Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM / A Review
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.
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.
Optically, the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 DG HSM is excellent in just about every way.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
- Canon EF mount
- Nikon F mount
- 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://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=1052673