focus for 95% of the time. For manual focus, I would prefer a longer than 92 degree focus throw. I suspect that AF would be slowed down too much with longer throw.

What else could be improved on the 50 Art? Well, I would be happy to spend a few hundred more and get weather sealing. Rubber materials are a dust magnet on this lens, so a less dust attracting material would be great…

I’m very impressed with this lens. Something I didn’t feel since I got the Canon 135mm f/2L. At $950 it’s a steal (again, like the 135mm). If 50mm is something that makes your world go around, I highly recommend to give the Sigma 50mm Art a try.