Review – Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

sigma50artreview

Review – Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG ART
By: Justin VanLeeuwen | Twitter
Discuss the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG ART

I’ve used a few of the previous Sigma “Art” series lenses which have set a high-standard for my impressions of the brand. And it comes as no surprise that I was thoroughly impressed Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art lens for review this summer. Now, why am I posting this several months after first receiving it?

Unlike the 35mm & 24-105mm, Sigma had previously released a 50mm f/1.4 lens (which I have not used and thus can’t compare it to). At a suggested retail price of close to $1000, the new and improved Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art sets itself firmly between the cost of Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 (~$400) and Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L. Two questions arise from this positioning; how does the Sigma compare to the Canon 1.4, and is it good enough to make someone decide against the Canon 1.2 if the cost is not an issue?

Build
By now we’ve come to expect a precision build from Sigma’s ART series (more on that below). Indeed, there is very little physical difference between the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART other than the 50mm is marginally larger. It’s twice the size of Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 and almost three times as heavy, with a large 77mm filter. The weight can be attributed to both the lovely smooth, and expertly designed metal to rubber construction. The large focus ring has just the right amount of tension when turning, and the inset AF/MF switch changes with a firm “click.” Similar to L-series lenses, the larger front lens element promises better image rendition.

Like all of Sigma’s new lenses, there is a rounded “A” slapped onto the side, denoting it as part of Sigma’s Art series. I sort of find this misleadingthe art of the lens itself is clearly visible in its craftsmanship, it’s presumptuous and potentially misleading to say a lens is for “art” as much as it is to say another lens’ S is for “Sport” or C for “Contemporary”. I still find these narrow classifications arbitrary; the 24-105 was also designated as “A” though I’d have guessed it to be “Contemporary”. Oh well.

I used two copies of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and found neither focused consistently at all times. I needed to access the micro-adjustment settings in-camera (on my 5D3 it was set to +6 to move focus forward), to achieve more consistent and accurate results. As with all lenses with a shallow depth of field, it would be a good idea to take extra images to make sure you’ve achieved sharp focus. performs consistently once calibrated. Sigma lenses can now also be adjusted at home with Sigma’s USB Dock.

Sigma is also great for supplying lens hoods and a soft carrying case, while Canon gives you squat in anything but the L series. You might laugh it off, but the Canon ES-71 II lens hood is an extra $25, another cost to take into consideration.

Image
The quality of the images should be all we really consider. In the end, isn’t it the optics that matter most? It’s not a red ring, auto-focus, or how old or new a lens is; it’s just the end result that matters. Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 can compete with the very best optics on the market. I never used its predecessor and so can’t comment on the differences. The first things I noticed with the Sigma 50mm are the colour and contrast renditions. There’s a lot that goes into high quality glass and it pays off in limited flare and chromatic aberration in the resulting images, specifically where there is a transition from bright to dark. I found the Sigma bested the Canon 50 f/1.4 by a wide enough margin that it’s not even a competition anymore. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is better compared to the Canon 50mm f/1.2 in regards to both build and optical quality.

To say the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is sharp wide open would be a lie, but it’s reasonable enough that I like the look of the images I captured at 1.4. Full disclosure: I have a certain disability that seems to preclude me from being able to take any sort of focused image with a hand-held camera at these wide apertures. Perhaps it was just this “condition” that was affecting my images. I can say that even one third of a stop down to f/1.6 shows a dramatic change up to f/2.0 where, like the Canon 1.4, it yields its best results with a balance of depth of field, bokeh rendition, and sharpness.

A deciding factor for most people on a fast lens is how that bokeh looks. In my review of the Sigma 35 f/1.4, while I felt the lens itself was optically superior in almost every way to the Canon, I still preferred the look of the bokeh on the Canon. There’s no real measurement for this; it’s subjective. It’s hard to describe lenses and bokeh without making it sound like an erotic film, yet like the 35, the Sigma 50’s bokeh is smooth, creamy and round. Flare is well controlled when shooting into light sources, maintaining that crisp contrast I need for a versatile and high-quality lens. Though this is where purple fringing appears, but is also well controlled. Vignetting? Of course there’s vignetting. I like it. I even add it to post on a lot of my images. If you don’t like it, however, it’s an easy fix in all of the RAW processors available today.

Who’s it for?
I may not agree with the sentiment that everyone should own a 50mm lens. I have personally struggled regularly using this focal length over the years . Still, there are certainly individuals who will benefit greatly by having a high quality and sturdy 50mm lens in their kit.

If you photograph people or pets, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 will produce fantastic portraits at close range and is just the right focal length to get full-bodies within its focusing range (0.3m-2m) allowing for a fully blurred out background; the perfect way to separate your subjects from their surroundings creating that three dimensional “look” so many beginning photographers look for.

I imagine many wedding photographers and photojournalists will appreciate the quality/value trade-off on the Sigma over Canon’s 50mm f/1.2. With all of the image fidelity and a lower price, they’ll have a bit of extra money left over, though you won’t save on weight as the Canon f/1.2 L is still significantly lighter. I’ve seen a lot of great wedding-ring and detail images come from a 50mm lens, allowing for playful compositions and a shallow depth of field. It’s also a popular focal length for fashion photography with many creative possibilities lending themselves to the shallow depth of field.

Family photographers will find 50mm to be a great focal range for taking pictures of those around you. On a full-frame camera, 50 mm is a focal length short enough to not be too tight a frame indoors, and long-enough a focal length to produce pleasing portraits including the subjects shoulders. On a crop sensor camera you’re equivalent crop results in an 80mm equivalent, which is ideal for tight cropped portraits. You’ll also appreciate the extra light it lets in at 2.0; a full stop more than the f/2.8 you’d get from something like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II.

Conclusion
I often recommend 50mm lenses as the “second” first lens people purchase, right after they get their camera with the kit lens and wonder why they can’t take all those slightly-out-of-focus photos the “pros” take. Arguably, it’s the focal length that most closely resembles our own vision, though I still prefer 35mm for this. In many cases there is a cheap and affordable option. While the Sigma isn’t “cheap”, I do find it affordable and a better value than the Canon 50mm f/1.2L (fanboys will never agree), and well worth the extra money over the Canon 50mm f/1.4. Thus this brings me to back to the start: why did I take so long to write this review?

There are so many reviews that are rushed out the door to be the first. It’s about getting those links out there so consumers fervently can click the “buy now” button, revenue gets generated, and the world is right.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this lens after I sent it back. I didn’t have it long enough and I didn’t really push the lens against its competitors. I tried to use it on every job I had for a few busy weeks, and I used it. I actually used it. I hardly ever use my Canon 50mm f/1.4, as there’s something about the resulting photos that don’t blow me away. I keep it in my kit because it’s relatively inexpensive and not really worth selling. While my general feeling is that the Canon 50mm f/1.2L isn’t worth four times as much as the Canon 50 f/1.4, the Sigma is definitely worth the two and a half times price difference.

Sigma is now consistently producing lenses that not only compete with, but also outperform their Canon counterparts. I will be purchasing a Sigma, for what that’s worth to you, as a lens I can trust for professional shoots. It’s more than worth its weight, and I’d like to see an 85mm f/1.4 next!

Purchase Options:

Pros:

  1. Great optical quality for the price, especially compared to Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L.
  2. Beautiful build and design, and should be durable.
  3. Colour and contrast rendition is very good straight out of the camera.
  4. The price, under $1000 USD is great value.
  5. No noticeable focus shift like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L.

Cons:

  1. Your copy may need some micro/adjusting calibrating using Sigma’s USB dock
  2. Not weather sealed (though no non “sport” Sigma lenses are)
  3. Autofocus speed isn’t as quick or as accurate as a Canon L lens.