FS Review: Sigma's New 35mm f/1.4 is Amazing

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
Sharpness
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.

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55 Comments

Previous comments
Jaron Schneider's picture

24-70 is from their previous line ha. It's totally different. Crazy to see what they're actually capable of. 

I have a few Sig primes and they are awesome for Nikon. I was worried it wasn't as good as Nikkor G line but I've been very happy with the 50 & 85. It was all Nikons fault with that soft as heck 50 1.4 they produced a few years back. Total sponge. I switched to Sig primes and haven't looked back. Nikon zooms are another story though.

George Socka's picture

hello Vistek. When can we expect this in the great white north? As well as a 6D? Just asking

Marcel van Beek's picture

how is the color/contrast compared to the Canon 35L ???

Spy Black's picture

Notice all the images you'll see of this lens are all flat, low contrast scenes. Wide aperture lenses fail miserably at their maximum aperture in high contrast scenes like full bright sun, night time scenes with point light sources, or indoor scenes like concerts with spotlights and such. You'll need to stop down at least one stop, and typically better two stops, to get really good image quality from these lenses in situations like that. That kinda defeats the purpose of having a lens like this, however.

Spy Black's picture

What do those look like at full res without all that sharpening?

Joe Russo's picture

 All that sharpening???

hey man, if you don't like/want/need the lens, don't get it.

Spy Black's picture

Well, yes, all that sharpening. I see it.

My comments are not aimed at this lens specifically, it's using high-speed optics full wide under the various light conditions I've outlined. I simply find the halation bothersome. As I said, this lens may be as good as it gets, but I wish these type of lenses would work full wide as well as they do even one stop down.

Why would he need to use large amounts of sharpening when he's shooting ISO100 on a D3S?

Joe Russo's picture

 If you wish these lenses can work well wide open, then you need to buy Zeiss Distagon glass. It's there.

If the price point is unacceptable, maybe you can help the engineering teams at one of the lens makers get their shit straight.

lol, 'i wish'.

Rui Nelson Magalhães Carneiro's picture

1. No, you don't see it.

2. You were talking about constrast.

3. This lens delievers wide-open, as the review said and Joe Russos's photos (as with many, many others) show, it's not your cheap 80's 50mm 1.4 lens you found on ebay.

Can anyone comment as to if I should pick up this lens or try and head further south to the 24mm range? I have a 50mm, 85mm, and 70-200. I shoot portraits and some editorial type shots. Should I  go 24mm 1.4 or this new 35mm 1.4? Is the 35mm that much different of a view than the 50mm I already have on full frame?

amazing lens. hasn't left my d600. it even gives very sharp results at 1.4 on my d800e as well! I was not expecting that at all. the bokeh is stunning. this lens instantly became my fave walk around lens. Its professional applications are endless too.

This is a wonderful review. I truly do love the conversational and informative tone, unlike all of the other websites that provide blurbs of specs and headache-inducing graphs. Regardless, this lens is definitely going onto my wishlist. I am an amateur, hobbyist photographer, seeking better (read: prime, non-kit) lenses. I am curious: should I invest more into a 35mm or a 50mm? I know they are different types of lenses, but any sort of tips would be appreciated! As a side note: I do plan on getting them both eventually. I guess I'm looking for tips on which one I should get first.

Dennis Steiner's picture

I love the lense, but have some focus problems (like in the past) on the 5DM3. It looks like only Canon People encounter this problem. Anyone here got that too?

Greg Hitchcock's picture

I think I found my next Prime! I am in agreement that Sigma has really stepped up their game. I bought a 10-20mm f3.5 last year and a 50-150mm f2.8 OS this year and I am tickled with how well these lenses work. They are not prefect, the wide has a bit of distortion and the long zoom can have some tricky CA, but they are both tack sharp, well built, and a bit easier on my wallet.

Hello Jaron and all the F-Stoppers!

I recently moved from DX (D7000) to FX by spending all my earnings on a D800 and this Sigma 35 1.4 lens.

Of course, I am generally quite happy with what I got except for 2 things, I do a lot of concert photography and I noticed that:

1)The D800 noise isn't as impressive as I expected (but I know this isn't the place to discuss it)

2) I noticed that my Sigma Lens deals very badly with many light sources (concerts, candles, etc.). It gives me plenty of flares and it's not easy to correct them in Post prod.

At first I thought a good filter would help but I got the HOYA UV HMC and it didn't really help.

So I'm curious...did anyone have similar issues?

Could that be that the lens is faulty?

Is any other filter going to help?

Any comments would be highly appreciated.

Fantastic lens after it has to be sent into Sigma for calibration the first day you buy it LOL!

I own the Nikon version, and feel like I won the Sigma lottery, considering mine is nearly flawless. However, the only other people (two) I know who have purchased this lens have had to return it due to significant focusing issues and overall softness :/. One of my good friends and associates went through THREE before giving up. Mine, tack sharp (however not entirely consistent), the others, not so lucky. This has left me with some hesitation regarding Sigma

Their focusing issues with each copy was found when focusing further than 10 feet.

Jozef Povazan's picture

I used to shoot sigma's lenses and the reason I went back to Nikon was the consistency in their product line up, issues with AF were too common on them. The only one which did not disappoint me was 105 f2.8 macro, that smoked even the nikon version in sharpness anytime and worked amazing for me... this 35 guy looks promising just to get a good copy is the tricky part as I can read again here :) Sigma :) great when it works but it better :)

Is chromatic aberration really a concern? for the 85-90% of the photog community who only ever down size their photos for the web, and for the fact that Lightroom can fix this for you in a mouse click, it doesn't seem like something worthy of noting?

Arash Nikkhah's picture

Well I got Sigma 35mm 1.4 and 20mm 1.4 for my d810,first they had heavy front focus specially from 1 meter distance and more.After Lens Align system calibration I have very nice sharp images when I focus in a subject which is less than a meter away but more than a meter or 2 is very soft which I expected from a prime lens to be more sharp! I have send my body to Nikon NPS and they checked and said camera is in order and they have checked with Nikon wide angle lenses and focusing is right in body!
I have to check with other friends who has same lens and body or bring it to Sigma to check further!
Any idea or same problem?!