I wanted to share two things specifically with everyone in respect to my personal experiences with the highly regarded Sigma 50mm Art lens, after using it now extensively over the past two years. I want to address how it has held up for me, as far as a durability stand point, which was one of my biggest concerns. And I would like to let you know if I have any regrets ditching my Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens for the Sigma glass.
So first let me say that 50mm is my favorite focal length. I use it to produce both images for paid work, as well as for my own personal photography. If I was not a professional photographer, and making my income with a camera, a fifty would be the one and only lens I would own. So I am constantly in search for that elusive perfect 50mm. Over the past ten years I have owned all three of Canon's current offerings at some point. I started out with the f/1.8 version back in 2006, then upgraded to the f/1.4 soon after, and until I switched to the Sigma Art lens, I was shooting with the Canon f/1.2 L for five years. The Sigma was the very first third party lens I ever purchased, I ordered it from B&H mid 2014 soon after it was released, when all the reviews starting rolling in, raving how sharp this new lens was. I thought to myself if I didn't like it, I would just sell it. If I liked what I was getting out of it, I would sell off my Canon L. You obviously already know what happened.
In the end I did make the switch mostly because of it's resolving power, it gave my images a huge increase in the visible details. My photographs are printed often for work, and printed large. And the difference in the details was very noticeable to me right away when examining the enlargements. The Sigma Art is so much sharper than any of Canon's 50mm choices, and I was sold on it right away. The reason I was even looking elsewhere in the first place was because I found the Canon unusable for me wide open; I was usually stopped down to at least f/1.8 or f/2. It was so soft when shot wide open, and difficult to focus for me, that while it did look fine displayed online and when used on social media, once printed, you could see the lack of details in the files. Maybe it was my own user error, as I have seen some absolutely amazing photographs shot with the Canon L online at f/1.2, however now I was shooting the Sigma wide open at f/1.4 and while that still is a very thin depth of field, what is in focus, is razor sharp. I was basically carrying a 50mm lens in my bag to only use at f/2, while I had zooms that covered that focal length and were f/2.8. I felt it was not worth the space and weight for solely one stop of extra light. Being able to shoot wide open at f/1.4 with the Sigma gave me personally two more f-stops of usability, now worthy of it's space in my camera bag.
So first, let me talk about it's long term durability. This was probably the main reason I only purchased Canon glass for my first decade as a professional. I assumed third party lens were cheaply made and would fall apart over time, while Canon lenses would last me a lifetime. I believed this with no facts or reasons whatsoever, except ignorance on my part. I imagined the OEM lenses would produce the highest image quality possible, and nobody could do better. They cost more, so they must be better, but as I said above, I was obviously proved wrong.
As you can see in the lead image of my Sigma 50mm, it looks great cosmetically after being used consistently for two years, no paint chipping off, or any other kind of visible physical wear and tear. And I am fairly rough on my gear; I don't abuse it, but I also don't baby it. I have been using that lens week in and week out on paid assignments since I bought it. I have flown with it, both in my carry on, and checked luggage. I have taken it to the hot and humid jungles, the dry and sandy deserts, and even brought it on hikes to mountain tops of altitudes above 13,000 ft. And it is has never given me any problems at all. It works just as reliably as all my other Canon made lenses, same as the day I bought it.
Now let me briefly share my feelings about ditching my 50mm L lens. Am I still happy I made the switch? Do I have any regrets two years down the road? After all my Canon 50mm never gave me any problems either, it was always extremely reliable for me too, just as the Sigma. I will have to say though I ultimately do not regret the switch, and my thoughts on third party gear has been changed forever, but the Sigma is not perfect either. It has issues of it's own, but they outweigh it's positive characteristics for me.
It definitely has a problem focusing in strong back light, I see it has a tendency to hunt and never lock focus in those situations, where all three of the Canon versions that I owned never exhibited that issue at all. Sometimes it is a pain in those lighting conditions, but I manage, and again, I am happier with the final file at the end, even if it is a little bit tougher to attain.
Then there is the weight and size of the Sigma, that also bothers me at times. For my paid assignments not so much, I will happily carry the heavier and larger lens to deliver better images to my clients. I know it needs that extra glass inside to do what it does, that is just the nature of the design. But 50mm was also my walk-around and vacation lens, and with my favorite lens now being roughly a half a pound heavier, as well as quite a bit longer than my old Canon was, I tend to unfortunately not take it with me as often as I did before the switch two years ago.
That's about it! To sum it up, the Sigma Art has it's problems auto focusing in strong back light, and the extra weight and size over the Canon L counterpart is not an issue for me when it comes to paid work, but definitely has become more of a problem for me with my personal shooting than I thought it would be. I happily gave those things up though, for a lens that is now more usable to me at apertures wider than f/2, and being able to produce photographs with more detail in them when printed. There is no perfect lens, and there unfortunately is no perfect 50mm. It is give and take with any model lens out there you choose, I wish I had the budget to keep both of them in my bag for different situations, but that isn't in the cards right now. However next time I am in need of a new lens, I would have no hesitation to go with a Sigma again.