[This review is reposted from our friend Marc Lebryk's blog with permission. View it in its original location here: http://www.lebryk.com/picking-a-winner/]

It’s no secret how I’ve always felt about third party lenses. They were just never the same to me as the “real” thing, such as a name brand Canon L series lens or a Nikon Gold band Nikkor lens.  Third party lenses have always been softer at wide apertures, have had trouble with corner sharpness, and even with autofocus speed.  I have actually owned a few Sigma lenses over the last few years and honestly to me they were nothing but placeholder lenses to make way for when I could afford the more expensive Nikon or Canon counterparts.  The Sigma lenses that I’ve owned have always been slow, cheaply built, and not the sharpest knife in the murders tool kit.  It’s also probably not a big secret that I love my Fast Primes.  I’d never have considered getting a Sigma as a fast prime because I just didn’t feel as though their lenses were as good as Nikon or Canon’s.  A few days ago I got an email from good friend Matt Dial, about Sigma’s new 35mm F1.4DG HSM.  That being said when I saw that Sigma was changing the way they did things, I wasn’t sure what to think.  When Jody at Roberts called and said that he had the NEW Sigma 35mm F1.4 HSM DG lens for me to do a review and video about, and I would have it for 24 hours I was excited (easily excitable remember?); yet at the same time wasn’t expecting the world.  Also, before I forget; I wasn’t paid for this review, and I am most certainly not one of the very solid Pro’s that are sponsored in the Sigma Lounge which should be evident since I admittedly don’t like Sigma lenses because they have just never worked how I want.  That however I think may all be about to change…..

(Canon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Sigma 35mm F1.4, 1/200th@F1.4.  Photogenic light shot through a 36?x36? softbox set to minimum power pointed mostly towards the background to help diffuse the light enough to use such a wide aperture)

HOLY SHIT.  The first thing I said when I was handed the new Sigma 35mm F1.4 HSM lens in fact.  I couldn’t believe holding it in my hand that it was a Sigma lens and actually had to ask to make sure I wasn’t being punked or something.  The build quality was leaps and bounds better than any sigma lens I had held to date.  I had to check the print on the side to make sure it was actually a Sigma.  Sure enough, the side read 35mm F1.4DG 67  SIGMA.  It looks almost like a Carl Zeiss lens in appearance with the black metal finish and the ribbed Focus ring. There is a relatively large AF/MF switch on the side that has a very satisfying click to let you know that you’ve flipped it.  The what is now ubiquitous transparent window showing focus distance and the silver A on the side signifying “Art”.  Not sure how I feel about Sigma’s new lens classifications, “Art”, “Contemporary” and “Sports” but in terms of build quality and what they have done to make their line better they can honestly call it whatever they want. If you want the quick synopsis video review of the lens watch it below, otherwise keep reading for sample photos and a much more in depth review.

(Video shot with a Rode Videomic Pro attached to a New Sony ActionCam Wifi.  Yes, I know you can see the tip of the Rode Mic on the right side, but I wasn’t exactly given a lot of time to make all this happen.)

Some of my biggest gripes with the Sigma lenses that I have owned and used are Sharpness and AF speed.  About 10 years ago I used to own 24-70mm F2.8 and at F2.8 I probably could have put Vaseline on the front element of the lens to make it sharper.  It just wasn’t everything or anything that I wanted.  Gone are those days.  This 35mm F1.4 is easily as sharp as my Nikon 24mm F1.4 lens.  Without question.  The Autofocus speed easily matched it as well.  The HSM was silent, much faster than I expected, and accurate.  I had no trouble trusting that even my 5D Mark II had acquired focus in reasonably low light.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 200ISO, Sigma 35mm F1.4.  1/80th@F1.4)

Only having the lens for 24 hours kind of last minute really put a damper on giving it any real run for its money.  Any assignments I had at the paper that would have been good for it are next week, so when I wasn’t on assignment I proceeded to run around the Indystar building taking photos of people that I know. Honestly it was a heck of a test as the previous Sigma’s I have owned would have failed at this.  This one seemed unchallenged, and I really felt as though while I enjoy having good photos of some of the good people I know; it wasn’t what this lens deserved. When I got everything into the computer I wasn’t disappointed.  Not once.  Every time I saw a shot I wanted, I turned, autofocused and pressed the shutter thinking; this is the one that will show me what I know my old Sigma’s used to be like.  Nope.  Razor Sharp.  Don’t believe me?  How about a full res file to see for yourself?  Shrub outside the Chase bank building here in Indy shot at F1.4.  Before anyone asks, YES; they are all that sharp.

(click to get the actual 100%)

This lens was nothing like I expected.  One of the really cool features of this lens though is one I was unable to try.  Not due to lack of time, but due to lack of necessary accessories.  Sigma is releasing a docking mount with this lens that will allow the user to connect the lens via USB to update the firmware as well as to actually adjust the autofocus parameters yourself to best suit your needs.  The Autofocus parameters inside this device and software also include adjusting the SPEED along with the accuracy.  So if you are shooting with a Canon Rebel XTi or a Nikon D3100 you aren’t going to get the maximum speed possible, you can slow it down a little bit to focus more on accuracy. (See what I did there? Focus? What?) Most cameras now a days allow the photographer to micro adjust the camera to adapt to the lenses slightly different sets of characteristics.  Sigma has taken this one step further and introduced the USB Accessory to go straight to the element that’s doing the actual lifting if you will of the Autofocus operation.  The camera meters and tells the lens to move, but HSM is built into the lens.  Being able to tweak the AF directly is like opening the hood and working on the engine of your car, as opposed to just turning your radio up from the front seat to hide whatever engine noise you hear.  Brilliant.  (At least in theory as like I said; I haven’t tried it).

(Canon 5D Mark II, 200ISO, Sigma 35F1.4. 1/30th@F1.4.)

Close focus distance was very acceptable too, especially with the light falloff.  One of the things I love about the F1.4 glass is the ability to use what seems like a low ISO just about anywhere.  The shot above was under some dingy florescent lights in the Indystar building with the Canon tech reps before Sports Illustrated Photographer and Explorer of Light Damien Strohmeyer gave a presentation on shooting sports to the Star’s Staff Photographers and the NPPA.  Great speech btw, don’t have many photos of it though thanks to being distracted by the epic photography he had to show us. Really nice guy.  Anyway, I digress.  With my D4 and my Nikon 24mm F1.4 lens I feel unstoppable and I feel like I can shoot anything handheld in almost any light if the need arose.  I would have never expected a third party lens to give me the same feeling; but this one did.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 3200ISO, Sigma 35mm F1.4. 1/40th@F1.4).

 Anybody who has read the blog knows Shannon.  She passed a big test last night and after the Damien Strohmeyer presentation I went and found her where she was out celebrating.  When we were getting ready to go home I stopped her to take this picture.  In the past I wouldn’t have expected the Sigma lens to be able to grab focus in this kind of low light.  Honestly I wouldn’t have expected my 5D Mark II to have done it either, but regardless the only images I had that were out of focus were of Shannon moving.  After a few beers she was moving around like a model striking poses, looking around at things and I finally had to tell her to stop for a second.  This was the last picture I made with the Sigma 35mm F1.4 and I miss it already.

Years ago if you would have told me you were going to hand me a SIGMA lens that I would love I’d have told you to take your medication.  Truth is though the sky is falling.  SIGMA is no longer competing with Tamron or Tokina.  They are competing with Nikon and Canon themselves with this lens.  This lens truly does draw a line in the sand for Canon and Nikon as now SIGMA has positioned itself to provide very high quality lenses to the masses in as  such that they are much more affordable to everyone.  I don’t own a lens that is not Canon or Nikon at the time of this writing, but I have a feeling that after this experience that is going to change very soon.  I can’t wait to see what their 120-300F2.8 lens is like next year, or what the next in their series of Art lenses is.

Really I guess my best feelings were put in the beginning of the second paragraph with the words HOLY SHIT.  I can’t believe how much I love this lens.  They are hard to find, but if you’re looking for one check where I get all my gear; and with who found me this copy to play with; Roberts Camera. At the time of this writing I know they have at least 1 Canon mount, with two Nikon mounts on the way next week; but with the price and quality I wouldn’t expect them to last long if they aren’t gone already….   More Soon.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 50ISO, Sigma 35mm F1.4.  1/250th@F1.4)