Fewer things get me as excited and enthusiastic about gear in my studio than something reliable. I just want it to work. Part of the reason I haven’t shot much on a Nikon is that it takes too much thinking for me. Having shot on Canon for 10 years, I just like using something that my hands just understand. The same goes for tripods, lights, and most definitely applies to lenses. For me, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens just works, and might be have the best combination of speed and sharpness in and auto focus-enabled lens I have ever had the pleasure of shooting.
When the lens arrives and even before you pull it out of the box, you will immediately be struck by the weight. This lens has surprising mass. That’s a beautiful thing, because it verifies the material Sigma has been putting out: this lens has 13 elements. That’s a lot, and you will feel the in there. Once you open the box, it only gets better.
And yes: I did mount it on the EOS M. And it's awesome. Moving on...
For a 35mm, you might expect this lens to be half the size this Sigma ends up being. It’s about half a foot long and feels like holding a new-age Zeiss or Schneider lens. You don’t cradle this lens. You heft it. If there is one thing none of us will argue over, it is that this lens looks spectacular. Brushed aluminum, glass and rubber all blend together gorgeously. The attention to detail on this lens is downright absurd. It is painstakingly built from the mount to the front element. Simple things like the look and function of the lens cap or the feel of the focusing ring… things that we don’t even think or have put no emphasis on have been brought to a different level. For example, the lens hood snaps on with a satisfyingly terse and rugged click. That’s the only way I can describe it in words, but I can promise that the way the hood snaps onto the front of this lens compared to the way other lenses do it would be similar to comparing sitting in a stadium chair at a little league game against relaxing in a truly comfortable leather couch in a mahogany scented library. Everything about this lens feels like that, making for a grand experience.
After you get past how strikingly gorgeous this lens appears and finally attach it to your camera body, things only get better. On a 5D MKIII, this lens just feels right. If it were up to me, I would have two 5D bodies and never take this 35mm off one of them. It just feels… good. Right. Like this lens was supposed to be there all along.
The auto focus is extremely responsive in all manner of light conditions. I tested this lens outdoors and in studio, in the dark and in bright daylight. In no situation did I ever feel like the lens didn’t keep up. As with the other new lenses Sigma has put out in the last six months, the focus is snappy, accurate, smooth and totally silent. Bravo to the new AF motor.
Let’s talk about sharpness. My goodness is this lens ridiculously sharp. Remember my review of the Voigtlander 40mm pancake and how I said it was the sharpest lens I ever had the pleasure of shooting? Well it’s been replaced. This Sigma is sharper, and remains so even at wider apertures than the Voigtlander could go. Though it only stops down as far as f/16, I don’t see you ever needing or wanting to go any lower with this lens. The whole point of this lens is to be wide open and tack sharp in a very focused area. In that task, this lens performs magically. As I write this, my heart is clenching up like I’m sitting across from the woman I love and trying to describe the bliss. It’s that kind of feeling. Extreme? Maybe. But you can’t judge me until you’ve shot with this lens.
That photo of the flower? Yes. The stamen is in focus. And I know that this isn't really a portrait lens; the distortion can be really severe. However, I was really happy with the studio results and they really show off what the lens can do.
As with nearly any lens, the Sigma is not perfect (though it is one of the few that comes really close). In certain situations, I did notice some flaring and chromatic aberration issues. The images below were taken on the EOS M and the eye was taken on the 5D MKIII. Though you can’t deny that the Sigma is far sharper than the 22mm lens included with the M, you will notice the flaring and chromatic aberration around the silver lettering: Sigma right, Canon left. The Canon isn't completely innocent here either, note. You can also pick out some greening on the edges of the image of the eyelashes, but only if you're really zoomed in. Like I said, it's minor, but it's there.
The Sigma also has very minor vignetting at f/1.4 that diminishes entirely by f/2.0. When I say minor, I mean really minor. I only noticed it on the full frame camera (though admittedly this is the only camera where I was hoping to see none), but it is an extremely minor vignette that just barely shades in the corners of the frame. When shooting on an APS-C, you don’t have to worry.
For those of you who shoot video and are considering this lens, be aware that there is no optical stabilization. This was not built for video. This is a still-shooter’s lens. That’s not to say it doesn’t shoot glorious video, but do keep in mind that as far as options go, it’s probably not the one you should reach for first if all you plan to shoot is video. It does low light video amazingly well because of the low aperture, but you're going to have to tripod this lens all the time if you plan to get anything usable out of the footage.
So let’s look at this lens from a truly pragmatic point of view. It’s uncannily sharp. It’s ridiculously beautiful. Yes, it has some chromatic aberration and vignette issues, but hold your horses: This lens is only $900. $900, ultra sharp and fast with only two minor complaints? Hard to argue with that.
Sigma kept their promise of delivering quality without compromising the pricing we have all come to expect from Sigma over the years: it’s cheap at only $900. It is far and away the cheapest auto focus enabled 35mm f/1.4 lens available. It blows Nikon and Canon out of the water in terms of price, and I have a hard time believing either Nikon or Canon can beat this Sigma in performance. It’s entirely likely they can match the Sigma on performance, but if that’s the case, why do I need to pay such a premium for them? Fact is, I don’t. And that’s the beauty of this lens.
What I liked:
Look and Feel
Silent and Accurate Autofocus Motor
Lens Speed vs Performance
What Could be Improved:
Some issues with chromatic aberration
Extremely minor vignetting wide open, but dissolves at f/2.0
For a few months now I have been talking about Sigma upping their game. That has been met with mixed opinion from you readers, but the general consensus is that we all want Sigma to succeed. We desperately want another option in the market that we can go to for quality and price instead of being forced into the pricing of Canon or Nikon. If Sigma continues to perform at this level we will have our wish.
If you are considering the 35mm lens, I can’t recommend Sigma’s enough. For those of you looking on warily from a distance, I urge you to give this guy a shot. Rent it for a few days to test it out. If you’ve had a bad experience with a Sigma in the past (I know the feeling, it's happened to me too), give them one more chance to win you back. After shooting with this lens, I firmly believe they won’t let you down again.