35mm Showdown: Canon, Canon L and Sigma Comparison

35mm Showdown: Canon, Canon L and Sigma Comparison

Since I reviewed the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 last year, I have been hit with a barrage of inquiries as to if it was better to grab the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, the Canon 35mm f/2 IS or spend some real cash and spring for the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L. After using all three lenses for the past couple months, I'm finally ready to name my favorite. And you know what? This one was closer than you might think.

Before we go into the performance, let's look at price point and keep that in mind while we compare results. Below are the prices (not sale prices) that you can expect:
Sigma 35mm f/1.4: $900
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L: $1,480
Canon 35mm f/2 IS: $850

I shot in studio, during the day and at night to try and select my favorite of these three great lenses. That's right, they're all pretty darn good. I'll agree, some of the chromatic aberration coming out of the Canon f/2 is pretty significant, but outside of my white shooting box things weren't so noticeable. In everyday situations, it did just fine. But let's get started and take a look at how all three performed in studio.

First up is the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L. I chose to shoot the same subject at the widest possible aperture with all three lenses. Therefore, the image below was shot at f/1.4:

canon L


You will notice that, aside from some purple fringing where the white script meets the black background, the image has nice defined focused lines and crisp details. Next up, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4:



On the Sigma there is either a lot less fringing or it just blends better because it's green rather than the Canon L's purple. I'm going to go with it's got less fringing. Take a look at the very top of the crop; there is basically no fringing at all, which is different than what we saw on the Canon L glass. From my naked eye, I would say they are about the same sharpness. If you made me pick, I would go with the Sigma being just a hair sharper. Finally, let's look at the Canon 35mm f/2:



You'll notice there is probably the least chromatic aberration present here of all three. It's got clean focus lines, but of course we do notice the one stop difference in the lighting. You will also see that it is significantly less sharp than the Sigma or the Canon L glass. It is by no means blurry, it just doesn't compare with the eyeball-cutting sharpness you see in the first two lenses.

Ok so we've scrutinized these three pretty harshly in the studio, and I'm willing to give it to the Sigma by just a hair. It's greatly outperforming the Canon f/2 in sharpness and beating the L glass in controlling chromatic aberration. Though the chroma fringing is less visible on the Canon f/2, it's just not as sharp and I'm not willing to trade those features. Let's move on to a real world example: daytime landscape shooting. Let's line them up one by one in the same order: Fist the Canon L, next the Sigma, and finally the Canon f/2:

Canon 35 L Landscape
Sigma Landscape
Canon 35 Landscape


I think what we are going to glean the most out of this test is vignetting. All three are pretty much the same sharpness. There is no fringing or distortion that takes place here in any noticeable way, but you can clearly see that the most vignetting comes into play on the Canon 35mm f/2. The Sigma and the L glass are very close, but the L glass manages to squeak by with just slightly less vignetting. It's close though, and you really have to be scrutinizing to see the difference.

I want to just compare the Sigma and the Canon 35mm f/2 now, because of the price points. They are both very similarly priced and thus should be compared to each other to really select where your hard earned dollars should go. To do this, let's look at some night shots, first the Sigma and then the Canon f/2:

sigma GG
canon GG


Pretty close right? At least when they aren't at 100% they are. Both handled shooting at night really well, and both had their advantages. I really enjoyed having that extra stop available to me when shooting with the Sigma, but the image stabilization on the Canon made a real difference when I was trying to get a sharp image. On a tripod, the extra stop and the IS basically cancelled each other out, so from a still shooter's standpoint, they functioned about the same. If you forced me to pick, I would rather have the extra stop. IS is cool, but I can see the extra stop being a lot more useful in varying situations. That aside, let's look strictly at performance. here is a 100% crop of the top of the bridge, Sigma first and Canon second.

sigma GG 100
canon GG 100


No contest: the Sigma is sharper. Way sharper. Just like in studio, there isn't really anything wrong with the results from the Canon, the Sigma is just better. Both lenses were wide open and the Sigma outperformed the Canon in sharpness even open further to f/1.4 over the Canon's f/2. Quite impressive.

For you bokeh fanatics, here is a comparison of the bokeh coming from all three: first the Canon L, second the Sigma and third the Canon f/2:

canon L bokeh
sigma bokeh
canon bokeh


I don't personally have a preference here as I am not that in to bokeh, but I'm sure you all can draw your own conclusions about which you would prefer. From my point of view, they all pretty much give the same result.

The Verdict:

When we look at performance, the Sigma and Canon L trade blows back and forth, but when you throw in price point you can't help but lean towards the Sigma. It was a close fight, but Sigma wins out. Not only is the Sigma just as sharp (if not sharper), it also better controls chromatic aberration without really failing in any one area. The Canon f/2 is not a bad lens, not at all. In fact, it's a great lens. It's just not as good as either the L glass (as expected) or the Sigma. The fact of the matter is that Sigma just outplayed Canon here. Sigma wins in price and performance, which is a really deadly combo. If you are looking for a 35mm lens for your Canon, you can't beat the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. It's just that good.

sigma winner 1
Jaron Schneider's picture

Jaron Schneider is an Fstoppers Contributor and an internationally published writer and cinematographer from San Francisco, California. His clients include Maurice Lacroix, HD Supply, SmugMug, the USAF Thunderbirds and a host of industry professionals.

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If you were into playing "spot the difference", there's a bird in the third picture of the dusk. Just saying.

That there is. Rather picturesque actually. 

Btw I'm somewhat of a pixel peeper, and I think I'd go with the Sigma, since it's f/1.4 and its CA is green. Green is a lot more forgiving than purple IMO.

I really couldn't tell the diff in the bokeh either, but if you shoot with a busier background, there will be a diff. Trees and cityscape come to mind.

The second image you took with the sigma has a different focus point, this is why your seeing less purple fringing (its still there.. at the top) and more green.  If you look on the canon images its the same.

It will be to do with how the lens is bending the light in front of and behind the focus point.

Exactly. This is typical of almost any lens. Purple fringing is found after the point of focus where as green is found before the point of focus. You can see this in anything from a Canon L series to an Ex1. 

Buying the Sigma with my tax return now. I'll have to compare it to my Rokinon, LOVE that lens but would love one that performs just as good AND has a/f

"... but of course we do notice the one stop difference in the lighting"

are you nuts or simply incompetent? do you even know what it is you were trying to say? did you mean 'difference in depth of field'?

Being able to step it down to 1.4 over 2.0 will give you more light. It will shrink your DOF, but even still the Sigma was sharper.
And calm down with the harsh language.

 yes lightning he's right, don't make a fool of yourself pretending that you're a photographer!

I think it's clear who is nuts or incompetent.

Good article!  But, like every other 35mm f2 IS review, you forget to mention how the 35mm f2 IS is the best lens for video.  You could shoot stunning video without a rig of any kind!   Even with a rig you'll find significantly reduced image warp that a non-is lens.  And I personally think that is a pretty awesome advantage that should be considered and mentioned.

That said - I probably would rent and not buy this lens.

Your approach was neither scientific or objective. You completely missed focus (your example of the Sigma at 1.4 top shot and you then state that it is sharper,...really are you serious?).  Also, I remember you being very excited and Sigma favorable when this lens was first announced in a previous post of yours several weeks ago. Before I even read this article I bet that you would pick the Sigma I would have been shocked if I was wrong. 

Regarding the chromatic aberration: if you know anything about lenses, you know that most fast lenses gives a green CA on things in front of the focus point, and magenta behind it. View a focus accuracy chart and you'll clearly see this.

Now, with your example - the Canon lenses are both focused on the middle line, while the Sigma lens is focused further back. Hence, the Canon lenses has a little of both while the Sigma only has green.

Exactly what I wanted to point out. The focal planes in the 1.4L and Sigma test shots are clearly different. I hope the writer takes notice.

yeah the focus was not exactly the same, but hey the sigma has the edge i think. And it is cheaper from my point of view the winner is the sigma.

I think the fact that the Sigma will soon have a USB dock to fine tune setting of the lens itself give it the clear advantage above anything Canon or Nikon can produce.

Of course IS is a good thing for old guys

Canon fanboys are a bit upset.  You should change the review to read nothing beats canon and they will crawl back under their rock.  That aside, I received my 35mm Nikon mount today and all I can say is "IT ROCKS."  Sigma did an awesome job and I'm loving this lens.  I didn't need it, I just wanted it.  

silly statement.

Aren't you paying for the weather sealing and build quality as much as anything else when you get the L series? I mean any modern lens is going to be pretty close as far as final images and in my mind it's the build quality that actually separates them 

From what I've been told the the 35 L isn't weather sealed. That could be wrong.

As far as I can tell you are right, the 35L isn't weather sealed.

After Jaron's first review of the 35mm Sigma I decided to purchase one the same day it became available at B&H. The first Sigma 35 1.4 I bought had a squeaking AF motor: returned. Another had back focusing issues at close range: also returned. Finally, one out of three came without issues and I can honestly say that it's the sharpest lens I've ever used, none of my L glass can beat it. Beyond being just plain sharp it is a joy to shoot with, the build quality is impeccable. 

It's a great lens - just a bit of feedback : sigma are stepping things up here in Australia - they made a lot of fans with the 85mm 1.4. I use the 50, 85 and 35 mm to shoot weddings and in terms of image quality and price point - they kick ass! All they need now is a great 135mm and a better 24 - 70 and Im all in :) 

Great article but one thing that you didn't discuss was build quality.   How does the Sigma compare with the Canon L series?

It's built like a tank.  Reminds me of my Zeiss glass.  Focus ring is smooth with no play.  Good solid metal case and feels great in your hand.  Keep it up Sigma.

The purple fringing test was way off. First image was focused on middle, top is purpleshifted and bottom is green. Second one is focused now to the top of the image and bottom is still green. You can't see the shifting to purple as the focus point is too up. And the third image is at f2 so you will not notice the shifting as much because the other lenses were at f1.4. Kinda moot.

Hmm... to me, the 2nd image with the san mateo bridge, it looks like the Canon 1.4 is sharper than the Sigma 1.4.   

Still, I would get the sigma if I were in the market for a 35mm.

Thanks for the test, although I'm not sure I agree with you about the sharpness in the bridge shot. The second shot (canon) shows more camera shake than the first shot (sigma) so it's really not a fair comparison. Take a look at the stars on either side of the bridge in the first and second crops -- to my eyes I see points of light for the sigma and little dashes of light for the canon.  I'm assuming this is a slight camera movement but if you have another explanation please let us know. And thanks again!

I was about to comment on the same thing. I would think any well-informed amateur would see that and retake the picture, especially before using said picture in a comparison review.

I opted out for the Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine Lens for my canon. I thinks its beautiful bokeh and a sweet price point for video is an absolute no brainer for any videographer. 

many very good reviewers on the net found out that the canon 35 2 IS USM is as good if not better than the 35 1.4 L and the sigma 35 1.4 from 2.8 onwards. but you didn't ! strange..

Not sure what the author was smoking. On the first set of images, the Canon f/2 was the sharpest, followed by the L lens, followed by the SIgma. I stopped reading the review after that... No credibility at all.

is the sigma weather tight like the L?

sorry but neither is weather sealed.

I realize that this comment thread is probably dead but just thought I'd give my two cents. First off, I agree with many of the commenters here in that your tests were somewhat flawed in their presentation including the conclusions that were drawn. The bridge shot in particular was concluded as "no contest" and "way sharper" when the comparison images show very little difference, and if there is any it could be attributed to the fact that there was camera shake involved and the fact that the ISO looks higher on the sigma shot. You should also update this page to reflect the fact that the Canon f2 lens has dropped to around $600.00 dollars with the Sigma coming in at $900.00. I am by no means advocating the Canon over the Sigma (the Sigma is one of the sharpest lenses on the market), but when you combine the sharpness, cost, and weight, the Canon is a better buy for most users (although you trade IS for 1.4 which is a very specific requirement for most people).

I was just about to say the same thing myself. I try to see any difference in resolution between the two bridge images, but can't find any. The only obvious difference is the brightness. And by comparing the Sigma against the Canon f2 on another site, I realise that the Canon is sharper in the corners than the Sigma, and about the same in the center.

I read several posts where people complained that the precise auto focus on Sigma lenses has been an issue even after they have had their lens micro adjusted and exchanged.