Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In-Depth Review: Sigma 35 f1.4 DG HSM Art

Tech Specs
Focal Length: 35mm
Dimensions: 3.7 x 3.0 in. 
Weight: 23.5oz.
Maximum Aperture: f1.4
Minimum Aperture: f16

Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
Front Element: non-rotating, non-extending
Optical arrangement: 13 elements in 11 groups
Autofocus Mechanism: HSM
Closest Focus: 11.8 inches
Maximum magnification: .19x
Filter Size: 67mm

'A' is for Art.


At Photokina 2012, Sigma announced that it was revamping its lineup. Gone would be the plethora of acronym designations ind arriving would be a much simpler, 3-designation system. One of the new lines of lenses was the 'Art' series, designed for the serious photographer who values the utmost potential for creativity. At announcement of the lineup reboot, Sigma announced a 3 new lenses, one for each category. At the time, Sigma had long been producing a highly-regarded 30mm f1.4 exclusively for sub-frame cameras, so a similarly specified enlarged optic for full frame/film did not seem so out of the blue. The big question: would the new lens live up to the hype? 

Metal mount, distance window, manufacturer-grade construction.

Build Quality: 5/5
The Sigma 35 f1.4 DG HSM Art is built to very high standards that put it on equal footing with many current manufacturer lenses. As for construction, the lens is built on a metal mount and the barrel seems to consist of both metal and plastic sections. The lens features just a single switch to control the AF, making for a very clean look. There is also a recessed distance scale behind a window, a feature that, just a handful of years ago, would have been unheard of on a third-party lens. As for feel, the lens is a pleasure to shoot with as it features ample grip in both a ribbed, rubberized focus ring as well as a similarly-textured rear barrel. All in all, you won't have to worry about your sweaty/wet hands slipping off of where you want them. 

Other side of the lens. Note the ribbing on the rear barrel.

AF Performance: 5/5
Focus is as fast and accurate thanks to Sigma's Hypersonic Motor (HSM) AF drive. Additionally, being a ring-type motor, the HSM mechanism allows for full time manual focus simply by grabbing and turning the focus ring, no need to flip a switch. In reality, the AF/MF switch can be thought of as more of an AF/AF disable switch.

Optics: 5/5
This lens is sharp, really sharp, and across the whole frame to boot! Initially looking at my pictures, I had to check the EXIF data to make sure that the pictures that I thought were shot at f1.4 were actually shot at f1.4! As for the performance, the lens is sharp right from the get-go at f1.4 in the center and mid portion of the frame with slight softness in the corners. Stopping down to f2 results in the corners catching up to the rest of the frame while f2.8 results in optimal sharpness across the frame as the center and mid frame areas are slightly (emphasis: slightly) sharper than at wider apertures. All in all, Sigma has quite an optical gem, even better than the legendary Nikkor 28 f1.4 AF-D, which says a lot!

The lens does feature some obvious light falloff at f1.4, which is no real surprise considering that just about every f1.4 lens features this downfall. Yes, Sigma could have designed the lens with a 77 rather than a 67mm filter, but it's a lot easier to simply stop down the optics to f2 to reduce the problem significantly or f2.8 to eliminate it altogether than to carry around an even bigger, heavier lens.

Note: the vignetting wide open can also be used to create some cool effects in your pictures, such as increased subject isolation (flower) and an overall dreamy look (trail).

Very minimal and should be of no distraction.

Virtually nil.

Only a tiny spot of green flaring shot right into the Sun.
Virtually nil here even in the most extreme conditions.

That smooth boken is a result of 9 rounded aperture blades.

Background Blur
Thanks to those 9 rounded diaphragm blades (above), background blur is silky smooth (below).

Infinity is actually infinity! Simply focus the lens manually and forget it all night!

 Manually focus to infinity and forget it!

Oh yes, the lens can AF on the Moon, too!

Value: 5/5Simply put, where else can you get a 35mm f1.4 lens for FF/film for under $1,000? Answer: nowhere but here. Oh yes, the Sigma 35 f1.4 DG HSM Art is also a one heck of a lens, going to make it an even better bang for the buck.

When it comes to the 35mm f1.4 market segment, there is lots of competition as this is a very popular lens among photographers, especially prime fans with limited funds, who often lose hours of sleep over the question of whether to buy a 35 or a 50mm. Back to the 35 f1.4 competition, Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make such optics. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to play with any of them, which means that I can only give second-hand comparisons. Reading reviews of the competition vs. the Sigma, the Sigma seems to be every bit as good (some sites say even better) than the Canon and Nikon optics while the Sony is widely considered to be a $1300+ dog.

No light? No tripod? No stabilizer? No problem!

Conclusion: 5/5
By reading this far, the final conclusion should be a no-brainer: Sigma has really outdone itself on this one as the 35 f1.4 DG HSM Art is, without doubt, the best lens I have ever used! What else is there to say? The optics are truly superb, the AF is the best offered via current technology, the build is on-par with manufacturer lenses, and the price? Well, while it is not cheap at $900, you'll pay far less for Sigma's wonder lens than for the similar manufacturer optics that have no real advantages except for snob appeal. To put it plainly, I you shoot with FF digital and/or a compatible film camera and need the best, fast wide-standard lens around, look no farther than the Sigma 35f1.4 DG HSM Art. . 


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