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Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM / A Review

by Shun Cheung, April 2013 (updated May 2013)




This lens is part of Sigma’s Art line.

A fast 35mm/f1.4 lens is an excellent tool for available-light photography indoors or at night outdoors, especially on the full 35mm-film frame (24×36mm sensor, which Nikon refers to as the FX format). Way back in 1986, I bought a Nikon 35mm/f1.4 AI-S lens precisely because I was interested in photographing indoors without flash, at a time when ISO 400 negative film was considered fast. Today, with high-ISO capabilities from modern digital SLRs, it is common to capture at ISO 3200 or even 6400 and higher. Therefore, having f1.4 is not as critical as it was during the film era. Nevertheless, having the f1.4 option is definitely an advantage under dim light.

Back in 2010, Nikon added a series of f1.4 AF-S lenses, and Canon has had similar lenses for years. While those lenses are excellent, the 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm varieties are all above $1500. In the last couple of years, Sigma has introduced a series of f1.4 fixed-focal-length lenses that are quite well received. This 35mm/f1.4 is a recent addition. It is available in Canon EF (for EOS camera), Nikon F mount, Pentax mount, Sony Alpha, and Sigma mount; at $900, it is considerably more affordable than its camera brand counterparts.

The test sample I had came in Nikon F mount, and I tested it mainly on my 36MP D800E (FX format) and 24MP D7100 (DX, APS-C format)

Lens Construction and Quality

Sigma’s 35mm/f1.4 is a fairly big lens for a fast wide angle. It is quite a bit larger than Nikon’s 35mm/f1.4 AI-S, which is of course manual focus and therefore has no AF motor inside. It is also larger than Nikon’s new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S and over twice as heavy. Clearly, the Sigma has has a lot of metal parts inside and is well built. Whether the heavy weight is an advantage or not highly depends on your personal preference. Plenty of people associate construction quality with weight, and to some degree they are correct, but some prefer lighter lenses.

Sigma’s focus ring rotates in the same direction as Canon lenses, which is the opposite from Nikon’s focus direction. As long as you use auto focus, you won’t even notice this difference. And if any Nikon user focuses manually, I am sure it is very easy to adjust.

Other than a few consumer lenses with a plastic mount, most modern Nikon lenses have a rubber gasket around the outer rim of the lens mount to seal out moisture. That is a nice feature to have but I don’t feel that is it critical, as I have been using many lenses without that rubber gasket, mostly older Nikon, for decades without any problems with moisture. The Sigma 35mm/f1.4 does not have it, either.

AF Speed

On the Nikon D800E and D7100, both with their state-of-the-art 51-point Multi-CAM 3500 AF module, the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 auto focuses very fast and accurate. You just need to point and lightly press on the shutter release button and it immediately snaps into focus.

Optical Quality

Optically, the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG HSM is excellent in just about every way.

Sharpness

Sharpness for the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG HSM is simply outstanding. It is sharp in the center wide open at f1.4, but the depth of field is on the shallow side. When you stop down to f2.8, f4 or so and to gain some depth of field, you can get edge-to-edge sharpness across the entire frame.

Vignetting

For a fast f1.4 lens, we expect some vignetting wide open. Again a uniform background, I would say vignetting is quite serious wide open at f1.4 and f2. Typically, for an f1.4 lens, most vigetting should disappear by two stops down from wide open, i.e. f2.8. For the Sigma 35mm/f1.4, we need to stop down by three stops, i.e. by f4, before most vigentting becomes not visible.

Distortion

The Sigma 35mm/f1.4 shows a tiny amount of barrel distortion, i.e. bulging outward in the middle. It is so slight that it is not an issue I would be concerned about, even though you don’t make any distortion correction in post processing.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is very well controlled on this lens. There is a tiny tiny bit of purple fringing if you have any light-to-dark transitions in the image, but it is negligible.

Conclusions

The Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG is an excellent fast f1.4 lens, particularly suitable for available-light photography under dim light. Optically, it is a huge improvement from the Nikon 35mm/f1.4 AI-S I bought in the mid 1980’s, but that should not be a surprise given the improvements in optical design in the last three decades. Nikon’s modern counterpart, the 35mm/f1.4 AF-S, seems to be very nice also although I have never used one other than a few snapshots, but the Nikon version is close to twice as expensive as the Sigma lens.

Optically, the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG is sharp in the center even wide open at f1.4. When you stop down to f4, you can achieve corner-to-corner sharpness, provided everything is within depth of field. Both chromatic aberration and distortion are extremely well controlled. The lens construction is top notch, but it is also heavy; it weights 665 grams, just over twice as heavy as Nikon’s 28mm/f1.8 AF-S at 330 grams. Most people would like that solid feel but not everybody enjoys the weight. Unlike most modern Nikon AF lenses, the Sigma lens does not have a rubber gasket around the mount to seal out moisture. While it would be nice to have that feature, it is not important in my opinion. I wouldn’t use this lens in pouring rain, as that can’t be good for the camera attached. If it is merely a light drizzle, this lens should be able to handle it just fine.

If you enjoy indoor, available light photography or outdoors photography at night, the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG is great lens for Canon, Nikon, Sony DSLRs users, as those brands have full-35mm-frame DSLRs. It is also available with the Pentax and Sigma mounts, but with their APS-C type crop sensors, 35mm is no longer a wide-angle lens. The Sigma is also excellent for landscape photography and other applications as this lens too works well stopped down. However, if you don’t need f1.4, there are more affordable and lighter 35mm lens alternatives.

Sigma 35mm/f1.4 Specifications

  • 13 elements in 11 groups
  • Angle of View: 63.4 degrees on full 35mm frame
  • Aperture Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Maximum Aperture: f1.4, Minimum: f16
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 11.8 inches/30 cm
  • Filter size: 67mm
  • Dimensions: 3 inches (diameter) x 3.7 inches (length)/77mm x 94mm
  • Weight 665 grams/23.5 ounces

Available in:

  • Canon EF mount
  • Nikon F mount
  • Pentax
  • Sigma mount
  • Sony Alpha mount

This lens is compatible with both full 35mm frame (36×24mm) and APS-C (e.g. Nikon DX format) DSLRs. If you are not purchasing this lens in person, please verify that you are getting one with the lens mount you want.

You can find additional images captured with the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG in the following folder— http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=1052673

Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Price as low as $799.00 from 2 retailers
$799.00
$899.00

Sigma 35mm/f1.4, (compare prices) (review). From the Sigma website: This wide-angle F1.4 lens delivers the highest level of brightness and beautiful bokeh effects. It offers the unique characteristics that only a large-aperture F1.4 lens can offer: shallow depth of field along with superior low-light and hand-held performance.


Text and photos © 2013 Shun Cheung.

Article revised May 2013.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



T. Zenjitsuman , May 20, 2013; 07:09 P.M.

The only advantage that DX would have is that using a 24x16mm sensor would cut off lots of the vignetted area by F2 and in PP you might fix the rest.  But likely in DX the lens is vignette

free by f2.8.  This lens would make a super 50mm EFL for someone who really needs the

best available light lens for DX, and can afford the price and doesn't consider the size and

weight an overriding issue. 

Shun Cheung , May 22, 2013; 04:19 A.M.

If your camera is a Nikon DX (APS-C) body, there is the Nikon 35mm/f1.8 DX AF-S at $200. That is a fairly decent lens which is a bit slower at f1.8 but also at less than a quarter of the cost of the Sigma 35mm/f1.4; it is not nearly as good optically but is much better value for your money. Sigma also has two different version of their 30mm/f1.4 for APS-C bodies in various mounts.

Panayotis Papadopoulos , May 22, 2013; 05:36 P.M.

Nice review Shun, it seems like an excellent lens by all means.  I agree that on DX  the 35mm f/1.8 is a better purchase, but if you're looking to cover the 50mm this lens looks the one to buy.

Dave Luttmann , May 22, 2013; 10:25 P.M.

I would be nice to see more samples of what the bokeh looks like.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:08 P.M.


At f10.

Hi David: Not sure if I can add images to comments on an article (will try), but having used this lens for several weeks now, I can say that I like how it renders OoF elements under almost all circumstances. It's not nervous or distracting.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:10 P.M.


Now opened up to f/3.5

This series is to show some DoF variance in the foreground plant while letting you see some hard lines in that railing behind, and some tree detail against the sky.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:10 P.M.


Wide open at f/1.4

And here, wide open.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:11 P.M.


Stopped down to f/8

Now, a second scene that includes lots of busy elements, and a bright highlight in the form of a reflective brass-toned doorknob.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:12 P.M.


At f/2.8

Now opened up most of the way.

Matt Laur , May 24, 2013; 01:13 P.M.


Wide open at f/1.4

And, wide open. Sorry for the quick out-the-back-door shots, but hopefully they help you get a feel for things. These were shot on an FX body, BTW.

Dave Luttmann , May 25, 2013; 10:29 A.M.

These are simply beautiful for bokeh.  This may find a home on my D700 and D2x

Robert Landrigan , May 27, 2013; 12:27 A.M.

I was set on buying the Nikon 35 1.4 AF-S until this lens was announced, I held off and rented both. Having had several Sigma lenses(including the first gen 30 1.4 DX), I thought I would find the Sigma 35 close to the, but lacking in some area. I was blown away by the Sigma, tho - amazing, wonderful, wonderful lens. Better in every way vs. the nikkor, except for vignetting, and that's easily controlled in lightroom. But as a low-light lens for full-frame, it's simply amazing, and in many ways better than Nikon's 35.

Zhang Wei , June 15, 2013; 07:09 A.M.

Excellent lens in every way. A no brainer. Get one if it this is the type of lens you're looking for. It will deliver the goods.

Zhang Wei , August 19, 2013; 11:38 A.M.

I wonder if anyone here has seen the video review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 by Matt Granger. In his video he compares the Sigma 35mm to the Nikon AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 and he finds that the Nikon is much sharper then the Sigma. I find that hard to believe. I own a 35mm f/1.4 and I have used a 24-70mm in the past, but I really can't say the Nikon zoom is better. What do you think?

http://www.thatnikonguy.com/gear-talk/item/447-sigma-35mm-f14-is-it-really-all-that?

Paul B. , December 21, 2013; 03:15 P.M.


Calibration

" I really can't say the Nikon zoom is better"

No, is not. Probably his lens (Sigma ) it was not "tuned" to the body it have. Mine was the same , but thanks to this wonderful device named "Sigma USB Dock" , everything is perfect now. Great idea this USB dock , easy to update the lens firmware and adjust focus.

 


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