Review: Using the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 in a Lifestyle Shoot

As a working photographer, my gear is obviously very important to me. My most-used lenses, Canon’s 35L and 50L, are both long time favorites and are glued to my camera almost 24/7. For many reasons, I’ve been a fan of Canon’s prime lenses for a number of years, taking both the good, the bad, and the price tag that they each have to offer. When something new like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 comes up I, like most of us, give it a quick once-over and then head back to the comfort of our expensive name brand gear. 

First Impressions: 

When I first heard that Sigma was releasing a new 50mm Art lens, I was kind of excited because of all the great reviews surrounding Sigma’s 35mm lens. I have several friends who’ve used the Sigma 35mm and they’ve each reported similar findings - it is the sharpest lens they’ve ever used. In doing my research on perhaps a potential purchase, I found that not only is the 35mm sharp, but it exceeds expectations in almost every other area as well. Other than those basic facts, I really knew nothing about the history of Sigma, their take on production, and in particular, these two lenses.


The Shoot: 

As things usually go, the shoot itself came together about as close to the last minute as possible. With only several hours notice, we got in touch with Stars Model Management in San Francisco and worked out the logistics of the shoot, which included booking three models who were in the area, location, and wardrobe requirements, etc. On Tuesday morning, Holly Parker (model and photographer) and I left Los Angeles and drove to San Francisco to meet the lens - I mean, to meet with Jaron... and the lens.

When Jaron opened his bag and handed me the lens, in addition to the classic all-black styling, the first thing I noticed is that lens is the weight. The lens is heavy, much heavier than my 50L and possibly as heavy, if not heavier than Canon’s 85L. But with the added weight comes a more sturdy feel. The lens feels like a tool. I was excited. Jaron and I talked about the differences between it and the different prime lenses in the Canon lineup and it was immediately apparent that I am in no way qualified to talk about the technical specifications of anything.


So with that understanding, it was time to put the lenses money where it’s mouth was. Jaron, Holly, and I left the hotel and started walking around downtown San Francisco and immediately, I mean, immediately, I was hooked. I have been shooting long enough to know that we shouldn’t always believe what we see in the LCD screen but it quickly became clear that we weren’t dealing with some run-of-the-mill lens, zooming in, the back-of-the-camera previews blew me away.

As we walked around, the excitement died a little bit as the weight of the lens started to become an issue. Bigger and heavier than the 50L, my hand began to cramp. I don’t normally use a battery grip, but if I did, that weight combined with the Sigma would have been much more of a inconvenience than it already was. Though, to be honest, I suppose that after a while I either got used to the weight or I was too excited to notice, but the more we shot, the less of an issue it became.


In addition to color, contrast and sharpness, one of the things that nearly everyone goes crazy about is, of course, bokeh. I tend to shoot more wide-open than I probably should, with most of my work falling somewhere between f/1.4 and f/3.2, so while it’s not something I specifically look or shoot for, a nice blurred background for the sake of image separation is always nice. Rest assured, the lens does not disappoint. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of the bokeh that this lens renders, but for me, what I saw was equal to if not greater than the 50L (shot between f/1.4 and f/3.2, respectively).



sigma 50mm 100 percent crop example 1 copy

As the shoot wound down, I began switching back and forth between the Sigma and the Canon to see if there were any intricacies that I could notice. Aside from the red line, the most noticeable difference was the speed at which the lens focused. The Canon 50L is no slouch, but the autofocus on the Sigma flies in comparison. The AF locked in and stayed there - even when using center point focus and recomposing. In addition, when shooting lifestyle, there is always a lot of movement and with the Sigma, I noticed the amount of missed shots was much less than normal. I don’t know if I can rightly attribute all that to the Sigma, but during the shoot, the amount of “keepers” I saw in-camera appeared to be significantly higher.



As I said earlier, I really have no right speaking about the technical aspects of most things. When it comes to my photography, I play by feel, mostly, but I know what I like in terms of my work and this lens had me constantly looking at the back of the camera because, quite simply, I could not get over how sharp and nicely contrasty the images were. I’m not sure if it was any more than the 50L, but for a lens that comes at a significantly lower price, it was enough to make me start thinking that one of these could be in my lineup sometime in the near future, especially at the low $950 price point.

What I Liked

Really sharp
Great bokeh
Excellent build quality
Autofocus very fast and accurate
Price point is solid

What Could Use Improvement:

This lens is heavy

After the shoot was over and I (reluctantly) handed the lens back to Jaron, Holly and I began the long drive back to Southern California. The fact that it was two in the morning when we got home didn’t stop either one of us from immediately going to our computers to start offloading our cards. Much to my surprise (and Holly’s too, I’m sure), the photos were as sharp and contrasty as they appeared in our respective LCD screens.

I’ve been using various forms of Canon cameras for about as long as I can remember. Even now, my camera lineup consists of digital bodies, film bodies, and smaller point and shoots, and while I am not ready to jump ship anytime soon, my experience with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has me rethinking whether or not the “L” lens will continue to be a necessity in my lineup.


John Schell | Instagram
Holly Parker | Instagram
Jaron Schneider | Instagram

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Nice shots, good review. Unfortunately, solid build and heavy weight pretty much go hand in hand.

Have you had a chance to test it with video? I love my Zeiss F2 Makro on my C100 but I do miss the autofocus ability when taking it to my DSLR for stills.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Yes, and it's really nice. See the video review, there are test shots for video in there.

After using my Sigma 18-35 ART lens for the better part of 6 months, I can tell you that you eventually don't notice the weight anymore. I was surprised at how heavy that lens was, and once you start shooting, you forget about how heavy is is because you're too excited about the shots you got.

That's true, I have the 85mm 1.4 and 35mm 1.4 from Sigma and they're both heavy for their respective sizes and I never even think about the weight or feel it on long 12 hour shoots any more. The only time it springs to mind if if I get someone to hold my camera while I do something and the first thing they say is "how do you carry this around??!"

No, I don't even lift, bros :p

I'm pretty psyched about this - which is a first for a Sigma lens, for me.
Don't think the weight will pose any problems with me since I mainly use the EF 85/1.2L. (1025 g)

The whole thing where people talk about how they're surprised when something is as sharp on their computer as it was on their camera has always puzzled me. I guess it must be a Canon thing? There should be absolutely zero doubt about sharpness from the back of your camera, period. Just my experience. ;-)


You know that the resolution of the cameras LCD is like 10x lower than the actual image and that the screen also is like 10x smaller than a PC monitor?

Yeah, but it is super easy to zoom in to 100% and confirm sharpness.

Colin, here's a secret: That awesome shiny finish is already there, underneath that old drab finish, just waiting for you!

(I know because I (cleanly and safely) peeled off almost the entire finish of my Sigma 150mm EX Macro, and lo and behold it looked like an ART lens, years before Sigma even announced the first ART lens in the first place! :-P)

Octron, see my comment above- With a single click you can zoom in to 100%, and at 100% magnification on a 1 megapixel, 3.2" LCD you're doing just as good as a computer screen if not better. Combine that with the correct recipe of in-camera sharpening, and there will be absolutely zero doubt regarding the focus / sharpness of images at the time you capture them.

I have taken many pictures that look sharp to discover they were not later. The only way to really tell is to zoom in but not everybody has time to do that while shooting.

Wayne, as a professional I don't allow myself to accept "not everybody has time to do that while shooting". That's why I've always programmed my Nikons for 1-click 100% zooming, it's one of the best features they've come up with in the past 10 years. That, plus better in-camera processing and high-res LCD's that allow for perfectly accurate readouts.

For parties I can't check all my photos because I like to get people in action. I do check them all for a shoot. I have not shot anything paid in a while and don't use the same camera lens combo anymore but it is rare that I have that problem because I learn from my mistakes but I have taken many pics in the past that look sharp that were not.I need to see if my A7 has that feature sounds very helpful

Sigma makes solid primes. Its no longer a question but a fact. Good bang for your buck.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Not just primes. Their latest version of the 120-300mm 2.8 OS kicks ass. I sold my Canon 400mm 2.8L and switched to the Sigma and haven't looked back.

Andrew Griswold's picture

These are incredible guys! I have been a big fan of my Canon 50 1.4 and been looking for something just a little more solid and faster to focus. Not sure I have the dime to push into that price range but still that price point is pretty solid for a pro shooter.

If you want light weight stick with kit lenses. Otherwise, lift something heavier than a latte and get used to awesome glass. Revel in the steel (and brass and glass)! Enjoy!

Lee Christiansen's picture

I quite like my Canon 50L, but I've needed to have it set up so it auto focuses accurately at F1.2 which means I'll get small errors at other F stops... grrrr...

How was the accuracy of auto-focus across the range of F stops - or did you fall to temptation and only use it wide open!

I may have to learn Ebay and sell my 50L if this Sigma is so good.

Keep us updated. ;)

Already pre-ordered it earlier this morning! CAN'T WAIT!!!! AAAHHH!!!!!!! (<-- impatient screaming)

Good job changing the 100% crop photo.

Hard to believe we've reached a point where a 50mm lens (the most boring focal length for full frame) for $1000 is a "solid" price point. I guess we can blame Zeiss for that.

Building a lens is easy. Running is a business is easy. Thinking is hard.

The 50mm is only as boring as your photography.

I don't know whether to say bravo, or "to each their own".

Personally I don't care about 50mm either. Give me 35mm and 85mm, and I'm happy. 50mm is just cop-out IMO. But, that's just my style. Sometimes I like to give people distance and shoot un-intrusively, and other times I like to zoom out and capture more sense of place. A 50mm, while versatile, makes it more difficult to do either of these things.

I will say this, though, that anybody who is obsessed with 50mm should give 35mm and 85mm a try.

Personally, I'll never spend more than $200 on a 50mm. (My Nikon 50 1.8 G, which by f/2.8 is probably just about as sharp as this $1,000 lens LOL)


"...which by f/2.8 is probably just about as sharp as this $1,000 lens..."

I highly doubt that, but even if it were true, the point of this lens is to get great performance right on out to the f/1.4 maximum aperture. That's what you're paying for.

Well of course that's what you're paying for. But my point was that to me, 50mm is such an under-whelming focal length that I really don't care to spend more than $200 to cover it, or need more than tack-sharp f/1.8. I'd rather invest the most in lenses that are slightly wider and slightly longer than 50.

I guess it depends how much one likes to work with any given focal length. You'd rather have, say, a 35 or an 85, someone else may prefer a 50 and a 100. There are already great lenses for the common man in those other focal lengths, now there is one for the common man in this one.