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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.

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  • 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?

  • …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?


  • Thank you for this hands-on review!
    You now have me longing for this great lens!
    Many thanks

  • Sam

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

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

  • Gary

    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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Peter

    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.

  • 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.


    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.

    Ralf C.

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

  • Roger Cicala

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

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Roger Cicala

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

  • 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 😉

  • Giovanni

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

  • 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…

  • GregL

    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.

  • Got to have my hands on this

  • ppz
  • Seb

    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.

  • Tof

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

  • Alex

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

  • Alex

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

  • 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 ?


  • 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.

  • Ben

    RIP Canon 35mm F/1.4

  • Dear Roger,

    How about compatible with Canon 5D II?

  • Matt


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


  • Silverclump

    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.

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