New Items

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

Published November 21, 2012

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 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

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?

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in New Items
  • Here you can see the result of Sigma 35mm f1.4 vs Samyang 35mm f1.4.

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

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

  • CarVac

    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.

  • brandon

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

  • 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…!

  • Bkpr100

    I 2nd doing a Sigma/Rokinon test!

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

  • Dr Croubie

    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).

  • mckenzy

    How does this compare to the 30/1.4?

  • Dawei

    “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

  • Aaron

    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?

  • Edwin Herdman

    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.

  • L.P.O.

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

  • L.P.O.

    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.

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Daemonius

    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.

  • Martin Danesh

    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 :-).

  • Andreas

    How is the vignetting compared to the Canikon versions?

  • Roger Cicala

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

  • Roger Cicala

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

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Jon Lopes

    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?

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

  • Chris

    Does this mean the Canon 35mm 1.4 will be less worth soon? 🙂

  • Ti

    Are they going to release this in Sony A mount?

  • Bob

    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?

  • Roger Cicala


    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.

  • Rob


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

Follow on Feedly