Hands-On Review with Sigma's Newest 24mm f/1.4 Art Beauty

Hands-On Review with Sigma's Newest 24mm f/1.4 Art Beauty

Coming off of its previous reputation as an extreme budget brand when it came to DSLR lenses, Sigma has now had well over two years to fend off quality concerns with their restructured Global Vision lineup that began with the superb 35mm f/1.4 Art lens. Since then, Sigma’s Art-, Contemporary-, and Sport-series lenses have proven themselves better than or on par with their Nikon and Canon counterparts for far less capital; and the 24mm f/1.4 Art gives us no reason to suspect the new direction doesn’t have a clear vision to go global.

The new 24mm f/1.4 Art is now the widest lens in the lineup of full-frame f/1.4 Art series lenses by Sigma, adding to a line that now includes the 35mm and 50mm versions as well, with a full-frame 85mm and 24-70mm f/2.8 (or even possibly f/2) rumored to come out next.

Built with the same intent as the other lenses in the Global Vision series, which include impressive Art zoom lenses and Sport super-zooms as well, there was no question the 24mm f/1.4 Art would grace camera mounts with the same expected quality. Built out of the same metal and composite material as in the 35mm and 50mm variants, the 24mm feels incredibly solid. There are only praises to sing for how it feels to use the 24mm f/1.4 Art.

Smaller than the 50mm but larger overall than the 35mm, Sigma’s 24mm feels quite similar in form, though it is the most tapered of the f/1.4 Art lineup, even if just by a bit. The wide-angle 24mm focal length also requires a smaller, less-obtrusive/-protruding hood that still features leafed petals, which we’d expect given the fair but still-far-from-dirt-cheap price of $849.00 – a price also in line with the other lenses in the lineup.

That said, it is not a tiny lens by any means: picking up the lens is an immediate reminder just how well built this lens is. Fifteen elements pack into a relatively small housing to give this lens an extremely dense and unexpectedly heavy feel for its newly svelte figure. Combined with the distance it begins to put between itself and the beer can shape of its 35mm and 50mm companions, the solid weight also adds to the delight that holding this lens can bring.

Please forgive the fingerprint smudges and light dust particles... I was using this lens for quite some time to FIND reasons not to like it. But despite my best efforts, I returned empty-handed. So I suppose I can complain about the tiny rings of glossy material that attract fingerprints if I'm really feeling like being nitpicky today...which I'm not.

Image Quality

Aside from its 24mm focal length, this lens just isn’t that different from others in the lineup of new Art series wide-aperture primes. Image quality is superb. For any real-world uses (which don’t involve extensive grey card and vignetting tests), the 24mm’s coatings, FLD glass (similar in performance to fluorite crystal elements used in some high-end telephoto lenses, but much more affordable), and two aspherical lens elements all work in concert to effectively minimize ghosting, chromatic aberration, and lens flare in direct sunlight.

Chromatic aberration (which is especially a concern at the wide apertures this lens can provide) never reached a level that was uncorrectable in post-production – and even then it was quite minimal. Likewise, lens flare was present, but it was extremely minor – as well controlled as with any of the top high-end lenses with modern coatings.

I had a lot of fun shooting Charleston's Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge at night. Note: These images are all edited just slightly to bring back some of the color flattened by the raw files. However, all of the edits are extremely minor (except where it's obvious that I'm trying to give a variety of editing styles just to have fun).

Focusing

I normally wouldn’t discuss focusing for a lens with nothing to complain about. And the 24mm is just that. It focuses quickly, accurately, and silently. But given the similarity of this lens to the others in the lineup, I will take the time to address both the good and bad behind certain features that may affect some people using any modern lens intended for digital SLRs.

Manually focusing can be accomplished at any time with this lens, again as with the others in the series. Just grab the focusing ring whenever you need to make an adjustment yourself, and you have full control.

Something to note, however, as it may be important for some film shooters, is that this lens is a wide-angle, modern lens optimized for digital bodies. As such, its focusing ring doesn’t have a ton of “throw.” In other words, just a hair over a quarter-turn (literally) of the focusing ring covers the entire focusing range from 0.82 feet to over infinity (more on that in a moment), as marked on the barrel. The short throw is great for quick autofocus (and even manual focus) adjustments, but it isn’t the most accurate instrument if you’re using your fingertips to lock in focus at f/1.4. Those used to lenses like Zeiss’ 21mm f/2.8 Distagon will certainly miss that endless zooming action. But this is nothing abnormal for a modern digital lens and for the f/1.4 Art lineup.

The one unfortunate issue that I was hoping would simply not be an issue on this lens is the fact that the lens will focus past infinity because its hard infinity stop and actual infinity are not in alignment. This is not a “problem” with this lens as much as it is a design choice that has been made for more lenses these days than not – no matter the manufacturer. But for a lens that is now carrying the wide end of this series, one would think Sigma might do its landscape photographers a favor and allow the focus ring to stop at actual, real, good ‘ol optical infinity. Again, however, there is nothing different about this compared to the way “everyone else” does it. Nikon’s 24mm f/1.4G has the same “feature.” Most of the lenses in your bag likely do as well. It’s just unfortunate that quickly turning the focus ring until it stops in one direction goes past infinity and doesn’t stop at it. But we should all be used to that by now.

I had a lot of fun shooting Charleston's Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge at night. Note: These images are all edited just slightly to bring back some of the color flattened by the raw files. However, all of the edits are extremely minor (except where it's obvious that I'm trying to give a variety of editing styles just to have fun).

Overall Impressions and Recommendations

While I have an uncanny ability to report objectively despite my biases for your benefit, of course, I should make one disclosure: my ownership of (and experiences with) the 50mm f/1.4 Art and 35mm f/1.4 Art lenses were all I needed to know that I would want the 24mm f/1.4 Art. Although 35mm is arguably my favorite “walking-around” focal length, I needed something a bit wider for events and, as any photographer knows, for all kinds of general situations in which 35mm just doesn’t do. Few pros shooting regularly can get away with a 35mm at the wide end of their kit – even with the 24mm, there’s often room to go wider.

That said, the “review” unit I tested is a copy that was expedited to me for review, but that I also actually bought before even testing it. I needed an excellent wide-angle that I could count on at an “affordable” price, so that’s what I got. I knew it wouldn’t disappoint, and it didn’t let me down.

With that, I would recommend the 24mm f/1.4 Art to anyone looking for a superior, autofocus, and wide-angle lens optimized for a digital shooting experience. MTF charts and other time-consuming tests might say one is better than the other in this scenario or that, but as far as real-world shooting goes, the Nikon and Canon equivalents provide the same quality and experience as the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art. However, a much lower cost of $849.00 makes the Sigma an obvious choice. It’s really as simple as that. Build quality is just as good (if not better, honestly…which I’m both surprised and extremely happy about), optical performance is excellent, basic features are identical, etc.

 

For all the complaining I'm about to do about the 24mm focal length, one great thing about wide-angles is that you can shoot an insanely slow shutter speeds handheld. This was shot near sunset at 1/20th, f/1.4, ISO 400 and was quite sharp where focus hit. Note: These images are all edited just slightly to bring back some of the color flattened by the raw files. However, all of the edits are extremely minor (except where it's obvious that I'm trying to give a variety of editing styles just to have fun).

One More Thought to Consider

Above…that’s my professional opinion, but my personal opinion doesn’t end there, exactly.

In addition to possible biases for a line of lenses based on previous experiences, I (like many) have a focal length bias that is harder to ignore. This is something that is completely personal for everyone, so do take this with a grain of salt. But also, don’t ignore the possibility that this may happen to you…

While I love the 24mm f/1.4 Art’s quality, optical performance, etc., I am simply not in love with the 24mm focal length. The 35mm remains my absolute favorite, of course, but for wide-angle shots I couldn’t help but continue to reminisce about the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 that I loved so much and just recently reviewed. In fact, it was while shooting with the 24mm lens that I realized just how much I missed that Tamron (which, for those that haven’t read reviews on it, is every bit as impressively leading the way for a Tamron brand and quality reformation as the Global Vision lenses are doing the same for Sigma).

The two lenses are completely different. The Tamron “only” opens to f/2.8 and not f/1.4. But it features excellent vibration reduction and covers the entire 15-30mm range. But then it’s also way heavier, quite a bit larger, and useless with traditional lens filters with its huge, bulbous front element.

There are a lot of reasons why the 24mm is still relevant and will still stay in my bag (for travelling, perhaps): it fills a gap in my kit, it’s relatively compact, it looks and behaves beautifully. But at the end of the day, I either wanted to go wider or back to the 35mm.

Some may be thinking, “So what? That’s you. Who cares? I know what I like.” I even have a friend that shoots 100% with a 24mm lens (street photography).

But others will agree with me. And as much as I love this lens and my other Sigma f/1.4 Art lenses, a lens’ superb quality does not automatically make it necessary to have.

I will be keeping mine, most likely. But when Sigma comes out with an 18/20/21mm as they likely will in a few years’ time, I will be trading it out. And if you’re a hobbyist or enthusiast and don’t need this lens, don’t feel “bad” about not loving it despite all the reasons it gives you to take it home. It’s okay.

For the rest, I’d absolutely recommend it. At $849.00, it’s much less than half the price of its Nikon counterpart and just about half the price of Canon’s 24mm f/1.4L II. That’s as easy as the decision gets.

How to Get Your Hands On One

The 24mm f/1.4 Art is available for pre-order (and likely somewhat backordered for good reason) on B&H for $849 in Nikon F, Canon EF, and Sony A mounts. Of course, it’s also available in a Sigma SA mount that’s ready to ship now. That may seem like some one-sided planning on Sigma’s part, but then it makes sense that they’d make the effort to get support to their own mount before the rest might fall in line.

I had a lot of fun shooting Charleston's Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge at night...even driving under with a slow shutter speed was a fun trip (I feel like this is what I would have done in high school for a photography class project had I grown up in Charleston...there must be a million more like this floating around somewhere). Note: These images are all edited just slightly to bring back some of the color flattened by the raw files. However, all of the edits are extremely minor (except where it's obvious that I'm trying to give a variety of editing styles just to have fun).

Below, I've placed a variety of casual images I took while hopping aroudn between Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, and Austin just over a week ago.

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7 Comments

Matthew Walker's picture

I want one

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

I like this price :)
Regarding infinity focus there is a number of reasons why manufacturer may implement this feature. I.e. thermal expansion, allowances for infrared photography, adjustment for multiple filters that may affect focus, etc...

Adam Ottke's picture

That's totally right. I just wish they could NOT do that... There MUST be some special way to be able to allow for AT least a "soft stop" in the middle the way some lenses allow for little "dimples" (if you will) when cycling through the aperture... There should simply be a way to do that by now...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

I think, it is a good idea. Send them an email. Maybe they never thought about it...

Hans Rosemond's picture

I had their 35 1.4 ART lens and returned it. I think I got a bad copy, which is a shame because so many people have been singing this line of lens' praises. I'm just too lazy to take a chance on a company with bad QC. Returning lenses is no fun. Maybe if I hear enough about this one I'll take it for a test run!

Adam Ottke's picture

Yes, that's unfortunate. I do hear there are various bad copies of lenses floating around all the time. I have to say my 50mm 1.4 had some major back focus issues that weren't uniform throughout the focusing range, so even a fine focus adjustment just didn't help much at all (I was only able to set it correctly for one chosen distance value essentially). I decided to send my lens into Sigma to get recalibrated. They were great about it, and I had it back in a little over a week....tack sharp. They should do whatever they did then for every lens before they ship it out, but something always slips through the cracks.... In any case, sorry to hear you had a bad experience; but I'd give it another go if the lens features and price combo suit you in the future....

Thomas Andreas's picture

I was waiting for this lens to appear in the market for more than 4 years. I was more than tempted to go with the 35mm 1.4 but when I rented it for an important project that would define my photography style, I preferred the 24 in a 24-70 2.8.

I loved all the perks of the 35 1.4 but treating it as wide angle was difficult. It's not wide it's just medium, closer to how a 50 feels.

I never had the 2k+ to spend on the canon or nikon for a 24 1.4. I always thought of that price tag to be a little bit crazy. But all this time I would read all 24mm images I saw in the internet, like my eye would just get stuck on them.

As a happy owner of the 24 1.4 by Sigma now, I can say I am extremely satisfied. Wide angles were always my favorite photography style even for portraiture. After shooting so much wide angle in many different subjects, I finally came to a clash with distortion and always wished for some bokeh without having to go extremely close. I had found many ways distortion would look good, but I was bored of it overally. So I decided to go from a 15-16 favorite, to a 24 prime that would control that. Wide angle offering a depth of field is also mesmerizing when the shooting distance is just the right one. I can only say thank you to Sigma for this lens, to my consumer mind they became equally good to Canon or Nikon lens makers with far better prices.