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Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Arrives. Announces New World Order.

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OK, I'm beginning to think maybe the Mayans were right. It appears the world is going to transition into something different in 2012. The photography world at least.

About 5 years ago, I wrote a blog post explaining that quality control problems and horrid repair service meant we would probably stop carrying Sigma products entirely. I spent the next several months manning the ramparts and pouring hot oil on the Sigma Fanboys who assaulted the Lensrentals Walls.

Since then, the most amazing thing happened. They got better. The repair center sprouted an efficient and intuitive web page, real people started answering the phones and knew where your stuff was, repair times went from months to weeks, to often days. Quality control seemed to improve, too, except for the large telephoto zooms. Recently they announced ( making announcements - what a concept, Nikon) quality control improvements, redesign of some problematic lenses (OK, they didn't use the word problematic lens, that's me. They just said redesign), and are going to offer the gearheads among us unprecedented ability to fine tune their lenses to our cameras.

So today, we received our first 35mm f/1.4 Sigma lens. The first in their new revamped lineup.  (No, you can't rent it yet. It's going to have to undergo extensive testing at my house over the long weekend. Maybe next week.) I was eager to see it, hoping it was going to be another step forward and hoping to find some signs of what will be adjustable in these new lenses.

As always, this isn't a review, it's my quick first impression after putting the lens through our normal intake tests. I'm not a lens reviewer. Also, as always, my summary comes first, for those of you who have trouble reading more than 150 words without a picture.

This lens kicks butt, takes names, and basically posterizes the manufacturers who make the cameras this lens will fit on. 

For those of you who spend too much time post processing, I'm using 'posterize' as demonstrated below, not the 8-bit jpg way.

 

copyright Getty Images / Sports Illustrated

 

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Left to right: Canon, Sigma, and Nikon 35mm f/1.4 lenses. Copyright Lensrentals.com by Hostess Joey

 

 

OK, you can get out your crayons and color me Fanboy, but this lens is built solidly. It really feels more like a Zeiss 35mm than a Canon or Nikon. Sigma says there's a lot of metal in there, and at 1.4 pounds I believe them. On the other hand, that makes it several ounces heavier than either the Canon or Nikon, but about the same amount lighter than the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4.

It feels solid, too. The manual focusing ring is smooth and accurate, although I found it a bit stiff. Not problem stiff, but certainly not move-it-with-a-fingertip. Autofocus speed was reasonably quick, about on a par with the Canon 35mm. More importantly to me, AF accuracy was good, too, even when we darkened the room down to the point where many Sigma lenses start hunting.

Of course, we went over to the Imatest bench next. As most of you know, I hate testing one copy of a lens. The only thing I hate more than that is testing no copies. So I did the one we have today, knowing that there will be another dozen next week and planning just to keep this data to add to that. But like chicken salad on a hot summer day, this data won't keep.

Of course, I'm going to compare this copy to the average numbers we get for the Canon 35mm f/1.4. I'll mention that this may be the absolute sharpest of the zillion or so of these lenses Sigma turns out. I'll get data for another dozen copies next week and we'll see how it varies. So, just for the sake of argument, let's assume this is the best copy Sigma will ever make. So to make things fair, I'm going to compare it to both the average for all Canon 35mm f/1.4 lenses we have, but also to the very best out of the 100 copies I've tested.

 

MTFSigma 35mm f/1.4Canon 35 f/1.4 avgCanon 35mm f/1.4 best
Peak MTF 50775650700
Avg MTF 50665555600
Worst Corner MTF 50445325370

 

As you can see, this copy of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 was a bit better in the center and clearly better in the corners than the best copy of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 I've ever tested. For the Nikonians amongst us, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 tested on a D3x resolves almost identically to the Canon.

Stopped down to f/2.0 and f/2.8 respectively, the Sigma responds with 900/770/560 and 1000/870/770 mtf50 values (center/average/corner). The Canon 'best copy' returned 840/740/520 and 1000/840/740 numbers. It's probably worth mentioning the Sigma has slightly less distortion at 1%, too.

The Circuit Board

We didn't do a disassembly today but we did have to take a quick look at the main circuit board, since this will apparently be the first 'totally programmable' lens using the upcoming Sigma Optimization Software.

The PCB board in this lens is quite different from anything we've seen from Sigma before: cleaner with more chips and few other electronic components. Much different.

Also looking like it will be nice is the 9-bladed aperture ring.

I've had about zero chance to actually shoot with it (neither would you if Tyler was standing around screaming about another 50 lenses that need to be tested so they can go on sale for Black Friday) but I'll fix that this weekend. In the meantime, here's a shot of the lovely and talented Lensrentals spokesmodel Kenny, at f/1.4, with a bit of 100% crop in the corner. I believe this lens is going to be fun. And at $899 well worth the price of admission.

As to finding anything signifying the new programmability of theses lenses, I didn't. But if some of the more electronically educated among you want to look up some chip codes, I've got a full size image of the PCB you can look at.

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

November 2012

Addendum: A few real world pictures added, along with the note that 1) the lens is not weather sealed and 2) AF was as fast and accurate as the Canon L primes I usually shoot with. I didn't do side-by-side comparisons, but it was certainly not noticeably different.

Roger Cicala, 2012

 

Roger Cicala, 2012

 

Roger Cicala, 2012

 

Roger Cicala, 2012

 

Roger Cicala, 2012

 

The weakness of the lens (every lens has some) does begin to show up in some of these photos: the backround bokeh is not nearly as smooth and buttery as the Nikon or Canon 35 lenses. That's how it is with lenses - the designer trades off one aspect for another. With this lens we have awesome sharpness at an excellent price, and perhaps at the expense of background blur.

For some photographers the background blur will be a deal breaker. For others the price and sharpness will far outweigh that issue. Nice to have choices, isn't it?

125 Responses to “Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Arrives. Announces New World Order.”

Trenton said:

How did you like AF speed, and how does it compare to N/C?

Rob said:

droolz.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Trenton,

On a 5D II it was very similar in speed and accuracy to the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L. No hunting, even in dimmer light. Don't have a Nikon mount yet, but historically Sigma's seem to do better on Nikons.

Bob said:

Nice to see Sigma making improvements.

From the 50mm f/1.4 (2008), to the 85mm f/1.4 (2010), and now to the 35mm f/1.4 (2012) it seems like they have continually stepped up their game.

I wonder what they are working on for 2014? 24mm f/1.4?

Ti said:

Are they going to release this in Sony A mount?

Chris said:

Does this mean the Canon 35mm 1.4 will be less worth soon? :-)

James Sinks said:

Please, please, please, please do a coma test.

Jon Lopes said:

Does it do the strange (front focus up close and back focus 15feet out and further) thing that the Sigma 50 1.4 is famous for?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Jon, it focused quite accurately around the shop and in a few shots I took at infinity out front. I didn't see any sign of that.
Roger

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Timon, there website does say A mount will be released, but I don't know when.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

James, I'll try to do some star shots this weekend and look for coma

Andreas said:

How is the vignetting compared to the Canikon versions?

Martin Danesh said:

Roger, such articles of yours are really so beneficial... Thank you very much. You really don´t sound biased or anything like that at all and this is something of a high value in today´s world. Thanks to the articles like this (and some unique extras like samples variation of a lens!), one can get a much better picture on which lens to buy and which is better to.... ehm...just borrow :-) .

Daemonius said:

Once Sigma made zooms for Leica R and they were sold under Leica name. I assume they must been pretty good. Maybe they will be good again.

Btw. no, these zooms were not that amazing as Leica primes, but neither bad.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Andreas, I didn't run tests but it seemed to vignette perhaps just a bit more wide open, but by f/2 I couldn't see any at all.

L.P.O. said:

Just a friendly hint for the future:
if you want to take a picture where integrated chip laser markings show as clearly as possible, use side light. The markings will almost pop out, whereas if the light is either front light or even worse, reflected back light, they show poorly or not at all.

L.P.O. said:

Oh, and thanks for the article! This Sigma looks very interesting indeed!

Edwin Herdman said:

Roger, to read any chip codes the PCB will need to be lit from lighting somewhat off to the side to catch the labels. Most of them are getting washed out here. I will give it another try in the meantime.

Your comment about Sigma telezooms still having problems piqued my interest, and I just checked out your comment on the 120-300mm OS...I don't know about the electrical failure rates but you're definitely right about the quality. If anything I would add that the out of focus highlights, certainly when using a teleconverter (2X EF TC III), will ruin many shots (i.e., shooting across or into the center of a body of water). That said, it's only about double the price of their 120-400mm OS, and the difference between that turkey and their newer lens is night and day, although those are targeting different segments so I probably shouldn't read too much into it.

Aaron said:

You say it's got darn good build quality, nice to hear. How about weather sealing? However great this is, and it looks good on paper, if it doesn't have weather sealing it probably won't take off amongst most pro's. Do you see Sigma and the rest upping the game and going for pro level weather sealing while still giving great quality and at a cheaper price than Canon/Nikon/1st party lenses?

Dawei said:

"out of the 100 copies I’ve tested"

I think it's safe to say that nobody in their right mind will try and challenge your views haha

mckenzy said:

How does this compare to the 30/1.4?

Dr Croubie said:

Hey Roger,
I'm definitely interested in this lens, as i wasn't too impressed with the IQ of the L or the price of the Zeiss. So I bought a Samyang/Rokinon instead (for half the price of the Sigma).
I love my Samyang, the only downside is that the global-contrast is rather low at f/1.4, it's sharp as all hell above f/2.0 though. Any chance of a Sigma vs Samyang test? If the Sigma is as sharp and has better wide-open contrast, then it may replace the Samyang (the sigma has the obvious advantage of AF, but for my shooting that doesn't mean much).

Shawn said:

What a thorough review! I have the canon 50 1.4 and love it.

Bkpr100 said:

I 2nd doing a Sigma/Rokinon test!

Chub said:

Roger - the brevity of your 150 word summaries are impeccable sir!

Just a thought, but I think that this shows that the Canon lens has held up reasonably well over 14 years. Think about it - a 1998 lens doing only slightly worse than a 2012 lens. I can only imagine where the 35 L II will be on the imatest whenever they decide to release it. This of course going from the trend of revamped 70-200 and 24-70...!

brandon said:

The only problem I see with the canon v2 35mmL is the price. wild guess, $1600?

CarVac said:

Follow up on Dr. Croubie:

I've had 3 copies of the Samyang 35/1.4.

I swear that my first copy was literally optical perfection incarnate in a lens; it never sharpened up any more than it was at f/1.4, at least across the APS-C frame. Amazing lens, that one was. No purple fringing, no lateral CA, only a tidbit of longitudinal, no coma, no flare no spherical aberration, no focus shift, no veiling haze wide-open. I couldn't tell what aperture images were shot at by any way other than depth of field, since it was so consistent.

It didn't quite have the sparkle of some of my adapted Zeiss glass ("3-d effect"), but man did it have zero flaws.

Note the assertion of merely 'optical' perfection: one day it rolled off my desk, fell a foot onto my padded chair, and broke internally; the rear element got decentered.

I paid 200 bucks for another copy since they said that the warranty wouldn't cover fall damage, and that one was badly decentered. I sent it back, they said that it was fine, but they sent me a third anyway, which is somewhat less decentered but never is quite perfectly sharp.

I have the feeling they slacked on QC after the initial run that went to reviewers and such; shame on them.

foodgrapher said:

thanks for the hands on review.
Was wondering for a while if it's build quality got better, and this answer it

nepo said:

Here you can see the result of Sigma 35mm f1.4 vs Samyang 35mm f1.4.

Silverclump said:

So...you REALLY want me to come running up and kick that football, Lucy?

Don't forget that Sigma lenses often start life in spec and then gradually go all awry for no other reason than the passage of time, mild fluctuations of the ambient temperature, and the cosmic neutrino rain. Test some now, then test some at the end of a year or two. That will be the true test.

Matt said:

Roger,

How would you say it fairs againg the Zeiss 35mm f/2?

Thanks!

Frank said:

Dear Roger,

How about compatible with Canon 5D II?

Ben said:

RIP Canon 35mm F/1.4

David Bell said:

Wow. This new lens sounds pretty exciting. I was going to be in the ,arket for the Canon 35mm 1.4 soon, but may consider this one instead. Great stuff.

Alex said:

hello Roger,

I have one question about the built quality.
Can you take a picture of the lens' back or tell us if the tropicaliation is like a Canon L ?

Regards,
Alex

Alex said:

Roger, can you look into CA variation depending on lens sample?
Is it same as resolution, or it is usually more consistent?

Alex said:

And I mean any lens you wish, not this Sigma.

Tof said:

Thanks for the review. Good price but looks heavy. What about weather sealing or water resistance ? Have you got more image samples ?

Seb said:

I'm wondering whether or not rumored Canon 35 1.4 II is going to beat Sigma? Even if so, then still Sigma is much cheaper.
I look forward to test this lens here in Ireland.

Ronnie Chan said:

Got to have my hands on this

GregL said:

What's the bokeh like stopped down? I always avoid fully open due to the harder edges. So f1.6 - f2 would be my usual portrait choice. But bokeh through the aperture range is important also. Sometimes good bokeh at large apertures turns in to nasty bokeh at smaller apertures needed for preserving the facial expression of a background face.

Antonis said:

My one and only gripe about the 35 1.4 Nikkor was its focus speed. Well, that and maybe the fact that it seemed too sterile for me. No interesting flares and such. If this lens focuses faster than the Nikkor counterpart, I'll take it.
Awaiting for further info on focusing speed...

Giovanni said:

No sense buy the L canon now. Maybe the new 35mm IS if you need that feature.

Adam Malcolm said:

Well that's all well and good, and it looks like a good lens, especially for the A mount.

But it's all about HOW it renders things, with 9 blades it'll probably have nicely smooth Bokeh, but what about colour's and contrast?

Either way, it's great to see Sigma upping their game. Sad to see them upping their prices ;)

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Frank, I was testing it on a 5D II.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Alex,

We can. I'll look into adding that in future tests. CA doesn't correlate with resolution very much. I suspect there is sample to sample variation. I haven't looked specifically, but a 'bad' lens often has a lot of CA, so I suspect it does vary.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Alex - no rubber gasket at the lens mount, I'm afraid, so not like the L lenses.

george pahountis said:

Since I already dropped it ( $$$) for the canon version, i can't wait for the sigma 24mm 1.4
:)

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