Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens Teardown

Published December 21, 2015

Last week we did a tear down of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II, an expensive, large, weather-resistant lens. Then we did a tear down of the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens, and expensive, weather-resistant lens with very different technology.

Today we’re going to tear down the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1 (Art) lens, a less expensive lens that is not weather resistant. We know from its size, weight, and price that it won’t have the massive construction of the Canon, but it will have a ‘normal’ lens construction with rotating focusing elements in helicoids, etc. So we think this should provide a nice comparison showing what a normal, reliable 35mm f/1.4 lens looks like inside., 2015


The front makeup ring screws off using friction, not spanner wrenches. Just because someone will ask, you can buy rubber stoppers like this at scientific supply houses, or, if you live in my part of the U. S., from moonshiners., 2015


Once it has been removed we can see two sets of 3 screws each in the front of the lens. One set holds the filter barrel in place, the other holds the front lens group., 2015


Removing the 3 filter barrel screws lets us slide it right off., 2015


Despite the fact that Sigma clearly states this is not  weather resistant lens, there’s still some foamed gasket material around the filter barrel. If you look carefully, straight down from the tip of the forceps there’s a small peg near Aaron’s middle finger. This is a nice little touch that makes certain you put the filter barrel back on in the correct position. It sounds silly, but without it, it would be possible to put the filter barrel on in any of 3 rotations, only one of which is correct. It probably means nothing to you, but it ‘idiot proofs’ reassembly a bit and as someone who reassembles lenses I appreciate that someone was thinking of this kind of thing during design., 2015


Anyway, with the filter barrel off, we can remove the three screws holding the front element in place., 2015


The front lens assembly is removed in one piece. There are front and rear screw-on caps holding the front and rear element groups in place., 2015


The rings were both glued into place. The glue for the rear ring softened enough with just heat to let us remove it. Electronics gurus will use an $89 heat gun to do this. We use a $14 blow dryer. Best line ever: When I checked out with it, the clerk looked at my bald head, looked at the blow dryer, and said, “You know those cheap ones will make your hair fall out.”, 2015


An Aaron selfie during disassembly has become our version of a programmer’s Easter Egg.


After removing the ring, the rear element could be removed., 2015


The front retaining ring required both heat and a little alcohol to soften the glue, but once the ring was off the front element group could be removed., 2015


Looking inside the front assembly from the rear it seems the next group is held in place by a compression spring., 2015


And the second group from the front is firmly inserted and probably glued. Our quest in opening this group was to see if there were any optical adjustments to be made here, which there are not, and to see how easy the front element should be to replace (very straightforward)., 2015


Setting the front lens assembly aside we can look back into the lens barrel. This is the level of the focusing ring and you can see the brass key from the ring, inserting into the fork of focusing lever that passes down to the outer barrel of the focusing group. Both of these are sturdy metal pieces., 2015


Looking into the barrel, you see there are two of these focusing assemblies on opposite sides of the lens. I should mention, while we’re here, that the inner barrel is metal, not polycarbonate. All of those screws we’ve removed so far were sunk into this metal barrel., 2015


The focus ring is held on by a set of three screws., 2015


Once they are removed the focusing ring slides right off of the lens exposing the focusing motor beneath., 2015


Now it’s time to start disassembling the back end of the lens.  The rear light baffle is held in place by 3 screws., 2015


Then the bayonet can be removed., 2015


There are some circular shims underneath the bayonet, which would be used to adjust infinity focus. With the shims out we can access the 4 screws that hold the rear barrel in place., 2015


And remove the rear barrel., 2015


The Sigma PCB looks much like everyone else’s PCB. Note the aperture motor in the lower part of the picture., 2015


The underside of the PCB shows a bit more electronics than most. I don’t know enough about electronics to comment other than they are there and do electronic stuff. Somebody will tell us in the comments soon enough. Knowledgeable people always explain stuff I don’t understand in the comments section. Less knowledgeable people explain stuff they don’t understand in the comments section. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, though., 2015


The mid barrel is attached by screws coming in from the side., 2015


After taking those out, it slides right off., 2015


Leaving the inner barrel nakedly exposed. Notice the small brass cover secured with two screws with the long flex coming out in the upper left. That covers the GMR detector that tells the lens focus position changes. GMR stands for Giant Magneto Resistance and is kind of a lie because they aren’t so giant but what they are is delicate. If you let almost anything touch it when you are working on the lens, it doesn’t work anymore. So spending a couple of pennies to cover it nicely like this is most appreciated. More importantly, in case you can’t tell from the picture, all of the inner barrels here are solid metal., 2015


Now that we have all the flexes out where we can unthread them as they travel around, we can go back and take out the screws holding the two halves of the inner barrels together, the ones we exposed from the front., 2015


And separate the front and rear halves. In Aaron’s right hand (left side of the image) is the front half which contains the AF Motor. The other side contains the focusing group. You can see the two focusing forks (I don’t know what else to call them, they have forked ends and connect the focusing ring to the focusing element) coming out of the other half of the lens. Those are position sensor brushes you see held down by two screws on the focusing barrel., 2015


From above you can see the exit from slots that allow them to move the focusing group., 2015


A quick demonstration, as the focusing forks turn the focusing barrel rotate and the rear element extend and retract.


Examining the collars in the rear group showed us there aren’t any optical adjustments to be made back here either.  So we’d reached the point we usually do where I say, “Well, let’s put it back together. No reason to take anything else apart.” And Aaron keeps taking stuff apart while I’m talking. The screws and collars holding the rear group in place were out before I’d gotten to ‘no reason’., 2015


And the rear group was out soon after. You can see the screws and nylon collars that held it in place on the mat in front. They’re pretty standard ‘what we usually see’ screws and collars., 2015


The aperture assembly is on the front of the rear group assembly we just removed. This is a bit of a different look at the aperture than you usually get to see. You’re looking at the rotation plate. The aperture blades are beneath it. Each blade has a small metal post that you see poking up through the plate and another post that connects the blade to the barrel. Rotating the plate moves the aperture blades so that they open and close., 2015


Looking up into the remaining barrel you can see the focusing element in its helicoid track. The closer (rearmost) helicoid was for the rear group, so both of these move during focusing. I assume one is acting as a floating element to help keep things sharp during near focus. On the other hand, the two helicoids are very similar in motion, so it could just be that the focusing groups are split into two elements for optical reasons., 2015


The usual closure. Of course, the lens is reassembled, retested, and working fine. And just like every time, someone is going to comment online that we killed a lens to do a teardown.


For the most part, there weren’t many surprises in this teardown. We’ve seen how Sigma has remade themselves as a company making only superb optics at very reasonable prices in the last few years. This lens is constructed very well. There isn’t the amazing heavy-duty construction of the Canon 35mm f/1.4. Instead, I’d characterize the construction of the Sigma as very efficient and carefully laid out. There’s a solid metal core with other parts all connecting directly to that core. Little touches like pegs to make sure a part is inserted in the proper rotation and shields over critical parts didn’t add much expense or weight, but show care was taken in the design. There’s nothing in this teardown that looked like a weak point.

Many people are going to compare this lens to the Canon 35mm f/1.4 teardown we did and say that’s why they chose the Canon. That’s legitimate reasoning. The Canon is weather resistant, twice the price, and twice the weight, roughly. If I was going to subject my lens to harsh conditions and use, the Canon looks like the way to go if you can afford it. But if I want to carry several primes in a convenient size and at a convenient expense, the Sigma is a superb choice and I expect it will hold up very well. As always, horses for courses.

There’s another thing that needs to be discussed at some length. There are no optical adjustments in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens that we can find. The Sony 35mm f/1.4 had a single tilt adjustment of the front group. The Canon 35mm f/1.4 had two separate adjustments. So the simple view that many people are going to take is “Roger, you should hate this lens.” There’s truth in that and I am very disappointed that we can’t optically adjust it. That’s what we do. We like taking an optically bad lens and making it better.

I am going to make a point by comparing our variation curves for all three now.

OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


I knocked the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 for its variation when we initially reviewed it, but Sony fanboys will be correct when they get out their pitchforks and claim how I made much more of a fuss about the variation in the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4. In my defense, I’ll just point out that the Sigma has a much better MTF curve than the Sony. I’ll also add that the Sigma costs $900, the Sony $1,600 and the Canon $1,800. I’m not happy about it, I wish they had it, but I’m more forgiving that the $900 lens with higher MTF has more variation than I’d like.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

December 2015


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 Equipment
  • Bob B.

    You can pick the Sigma up for considerably less. I got mine for $767.00 shipped.
    That’s about 42.6% of the price of the Canon lens. So mine was 2.4x.
    At any rate..Roger’s math could be improved in the weight and price departments….

  • Bob B.

    My favorite part of the article:
    “The underside of the PCB shows a bit more electronics than most. I don’t know enough about electronics to comment other than they are there and do electronic stuff. Somebody will tell us in the comments soon enough. Knowledgeable people always explain stuff I don’t understand in the comments section. Less knowledgeable people explain stuff they don’t understand in the comments section. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, though.”
    I am still smiling about that comment. 🙂
    I like my Sigma lens..(I have 3 now: 35mm, 50mm & 20mm)..They do a very good job of consistently delivering a very sharp image to the sensor on my 5D III. (After adjustment on The Dock). NOW…If I could just be as consistent with what is recorded on the sensor….
    Roger…have you considered tearing down a human brain to observe its graphic creating potential? There may be adjusters…(Left open for wisecrack!).
    Thanks for the laugh!

  • Lynn Allan

    LR has provided incredibly useful objective information about “Lens Variation”. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    But …. (isn’t there always a but? … sorry) …

    It’s been a looooooong time since my “quantitative methods” courses in grad school when we calculated variance by hand. Still, it seems just WRONG for high values of variation to be better than low values. JUST WRONG.

    It’s “late in the game”, but there will never be a better time to re-calibrate how variation is reported, so that low values are better than high values.

    Or not?

    Note: further discussion on DPR forums and possibly email. and … Merry Christmas!

  • Lynn Allan

    Thanks …
    FWIW: I looked again that the photo, and noted it states the baffle is being removed. I too quickly thought that piece was part of the mount, and guessed incorrectly.
    I’ve never done more than glance at a Nikon mount in 40+ years of SLR photography.

  • Panacea

    Canon EF.

  • dyna

    The Tamron is listed at $599 which is about $300 less than the Sigma pre-rebate or otherwise, and about 1/3 the Canon L… Which makes the Tamron a pretty extraordinary value considering what its capable of.

    I’m really digging the fact that third party are coming to the table with superior glass, these days. Much like Sony is doing on the hardware front, Tamron and Sigma are telling Canon and Nikon people expect more out of their investment other than rehashed versions of old products.

  • Eddy Warburton

    nice construction to… but is this not near the same pricepoint of the sigma 35mm F/1.4?

  • Lynn Allan

    Which mount? Is it Canon or Nikon? Does it matter? I’m mostly ignorant about Nikon. Also, my understanding is that this lens isn’t made for the Sony mount (or anything else besides CaNikon). Or not?

  • Vladimir Khudyakov

    May thanks, amazing :))

  • Lacknafta

    Thanks for doing the same thing on these three lenses, it’s cool to see different innards and workings. I’ve managed to take apart a Rokkor 58 1,4 and put it back together successfully and a Volna 9 resides in bits in a plastic bag (some of those teeny tiny screws were made out of mildew I think) so color me impressed by what you are doing to significantly more modern and complex things.

    Haven’t seen a Loxia autopsy or reversible disassembly yet; wonner if some of that price premium is reflected on the inside.

  • whereisaki

    Well, on the plus side, anyone buying this lens won’t have to wonder if their copy could perform better.

  • CarVac

    Ohhhh I forgot about planetary gearsets.

    That’s so awesome.

  • Thinkinginpictures

    Three sets of two screws…..

    Great article.

  • outkasted

    lol i was wondering about that. I was like huh? You can’t be serious…lol

  • Anders Persson

    The lenses I’ve taken apart have had Canon’s ring type USM focus motor. It’s a planetary gearbox design, where the sun wheel is the USM motor inside the lens and the ring wheel is the manual focus ring on the outside. The planet wheels are connected to the rotating focusing barrel.
    Hence it takes only that either the motor or the manual focus ring rotates, with the other one stationary, to rotate the focusing barrel in the lens.

  • almeich

    One simple question: What glue do you use when you reassemble?

  • Jo Jundt

    I agree with the weight but where I live I get the Sigma at 771.- and the Canon at 1868.- Swiss francs. And that were not the cheapest prices. One discounter offers the Sigma for less than 700.-
    Listed at 900$? Meanwhile the Sigma is nearly “old” compared to the fresh Canon and therefore special prices are much more likely. Anyway, I think we both agree the price difference is really massive whereas the weight hardly noticeable in a bag with some other primes?

  • Roger Cicala

    Martin, adjusting focus and adjusting optics are two entirely different things. Not related at all.

  • Dave Hachey

    I’m genuinely in awe of modern lens design and construction. The level of complexity, precision and performance seems to outpace the price paid, especially for Sigma Art lenses.

  • Although there aren’t any optical adjustments in the lens, with Sigma’s USB dock, you can adjust the focus settings at 4 different focus distances (0.3m, 0.4m, 0.7m, infinity). Maybe that’s why they decided there was no need for optical adjustments.

  • Albert

    Why 2.6x? Sigma is listed at $900 and the Canon at $1800, so twice the price is correct. However the Sigma’s weight is 660g while the Canon is 760g, which is a far cry from ‘twice the weight’.

  • Roger Cicala

    Albert, you are correct.

  • Roger Cicala

    dyna, a Zeiss is next but we’ll probably wait till after the holidays.

  • Roger Cicala

    Jo, I think that’s likely.

  • J.M. Stearns

    Awesome disassemble guys, love the humor, always fun to read. Fascinating to see how different lens makers design their lenses.

  • dyna

    Now I’d like to see the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 VC torn down. It’s not a 1.4 but it’s a hell of a lens that manages to compete head to head in many respects with the 1.4 class. Definitely interested in that “because, why not?” fashion.

  • Jo Jundt

    If you care for the truth, you could as well mention “not twice the price, but 2.6×” 😉

    Thanks for another cool teardown, Aaron & Roger. If I play Advocatus diaboli, one could say Sigma entirely trusts their assembly line and filters bad lenses by checking them 100% on their Foveon measuring machines?

  • Albert

    Twice the weight? Methinks you need to take a closer look. 15% heavier would be closer to the truth.

  • Roger Cicala

    The clutch mechanism varies with different lenses and most mechanisms really are difficult to describe in words or even still images. Older versions, where you flip a switch or move a clutch have two different systems, mechanical and electrical. Newer lenses with ‘constant manual focus’ are more complicated and there are several ways they do it (I’m guessing some are patent workarounds but I don’t know).

  • CarVac

    I’ve always wondered this: how do the focus clutches work so that when the camera autofocuses, the outer ring doesn’t turn, but as soon as you move the ring even the slightest bit, it applies the focus change?

    Do both parts of the USM rotate freely relative to the lens barrel? I’m imagining one linked to the focusing ring (with brushes to conduct electricity to it?) and the other with the moving groups. Autofocus leaves the motor part of stationary (just from friction), while manual override turns both the motor and the driven part. Does this sound right?

    How do the Nikon lenses that have A/M and M/A work? I know that Nikon lenses often have slack in the focus ring, so it might be different?

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