Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Review

Introduction

After the great success of the Global Vision Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens, Sigma faced the huge task of applying the philosophy across its range of lenses, and gradually phasing out the EX line of lenses. This mammoth task is ongoing, and looks like it will take a while!

Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art Lens!

Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art Lens!

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art lens was developed in an interesting period (perhaps by coincidence?) when the major manufacturers were battling each other about who could make the sharpest 50mm lens. Carl Zeiss was working on the famous 55mm 1.4 Otus, Nikon was developing the 58mm 1.4G and Canon…? Well they were dormant as usual of late.. and weren’t releasing any new 50mm. In fact they still haven’t updated their line of 50mm lenses, which all leave much to be desired. But that’s another story.

The Otus later became the benchmark for all fifties, the Nikon 58mm 1.4 was to some, a major disappointment, and to others, it has a cult following, all in love of its unique and masterful Bokeh.

In the background was also the old Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX lens. I actually had one of these, and will be comparing the old and the new as part of this review.

 

Mechanics and Handling

As part of the Global Vision treatment, the lens features vastly improved build quality compared to the old Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens. The lens is very similar to the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art. Much of the lens body is metal, and it feels very solid. The focus ring is wide and nicely rubberised. It’s well dampened too. The lens is highly detailed, and the fit and finish is excellent like most recent Art lenses.

Much of the lens body is metal, and it feels very solid.

For a 50mm lens, the Sigma 50mm 1.4 is huge! Due to the many elements, the lens is about twice as long as other fifties. The fair bulk means that this lens is 815g, more than 300g heavier than the old Sigma 50mm 1.4. Canon’s 50mm 1.4 USM weighs in at just 290g. So I suppose people who wish to cut down the size of their kit should look elsewhere.

50mm 1.4 with hood

50mm Art details

 

The lens does not change size when focusing, and obviously the 77mm filter thread does not rotate. The lens comes with a new pinch style front cap, rear cap and snug fitting plastic lens hood. The front cap is excellent, easy to put on and off. After a year’s use, mine still looks new. The lens is tough and the finish durable. The only problem I’ve found is that the filter thread is plastic, and does not start at the extreme edge of the barrel, but perhaps half a millimeter inside. This means that some filters / step rings can be a bit hard to get started.

 

Image Quality

This is a very sharp lens. By far the best 50mm I have ever used. Compared to the old Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX, the Art is much sharper at 1.4, and is quite similar to the 35mm Art. I mostly use it at large apertures. The images produced are very sharp and punchy.

Front element

 

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art MTF chart (sigmaphoto)

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art MTF chart (Sigma)

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art elements (Sigma)

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art elements (Sigma)

The lens features 13 elements in 8 groups, with 3 special low dispersion (SLD) elements, and 1 aspherical element. There are 9 circular aperture blades, ensuring smooth Bokeh.

The wide open sharpness is what sets this lens apart from other offerings.

Online reviews say that the 50mm Art is very close to the Otus 55mm 1.4 in terms of sharpness, and superior to the Canon 50mm 1.2L and Nikon 58mm 1.4 wide open. The Bokeh is not bad, although from what I’ve seen, the 50L & Nikkor 58mm 1.4 are better in this regard.

Portrait

The lens offers great wide open sharpness, shot at f1.4

 

The wide open sharpness is what sets this lens apart from other offerings. You buy this lens to use wide open. Most of the sample shots are wide open at f1.4.

 

Sharp close up details, shot at f1.4

Sharp close up details, shot at f1.4

 

Very sharp across the frame, shot at f11

Very sharp across the frame, shot at f11

I will let the sample shots do most of the talking in regards to image quality, which is often subjective.

 

Autofocus

This section is where most of you will now be leaning forward on your chair.. Third party lenses often suffer in the AF department. The old Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX was infamous for front and back focus issues. The one that I had never worked properly, even after I sent it to Sigma for calibration.

The HSM drive in the 50mm 1.4 Art lens is comparable to canon’s USM. Focus is quick and silent. I find the focus accurate and reliable most of the time, but like the 35mm 1.4 Art, it can miss occasionally. With the 50mm I find that I often have to take two shots of a given scene, to ensure one will be in sharp focus. This is a bit unfortunate, and not what many people wish to hear, especially those that might have owned the Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX lens.

The old Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX was infamous for front and back focus issues.

I was having problems with medium to far distance shots being out of focus. I found that it focused beyond infinity. I tried using the micro adjustment in the 5D Mark III, but it did not seem to be quite right.

I decided to invest in the Sigma lens dock, as it was only $79 AUD. The great thing about the docking station is that you can calibrate 4 points along the focal range, rather than making just one offset. In the 50mm 1.4 case, its 0.4m, 0.7m, 1.5m and infinity. It’s not as hard to use as people think. It just requires a bit of trial and error. The other great thing is that it will check online for the latest firmware version for a given lens. Last time I hooked up my 35mm 1.4 Art, there was an update which made the AF operation more quiet, and smooth. I found AF accuracy was also improved – neat.

 

Sigma Optimization Software

Sigma Optimization Software

 

Overall, I find the 50mm 1.4 Art reasonably accurate after tweaking settings. Still not perfect, but a big step up from the old Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX.

The minimum focus distance is 0.4m, and this is pretty close making it good for bokeh rich detail shots.

Focusing in low light is very good, I have not had any problems with the focus searching or refusing to lock.

 

Conclusion & Recommendations

This is a great 50mm lens. Perhaps one of the best offerings right now. Compared to the competition, here is a quick summary;

Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX DG HSM

  • The Art lens is head and shoulders above the older lens.
  • The Art has much better mechanical construction, non-rotating / extending design.
  • The Art has much better AF performance, more reliable focusing at large apertures.
  • The Art lens is much heavier and larger.
  • The Art lens is much more expensive, about double…. Which is a lot for a 50mm 1.4 lens.

Nikon 58mm 1.4G

  • The Nikkor has better Bokeh at all distances.
  • The Nikkor has more reliable AF, based on other reviews.
  • The Sigma Art lens is much sharper wide open
  • The Sigma Art lens is much cheaper, in fact half the price of the ridiculously overpriced 58mm Nikkor lens.

Canon 50mm 1.4 USM

  • The Canon lens is much smaller and lighter.
  • The Canon lens is much cheaper, less than half the price of the Art.
  • The Sigma Art lens is much sharper at all apertures, and has better contrast and colour.
  • The Canon lens is very soft wide open.
  • The build quality of the Art lens is much better than the Canon lens.

Canon 50mm 1.2L

  • Build quality is about equal, although the Canon lens does extend when focusing.
  • The Canon lens is 1.2.
  • The Canon lens has great colour and contrast, but so does the Sigma Art lens.
  • The USM focusing system is more reliable than the Sigma Art lens.
  • The Sigma Art lens is sharper wide open.
  • The Canon lens suffers from field curvature, when stopping down, and has softer corners.

 

Again, it appears that the Global Vision strategy has worked wonders. I’ve used several older Sigma lenses, and the new Art lenses are head and shoulders above these. Indeed I think the sigma 50mm 1.4 Art is as good as many Canon L lenses I’ve used.

The autofocus system is very good, and reliable for most of the time, but as mentioned, it can miss at times, this is probably the biggest let down with this lens.

The optics however are what truly make this lens special. The optics give you the ability to get nice sharp pictures wide open, and almost any light.

Good alternatives to this lens would be the more expensive Canon 50mm 1.2L, the cheaper Canon / Nikon 50mm f1.4 and for those with money to burn the Nikkor 58mm 1.4 and Carl Zeiss 55mm 1.4 Otus (Manual focus).

 

Samples

 

 

 

 

 

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