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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.”

Ralf C. Kohlrausch said:

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.

Hi,

I still have one of these, and they were average when they were new. They are far below average by todays standards. The German Fotomagazin ran a test of both versions and concluded, that the much more solid and much more expensive Leica tube with it’s supposedly better centering of the lenses did not produce any measurealbe benefit in picture quality.

But Sigma has a long earned reputation for pushing the limits in wide angles (14mm comes to mind) and fast lenses. They offered a 2.8/28-70 years ahead of canikon (and its picture quality was at least one notch below the 3.5-4.5/28-70 that made it to Leica-fame).

But they also skimped on quality of mechanical construction on more than one instant. The beforementioned 2.8/28-70 was partly put together with sticky tape which eventually worked loose, first impairing focus and contrast, later just letting the front part of the lens drop off. BTDT. All in all I’ve had five Sigma 28-70s.

So it remains to be seen how they worked out above average optical quality with a below average sellingprice this time and I’m curiously awaiting Roger’s tear down and comments after the lens is in rental sevice for a couple of months.

And – thanks again for the sound information.

Greets
Ralf C.

Peter said:

Sigma has developed a high price DSLR, they of course need to develop a series of high-performance Sigma lens to match with it. In the future, when her market can support only produce Sigma-mount lens for their DSLR, they will probably not release mount for Canon, Sony, Nikon anymore.

Samuel Hurtado said:

Have you played with the Samyang 35mm f/1.4? That one seem to be amazing too. Lots of very happy users all around the web. Cheaper, but only manual focus.

Samuel Hurtado said:

Sorry, now I see nepo and ppz already posted a link to a comparison. It would seem that the samyang is sharper in the corners, but the sigma is sharper in the center.

Gary said:

Have had much experience with Sigma lenses for Canon and as well as
for Sigma SD 14. They never seem to focus as well with Canon as
Canon lenses do. I have given up on non-Canon lenses because
of that and breakdowns on expensive and extensive trips abroad
(both Tamron lenses) necessitating costly replacement lenses in
Europe.

Hope this 35 mm lens is a new beginning for Sigma.

ryan said:

Sigma is definitely starting to be a viable option for fast lenses to pros.

Sam said:

Fantastic, I may have to pick up one of these for my wedding photography business. :-)

touristguy87 said:

…this is what I love about photography: all this high-tech gear and let’s go out and take shots of the woods, bridges over streams, and some flower-bokeh…yeah!

It’s great. It’s sharp. I’m looking at 1/4-vga images on my 15″ monitor. Hooray.
Of all the numbers displayed here what matters most to me? 35mm. $899.
Just how often am I going to want to shoot 35mm/50mm @ F1.4? Seriously?

cheers

touristguy87 said:

ps it does help if the camera can actually AF reliably and well. Beyond that…it’s just so ridiculously expensive for such a limited lens that I can’t even take this seriously. And what do we do when Leica comes out with an AF lens?

James Sinks said:

Roger, thanks for that. A couple distant streetlight shots would be informative too–coma looks very different for stars than it does for (apparently) larger light sources.

Shigeki said:

@touristguy87:

What you got to understand is that these are just tools. Maybe for you this tool, for this cost seems limited and expensive, but I would go ahead and say many wouldn’t. Portrait and wedding photographers with a 35mm and a 50mm could get you through almost 80% of their day, but sports photographers would rather have a 70-200mm or a 300mm.

I think we can all agree that a third party manufacturers producing quality products is a good this for all photographers and videographers no matter what your specialty is. I am hoping this lens pans out to be a great alternative to the Canon 35L, and from initial previews, it seems to be doing just that.

Jim Trapp said:

Question……I am so in the market for a 35mm for this coming wedding season. Will this lens work on a full frame camera? Or more designed for the APS sensor?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

It’s full frame, Jim

K D Sandmann said:

Thanks again for all the articles !

Cody Tolmen said:

Looks amazing! I have one pre-ordered for our Sony a99 so hopefully it will ship soon! It looks like it will be far better than the Sony 35 1.4g… Thanks for your thoughts!

dnguyen said:

I’ll keep my buttery 35L

Bogdan said:

I’m actually in the market for a 35mm large aperture for my Nikons and I was not overly impressed with their offering. This will do nicely I think. Thanks for the quick review.

The 35 is not the only good lens Sigma now makes. Their 85mm 1.4 is also excellent. I had one for quite some time and it consistently impresses me with its performance.

Best regards,

Bogdan

Ray said:

Good to hear that canon might have some competition. I am just anxious to see how much CA comes out of this lens because my 35L is horrible.

Bosse said:

Have you tested the new Canon 35/2 IS USM ? Would be interresting to see how it compares to the new Sigma :-)

jcr159 said:

LOL, Roger, I see you have a White Elephant! (I was a Cutco sales rep, and that’s what we called the white set with the steak knives…)

: )

Virginia wedding photographer said:

Reading this free blog is expensive.

Thanks for the quick evaluation. I’m ready to dump my 24-70 for this.

Some Guy said:

I have this lens and to me the bokeh is pretty good. I’d prefer sharpness over “buttery” bokeh though. The Sigma 50 1.4 has the “buttery” bokeh but lacks sharpness (try it on a D800).

Bokeh isn’t my primary concern with a wide lens like this though. Portrait lenses like the 85L are where I want smooth bokeh. With 35mm I want sharpness and some subject isolation. That’s what the Sigma gives me.

Of course YMMV.

ppz said:

Nepo: impressive result, as it seem that sigma has better contrast wide open than the contax(using that lens myself and loving the bokeh and rendering of it) Bokeh seem to be the only downside of the sigma.

Joachim said:

Meh.. not convinced. My Pentax 35/2.4 was extremely cheap, and it delivers better than most 35mm’s. In terms of sharpness, low CA and color rendition, there hardly is any better. One can surely get more exotic bokeh with a faster lens 10 times the prize, but I think it seems a bit silly. The point is, I don’t see the point in raving about that hard over this lens; it seems good, you get what you pay for if your not a complete fool etc.

Amin said:

Bokeh doesn’t look so harsh to me. Hard to tell without side by side bokeh comparisons with other known lenses.

Carl said:

What I’d like to know is, how does the “bokeh fringing” or longitudinal CA, compare with the other lenses? Will be interesting if you test for that. I could see some of the rough bokeh in the pictures even before reading the part where you mention it. That said, there’s something to be said for sharpness, too.

Incidentally, has anyone figured out a quick way to “fix” bokeh fringing, with whatever editing software you prefer?

As great as the 85L was when I rented it, I still recall some bokeh fringing, even with it (at least below f/2). My 135L has near zero lateral and longitudinal CA wide open, is extremely sharp to the corners (at least on my crop camera), and has smoother, more buttery bokeh than any lens I have tried, or seen images online (including the awesome 200 f/2L, which excelled in other areas). It’s a shame the wider focal length, fast lenses can’t be produced to achieve a similar result. I guess that’s physics for ya.

The only fast Sigma lens I have tried, is the 30mm f/1.4 crop/only lens. Would be nice if they ever decide to update it. It had all sorts of apparent waviness to the field curvature at longer focus distances (or at least it seemed like it). Also had some rough bokeh, but at times could look smooth.

The thing I liked about it most though, was the color. It probably epitomized the “warm” color that so many criticize Sigma for. I loved it, and still don’t see a downside to it. The entire color spectrum is still there, it just looked better, with less “false blue” hues…in my opinion. Sure you can tweak color all you like in the computer, but it helps if it’s there to begin with…then tweak that…haha.

GirlFromPoland said:

Thank’s for first review about Sigma Lens 35 / f/ 1.4

Amin said:

Carl, Sigma says the lens was designed to minimize axial CA: http://sigma-global.com/en/lenses/cas/product/art/a_35_14/index.html

From the looks of these samples, I’d say they have succeeded:

http://magazine.kakaku.com/mag/camera/id=996/

http://lcap.tistory.com/archive/20121117

http://www.petapixel.com/2012/11/15/first-batch-of-sigma-35mm-f1-4-sample-photos-released-shows-impressive-iq/

I’m no Sigma fanboy, but this looks like a winner in every way. In fact, this lens has me thinking about adding a 35mm format DSLR to my rotation again after going without one for the past couple years.

Tom said:

Just curious why no one on the entire “World Wide Web” except you has been able to post a review? I’ve never seen such a mysterious major product release.

NancyP said:

How is this lens’ coma? I am considering either the bargain Samyang/Rokinon/Bower 35mm f/1.4 manual focus lens or this new Sigma autofocus 35mm f/1.4 lens for astrophotography with my Canon. Autofocus is not necessary or possible for astrophotography, but coma (and to a lesser degree, chromatic aberration) can be a real problem in this type of photography. The bonus for autofocus is to be able to use this as a fast standard lens on Canon crop camera.

NancyP said:

Thank you Roger for your review, and thanks in advance for any info you have when you get and test more of these lenses.

Thank you Nepo for your additional info on this lens.

Amin said:

“I also compared Sigma to Canon.In my opinion,Sigma35′s bokeh looks better than that of Canon.
http://lcap.tistory.com/entry/Sigma-35mm-f14-vs-Canon-35mm-f14-L

Thanks for the link. I agree with you – your controlled side-by-side testing shows nicer bokeh for the Sigma. The Sigma also looks sharper with less axial CA and less light falloff.

Carl said:

Amin, thanks for the links!

Ok so Nepo seems to disagree with Roger’s initial findings regarding the bokeh smoothness. Will be interesting to see who else tests the lens, as well as to hear Roger’s further thoughts. To me, just looking at Roger’s test shots, I can see some roughness. And of course bokeh “smoothness” is probably not always directly related to longitudinal (or “axial”) CA. It sure would be nice if there was a quick way to get rid of the colored fringing in the bokeh, though. The only fast lens I have right now is a 50mm f/1.4, and it exhibits some. It’s just so sharp though, I am still extremely happy with it.

NancyP, do you do any astrophotography piggy-backed on a telescope, or do you just use a tripod for relatively short exposure “still” shots…or do you just do longer exposure “star trail” photography? I would think you wouldn’t need or want a “fast” lens to do star trail photography…and usually you want a much wider angle than 35mm for that as well.

One of my Milky Way shots got published in the March 2012 issue of Outdoor Photographer. I would have rather used a faster lens (like this Sigma) on a full frame camera, of course. But the shot was taken over 2 years ago.

More and more people are doing great astro photography of all types, so it’s kind of difficult to get your work to stand out. Kind of like what’s going on with photography in general.

Joe said:

NEPO: great comparasoin, could you do just bokeh comparasion i diferent scenes between canon, sigma and contax? thanks a lot

Ottawa Wedding Photographer said:

With the sharpness being better than the Nikon and Canon lenses, at least at 1.4 and 2.0, I expect that this lens will really please a lot of landscape shooters (and of course gearheads). As a portrait photographer and food photographer, I’m inclined to lean towards having the best bokeh that I can afford in my lenses, though 35mm isn’t an ideal focal length for shooting food. I’d be really interested to see a bokeh comparison of this lens versus the Canon and Nikon (and Sony) 35mm 1.4 primes with a person acting as the subject and some trees about 20 feet behind him or her. In fact, side by side bokeh comparisons are something that I think the internet could use more of in general. Perhaps I should start a blog. And sink all my profits into renting lenses for the purpose of these tests ;)

dkov70 said:

Is it really optically any better for FF Nikon compared to Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G AF-S? Anyway, it`s heavier, larger and costlier…Is it worth it?

Jorge said:

Well, it is true that a macro look shows that the new 35 Sigma’s bokeh is better, but seeing the full photo looks a little bit rough. As a Nikonian I would like to see a side by side comparison with the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G.

kelux said:

Hi.

A norwegian photography site translated your blog about Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and then managed to undermine your finding by writing the following sentence:
“Roger Cicala and Lensrentals earn obviously money on renting the lenses, so one should take his words with a grain of salt.” (This is translated from norwegian).

I don’t think it’s particularly nice to re-write/translate another man’s work and then say it’s not trustworthy because he makes money renting out the product.

http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=no&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=no&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.akam.no%2Fartikler%2Fsigma-imponerer-bloggerne%2F114851

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Kelux,

Thank you for pointing that out – I totally agree.

But it’s mostly an example of people speaking without thinking, is so often the case. Common sense, if that author had any, would point out that we make just as much money renting Canon or Nikon 35mm lenses as we will on Sigmas. And let’s see (as he said) we had 1 copy of the Sigma, 96 copies of the Canon, 48 of the Nikon. So, of course, I would want to make sure that one Sigma lens rented.

If they’d researched a little more they’d have also noticed we had 8 copies of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens for sale when I wrote that article. I guess he thought it would be great business to write an article that nuked the used price for those lenses, too.

Soooo, I wonder which of us has less credibility?

Anyway, thank you for letting me rant a bit. I enjoyed it :-)

NancyP said:

Carl, I am new to astrophotography, and I do wide-field shots on a tripod. I have Canon 15-85mm f.3.5 – 5.6 and Sigma 8-16 f/4.5 to 5.6. I expect that I can do some multiples and stack the photos taken with the above lenses – I just downloaded a program to do so, and am hoping for a clear cold night in the next few days to gather the multiples. Aside from this use, I have no fast lens, and I would like a fast “normal” lens for my APS-C that could be used on a future FF camera body.

Chris Jankowski said:

To Ottawa Wedding Photographer:

I’d guess that if you would like to see what is the best possible bokeh achievable then you need to rent one lens only – the legendary Minolta/Sony 135mm F/2.8 [T4.5] STF – smooth trans focus lens. You would need to use a Sony Alpha full frame camera body with the lens – A900 or A99 to get the best result. It is equivalent to 207 mm on Sony half frame APS-c format, so much less practicable for portrait or food photography.

Here are reviews of the lens:
http://www.kurtmunger.com/sony_135mm_f_2_8__t4_5__stfid268.html
http://www.photozone.de/sonyalphaff/737-sony135f28ff
http://www.photozone.de/sony-alpha-aps-c-lens-tests/390-sony_135_28
http://www.dyxum.com/columns/articles/lenses/SAL-135F28/Sony-AF-135-STF-SAL-135F28_review.asp
http://www.magnuswedberg.com/index.php?doc=STF-review

The ultimate cream machine, as a reviewer remarked.

Unfortunately Roger will not be able to help you with the rental. I believe that LensRentals do not stock the lens.

Joachim / CH said:

I’m not the one withe the Pentax. Got my Sigma today, or rather this evening – very promising, I’m happy you brought my attention to it, Roger. Hopefully this weekend will not only be new snow, so I can try more things with it.

Joachim / CH said:

Me again. Results in aspects of sharpness and contrast are fabulous, I’m very impressed.

I was just wondering: When I compare it to other lenses, capable of being set to 35mm (28-300, 24-85) and close to 35 (40, 50, 24) the Sigma ist just 1/2 clickstop brighter. D800 was set to manual mode on a tripod and the results of the other lenses are pretty close to each other. I need to check again with constant light and a grayscale and an additional other body.

That’s a bit weird, I hope (if I can prove my impression), Sigma is able to reprogram the electronics? You didn’t compare the results of your copies to original lenses, Roger?

Joe said:

My new Sigma 35/1.4 for Canon is optically excellent, but has auto-focus consistency problems, particularly obvious indoors at wide apertures. AF works and confirms focus (one shot, center point) but the image sometimes isn’t focused as advertised. It seems to be a problem with focus precision (repeatability) rather than consistent front or back focus. On the same Canon 5Dmk2 camera, I do not have this problem with Canon lenses (50/1.4, 85/1.8, etc).

May be worth investigating…

Joachim / CH said:

Hi Joe, I could provoke the same effect with my D800. But would not blame the Sigma for it. It is a wide angle lens and therefore the exact focus doesn’t jump in as easy in as the longer focus length use to do. I just checked the same “difficult to focus” area with the Nikkor 24/1.4 and had just the same problems. It were leaves of a plant, dark green and sort of dark magenta. No high contrast is a challenge for each phase detect AF.

Switch to live view when you’re aware of critical focus situations. Before, switch as well from single AF to continuous and listen to the work of the focus motor, mine wasn’t quite and kept moving. That’s always a sign of uncertain AF.

Joe said:

Live View contrast detection AF is slow but works perfectly with this lens. Normal phase detection AF is fast but inconsistent with this Sigma lens. I have not had this problem with Canon lenses, including wide ones like 35/2, 24/2.8, and 17-40/4L.

It seems that my 5Dmk2 camera tells the lens (once?) where to focus, but the Sigma sometimes misses the mark in normal phase detection AF mode. In slow Live View contrast detection AF mode, the camera keeps on moving the lens for a full second until perfect focus is achieved.

Joachim / CH said:

Well, without a direct comparison to an original 35/1.4 I won’t dare to make a judgement. After all, at 50(!)% of the price of the Nikkor and with that sharpness I would accept some flaws. Still, I don’t consider f/2, 2.8, 4 as “fast lenses”, but that’s my own restriction.

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