Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sigma 35mm F/1.4 Review

It is not often that I do lens reviews here, but this new toy that I just picked up really deserved it's own blog entry here.  So here we go, my thoughts about this incredible new lens from Sigma.
I've been researching and scouting this lens out since it's release around October of last year. Around early December I made the decision to get it, but demand was so high, that no one in Canada or the USA had them in stock, and that includes people like B&H and Adorama!

I am talking about the Nikon version of Sigma's latest killer lens, the 35mm F/1.4DG.

According to DX0Mark (yeah, I am not real fan of them, but they do seem to impress some people... lol), this lens has superior specs to the Nikon 35mm F/1.4G, the Canon 35mm F/1.4 L and even the $2000 Zeiss 35mm F/1.4 lenses!

Ever since I got the D4, I kinda found it fun to make an unboxing video when first getting it home, and I did want to play with another new toy I bought recently (Avid Studio, a video editing program), so I put the two together and had some fun.

First impressions? Well, the first thing that hits you is the weight of this lens. It is quite heavy, likely a touch heavier than the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 lens! The lens is long and easy to hand hold with and the barrel is made of metal. The focus ring is wide and has a really nice firm feel to it. As I mentioned, it is long, and at least on a D4, balances out very nice with a pro body with integrated grip, though it is not heavy enough to feel like it would unbalance a smaller/lighter camera.

Sigma has recently revamped their lineup and divided things into 3 categories, Contemperary, Art and Sports. This model has a bright silver-chrome inlay with the letter "A" in it, denoting that it comes from the Art categorie.

Looking at the photos, the first thing that hit me immediately is how sharp this lens is. Even wide open at F/1.4, it is easily sharper than the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 is at F/2.8, making this a lens that is a pleasure to use wide open all the time!

It has a remarkably pleasant background blur and handles CA, pin cushioning and other distortions very, very well. Sometimes though, having a lens that is incredible at everything is not always a good thing. For example, it handles flare so well, that I cannot use use it for those times that I want to create one of my signature shots, where I get flare between the lips of people kissing. This lens just gives me light and near no flare, a place where the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 is just masterful at this little "trick".

Another area where I feel the lens falls a bit short of perfection is focus speed. Yes, it nails the focus time after time and it is quick (faster than for example the Sigma 50mm is), but it's no speed demon like for example, the Nikkor 24-70 is (that lens just spoils me... lol). Whenever it does focus, it is very smooth and quiet, doesn't hunt and gets the jo done. It is a true HSM, meaning that when the lens focuses, the focus ring doesn't move in your hand, and after it is finished focusing, you can still over-ride the focus settings manually without needing to slide the focus ring forward like for example, with the Sigma 105mm F/2.8 Macro lens.

Another thing that I feel Sigma could have done better is weather sealing. The Sigma lens lacks the rubber ring that Nikon pro lenses have and that insulates it against the elements. No matter, it is not often that I shoot in a downpour.

Sigma denotes this as a DG lens, meaning it made for digital cameras and has no aperture ring, so you cannot use it on your old film cameras. Though it is not something that I woudl miss, some people may. A pity because this lens is far better than what I feel used to be made in the past, and film users would appreciate this lens' characteristics if they could but use it.

Bottom line... the 35mm focal length was missing from my kit and I knew it, but I just could not justify the overpriced Nikon version nor the even more expensive Zeiss vesion and just decided to wait. I am extremely glad that I did because the Sigma is:

- incredibly sharp
- handles all manner of dsitortions surprisingly well
- is well balanced
- is VERY well made
- is 1/3rd the price lower than the Nikon 35mm F/1.4G (according to Amazon Canada at the time I typed this post)
- outperforms the Nikon, Canon and even the Zeiss lenses on pretty much all levels

... so what is not to like about it? Well, if I could change just ONE thing, it would be the front element size. This lens uses a 67mm filter ring. I dearly wish they made it a 77mm lens like the 50mm is so that I could use the 77mm Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter on it. In the end, though, it is no biggie, because for $5 I can pick up a step-down ring adapter and still use all my 77mm filters.

Sigma had better ramp up the manufacturing speeds at their plants, because they are going to be selling a LOT of these lenses!
Here are a few shots that I took at a Montreal car show on January 2013: