The Story Telling Art Lens? (A review of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens)

by on Apr 28, 2013 in Real Life Reviews | 8 Comments

Let’s cut to the chase. Here at oopoomoo we don’t do technical lens or camera reviews. There are many good sources on the web for optical bench test performance and pixel peeps at lenses and cameras. We are interested in lenses and cameras as real world tools to help us express our vision and tell our stories. And so we take gear out in the field and make actual photos and videos. Does the gear help or hinder our creative process? That’s the ultimate question.

Why test a 35mm f1.4 lens?

We prefer prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses) over zooms because primes make us think more about lens perspective and the effect of perspective on story. Zoom lenses make us lazy – to learn more about how to use a zoom lens effectively please see this video. Also primes give us a wider range of apertures than zooms do. And aperture choice  is a huge story-telling camera control! With a prime lens we can achieve a super shallow depth-of-field using apertures like f1.4, f1.8 or f2.0. Zoom lenses very rarely have any of these apertures available. For both photo and video work, having that super thin slice of focus and a sea of bokeh helps us direct the viewer’s attention to specific parts of the scene. Plus the 35mm focal length is perfect for general photography and video, taking in a moderately wide angle of view but without crazy distortion of perspective like we see in wider angle focal lengths. In short, the 35mm focal length is believable; it feels like a lens that documents the world similar to the way we view things. And the 35mm focal length has a long history in photography as the focal length used by journalists and street photographers.

©Darwin Wiggett - Maligne River at f1.4 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Maligne River at f1.4 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Maligne River at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Maligne River at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

Why the Sigma 35mm f1.4?

Sam shoots Nikon, I shoot Canon so if a 35mm prime is so awesome as a creative tool why are we not reviewing Nikon or Canon lenses? Simple. We like getting the best value possible for our hard earned dollars. We felt the Nikon and Canon 35mm f1.4 lenses were overpriced ($1700 and $1500 respectively). The Sigma 35mm f1.4 checks in at just over $900! And according to numerous technical reviews on the web (e.g. here and here) the optical performance of the Sigma lens is better than the Nikon and Canon equivalents. Wow! What is not to like? So… before we buy anything we test it, to see if it works with our creative process.

©Darwin Wiggett - Brando at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Brando at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Climber at f4.0 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Climber at f4.0 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

What we liked!

After playing with the lens in the field for a week we found it to be a wonderful tool that was easy to use and that delivered exceptional results. Here is a list of things we really liked:

  • fast, accurate and silent auto-focus
  • wonderfully large manual focus ring (we use manual focus a lot and a big ring is essential for good video work)
  • close focus ability for nice tight portraits, intimate landscapes or close ups (focuses down to 28cm)
  • really sharp lens especially at the centre even when shot wide open at f1.4 (many lenses suck at their widest apertures, this one does not)
  • edge sharpness is really good and is surprisingly good from f2 and up
  • awesome to use in backlight because the lens has very little flare
  • nice bokeh with very little fringing in high contrast areas
  • we like that the largest number on the aperture ring is f16; anything larger creates diffraction making for poor quality images (Sigma takes away that option and leaves you with the usable large depth of field aperture choice of f16)
  • build quality seems high and it balances well on the camera
  • price is much more palatable than other brands
  • the range of apertures makes for creative story telling
  • available for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony and Sigma cameras

What we did not like!

  • this is a huge lens that seems more like a short telephoto than a wide angle lens (this is the biggest and heaviest 35mm f1.4 out there!)
  • there is no weather sealing so if you shoot in damp, humid conditions or dusty there may be a problem with moisture or grit getting into the lens (although we shot with it for three days in snow and rain without any issue)
  • we have to buy two of these lenses; one for Nikon and one for Canon!

Overall we think the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens is a wonderful tool for a great price especially if you see yourself wanting a moderate wide angle prime for the flexibility in aperture choice or if you plan to shoot serious video work. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is an oopoomoo recommended tool for artful story telling!

©Darwin Wiggett -  Columbia Icefields at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett -
Columbia Icefields at f1.6 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Abraham Lake at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett – Abraham Lake at f16 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Darwin at an 'Iris' gallery 0pening at f3.2 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Darwin at an ‘Iris’ gallery 0pening at f3.2 (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - What stories will you tell?

©Darwin Wiggett – What stories will you tell? (Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens at f4.0)

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

8 Comments

  1. Ron
    April 28, 2013

    I have read nothing but good reviews of the Art lens set from Sigma. It is really great to hear you two like the lens as well.

    As for ‘not to like’, come on guys… this is going to be a problem no matter what lens you fall in love with… and need.

    Was the lens tested on a Nikon or Canon?

    Lastly, would it be possible for you to do a ‘what’s in my bag’ for both Darwin and Sam so we get a better feel for what you two use?

    Thanks for a terrific post.

    Ron

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 30, 2013

      Hi Ron, we tested a Canon Mount lens on a Rebel T2i and an EOS-1ds Mark III

  2. Hiro
    April 28, 2013

    Darwin, I am happy to find your article about Fixed 35mm lens since not so many people write about 35mm anymore even though 35mm had been their standard lens for many master photographers. If I were allowed to own only one lens, 35mm would be the one in Canada. (28mm in Japan). Thanks for sharing great review.

    Reply
  3. Kev Lockwood
    April 30, 2013

    I own one of these for my D800. I thought my days of buying third party lenses were long gone, but not anymore.This lens is every bit as good as the review says. The price has dropped by £100 since I bought mine in late January too, so it’s a no brainer for anyone wanting such a lens.
    I’m intrigued to see what other full frame primes they produce under the Art banner.
    Thanks for the review Darwin.

    Reply
  4. Anna
    May 1, 2013

    Thanks for the lens review, Darwin. As I am relatively new to photography, I find these reviews particularly helpful. For me, the gear issue is a bit overwhelming, both in cost and possibilities. Trying to keep it simple for the time being. If you ever follow up on Ron’s suggestion – “What’s in My Bag”, could you divide your lenses into categories, like “essential/most used, good for, secondary, collects dust,….etc, or something along those lines??? This would be of interest, and helpful, to me (if you have already done this, could you tell me the post link?). Maybe you and Sam have differing opinions on favorite lenses?

    Reply
  5. Mike
    May 4, 2013

    I bought one for Nikon, it required different fine tuning values from far left, centre and far right making this lens unusable unless using manual focus.

    I would recommend testing before your return period ends, mine went back, should have learnt after the 85 & 50.

    Reply
  6. Sam Conley
    June 14, 2013

    Ahh! Just wondered how long it would take before one of the Nikon police would turn up on the scene and try to arrest everyone for blasphemy. This is a really great lens … and no, it’s not a Nikon. Get over it and move on!

    Reply
  7. GTA Lens Rentals
    July 31, 2013

    I have this lens, its’ image quality is amazing. I have to admit I was reluctant when I read that is better than Canon and Nikon’s equivalent but it is indeed.
    The first lens I got had a small mechanical issue when focus was at the minimum distance (squeaky noise) , but I returned it and got another one.
    Very happy with it !

    Reply

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