As a working photographer, my gear is obviously very important to me. My most-used lenses, Canon’s 35L and 50L, are both long time favorites and are glued to my camera almost 24/7. For many reasons, I’ve been a fan of Canon’s prime lenses for a number of years, taking both the good, the bad, and the price tag that they each have to offer. When something new like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 comes up I, like most of us, give it a quick once-over and then head back to the comfort of our expensive name brand gear.
When I first heard that Sigma was releasing a new 50mm Art lens, I was kind of excited because of all the great reviews surrounding Sigma’s 35mm lens. I have several friends who’ve used the Sigma 35mm and they’ve each reported similar findings - it is the sharpest lens they’ve ever used. In doing my research on perhaps a potential purchase, I found that not only is the 35mm sharp, but it exceeds expectations in almost every other area as well. Other than those basic facts, I really knew nothing about the history of Sigma, their take on production, and in particular, these two lenses.
As things usually go, the shoot itself came together about as close to the last minute as possible. With only several hours notice, we got in touch with Stars Model Management in San Francisco and worked out the logistics of the shoot, which included booking three models who were in the area, location, and wardrobe requirements, etc. On Tuesday morning, Holly Parker (model and photographer) and I left Los Angeles and drove to San Francisco to meet the lens - I mean, to meet with Jaron... and the lens.
When Jaron opened his bag and handed me the lens, in addition to the classic all-black styling, the first thing I noticed is that lens is the weight. The lens is heavy, much heavier than my 50L and possibly as heavy, if not heavier than Canon’s 85L. But with the added weight comes a more sturdy feel. The lens feels like a tool. I was excited. Jaron and I talked about the differences between it and the different prime lenses in the Canon lineup and it was immediately apparent that I am in no way qualified to talk about the technical specifications of anything.
So with that understanding, it was time to put the lenses money where it’s mouth was. Jaron, Holly, and I left the hotel and started walking around downtown San Francisco and immediately, I mean, immediately, I was hooked. I have been shooting long enough to know that we shouldn’t always believe what we see in the LCD screen but it quickly became clear that we weren’t dealing with some run-of-the-mill lens, zooming in, the back-of-the-camera previews blew me away.
As we walked around, the excitement died a little bit as the weight of the lens started to become an issue. Bigger and heavier than the 50L, my hand began to cramp. I don’t normally use a battery grip, but if I did, that weight combined with the Sigma would have been much more of a inconvenience than it already was. Though, to be honest, I suppose that after a while I either got used to the weight or I was too excited to notice, but the more we shot, the less of an issue it became.
In addition to color, contrast and sharpness, one of the things that nearly everyone goes crazy about is, of course, bokeh. I tend to shoot more wide-open than I probably should, with most of my work falling somewhere between f/1.4 and f/3.2, so while it’s not something I specifically look or shoot for, a nice blurred background for the sake of image separation is always nice. Rest assured, the lens does not disappoint. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of the bokeh that this lens renders, but for me, what I saw was equal to if not greater than the 50L (shot between f/1.4 and f/3.2, respectively).
As the shoot wound down, I began switching back and forth between the Sigma and the Canon to see if there were any intricacies that I could notice. Aside from the red line, the most noticeable difference was the speed at which the lens focused. The Canon 50L is no slouch, but the autofocus on the Sigma flies in comparison. The AF locked in and stayed there - even when using center point focus and recomposing. In addition, when shooting lifestyle, there is always a lot of movement and with the Sigma, I noticed the amount of missed shots was much less than normal. I don’t know if I can rightly attribute all that to the Sigma, but during the shoot, the amount of “keepers” I saw in-camera appeared to be significantly higher.
As I said earlier, I really have no right speaking about the technical aspects of most things. When it comes to my photography, I play by feel, mostly, but I know what I like in terms of my work and this lens had me constantly looking at the back of the camera because, quite simply, I could not get over how sharp and nicely contrasty the images were. I’m not sure if it was any more than the 50L, but for a lens that comes at a significantly lower price, it was enough to make me start thinking that one of these could be in my lineup sometime in the near future, especially at the low $950 price point.
What I Liked
Excellent build quality
Autofocus very fast and accurate
Price point is solid
What Could Use Improvement:
This lens is heavy
After the shoot was over and I (reluctantly) handed the lens back to Jaron, Holly and I began the long drive back to Southern California. The fact that it was two in the morning when we got home didn’t stop either one of us from immediately going to our computers to start offloading our cards. Much to my surprise (and Holly’s too, I’m sure), the photos were as sharp and contrasty as they appeared in our respective LCD screens.
I’ve been using various forms of Canon cameras for about as long as I can remember. Even now, my camera lineup consists of digital bodies, film bodies, and smaller point and shoots, and while I am not ready to jump ship anytime soon, my experience with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has me rethinking whether or not the “L” lens will continue to be a necessity in my lineup.