For this article, I am going to be looking at a lifetime review of the Sigma Art 35mm 1.4 lens for Canon. I purchased this lens within the first week of its release.
When I started working as a photographer, I would second shoot weddings with my friend Hitesh. The kit that Hitesh carried around was always the best of the best, but my budget was somewhat lacking. Working with his 35mm f/1.4 USM L and Canon 85mm f/1.2 USM L lenses and then moving back to my Canon 28mm f/2.8 EF lens and 85mm f/1.8 EF USM lens was always a bit grim. As I started making money I wanted to invest in a lens of my own to use when working. I always feel more comfortable using something I own than I do borrowing someone else kit. I couldn’t really see much of a difference with the two 85 mm lenses we had (an article will follow on this), but the 28mm f/2.8 EF lens to the Canon 35mm f/1.4 EF L lens was night and day. However, so was the price tag. Within about a week of getting the Canon L lens the Sigma Art lens was announced. I quickly rented one, sold my Canon 35mm L lens and purchased the Sigma version, saving enough money to buy two more second hand Canon speed lights.
The optics of the Sigma Art lens were easily as good as the Canon lens. They render backgrounds a bit differently, but no client cares about this, bokeh reviews are purely for photographers and the internet. The biggest difference to me was the colors. Canon Sensors have a red bias, the Canon lenses seem to add to this. When I placed the sigma lens on the Canon sensor it seemed to reduce the red and cool down the color pallet. As mentioned in my article about the Canon 5D mk2, I am not a gear head and I don’t know (nor overly care for) the ins and outs of every bit of technological knowhow. So if you do know why this is the case, please do pop it in the comments.
I quickly fell in love with this lens and I have heavily used it since its release date in 2013, I would go as far as saying that it is my favorite lens in my bag, even though it is no longer my most used lens.
When I first purchased it I was still shooting a lot of weddings, maybe 30-40 a year, perhaps an additional 4 events a month and then my commercial work, which is what I was trying to move into. This lens made an appearance on pretty much every shoot. As a story telling focal length on a 35mm camera, this lens is perfect for me. I love the way that I can separate the subject from the background, but still make out whats going on, for environmental portraits this became the only lens I would use. It stayed welded onto one of my camera bodies for the entire day at a wedding, I did all of the group portraits with it and shot it throughout the day ina reportage manner. This lens was the biggest change any piece of kit has ever made to a genre of photography that I was working within. Once I got the 35mm lens and my wedding images started getting out there, my bookings just sky rocketed. It turns out that it was exactly what my clients wanted to see. As I moved away from weddings and portraits and toward my now career as a food photographer, I thought the lens might have had its day. Its a bit too wide for anything too close up, but then the orders for grand flat lays started to arrive. When I am shooting 35mm cameras and a client request a flatly for 4-6 places at a table, this is the lens I use. Anything longer and I need a cherry picker, anything wide and the image doesn't look right.
The lens is a solid chunk of metal with some tough plastic switches, unlike its Canon counterpart which was all plastic and very light. I don’t know if this means its a better build, but it feels it. My lens has been hit into walls, dropped several times, has a few chunks of plastic chipped out of it and is very scratched on the black metal barrel. The mount at the rear of the lens has faired better than the ones on my Canon lenses and the glass is still scratch free, as I would expect. This lens is built for hard professional use. There is a "but" though. The lens hood is utter rubbish (see tape in article image). The lens hood started falling off within a month of owning the lens. I also don’t like the Sigma rear lens caps compared to the Canon ones, but that is a small thing to consider. I can’t see this lens breaking within the next 10 years considering what its been through and how robust it has proved to be. The cost per use of this lens has been great.
This is really what we are usually paying/looking for. The optical quality of the lens. I can’t talk with any authority on groups of elements and types of glass, it all means very little to me and I couldn't offer anything new to what is already out there. What I can talk about though is how it handles common situations.
When shooting groups at weddings or large flatly of food, the distortion is very minimal, when I get in close like in the picture below, there is just enough distortion to make a virtue of it without having to reach for a wide angle lens. Shooting at f/2 and above you can create beautiful images, my lens is usually sat between f/2 and f/5.6 at weddings and then f/4-f8 in the studio when shooting food. The images below f/2 are soft and dreamy, the vignetting that the lens create is perfect for weddings and certain fashion editorial projects.
I find that the lens give a cool, slightly purple tinted creamy color pallet, which on a Canon sensor is perfect for creating a more natural look than Canon seems to think we want as photographers.
When shooting direct into light, it handles the flare well and often with a quick placement of the hand to help AF you are well on your way to some interesting results.
And the speed of this lens is impressive. At f/1.4 you get loads of light in. I shot my weddings pretty much with available light only and the option to keep a reasonable shutter speed in dim churches was amazing. And for those who love a shallow depth of field, there is plenty to play with. The shot below is at f/2.2.
The auto focus on my copy is silent and fast. Even with the single AF point that my camera has, at f/2 I rarely miss a shot. I’ve never had any complaints with this lens. The only limitation I have found is when recording video with live audio, when its tracking it’s more jolty than my other lenses and you can hear the focus stopping in the audio once it has locked on, although the actual focus movement is silent. The focus pull isn’t huge, but for food photography and the more documentary style portraiture work I occasionally do, it is perfect. I am not sure that it would be the ideal choice for a videographer.
This isn’t something that I particularly look for in a lens for a 35mm camera as my main bodies only have 22 mega pixels, but I know a lot of people do. This lens is pretty darn sharp. I add a lot of grain to my images in post to try and remove some of this as it’s a little bit too much for me and for the commercial work I do. Most of my clients want my work to look as film like as possible, rather than as digital and sharp as possible. The lens resolves a great amount of detail and when I have used it on the Canon 5DS R system it has coped well with the larger resolution. From f/2.8 onward this lens is very sharp. After f/8 it starts to fall apart a little, to my untrained eyes.
What I Liked
There is a lot to like about this lens. Great build quality with a really solid feeling that is somewhat reminiscent of the old film lenses. The optics are incredible on the Canon sensors and resolve a great amount of detail, even down to f/2. For the price, I can't think of another 35mm lens for the Canon system that can compete and compared to the Canons' own brand offers, this lens is cheaper and at least as good.
What I Didn't Like
This is really nit picking, but if you use your kit like I use mine, the black metal body becomes pretty grubby and scuffed in a short period of time. It can make the lens look very old and tiered even though it still has plenty of life left in it. My only other real gripe is the lens hood. I know this to be a general issue, and not just something I found as two of my friends have had the same problem with their Sigma Art lenses.
Who Is This Lens For?
This is a great all round lens, especially at this price point. For me, it replaces the need for a 24-70mm lens for me personally and as I hate the look zoom lenses give, it makes it invaluable in my kit bag. If you are a fan of prime lenses, then this is a great standard to wide lens. Wedding photographers and event photographers would be well suited to this as would anyone who like documentary style work or street photography with a DSLR. If you really want to tell a story, work with available light and have professional level optics, then this is the best bang for your buck at the focal length. I also think that it is a great tool for certain product and food photographers, although it certainly isn’t a lens that you would priorities. This was the first in the Sigma Art series that I purchased and I was very apprehensive in doing so as the older Sigma lenses were very poor quality, but this series of lenses has completely reinvented the Sigma optics brand.
If you are looking for something in the 24-70mm range, would you consider this lens?