Has Sigma Finally Given up on Producing Oversized Lenses?

Has Sigma Finally Given up on Producing Oversized Lenses?

Not so long ago, I was known as "noodle arms" by some of the editors at Fstoppers. This is because I complained about how heavy and huge Sigma lenses were when compared to alternatives. I discussed how although Sigma lenses were brilliant, they were a little impractical. With the latest 85mm announced by Sigma, it seems this might a thing of the past. 

Recently Sigma announced the brand new 85mm f/1.4 Art lens for mirrorless cameras, and this lens is tiny. It's more comparable to the size and weight of the f/1.8 versions of this focal length available for Sony. Looking at many of the comments, this seems to be a welcome change and a great number of people seem impressed by the relatively tiny size of this lens.

Impractical Quality

I've been a fan of Sigma lenses for a number of years. The first Art lens I ever bought was the 50mm f/1.4 Art, which I still own today. I then bought the 18-35mm f/1.8, which I think is the best APS-C zoom lens ever made. Both of these lenses have a good degree of heft to them; however, they're not anything as bad as the previous 85mm Art lens. This lens was simply ridiculous when it came to its size and weight. In the previous article, I compared it to a fast-aperture medium format lens from Phase One, simply because of how oversized the 85mm lens was. As much as I loved the result this lens was able to produce, I hated having to take it anywhere, and for that reason, I stopped shooting with it. 

I eventually replaced that lens with the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS, which I find far more manageable both in terms of size and weight. The loss in image quality is negligible, especially when it comes to real-world situations. What matters most to me now for the majority of my shoots is having something that's practical. I don't value the slight differences in image quality. Honestly, I don't even shoot that much with the Canon 85mm, because the 85mm Batis is just such a good lens. The slight difference in depth of field has little impact on the results I produce.

This is predominantly why the new 85mm Art lens is such a brilliant and compelling option. We now have an 85mm Art lens that is comparable in terms of size to the Batis with a ballpark price tag and a wider aperture. 

Who Cares About Corner Sharpness

If you have ever adapted lenses to a larger sensor, you'll notice how the corners can be darker or have a dark circle around the frame. This is obviously because the image circle of the lens isn't capable of covering the larger sensor. What I and many people have noticed is that many Sigma Art lenses can comfortably cover the larger sensor in the Fujifilm GFX cameras. It would seem that Sigma was intentionally producing oversized optics so that the softer edges of the image circle are farther away from the full frame sensor. Effectively, it's like shooting with a full frame lens on an APS-C camera so that only the sharp center portion of the lens is being used. 

The thing is, who really cares about corner sharpness in portrait lenses?

Most people buy fast-aperture portrait lenses to shoot at wider apertures, meaning that the corners are going to be out of focus anyway. That extra effort to produce an edge-to-edge sharp lens offers very little in return, except for something to boast about on paper. 

Even if you are shooting a scene where you need more in focus, then stopping most lenses down will sharpen up the corners anyway. Softer corners tend to be an "issue" when shooting at wider apertures, not when you're stopped down. For this reason, it doesn't matter if a wide aperture lens has softer corners. 

Producing smaller elements and lenses that match the formats they're designed for is more efficient. 

Lens Profiles

The Sony 28mm f/2.0 is one of the worst lenses I have ever used when it comes to distortion. The distortion is very prominent and it makes the lens completely unusable. Well, actually that's not true at all.  

One of the reasons I love the 28mm f/2.0 is because it's tiny, and this is even when you compare it to smaller format lenses. The lens captures a great deal of detail, has brilliant autofocus, and the price makes it an absolute steal. It's one of those hidden gem type lenses, and those who know about it love it. 

The distortion in this lens is pretty horrible though; it's so bad that you can see it in portraits. The thing is that it's never had any impact on any of my videos or images. The distortion from this lens literally has no impact on my work, and this is purely down to lens profiles. Switching on the correction profile in camera means that when filming, the distortion is nonexistent, and when it comes to stills, Lightroom has a profile for it too. 

As you can see in the comparison above, simply adding the profile corrects the whole issue. The benefit of this is that the lens can remain tiny and doesn't need to be overengineered. Instead of Sony producing a huge lens that's perfect in every way, they used efficient design in order to produce a fantastic lens that remains small and lightweight. 

Previously, Sigma was in the habit of trying to physically make the perfect lenses. This meant that their lenses required huge front elements to reduce vignetting, which in turn meant that the overall size and weight would be much larger; yet, it provided little actual benefit. The reason is that all that extra glass can be replaced by a simple lens profile either in camera or in Lightroom. 

We're now seeing Sigma do exactly that. Instead of using huge front elements, Sigma has opted to produce a much smaller lens and use profiles to correct any potential issues. This could mean that Sigma will be working far more efficiently in the future with all of their new lenses. We may start to see a much smaller version of their current Art lineup, which I can only be happy about. 

Final Thoughts

If Sigma really is done with producing oversized lenses, then their popularity is likely to increase quite dramatically. The size and weight was a huge deterrent for many photographers, including myself. This is especially the case for many photographers shooting with mirrorless cameras. Having a huge lens (around the standard focal lengths) just looked silly on a tiny mirrorless camera. It also defeated one of the major reasons people moved over to mirrorless in the first place. 

I'm extremely happy to see how small and lightweight the new 85mm lens from Sigma is, and I'm keen to see new mirrorless versions of other Art lenses in the near future. 

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34 Comments

Stuart Carver's picture

That one they do that looks like an actual Canon is the best one, some sort of f2.8 long tele lens I think... ridiculous.

I’d like to see the 150-600 made for the X mount, that’s a pretty good size for a long tele and would be a great option for Fuji users.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sigma seriously need to start producing lenses for Fujifilm. A little while ago, when I had a discussion with them, I was told that the Fuji market is too small for Sigma to consider. I hope, this is no longer the case and that Sigma do start producing lenses for the X mount.

Stuart Carver's picture

I’ve got the 10-20 for my Nikon and it would be such a great lens as an alternative to the 2 wide angle Fuji options. Fuji seem to be growing in popularity so hopefully it kicks them into action.

Alex Reiff's picture

Probably thinking of the 200-500. Thing weighs 35 pounds.

Stuart Carver's picture

Great walkaround lens nevertheless :)

Daniel Lee's picture

Ive never really liked the Art series for that very reason. I owned the E mount version of the 35mm Art but it was too heavy to use as an every day carry around lens. If Sigma continue to make these smaller and lighter lenses then I'll definitely be getting some!

K H's picture

The reason they were so large was because they basically took the existing DSLR variants of the art lens and adapted them to mirrorless cameras. So the lens is basically a lens + adapter combined into one. The new Sigma lenses are designed for mirrorless from the start so they can be more compact

Usman Dawood's picture

That is one of the reasons yes and I didn't cover that point but maybe I should have. The reason I didn't was because based on the discussions I had with some people at Sigma they mentioned only that it was that they opted to use lens profiles to correct issues as opposed to physically correcting them. Although, I think you're right, it could also be that they've completely redesigned it for mirrorless.

Troy Phillips's picture

One of the advantages of taking away the mirror is the ability to make the lens smaller. When most film cameras were mirrorless aka rangefinders they had smaller lens dimensions even with a larger aperture opening.
One thing though correcting for all the different aberrations and correcting for distortion does start making the lens designs larger again. And as many companies are doing is making this corrections in camera instead of in lens .

Eivind Larsen's picture

I have the Sigma 85/1.4 with my Sony A7r4. I use it probably for 90% of my photography. However it is huge and heavy, i cant wait to switch to this new half-size version.

Rodney Nelson's picture

Sigm 50-150 for aps-c, mostly because I want one and they made a limited amount so they are tough to come by.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Back in 2014 when I started with Sony very few lenses were available BUT one lens I found that worked well on a Full Frame and before IBIS is the sooo! small E 10-18mm f/4 IS/AF/ screw on filters APS-C lens works FF 12mm to 18mm (18mm if light shield removed) and the A7S has a APS-C selection so you have 12mm to 27mm in a little lens. I was into landscapes and Astro Milky Ways. After lens correction in LR (long time ago in camera years) Vignetting and softness were reduced. Pinpoint stars even at 30s exposure (before NPF rule). Well all these years nothing has compared to the smallness in any lens. I mean look at the old 35mm film lenses yes no AF or IS but they worked and still do and fast 1.8 also, why all the big heavy glass. With reduced size Electronics and motors the small may RETURN!!!

Jerome Brill's picture

Sigma did say they were going to start making smaller lenses in an interview with DPREVIEW https://www.dpreview.com/interviews/2134621161/sigma-interview-smaller-h...

paul aparycki's picture

they will stop producing oversize lenses when all the wanker wannabees out there stop (subconciously) being terrified of having under-sized penises.

Tom Reichner's picture

I have one Sigma lens - the 300-800mm DG f5.6. It is 27 inches long with the hood, and weighs 13 pounds.

I often use it on all-day photo outings in which I am covering a lot of ground ..... and I am not a big or strong or fit guy by any means. I am 52 years old, 25 pounds overweight, and have herniated discs in my back, chronic tendonitus in my forearms, a torn labrum in my left shoulder, and a miniscus tear in my left knee.

Those who complain about 85mm lenses being too big and heavy are people I cannot relate to whatsoever. Man up! Seriously.

I would love it if my sigma 300-800mm f5.6 were f5.0 instead of f5.6. The extra little bit of background blur would be well worth another pound or three. I think more extreme designs are in order, not less extreme, but more portable, designs. Comfort doesn't matter. Extreme image quality does matter.

Usman Dawood's picture

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not.

Tom Reichner's picture

No, I am not being sarcastic in the least.

My lens weighs 13 pounds, my camera 4 pounds, my tripod and 4 pounds, and Wimberley head 3 pounds. The whole rig weighs in at 24 pounds, and can be balanced atop one's shoulder for relatively comfortable carrying.

It is not unusual for wildlife specialists to carry a kit of these proportions.

Morten's kit is far heavier and more complete then mine, and he manages to get around quite well with it all.

Are you not familiar with the type of gear that most professional wildlife guys carry around with them? Watching Morten's video may be quite enlightening for you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi0C2YJUptg&t=299s

Usman Dawood's picture

I've heard about and seen the kind of gear wildlife photographers shoot with but not extremely familiar with it. Also, these aren't wildlife specific type lenses though. These are standard focal lengths. To compare them in the same way and say the weight isn't a problem isn't really a fair thing to do. They need to be compared to other similar lenses in order to determine if they're over-sized or heavy or not. Everything is relative right.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The 35 f1.2 came out last year. I think literally exactly a year ago.

Sigma's announcement going to smaller lenses was just this year.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Not sure about cost cutting in terms of lower quality because the new 85 is improved compared to the previous.

With its compact size and compact price price of $1199 vs Canon RF 85 f1.2 $2699 (on sale $2599), that hammer Canon dropped is going to bounce back and smack themselves on the knee.

Usman Dawood's picture

I think the distortion is not really a good point against the lens. That's what efficient design is all about, instead of producing over-sized perfect lenses, just use a lens profile. The distortion has literally no impact then so it doesn't matter.

Usman Dawood's picture

Efficient in terms of size and weight that doesn’t necessarily mean in terms of price.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The new one is sharper and less (to zero ca/fringing, just like the $2699 RF). The distortion is easily corrected by lens profile.

Sigma isn't going out of business any time soon. If anything, they are going to take away business. Thank your lucky stars the RF market continues to be weak where it's not worth it for them. for now.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

No doubt the RF is the superior lens, but, with it's hefty weight and even heftier price tag, it will land in very few hands like actual pro photographers; and the posers who have nothing to show for it but they sure love to talk about it.

Paolo Bugnone's picture

"Effectively, it's like shooting with a full frame lens on an APS-C camera so that only the sharp center portion of the lens is being used. "
*central portion of the image circle, not of the lens.

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