Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A Review
Sigma recently announced pricing on their newly redesigned and reengineered (and not-yet-released!) 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, which sits on their Art Line. Many photographers consider a 50mm prime to be their go-to, foundational lens size, so it was exciting being able to try out a lens that has generated such a buzz in the industry. It will be released any day now and it is currently available through pre-order.
Who is this lens for?
I currently own and use the Canon 50mm/1.2, so this comparison was greatly influenced by my love for my Canon 50mm. The above images were shot with the Canon 50mm/1.2 (left) and the Sigma 50mm/1.4 (right). I personally feel that a 50mm prime lens is a must-have for anyone who loves photography. I will discuss my opinion on the comparison between the two lenses at the end of this review.
- Mounts: Sigma, Nikon, Canon, Sony
- Weight: 28.7 oz.
- Part of the Sigma Art Line
- Minimal focusing distance: 15.7 inches
- HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) for quiet and accurate autofocusing
Performance and Usability
Being overly technical is not how I approach my level of enjoyment with photography equipment. It is more about the end-result and simply how something works and feels in my hands.
When I have a lens that can shoot as wide open as 1.4, I normally stay close to it’s capabilities and utilize that. I felt the lens was able to pick up the part of my shot I wanted in focus well and yielded a softness to the areas I wanted out of focus.
This image was shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and the Sigma 50/1.4 lens, ISO 100, F/1.4, 1/60.
My goal was for this child’s face to be the main part in focus, and this lens did what I had hoped with a nice softness, yet with good clarity. When zoomed in, the image keeps that clarity.
I was impressed by the great softness this lens gave, even at a slightly higher f-stop. In this example, I used the lens on a photo-shoot of a baby and shot with the f-stop at 2.0. It picked up the details in the baby’s toes very well while also giving me the soft blur I really like.
Image shot with Canon 5D Mark II and the Sigma 50/1.4 lens ISO 100, F/2.0, 1/800.
When zooming in, the image keeps its clarity.
While I don’t think this lens is the best choice for photographing landscapes, I did think it did an excellent job on a maternity shoot I did in a wild field. The mother was clearly the focus and the lens did a exactly what I wanted it to: soften everything else in the shot, giving the image the depth and difference in dimensions for which I was hoping.
Image shot with Canon 5D Mark II and the Sigma 50/1.4 lens ISO 100, F/1.4, 1/800.
While playing around with the lens initially, I felt that when shooting at f/1.4, sometimes the lens struggled to pick up anything clearly. However, in my experience with shooting wide open at f/1.2 or f/1.4, I have found this the case with almost any lens. With several trials though, the lens did help me capture some beautifully soft images with small parts of the shot in focus and I was pleased with the performance.
Both images taken with Canon 5D Mark II and the Sigma 50/1.4 lens ISO 100, F/1.4, 1/40.
Most major manufacturers make a 50/1.4 lens, which are smaller and significantly lighter. If you look at DxO Mark, which runs equipment through rigorous testing, the Sigma 1.4 rates higher than the Nikon and Canon 1.4 counterparts due to sharpness and vignetting, but also far exceeds both in price.
At this price point, the best comparison I could make was with my Canon 50/1.2. The Sigma rated slightly better than my Canon 1.2 in terms of vignetting, but slightly lower in terms of sharpness.
Sample comparison shots between the Sigma 50/1.4 and the Canon 50/1.2.
Top image: Sigma
Bottom image: Canon
Top image: Sigma
Bottom image: Canon
Overall, the Sigma 50mm/1.4 is a great lens. The bokeh is soft yet complex; the clarity in details is picked up without losing blur; and the vignetting on the edges is not an issue when shooting wide open. In some of my photos, I couldn’t tell a huge difference between using the Sigma 1.4 or the Canon 1.2. Yet somehow, I still prefer the Canon’s bokeh and softness. I continue to favor using the Canon 50mm/1.2 over the Sigma 50mm/1.4. During a few professional photo sessions, I switched out the Sigma lens and put back on my Canon 50mm/1.2. It is hard to put a finger on why I prefer the Canon. I prefer the quality feeling, the weight and structure, and the overall appearance of the Canon. I didn’t like that the Sigma lens was longer, skinnier, and felt more awkward than my Canon 50/1.2. There is just something “yummy” about the Canon 50mm/1.2 lens. While the Sigma is a great lens and performs well, I would say the only benefit over my Canon 50/1.2 is the price.
The Sigma lens is in a unique position among the competitors. It is higher in price than the Canon or Nikon 50/1.4 lenses but lower in price that the 50/1.2 lenses. It hovers in the middle. Technicalities and performance are significant issues when considering a lens, but equal and sometimes more important is price. I would find it difficult to justify paying over $1,000 (the list price of the Sigma 50/1.4 is $1300 but on sale for pre-order for $949) for a 1.4 lens when for a little more I could get a 1.2 lens that has the feel and look I appreciate and fits my personal “brand loyalty” to Canon.
Stacy Bostrom is a california-based photographer specializing in natural, photojournalistic family photography. You can see more of her portfolio at www.stacybostromphotography.com or visit her blog at www.bostromblog.com.