Sigma has been the darling of the lens world recently, producing high-performance products at reasonable prices. Its latest is the 50mm f/1.4 Art series lens, a long awaited addition to their line that we recently had the pleasure of trying out. You're not going to find much more lens for the price.
What Is It?
A $950 50mm f/1.4 autofocus prime lens for Canon or Nikon DSLRs. The Art designation simply means it's meant for the high end, sort of like Canon's L series.
Why Does It Matter?
The focal length of 50mm is perhaps the most common on the planet. Enthusiasts tear their hair out deciding which one to buy. The recent release of Zeiss's 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens made waves because of its astoundingly high quality, and astoundingly high price -- about $4000. When Sigma announced its new 50mm f/1.4, people were itching to see how it stacked up.
Sigma knows how to make lenses pretty. The 50mm f/1.4 has a gorgeous matte finish, grippy rubber focus ring, and well-shaped barrel. It is on the large side, especially compared to the popular Canon 50mm f/1.4, or Sigma's previous 50mm f/1.4 model. But it's smaller and lighter than the gargantuan Zeiss Otus.
Before telling you all about the image quality of the lens, I should say that we are in no way undertaking a comprehensive and scientific lens test here, as we only had the lens for a day and a half. If you want MTF charts, samples at every aperture, and numerous technical comparisons, there are other sites worth checking out.
Anyways. This lens is great. Really great. When stopped down past f/2, images are extremely sharp with low distortion and low vignetting. When shooting wide open, it is definitely softer, but not bad at all.
All our images samples were shot on a Canon 5D Mark III in RAW, and are available in full size on our Flickr page.
We compared the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus to the Sigma, both lenses wide open, and the Zeiss is certainly sharper in the center. However, the Sigma has less vignetting, and is even a smidgen sharper in the corners. Once you stop down to f/5.6, the difference vanishes almost completely, and actually the Sigma is a hair sharper!
It's pretty amazing how closely Sigma was able to get its $950 lens to stack up to a $4000 lens. Add to the equation the autofocus (Otus is manual only) and smaller size, and you have to wonder who would choose the Otus. The small difference in sharpness that exists at f/1.4 is definitely not worth $3000.
Zeiss Otus @ f/1.4
Sigma @ f/1.4
Zeiss Otus @ f.1.4 - full resolution crop
Sigma @ f.1.4 - full resolution crop
Zeiss Otus @ f/5.6
Sigma @ f/5.6
Zeiss Otus @ f/5.6 - full resolution crop
Sigma @ f/5.6 - full resolution crop
Aside from sheer image quality, the Sigma is solid on other fronts as well. The autofocus is fast and accurate, it focus fairly close at just over 45cm, and it feels great to hold. The only minor quibble is that the focus ring does not make hard stops. No biggy though.
Extremely sharp, great image quality all around. The lens has autofocus that works great, an overall pleasing aesthetic, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Even though it's smaller and lighter than the Otus lens, it is still hefty for a prime. The focus ring spins infinitely instead of making hard stops. It doesn't come with a lens hood.
Should You Buy It?
If you want top notch image quality in a 50mm prime, the Sigma is the right way to go. While it isn't the affordable compact pal that the $400 Canon 50mm f/1.4 is, it will compete with the very best 50mm primes out there. Don't buy the ridiculous $4000 Zeiss Otus lens (not that anyone really can anyways). The Sigma is nearly as good and will make a permanent dent in your gear back for a very reasonable $950.
The Canon version of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art lens ships later this month, with other mounts coming soon.