Sigma Art Lenses Are Becoming Far Too Ridiculous

Sigma Art Lenses Are Becoming Far Too Ridiculous

The Sigma 40mm f/1.4 Art is such a ridiculous lens. Whenever I've thought about 40mm lenses I thought about the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. I'm sure many of us have owned one of these lenses; it's actually pretty good. The tiny form factor, relatively fast autofocus speeds, and great image quality. Obviously, this lens was just too small for Sigma.

As a company, Sigma is known for producing somewhat irregular or relatively unique lenses. They're not afraid of making huge heavy lenses with super wide apertures. Lenses like the 14mm f/1.8 Art, and fast aperture zoom lenses like the 24-35mm f/2.0 Art and my favorite APS-C lens, the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art. All of these lenses have one thing in common, they're huge. The latest addition to Sigmas lineup is the 40mm f/1.4 Art lens. This one really takes the cake. I'm not even sure how they've managed to make this mid-range focal lens into the behemoth that is it. I mean it weighs more than the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

How is that even possible? 

Sigma Struggles to Make Small Lenses

Ok, so, the above subheading may be a little provocative but, at least it's not clickbait right? Here's the thing though, if you compare almost any Sigma art lens to any other manufacturer, Sigma is generally significantly larger and heavier. Take the Nikon 105mm f/1.4 lens for instance. The Nikon version is an incredible lens with both super sharp results wide open and beautiful bokeh. Sure, the Sigma 105 f/1.4 Art is better when it comes to optical performance but it's only really noticeable on test charts. The weight and size differences are very real and very noticeable. The Sigma is heavy even when it comes to medium format lenses. The 105mm from Sigma is about as heavy as the Schnieder Kreuznach 150mm LS f/2.8 and actually has a larger filter thread size. The weird thing is that even with the much larger front element, vignetting isn't much better when compared to the Nikon lens. Aside from being slightly sharper, why is the Sigma lens so ridiculously huge? 

Another lens that comes to mind is the 85mm f/1.4 Art. Compare that to some of the other alternatives available from Canon and Sony you'll see a similar pattern. Sharpness wide open is slightly better but other than that it doesn't offer any significant advantages. Even with the huge size and massive front element, the lens still has a pretty poor T-stop rating at T/1.8. That's the same T-stop values as the Sony 85mm f/1.8 Batis. I should mention the fact that the vignetting is noticeably better than the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM even if the T-stop isn't. I guess for this lens the front element is helping. 

More recently Sigma released their 40mm f/1.4 Art lens. A recent review from Kai Wong demonstrates just how huge and almost unwieldy this lens actually is. I get that it is a super sharp lens, even when compared to high-end performers like the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II. This lens might even be the sharpest lens Sigma has ever produced and that's really saying something. Although, at 1.2kg it's such an impractical, ridiculous lens that I wonder why anyone would actually want it. This is especially evident when you consider the significantly smaller and lighter alternatives like almost any 35mm f/1.4 or 50mm f/1.4 lenses. 

The point I'm trying to make is that for one reason or another Sigma seems to struggle when it comes to producing fast aperture lenses that aren't beyond practicalities. Sigma seems to love having a huge front element in their lenses. In my discussions with Sigma, they explained how the larger front element helps to prevent vignetting. I could be wrong here but surely, using a camera profile would be far more efficient, wouldn't it? Even with the same focal lengths compared to other manufacturers, Sigma prioritizes sharpness over everything else. This includes important aspects such as T-stop values and the weight/size of their lenses balloons to a point where it's just silly.

I've Stopped Shooting With My Sigma Lenses

For the last year, I haven't used any of my Sigma lenses for any professional work. Aside from a few comparisons I've done where I needed to shoot with them, I haven't even used them for any of my personal work. This isn't intentional by any means it's just that I'm reluctant to use my Art lenses for any work I have.

They take up too much space in the bag, they weigh far too much and comparatively speaking they don't offer that much better quality compared to some other lenses I have. Lenses like the Batis 85mm or the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 which are tiny in comparison and offer fantastic image quality unless you're being super pedantic about the finer details. I honestly care more about my back than having slightly better image quality that no one will actually notice. Why would I want to suffer so much for so little? Speaking of image quality, looking at the images below, is there really that much of a difference in sharpness? One was with the Batis 85mm and the other with the Sigma 85mm Art on the Sony a7R III, both were shot wide open. 

The difference in size is significant

When I first bought lenses like the Sigma 85mm Art, I actually boasted about how huge it was. The feeling I had was almost like "yes this is what professional use" which is obviously nonsense. Having a huge lens with a massive front element is somewhat pleasing for the ego, some could describe it as overcompensating. Ultimately, I find that I don't use my Sigma lenses as much as some other lenses I now own and it's purely because Art lenses are mostly impractical. 

In Defense Of Sigma

My assumptions are that Sigma uses large optics because that's probably one of the most effective ways to produce super sharp high-resolution lenses. It would seem as though smaller optics may not be able to produce the same level of detail for a number of reasons. It may go to explain why so many medium format lenses are so much better optically speaking and Sigma is using that method to produce full frame lenses. There's obviously a large market of photographers who want very high-quality lenses and don't mind the extra weight and size. If you need the absolute best in quality, then you may have to compromise in areas of practicality.

Unfortunately, there isn't a perfect option and Sigma now caters to a certain section of the market that tends to appreciate quality over some practicalities. This is also one of the reasons I won't be selling my Sigma Art lenses anytime soon because there are instances where I need that level of quality. It's rare but I like the idea that I can offer then when required. Sigma has produced some incredible lenses and I'm honestly a huge fan. Being a fan, however, doesn't mean I won't point out some of the aspects I dislike or consider to be rather ridiculous. The 40mm f/1.4 Art is definitely a ridiculous lens and right now I'm struggling to understand how it could ever be a popular option. 

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Marsha Wheatley's picture

I'm old school. If I spend the money, I want something significant and substantial.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

If significant backache and substantial loss of space in your bag is what you mean by that, then I guess everyone is winning :)

Pasi Hotti's picture

Weaklings can't carry their gear. :D

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Also smart people find a way to do the same job with less effort.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I have a colleague who had exactly the same mentality (before he retired). Everything he owned weighed at least 5 kg :-). Strobes, batteries, tripods, everything was the heaviest you can find. I learned from him how NOT to buy and manage equipment :-)

Agree. Just bough a big heavy laptop to go with my big heavy lenses. /irony
Hi tec is small. Crap is big.

Size and weight have never been a consideration for them it seems. I thought it was just sloppy of them to make their e-mount lenses by just adding the adapter length of useless metal on the lens just to save some money.

They may produce lenses that are superior at the pixel level but I would not buy one particularly as a Sony mirrorless full frame shooter. I like lenses that match the smaller form factor of the A7iii. Tamron makes excellent quality lenses that won't break the bank or your back. Just my 2 pence.

Leigh Smith's picture

Size and weight are never a consideration when I buy a lens, so dosn't really matter to me. It is unfortunate though that they just add that extra barrel length to conform to the mirrorless. But if they didn't they would have to redesign the lens from the ground up, so i understand why they do. Otherwise we wouldn't see any e-mounts for another couple yrs.

It’s physics. The sensor plane has to be a certain distance away from the rear optic. The Canon/Nikon versions don’t have the extension because its in the body itself.

I agree. But there were no way Sigma would be able to release so many emount offerings in such little time. The optical formal was there... for the longer DSLR flange distance. To develop the optical formula for shorter mirorless flange distance would've taken months to a year per lens. They will eventually do it now that they committed to L mount. Any L mount lens they develop would trickle down to E, RF, and Z. But this would not happen very quickly. The mirrorless lens they did develop from the ground up for APSC E Mount are all excellent (30mm 1.4, 16mm 1.4, 56mm 1.4).

Kyle Medina's picture

Wouldn't smaller actually just jack up the price significantly?

No because Leica....oh wait

Usman Dawood's picture

What if they were produced in larger quantities?

Interesting idea, but I don't think Leica would go for as they've positioned themselves as a luxury brand thats fairly exclusive. I wouldn't think Louis Vuitton would want to produce 10X the amount of hand bags only to sell them for 40% of what they sell for now. (numbers are hypothetical)

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree it's not something that would work for them but the point I was implying was that are they expensive because they engineer their lenses to be smaller or that they produce smaller quantities and they're mostly handmade.

Edgar Moskopp's picture

I guess not. Smaller means less glass means less production costs

And that smaller glass would need significantly more refining to look as good. That would add to the production costs and equal out, or even go further than big and heavy.

Sigma in my mind is the company that with it's first 35mm f/1.4 ART lens with 'new suspicious sharpness out of nowhere' broke the industry model and since cheap sharp 1.4 started sort of a cult like following, they (and sadly everybody else) had to keep up this model for new wave of pixel peepers. No one at that time cared, that while the sharpness at 1.4 of 35mm is excellent, there's a price in a form of flat image rendering not previously associated with professional level lenses - people tend not to realized that and/or acknowledge this previously unwatched property (except 'I kind of like the old lenses look' and 'this one has that Zeiss 3D pop; etc)..
Then, as time went, it seems to me this 'policy' inside Sigma somewhat changed, newer lenses are much better regarding the 3D rendering, micro contrast, etc, but to keep the sharpness (a must at this point for their customers and the brand reputation) with less or no other compromises, the size of the lens goes up accordingly.
With the new 40/1.4 ART they sort of went back I'd say, it kind of make sense to have unprecedented 40mm between the first 35 and 50mm, but there could be tons of other reasons of course.
And don't get me wrong, I like sharp lenses, sometimes even those I know they render flat(er) photos, but it's practical for the purpose I use them for. The problem is I also want small not expensive lenses, that don't have to be that sharp wide open, like in the old days - wide open the center is somewhat sharp and you have to stop down for decent corners, easy, But no serious company will produce such lens anymore, because the pressure from sharpness-crazy user base would tarnish it's reputation from the beginning no matter what price, purpose and possibly marketing message.

what on earth is 3d rendering. Can you take a photo with the sigma lens and then one with a zeiss lens, on the same camera and tripod immediately after and post it please. I want to see this difference you speak of.

Michael Aubrey's picture

One advantage of those massive front elements is less mechanical vignetting--i.e. cats eye bokeh. The Sigma 105mm is better in this than the Nikon 105mm.

But yet. It's difficult to deal with the size. I only have two: the 24-35mm and the 135mm. No plans for any others.

Usman Dawood's picture

I discussed the vignetting and it’s actually not that much better than the Nikon. Link provided in the article.

He specifically referred to bokeh

Michael Aubrey's picture

Josh is correct. I'm talking about the shape of the "bokeh balls" created by out of focus point light sources. Mechanical vignetting affects the degree to which they stay round outside the central area of an image. The Sigma's are definitely better than the Nikons for the 105mm.

Lenstip's reviews of both lenses provide good examples of this.

Usman Dawood's picture

Ah I see, my apologies.

I’m not sure if this is always true though. The sigma 85mm art has a much larger front element but the Sony GM has noticeably rounder bokeh on the edges. Any ideas why that is the case?

Michael Aubrey's picture

You're absolutely right. That's why I tried to limit my statement to the 105's.

The Sony GM is incredible for this, really better than anything else out there.

Perhaps the bigger factor is the diameter relative to the length of the lens (and maybe even the exist pupil in the back, too)?

Claudiu Ion's picture

In my opinion, larger front elements means more mass for AF drive and increase the chance to catch flare (is true that antiglare antireflex coating are better and better these days). On the other hand larger front element let more light to gather in the lens. So you gain something, you lose something... The only Sigma lens that I own is 24-105 F4 Art and I love it. I had Canon 24-105 F4. Sigma is sharper at f4 and this makes me use f4 more often.

There are a ton of opinions out there as to what lens is better and what lens renders "3D pop" etc.
Maybe someone will actually pull together a bunch of these allegedly magical lenses and test them side by side on the same subjects and conditions.

Spy Black's picture

Yeah really, that whole "pop" thing just sounds like so much bullshit and sour grapes.

I love me some 'pop' but most of my pop comes from da Photoshop.....

I hope you don't do anything editorial...

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