My Impressions: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Photography, Review

Let me start by saying my relationship with Sigma goes back a ways. My last film camera was a Sigma, the SA-7, which did an incredible job of handling light and shadow black & white work (what I was mostly into at the time). Years later when I’d switched to digital and was looking for a wide-angle lens to accompany my travels, I opted for the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens. This has become my primary lens when traveling and I love the results I get from it. Recently I added another Sigma lens to my travel bag: their 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM for when I need some zoom.

So, when I heard about Sigma’s series of art lenses a while back, I was interested. While their 50mm has received rave reviews, I decided to give the 35mm a try as I already have a 50mm lens that I am quite satisfied with. I also wanted a little shorter focal length for some of the shots I had in mind for this test drive. As I’ve done in the past, I rented the lens for the weekend through BorrowLenses.com.

The first thing one notices with this lens is the weight. This is a serious piece of glass. It’s just on the verge of being too heavy for my Nikon Df, though well balanced on my Nikon D600. To get the most of a full frame sensor, one needs good glass, so the weight was expected (and their 50mm art lens is even heavier).

I started out testing this lens’ f/1.4 abilities with a few shots around the house. With such a narrow depth of field, it’s easy to loose precise focus while also dealing with the weight, so either be incredibly still when using this lens wide open or mount your camera on a tripod. My test here, though, was less about precise focus and more about bokeh. Simply put, this lens generates incredibly creamy and soft bokeh at f/1.4. It can also focus within 12″ of its subject, so one can get close with minimal distortion.

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Next, I thought I’d try it out in the real world, so I took it with me to the Gatos SoCal Summer 2015 Rockabilly Car Show, held in Upland, CA. Here I also kept the depth of field shallow (between f/1.4 and f/2.8). I also used a polarizer as it was a very sunny day. This did cause some vignetting, but that is to be expected when adding a polarizer to a wide-angle lens. I tried to create a variety of shots with the lens, though still took some tighter shots taking advantage of the lens’ f/1.4 abilities.

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The next day I headed out to downtown Redlands, near where I live. I headed out about an hour before sunset as summer here is brutally hot and the light would not be as harsh. Here I was less worried about shallow depth of field and wanted to focus instead on the 35mm focal length. With a few exceptions, f-stops ranged between 5 and 9 and the ISO varied between 400 and 800.

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For my last testing of this lens, I attempted a few still life images. For this set, I again focused on shallow depth of field and only used natural light. As you can see, the shallow depth of field remains creamy and soft and, after three days with the lens, I am getting better at balancing it. I attempted some variations on a theme on some of the setups, with a few different focal points.

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Others have noted auto focus issues with this lens, but I did not encounter any issues during this three-day test. I found the lens to be fast, sharp and very enjoyable to use. Considering Nikon’s own 35mm f/1.4G at $1800 is twice the price of this lens, one might even consider it a steal given its capabilities.

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