Today I’ll be talking about the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art lens for Sony E mount. As with my prior review of the 35mm version, I will be going over the topics that are relevant to me which are sharpness, focusing, bokeh, and usability.
First and foremost, the Art line has been available for some time but is being released currently for Sony E. This is exciting news for Sony owners as this opens up options for adapterless usage of more than just the Sony branded lenses which are often Zeiss optics and great quality but also higher priced.
The biggest question I have received about these native E mount Art lenses has been: is it the same Art lens we’ve had for years with an embedded MC-11 adapter, or is it redesigned internals for the new mount, taking into account the heavy usage of things like Sony’s eye AF?
The information I have been given in regards to that question is as follows:
• The Sony FF E-mount lenses are compatible with AF-C (continuous AF) — which is different from when Canon and Sigma mount lenses are used with the MC-11 where on AF-S (single shot).
• AF works with Video shoot with E-mount lenses — which is different when MC-11 is used…. then only MF.
• As for the performance, the native mounts provide much smoother and quieter AF especially in AF-C and video mode.
I had suspected this would be the case, since it has taken quite some time for the full line of Art lenses to become available for Sony. If it was simply a mount adapter or conversion, they would have been able to release all of them very quickly but I did want to confirm this before making a statement regarding it.
This lens — like the 35mm — focuses well and accurately. The one primary difference I saw with the 50mm is that in extreme low light situation, it hunted some and would give false confirmation. Now I do want to be clear that it was in almost complete darkness, in any type of reasonable and usable lighting situation it worked as expected and I have no complaints.
The eye autofocus worked exceptionally well on this lens with a near 100% hit rate, hardly ever did it miss. As advertised by the specs the AF is quick and silent. Perhaps too quiet, I've become accustomed to hearing a lens focus and knowing it was working and this one is so quiet you almost wonder if you accidentally hit the manual focus switch. I experienced very good quality on the AF for this lens.
The most important physical spec on any Art lens and this is no exception, is that it’s big. No question, it’s large, heavy at 28.7oz and I don’t care. It feels high quality in hand and as I have mentioned before that makes me feel like I am holding something nice even though that’s obviously not quantifiable.
A metal lens or a plastic lens have very different feel in hand, and truthfully if you dropped either on concrete they are probably going to break the glass anyway, so there’s not really a special durability reason that the better build is desirable, other than maybe minor bumps in a bag or perhaps general wear on moving parts like a focus ring. The Sigma Art is built very well and definitely feels high end. Much more so actually than the cheap plastic feeling I have seen with the Nikon lenses, such as the 58mm G.
The lens has 13 elements in 8 groups, with a 9 blade rounded diaphragm. Minimum focusing distance is around 15 inches, which for my needs works well for the focal length.
Sharpness and Detail
Sharpness is exactly what we all know and expect from the Art line, as it has been one of Sigma’s strong suits for some time now. Even rivaling and in some cases outperforming the legendary Zeiss Otus for sharpness.
Obviously with that history of the optical performance from the Art line, this does not come as surprise to me and of course given some AF changes and mount change I did expect the sharpness to not change from the Art line’s venerable DSLR counterparts.
Bokeh and Falloff
Perhaps the biggest thing for me is the character of a lens, the falloff, out of focus areas, and how they are rendered is at least as important as technical sharpness to me if not more important.
Sigma’s critics often complain about the bokeh and character, stating they are too clinical looking. I personally have not had that experience and I am quite picky about those types of details.
The theory going around has been that because of all the extra elements and glass inside these beasts which is made to remove flaws such as fringing, that the tradeoff is the character is lost because some of that character comes from the very flaws that were removed. Perhaps there is a small degree of this, if you were extreme bokeh testing against a bunch of lights you may see some difference in the smoothness of the bokeh while zoomed in to 1200%. But I do not test like this on gear, I test the gear in a real world environment on what I produce for my customers and at the end of the day, what really matters is how does it actually work for the job at hand.
What I can say in regard to the character is that in my real world usage there is zero problem with it or rendering etc. This lens holds up to any Zeiss, Nikon, or Canon lens I’ve ever used.
What I Liked
- Sharpness is excellent
- Color and contrast are good, even in back-lit situations, however this isn't as big of a thing for me as I color grade most of my work pretty heavily to suit my style
- Incredibly quiet focusing
- The size. Yes I know most people think the large size of the Art line as a negative thing, it doesn't bother me a bit and if anything I feel like I have something quality in my hands. Of course, as mentioned before, that's not quantifiable but size means nothing to me. A tourist carrying it around, maybe size is a concern, but for a professional looking for quality images it's a complete non-issue.
What I Didn't Like
Finding things to dislike about this lens is tough, I plan to use a 50mm Art very heavily in my normal work. The focusing accuracy in very dark conditions isn't quite as accurate as the 35mm Art was, be we are really splitting hairs here as shooting in almost pure darkness isn't a thing for most folks. Yes I know, perhaps a wedding photographer at a reception might and that could be a topic of interest but for me it's really not a big issue either.
Compared to the primary other options in this class, it really is the best performance to value ratio. The Sony 50mm is $500 more, and I don’t see a $500 difference in the images, as a matter of fact the Sony 50mm is known to have a pretty widespread de-centering problem that makes the focus plane off, even when the image is technically in focus and many need to be replaced. That is a pretty large smudge on the reputation of something that bears the Zeiss name.
I also cannot see any better quality in the Sony’s images, in fact the Sigma Art is sharper.
You can get the 50mm 1.4 Art for Sony E here for $949.