The Look and Feel of a Vintage Lens With Modern Design: Fstoppers Reviews the Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN

The Look and Feel of a Vintage Lens With Modern Design: Fstoppers Reviews the Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN

When it comes to modern autofocus lenses, your options are typically cheap-feeling plastic up to nice-feeling plastic. Finally, there’s an option for getting the build quality of a beautiful, vintage prime with modern optics and coatings. 

The newest 35mm lens for the Sony and Leica lineup, the Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN, has the look and feel of some of the oldest primes. Sigma has built up a reputation for itself by making really nice lenses at affordable prices. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art was, for a long time, my dream lens. It’s very sharp and relatively affordable compared to other 35mm lenses. More recently, Sigma came out with a new 35mm built with mirrorless in mind, the 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art. Both lenses, however, are quite large and heavy, and while they feel nice in the hand, they are made of plastic and can feel like an anchor to an otherwise light mirrorless camera. This new lens, on the other hand, is small, lightweight, and all-metal construction. Truth be told, all-metal construction mixed with modern optics and autofocus is honestly a bit strange. Further, compared with previous models from the Art series, this lens is a touch slower (f/2 compared with the f/1.4 and f/1.2 from the Art series) while being considerably cheaper than both. Let’s see if the quality, size, and weight of the lens along with the lower price can bring more value than that of the more expensive models. 

Build Quality and Handling

This lens is hands down the best-feeling 35mm autofocus lens I’ve ever held. It is properly difficult to overstate how much it brings the feel and appearance of vintage, all-metal lenses into modern-day aesthetics. I’ve seen some reports that the aperture ring also has the same vibe and tactile sensation as a vintage lens, and to be quite honest, I don’t agree at all. It doesn’t have quite the same level of resistance I get from a truly well-built vintage Nikon, Canon, Minolta, or Zeiss lens. That’s not to say that it’s bad or that I dislike it; indeed, I like it very much relative to its contemporary lens counterparts. The MF/AF switch has a very precise and firm feeling when switching between settings. Further, the lens hood is my favorite lens hood I’ve ever seen. The only thing that comes close are vintage lens hoods, but in my experience, they never fit on lenses in a snug way, at least not in the way that competes with the feel of the Sigma. 

The handling of this lens is very nice. The size (70 x 67 mm) and weight (325 g) feel great on the front of my Sony a7R II. Not too big, not too small, not too light, not too heavy, all around, it’s a really great handling lens. Manual focus is also quite nice. The focusing ring has a wonderful feeling with the ridging and like the rest of the lens, is all metal. The resistance is as good as it gets. Truthfully, I really don’t like focus-by-wire setups, which at this point seems like the only option. 

Left: Uncropped, Right: Cropped Corner

Wide Open Performance: Sharpness and Vignette

As you can see below, without lens corrections, there’s a good deal of vignetting when shot wide open; however, stopping down twice to f/4 clears up nearly all of it. As you’ll also see, the center crop shows some decent sharpness wide open but very good sharpness at f/4. Corner sharpness wide open leaves something to be desired, and in my opinion, it doesn’t really get much better when stopped down to f/4. Keep in mind that these are 200% crops and are very critical evaluations of performance. Throughout the article, I’ll have other examples of the sharpness, which when not pixel-peeping, shows a commendable performance, particularly for a lens less than $1,000.  

Left: Entire image shot at f/2, Right: Entire image shot at f/4 with blue sections to identify crops in following examples

Left: Center crop at f/2, Right: Center crop at f/4

Left: Center crop at f/2, Right: Center crop at f/4

What I Like

  • All metal construction
  • Compact size
  • Lightweight
  • The lens hood matches the body perfectly
  • Price: coming in at $640, it is one of the more affordable options

What I Don’t Like

  • Sharpness is good at f/2, really good at f/2.8, and excellent at f/4, but for portraits, it would be nice to have it a bit sharper at f/2
  • Weather-sealing is not really on par with other premium lenses

Left: Uncropped, Right: Cropped Corner

Similar Auto Focus Alternatives

Sony FE f/1.8 (cost: $750): The lens I suspect will be most often compared with the new Sigma is the Sony FE f/1.8. The Sony is just a touch smaller and 44 grams lighter (Sigma: 325 g versus 281 g). While the Sony comes in at just over $100 more, they appeal to consumers looking to upgrade their lenses or get into primes but who don’t want to spend more than $1,000. The Sony has a very good reputation for its focusing and sharpness, particularly for the price point. Personally, I would get the Sigma over the Sony in this comparison if for no other reason than that I love the build quality of the Sigma and performance would be similar. If you were inclined to stay within the Sony brand, you may want to go with the FE f/1.8. 

Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE (cost: $400): The cheapest lens among the 35mm ~f/2 lineup, the Samyang (a.k.a. Rokinon) is lighter (210 g) than its two competitors but approximately the same size. I have no hands-on experience with this lens, and the lenses I’ve used from this brand have been very unreliable so I would not personally get one of the AF lenses unless manual focus was out of the question and the Sigma and Sony options were too expensive. 

Faster and Slower Options

One of the biggest complaints, if not the biggest, will be the speed of the lens. Why not get something faster like an f/1.4 or f/1.2 option? For one, price point plays a big role. Faster lenses tend to be more expensive, as evidenced by the two Sigma Art models and the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm /1.4 ZA. The real question becomes one of whether or not the added speed improves the utility of the lens. As a landscape photographer primarily, I try to shoot stopped two 2-3 stops unless it’s absolutely necessary to shoot wide open. So, for me, having a faster maximum aperture is nice. In cases where I’m taking portraits, is the faster speed needed? Are slower lenses too slow? Let’s look at the depth of field chart for 35mm lenses, comparing f/1.4 with f/2 with f/2.8. 

As you can see, there’s a pretty widespread difference between the 35mm lens options. For example, let’s examine the difference in depth of field for a subject 15 feet away, which is pretty standard for an environmental portrait. An f/1.2 lens (not shown in the figure) would have a depth of field of 3.9 ft, 4.6 ft for an f/1.4 lens, 6.0 ft for an f/1.8 lens (not shown in the figure), 6.8 ft for an f/2 lens, and 11.5 ft for an f/2.8 lens. So, in comparing this Sigma with one of the f/1.4 alternatives, the Sigma would have a little over 2 feet wider depth of field at 15 ft. Whether this difference is meaningful to you would depend on your needs. 

Final Thoughts 

As you may know, I am a fan of using vintage primes for the majority of landscape work, and truthfully, I still am. I love the tactile feel of vintage lens, and I’ve been pretty reluctant to give that up. Personally, I’ve preordered the new Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM, but it came down to this Sigma and the Sony. Who knows, if I justify the added price after I get my hands on the Sony, I may sell it and switch to the Sigma. 

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67 Comments

Michael Aubrey's picture

How can you tell that the weathersealing isn't on par with other lenses?

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

That's what i was wondering too :)

Rich Umfleet's picture

The Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM lens is amazing in low light. I looked at the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 when I was considering the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, but after my camera shop let me use their 35mm GM demo for a few minutes, there was no turning back. I preordered and Taiwan filled preorders on this lens the first week of Feb. I use it primarily for street photography, but have also done some portraits and landscapes. During Chinese New Year, I took some low light shots of kids playing with sparklers after dark. Wide open, it was allowing 1/40th shutter speeds at 800 ISO where the primary light was the light from the sparkler. There's a little blur because kids get excited when playing with sparklers and they just won't stay still. Prior to using the 35mm GM, I have been using the Sony 20mm f/1.8 G for my street photography. I was amazed by the 20mm at night under street lights, but the 35mm blows me away on how well it performs! I haven't used the Sigma 35mm f/2, but I don't see how it could pull me away from the GM lens, even at half the price.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Would be great for the Fuji X mount now Fuji is opening up their system a bit more.

microteck's picture

You're the man!

Tim Ericsson's picture

Can you explain this? I don't understand why I would be firing a gun at a Sigma lens (they make great glass!). I honestly don't understand: do you have any comments related to photography gear that make any sense? Thanks!

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Yeah we get it you've got two accounts, so funny.

Also stop behaving like you would be a moderator.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Lol what? Which two are my accounts according to you? And I’ll behave as I damn well please, but thanks for checking in a few weeks late!

El Dooderino's picture

I think "cool cat" is sweet on you and flirting! He seems to be following you around!

(I wonder how much more immature he can be!)

microteck's picture

Still smoking that crap?

El Dooderino's picture

Awww...Now I'm devastated! The lil' racist made another one of his immature, cutesy pics! Whatever shall I do?

Whatever you do, don't downvote me! I always haz a sad when I get downvoted by lil' racists like yourself! lol!

Tim Ericsson's picture

Lol I've never felt flattered and sorry for someone at the same time! He may well be flirting with me but I'm gay so I'm not into pussies!

El Dooderino's picture

lol!

He's been apparently stalking me and downvoting my comments on various threads. "cool cat" needs to get a life it seems!

Tim Ericsson's picture

Lol Jesus what a weirdo and sad loser! I make a comment about lens companies and he responds with another asinine doodle. That kid has some issues

microteck's picture

People make fun of you because you hassle other members with your bad language.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Oh no do my naughty words hurt your little fewwings? Fuck off, snowflake. At least I'm not a racist shitheel with piss poor Photoshop skills.

Also: you're a crazy stalker with a deranged obsession with me and El Dooderino. Seriously, get some help and stop being so goddamn stupid.

microteck's picture

Your mother taught you well.

Tim Ericsson's picture

She died when I was a toddler. You think curse words are so terrible, but you insult my dead mother? You’re a twisted human. Fuck off, Cool Cat.

You gonna screengrab and underline that as well (as if that proves anything other than you’re an obsessed weirdo)? What the fuck is wrong with you?

microteck's picture

When you were born the doctor didn't know what end to spank. And your mother died from embarrassment.

Tim Ericsson's picture

That's really shitty, even for you. Have some class for god's sake.

Why did you circle that I'm gay? Is that a curse word for you? Explain your scumminess.

microteck's picture

You're being belligerent I'm just a good sport.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Hey why did you circle my comment that I’m gay? You didn’t answer me. Is that a joke to you too? My dead mother and my sexual identity?

Oh and here’s some more vulgar language that your precious snowflake eyes get so bent out of shape about: you’re not a good sport, you’re a fucking piece of shit.

El Dooderino's picture

The immature lil' racist is no doubt homophobic as well.

microteck's picture

How nice!

El Dooderino's picture

Oh noes!!

Another one of your pathetic, immature pics! Whatever shall I do??

Oh, and the lil' homophobic racist downvoted me too! Now I really haz a sad!

lol!

microteck's picture

I had to give you directions where the down vote was so you wouldn't forget.

El Dooderino's picture

lol!

My avi is a fictional character smoking a joint so you said I keep a "weed whacker" in my trunk!

Too funny! Did you think that up by yourself? Comedy gold!

I'm sure all the other 12 year olds in your trailer park are really impressed!

Keep dancing for us, lil' homophobic racist!

microteck's picture

I'm glad you liked it. I think it's quite funny myself. But not sure it's fictional.

El Dooderino's picture

Who said I liked it? I think it's as lame and weak as the other pathetic crap you post.

But, don't let that stop you from continuing to embarrass yourself!

microteck's picture

Do I make you itch?

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