Since I reviewed the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 last year, I have been hit with a barrage of inquiries as to if it was better to grab the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, the Canon 35mm f/2 IS or spend some real cash and spring for the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L. After using all three lenses for the past couple months, I'm finally ready to name my favorite. And you know what? This one was closer than you might think.
Before we go into the performance, let's look at price point and keep that in mind while we compare results. Below are the prices (not sale prices) that you can expect:
Sigma 35mm f/1.4: $900
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L: $1,480
Canon 35mm f/2 IS: $850
I shot in studio, during the day and at night to try and select my favorite of these three great lenses. That's right, they're all pretty darn good. I'll agree, some of the chromatic aberration coming out of the Canon f/2 is pretty significant, but outside of my white shooting box things weren't so noticeable. In everyday situations, it did just fine. But let's get started and take a look at how all three performed in studio.
First up is the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L. I chose to shoot the same subject at the widest possible aperture with all three lenses. Therefore, the image below was shot at f/1.4:
You will notice that, aside from some purple fringing where the white script meets the black background, the image has nice defined focused lines and crisp details. Next up, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4:
On the Sigma there is either a lot less fringing or it just blends better because it's green rather than the Canon L's purple. I'm going to go with it's got less fringing. Take a look at the very top of the crop; there is basically no fringing at all, which is different than what we saw on the Canon L glass. From my naked eye, I would say they are about the same sharpness. If you made me pick, I would go with the Sigma being just a hair sharper. Finally, let's look at the Canon 35mm f/2:
You'll notice there is probably the least chromatic aberration present here of all three. It's got clean focus lines, but of course we do notice the one stop difference in the lighting. You will also see that it is significantly less sharp than the Sigma or the Canon L glass. It is by no means blurry, it just doesn't compare with the eyeball-cutting sharpness you see in the first two lenses.
Ok so we've scrutinized these three pretty harshly in the studio, and I'm willing to give it to the Sigma by just a hair. It's greatly outperforming the Canon f/2 in sharpness and beating the L glass in controlling chromatic aberration. Though the chroma fringing is less visible on the Canon f/2, it's just not as sharp and I'm not willing to trade those features. Let's move on to a real world example: daytime landscape shooting. Let's line them up one by one in the same order: Fist the Canon L, next the Sigma, and finally the Canon f/2:
I think what we are going to glean the most out of this test is vignetting. All three are pretty much the same sharpness. There is no fringing or distortion that takes place here in any noticeable way, but you can clearly see that the most vignetting comes into play on the Canon 35mm f/2. The Sigma and the L glass are very close, but the L glass manages to squeak by with just slightly less vignetting. It's close though, and you really have to be scrutinizing to see the difference.
I want to just compare the Sigma and the Canon 35mm f/2 now, because of the price points. They are both very similarly priced and thus should be compared to each other to really select where your hard earned dollars should go. To do this, let's look at some night shots, first the Sigma and then the Canon f/2:
Pretty close right? At least when they aren't at 100% they are. Both handled shooting at night really well, and both had their advantages. I really enjoyed having that extra stop available to me when shooting with the Sigma, but the image stabilization on the Canon made a real difference when I was trying to get a sharp image. On a tripod, the extra stop and the IS basically cancelled each other out, so from a still shooter's standpoint, they functioned about the same. If you forced me to pick, I would rather have the extra stop. IS is cool, but I can see the extra stop being a lot more useful in varying situations. That aside, let's look strictly at performance. here is a 100% crop of the top of the bridge, Sigma first and Canon second.
No contest: the Sigma is sharper. Way sharper. Just like in studio, there isn't really anything wrong with the results from the Canon, the Sigma is just better. Both lenses were wide open and the Sigma outperformed the Canon in sharpness even open further to f/1.4 over the Canon's f/2. Quite impressive.
For you bokeh fanatics, here is a comparison of the bokeh coming from all three: first the Canon L, second the Sigma and third the Canon f/2:
I don't personally have a preference here as I am not that in to bokeh, but I'm sure you all can draw your own conclusions about which you would prefer. From my point of view, they all pretty much give the same result.
When we look at performance, the Sigma and Canon L trade blows back and forth, but when you throw in price point you can't help but lean towards the Sigma. It was a close fight, but Sigma wins out. Not only is the Sigma just as sharp (if not sharper), it also better controls chromatic aberration without really failing in any one area. The Canon f/2 is not a bad lens, not at all. In fact, it's a great lens. It's just not as good as either the L glass (as expected) or the Sigma. The fact of the matter is that Sigma just outplayed Canon here. Sigma wins in price and performance, which is a really deadly combo. If you are looking for a 35mm lens for your Canon, you can't beat the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. It's just that good.