Art versus Art: Sigma Art 50 1.4 vs Nikon 58 1.4

Art versus Art: Sigma Art 50 1.4 vs Nikon 58 1.4

The Nikon 58mm 1.4 and The now famed Sigma Art 50mm 1.4 are two lenses that arguably have a lot in common and at the same time polar opposites. The fact of the matter is the Sigma series which is marketed under the “art” moniker has received its praise because of technical proficiency while the release of the Nikon 58mm fell flat due to misguided expectations.

I want to stop you early in this versus article and let you know that if you are looking to find out which of these lenses “performs” better, that is to say the typical check list of sharpness, auto-focus, and other technical proficiencies, then just stop here it’s the Sigma, easily. There have been enough articles written that praise how incredibly sharp the Art series is, that is not the point of the comparison. This review is about something a little bit different and the root of what an “art” lens review should be; the look. What characteristics of the images created by each lens make them unique and which stands out when put side by side and therefore which one would I choose.

I tested and compared the two lenses on many of the typical categories: build quality, sharpness, auto-focus, and others. And my test met expectations, for the most part. Before we get down to where each lens is the winner and loser, let us jump right into one of everyone’s favorite comparisons and one of the main characteristics of the “look” of each lens: Bokeh.

Sigma Art 50 vs Nikon 58: The Bokeh Test

All of these images were shot on a Nikon D810 and exported without any editing or adjustments from Adobe Lightroom.

1.4

 

2.0

 

2.8

 

4.0

 

Bokeh Test Conclusion

After looking through all of the images, what I think you will see is that the bokeh rendering of the Sigma is remarkably precise, something you may expect from the lens that is known for being, well remarkably precise all the way around. The bokeh from the Nikon 58 does not produce clean and predictable circles, and I love it. This speaks to the character of the lens which the Nikon has plenty of. You will also notice a color shift between each lens, it is very consistent between series to series, this is something that will come up again later on. The synopsis for this particular test is that the Nikon 58 produces Bokeh with unique characteristics and plenty of character. The lens has a special "look" and in this test alone is my clear favorite, each photographer is of course free to make their own determination and may have differences in preference.

Sharpness Test

The next thing I really wanted to compare between these two lenses was sharpness. I've read that the 58 doesn't come close to the sigma in sharpness test, but the Sigma has set a standard that I perceived to be unreachably high for Nikon's niche lens. I wasn't hoping for the Nikon to be as sharp as the Sigma, and actually for a lens that I perceived to create artistic and dream like images I didn't want it to be as sharp. All that being said, I was still caught off guard by the results.

For this test I wanted to do something practical, and take images of something tangible that also has texture to make it easier to see where the sharpness falls off in real life images.

At this point I was thinking that the Sigma was clearly sharper which I expected but the Nikon was a little less sharp than expected, and then I zoomed in. All of these shots are zoomed in at 1:2

1.4

Nikon 58

 

Sigma Art

 

2.0

Nikon 58

 

Sigma Art

 

2.8

Nikon 58

 

Sigma Art

 

4.0

Nikon 58

 

Sigma Art

 

At 1.4 we can see a very big difference between the two lenses, the Nikon is very soft and for me not passable or usable. The next stop, f/2.0 is probably the most glaring difference. At f/2 we see the extreme sharpness the Sigma is known for and the Nikon is still not cutting it at all. At f/2.8, I think that Nikon is usable and it isn't until f/4 that the Nikon comes close to catching up (and I use the term catching up very loosely here). My take away here is, do not shoot the Nikon 58mm wide open. I would start around 2.2 or 2.5 but be more content around 2.8 as a starting point which is an unfortunate drawback.

 

Real Life Test

My next test was to simply shoot, go out and shoot without thinking about it too much in the manner and style that I would normally shoot. I had already determined that the Sigma was sharper, built tougher, and the Auto-Focus champion (especially in low-light) but this is a niche lens with unique characteristics so which one would I enjoy shooting with the most and which would give me results that I simply liked over the other.

The first three images where shot with the Sigma Art 50mm 1.4 on a Nikon D810 at f/2.2 and were exported without any editing.

 

And these next three images were shot with the Nikon 58mm 1.4 with the same Nikon D810 also at f/2.2 and were exported without any editing.

During this test I found the Sigma much easier to shoot with. Focusing was a non-consideration, just point the camera at the subject and shoot even with the wind blowing the greenery around while shooting. With the Nikon you have to really pay attention and take your time. It was also during this test that I started to really notice one of the main strengths of the Nikon. When shooting subjects that were back-lit or had a blown out background, the Nikon did two things really well: maintained incredible saturation and held the edges of shapes that were surrounded by blow-outs.

I wanted to test my theory with a more typical back-lit portrait scenario. So back at f/2.2, ISO 100, and manual white balance, I took about 30 portrait images of my daughter with each lens and the results were very consistent.

Sigma Art

 

Nikon 58

Again, I took a number of photos with each and the results were consistent. The sigma was much more likely to create a haze when shooting into the bright light source and the Nikon performed really nicely and provided more saturated colors overall.

Now lets look at were each lens is a clear winner.

Sigma Art 50mm 1.4

Sharpness - By a mile. Not only did the sigma prove yet again the be a sharpness machine, the Nikon proved to be utterly disappointing when shot wide open.

Build Quality - There is a huge weight difference and when holding these two lenses it is clear the Sigma is a durably built lens

Auto-Focus - Sigma focuses with incredible speed.

Low-Light Auto-Focus - Be prepared to work slowly when using Auto-Focus in low light with the Nikon.

Price - The Sigma comes in around $950 compared to the Nikon which runs right around $1600

 

Nikon 58mm 1.4

Character and Look - The Nikon provides a special look with a slight sharpness fall towards the edges, unique bokeh shapes, and tons of character.

Color and Saturation - The color rendering is just slightly different and provides more saturation.

Back-Lighting - When shooting back-lit the Nikon out performs the Sigma

Weight - The Nikon is a much lighter lens, although for me the weight of the Sigma provides a sense of security and quality.

Conclusion

You can probably tell from the pictures above that the Sigma has the wear and tear of a lens that gets used regularly and it's going to stay that way. I am a wedding photographer first and foremost, so being able to shoot quickly, accurately, and often in low light make the Sigma a very easy choice. That being said I love the Nikon. It is a niche lens with unique character that the precision laden Sigma just can't deliver. I enjoyed slowing down and shooting with the 58mm lens and think it would be great for portrait sessions and personal work, but is that percentage of use worth the price tag? At $1,600 I'm going to say no right now, it won't make the cut and find a place in my bag although I wish it could. Maybe at half the price I could justify having a unique character filled lens that I could shoot with during engagement sessions. This is purely a personal choice - obviously - and some of you who maybe shoot portraits more regularly or even possibly infant/baby photographers may love the creative look of the Nikon and find the Nikon 58 and as a go to lens while others will find no attraction to "slowing down" or shooting images that are not as sharp but have more character. 

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33 Comments

Zsolt Seres's picture

Thank you for the review! I like the character of the Nikon 58mm lens!

Fritz John Asuro's picture

I actually needed this review for those lenses. Until now I can't decide if I should get the 58mm and give up my 50 ART.
And I'll be keeping it!

Bill Mcdad's picture

Thanks for the review! I'm a wedding shooter mainly and purchased the Nikkor 58mm when it first came out. I own and have owned a lot of prime lenses but nothing comes close to the Rendering or Character of this lens. That being said, I only shoot it @ f2 and I will never part with it :)

Mac MacDonald's picture

People buy a f/1.4 lens to shoot @ f/1.4. That is why the lens is $1600. If they made a f/1.8 version, it would be $500.

Stef C Photo's picture

Some people. Some people by a 1.4 because it will be sharper at F/2 than a 1.8, or F/2 wide open. Since when you do speak for everyone haha? I know a couple amazing wedding photographers tha use the 58mm and love it. (I have a sigma too, and love it fwiw)

Bill Mcdad's picture

Hoping these would open at full size. If not The links are below. Both shot at f2
http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/52547204
And another one at f1.4 / test
https://flic.kr/p/hL4PLM

Robert Raymer's picture

I think "character" is one of the things that is most important to me when choosing a lens. Sure, the nerd in me loves looking at MTF charts and DXOmark scores and ratings, but honestly all the sharpness in the world means little to me if I don't like the way the images feel. Case in point, one of my favorite lenses to shoot with currently is my Nikon 50mm AI-s on my D800. It is a pain the ass to focus manually, even with the green dot, and it is definitely soft at 1.2 (though super sharp by 2), but despite its limitations it has more character than almost any other lens I have ever owned aside maybe from my 80mm 2.8 Zeiss Planar for my Hasselblad (which I just bought an adapter for to shoot on my D800.) It is not something easy to put into words though, so when anyone asks me about what new lens to buy I always tell them 2 things. 1) go out and rent the lenses they are considering to see how they handle and how they look, and 2) to image search images of the type they usually shoot (portrait, landscape, etc) using the lens they are considering and see how they react to them.

Anonymous's picture

Sigma wins.

There's every comparison article regarding the Sigma Art line reduced to two sentences. The only Nikon glass still in my bag is a 14-24. The Art line is better product for half the price, Nikon and Canon have be feeling it in their sales figures.

"Do not shoot the 58mm wide open"..........that's just blasphemy. I own the 58mm myself, and definitely chose it over the ART because of the so-called "character" that it has. I've definitely shot it wide open numerous times and never have I ever received an image that was not usable.

Image Faktory's picture

Sold my Nikon 58mm right after i tested the sigma 50mm art. I was never happy with the results the nikon 58 yielded for such an expensive lens, I always felt cheated by the hefty price tag. After purchasing the Sigma 50 art I have never been happier and its now my primary lens.

Mac MacDonald's picture

I LOVE this! I rented the 58mm, fine tuned it, and ran it side by side with my Sigma 50 ART. Same conclusion. I wanted to LOVE that lens. I didn't. People try to justify their purchase of the 58mm with comments like "it has character" or "you're just using the 58mm wrong" CHILD PLEASE! A lens can suck. It is okay for it to do so. No need to hype up a $1600 soft lens.

I mean, people talk about the "creamy bokeh",but as your photos show, the bokeh is no more pleasing than the 50 ART.

People talk about "character' Soft is not "character" it is just...soft.

People say "it has that that something". Well, that something is a high priced under performing lens.

Slowing down won't make it better. Slowing down just slows down the point that a soft, uninteresting photo, is delivered. If it can't deliver sharp images, better bokeh, or something else, then what the hell does it do? Nothing but take $1600 out of peoples pocket who want to sound artsy and important.

Paolo Veglio's picture

I couldn't agree more. Paying 700 extra bucks for the only advantage of a debatable "character". IMHO it would make sense only if the Nikon was half the price of the Sigma. And I have to say that a lot of Nikon glasses seem way overpriced to me.

Just to play cpt. obvious, you can always get something less sharp from a sharper lens, but you can't get a sharper image from a less sharp glass...

Stef C Photo's picture

I thought the same, then i used it. I was hooked.

Stef C Photo's picture

Disagree on the bokeh completely the Nikon's is more pleasing in my opinion (and the author's) Also, the lens doesn't suck at all. Just because you didn't love it doesn't mean it's a bad lens. I agree that it's priced a little too high, but then again Sigma is always priced extremely well. "Nothing but take $1600 out of peoples pocket who want to sound artsy and important." Maybe that's all you could do with it, but not everyone has the same talent?

Stef C Photo's picture

Agreed - that's why i said my opinion :)

Stef C Photo's picture

I was talking to Mac, and I politely stated I disagreed with his opinion . What are you talking about?

Image Faktory's picture

Amen to that !!! I really felt cheated by the hefty price for a lemon of a lens that just wasn't what it was hyped up to be !! I was basically paying for a brand name only ! Well happy with the Sigma line up !

Chris Kennedy's picture

I don't consider the Nikon to have that much character compared to the Sigma counterpart. All of these modern lenses (Canon and Zeiss included) have coatings and elements which produces images which don't flare as much, generally have more contrast, and don't have the imperfections that older glass creates. To me at least that's the character I look for instead of just bokeh (which both look good to me in this instance).
So if you care more about character stick to older glass. Would've been interesting to compare these two lenses to an older one to really judge character. I got a set of Leica R's and shoot 90% with those now then my Nikon lenses

Mac MacDonald's picture

The Nikon 50 f/1.4D has more character than Donald Trump and Boy George combined and I only paid $200 for it. When I way crazy awesome character, color, and nostalgia...I use that. When I want professional, razor sharp, results, I use my Sigma ART 50.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Do not shoot Nikon 58 at f1.4 ??? What a nonsense :) I own and use it and because of its special character and the way it throw away foreground and the background and leaves beautiful soft f1.4 looking centre is FREAKING AMAZING !!! When stopped down to f2 it gives you a bit more latitude but even at f1.4 it produces magic !!! Sharpness of a lens is only one point here. Sigmas ART are extremely sharp designed lenses and I do not want just that. I want more and that is why 58f1.4 is in my bag. And yes I am picky what I use. Have Nikon Trinity f2.8 ZOOMS, have f1.8G combos from them as well since they deliver what I want from them and this 58f1.4 is at almost every portrait engagement session I DO! It is that great ! :) you have to take your time to learn how to use it to its best and then you roll with it!!! Unforgiving lens if you are in a rush though, so take your time to create with it my advice :)

Nick Dors's picture

I have a 50art, LOVE it. I am curious, modern MF lenses, do they have character or more like the ART series, all about the sharpness and contrast? I need my images to be very sharp, my clients constantly notice it. And I think the 50Art has a certain character aswell that really suits my style.

Nick Dors's picture

Medium Format :-)

Stef C Photo's picture

The Nikon 58mm is my favorite lens I've ever used. It has a distinct character, and mine was as sharp as my sigma 35mm 1.4 by F/2

I saw something somewhere once that compared the sigma art series to a scalpel, that precise and sharp, but the 58mm nikon is like a paintbrush. They're both fantastic lenses, but the 58 just has a look of it's own i think that isn't easily reproduced. Sharpness is overrated anyway. And i own a sigma lens and love it for what its worth..

If you're looking for a real "art" 50mm-ish lens then why not go all the way and get the beautiful,vintage Nikkor 55mm f1.2 which has a very dreamy, gorgeous rendering and its goes second hand for 300$

Stef C Photo's picture

I have the 50mm, i've heard the 9 blade 50mm 1.2 is better than the 55.. never tried the old 55. it's that good?

Michael Laing's picture

Personally, I would go for the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Nokton over the Nikon 58mm f/1.4. It is smaller, feels better built, costs a 1/3 of the Nikon, is a much better balanced lens and in my opinion, easily has as much charactor.

It also is an amazing lens when used on APS-C. The only downside is it is manual focus but the focus ring is really nice. Also, as it has an aperture ring, it works really well with mirrorless and an adapter.

Pat Black's picture

Great review! I shoot canon and the Nikon 58 is one of the very few reasons I would ever switch to Nikon, yes the Sigma IS sharper but if you are photographing people that may not be the best thing. I had been shooting for a few years and I thought I knew it all until I watched an extremely skilled photographer shooting with all early 90s glass ( this was a brand ambassador for Nikon so they could clearly get any lens they wanted) and I asked them why and they told me flat out, the new lens while being technically better they lack character, people don't need or want to look that sharp. that was a conversation that really has stuck with me because it is so true, yes there is definitely a place for crazy sharp lens but if you are shooting people it may not be what you think it is.

Norbert Tukora's picture

You forgot to mention the risk of buying an ART lens... You may get a copy that's focus inconsistent. Mine was unrepairable, it misses focus by random amounts... :/

Lance Nicoll's picture

what brand?

Norbert Tukora's picture

The Canon mount.