I contributed the first “review” and straight out of camera test shots for Nikon Rumor’s “Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2 lens for Nikon F mount: quick review and test shots.” You can read it here: http://nikonrumors.com/2016/10/09/yongnuo-yn-35mm-f2-lens-for-nikon-f-mount-test-shots.aspx/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been working to improve my portrait photography lately. While I have a range of focal lengths with the lenses I currently own, none have a large enough aperture to create the blurred backgrounds (bokeh) I’d like to see in some of my portraits. So this got me looking into prime lenses.
When it comes to prime lens portrait photography, I have noticed two approaches: Some photographers seem to prefer one focal length and reposition themselves to include more or less of their model in a shot, while others prefer to always be the same distance from their model and change lenses depending upon how much of the model they want to capture. I’m more of the single lens school myself, so I chose to focus on what those photographers had to say.
After some research, it seemed to me that somewhere between 85mm and 135mm would be a good length for portraits. Having determined this, I then started looking at portraits I admire and seeing what lenses those photographers used. When I noticed that one of my favorite portrait photographers, Ann Nevreva (http://500px.com/annnevreva), uses the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G lens to capture the sort of portraits I am after, I decided to give this lens a try by renting it for the weekend through BorrowLenses.com.
Let me cut to the chase and simply say that this is an incredible lens. At f/2.8, it creates wonderful bokeh and, being a prime lens, it is sharp and quick to focus. It’s a bit heavy being a professional grade lens, but nothing that one can’t get accustomed to with some practice. It’s also a macro lens (though Nikon for some reason calls it a micro lens) with a minimum focal distance of only 12 inches (30 cm), giving you two lenses in one. Of course, it’s also the price of two lenses (around $900 new).
Portrait and macro photography aside, this lens can be used as a “regular” lens as well. All of the photos in this post were taken using this lens and I have tried to include a variety to show what this lens is capable of. Do you have to have this lens to recreate these? Of course not. Many of these shots could also be accomplished using an inexpensive (but just as fast and sharp) 50mm prime lens, but I for one like the distance I stand from a model for a head and shoulders shot when using this lens. I also don’t need to worry about the distortion sometimes caused when moving in too close with a 50mm lens.
One thing I have learned while looking for a portrait lens is that one’s approach to portrait photography is personal. While I love this lens for head and shoulders shots, I do find myself having to step back a little too much if I want a whole body shot, making me wonder if maybe an 85mm f/1.8 wouldn’t be more versatile. Guess I’ll have to rent another lens and schedule another shoot.
UPDATE: A few months after writing this, I ended up purchasing this lens used from BorrowLenses.com during a sale. While I find myself doing more and more model work with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, I still use this lens for portrait work. I have yet to really delve into its macro abilities but hope to some day.