You would be surprised how often I get asked what lenses are good lenses to buy for folks either beginner or Professional. It's almost a daily occurrence actually. Not that I mind, because I don't. In fact I'm in middle of a three part series called "the right l ens" that I'm doing for Robert's Camera's blog. (See the first part here, subsequent parts are on the way). It means that people seem to trust my judgment, and I'm honored and humbled by that. I'm especially honored and humbled when someone like Jody Grober calls and says he's got a new lens that everybody's talking about and he wants me to take a couple days to see if it's really all that. In this case he called and said he had the new Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art lens. Now at first you think 50mm F1.4, these have been around for forever what could be so different about this lens? What could be so new about this lens? Also, a Sigma? Yes. Yes, a Sigma. In fact anybody who reads my blog regularly knows that I was asked to do something similar with Sigma's 35mm F1.4 last year when it made all kinds of waves in the Photo world. Sigma's 35mmF1.4 blew me away back then, and in fact to this day is still a lens that I really want. So my big question was how would this 50mm change how I thought about my Nikon 50mm equivalent? Let me just begin by saying DAMN.
(Canon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art Lens. 1/5000th@F1.4)
As usual I'll now add in here that I'm not being paid by Roberts Camera or Sigma to write this review. If something is wonky about this lens, I'm going to tell you at the risk of being flamed on the internet. (It's happened) No money is changing hands for this opinion, so good or bad you can take it as far as you trust my judgment.
With that now said I'll say that this 50mm sets a new standard for 50mm F1.4 lenses in my book. This is where things get a bit sticky in my opinion though. I've never shot with the Nikon 58mm F1.4 lens, and I've never shot with the OTUS 55mm F1.4 lens that sets the bar for 50mm lenses (I'm actually not allowed to even see the OTUS due to its expense). I have shot with a Canon 50mm F1.2 and 50mm F1.4 lens, as well as obviously my own Nikon 50mm F1.4. Thing is this. Do I condone spending $4,200 on a 55mm F1.4 lens? Not a chance. Everybody dreams of owning that one lavish silly item. A Zeiss OTUS is not that item for me, and I can imagine very similar for lots of people. What about a Nikon 58mm F1.4? Nah, it's not on my shopping list. If Nikon decided to make me an Ambassador and/or loan me one for a while, I'd probably use the hell out of it, but as far as I know, that's not on the horizon so the $1700 Nikon 58mm will stay at Roberts when it comes to my Camera bag. Wait, I thought this review was about the Sigma Lens.... Why am I mentioning the OTUS and the Nikon 58mm? Because the rumors are that the Sigma 50mm F1.4HSM Art Lens is just as good if not better than those much higher priced competitors. After a few days with the Sigma: I believe them.
First off, the Sigma is much larger than I expected. I think of the 50mm as a Street photography lens, but honestly I didn't feel very inconspicuous with it. In fact, if you look at the above image you can see what I mean in regards to how big it is.... Yea, and that's without the hood. Side note, my Nikon 50mm F1.4 is kind of beat up... I kinda use the crap out of it,so what?. Anyway, I wouldn't be caught with the hood on my Nikon 50mm, but Sigma you wouldn't (and didn't) catch me dead without the hood on it for fear of that large 77mm Front element. The 77mm Filter is amazing though because most of my lenses take 77mm Filters and now that's one less extra filter size I'd have to worry about with the Sigma. In fact the only lens adapter I own for my Formatt HiTech GND filter holder is the 77mm so It meant that I could use those with the Sigma as well. I didn't have the Nikon version of this lens, but instead a Canon version on a Canon 5D Mark II. Just like Sigma's 35mm F1.4 last year, the 50mm didn't really ever hunt for focus even in low light. In the lowest of lights there were slight focus inconsistencies, but there's no telling if that was because of the 5D, the Sigma lens, or because it was darker than I should have been shooting in the first place.
(Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art lens, 1/160th@F1.4. Nikon SB-900 Zoomed to 200mm shot up into its built in bounce card, set to 1/32nd power from camera right. Speedlight triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus X from in the camera's hot shoe)
I took this photo of my love Shannon at the Light Painting workshop that I gave for Roberts Camera last weekend. The lighting isn't perfect but I was pleased with the image considering I shot it with a bare bulb Nikon SB900 triggered by a Canon Camera with a Pocket Wizard... (In fact you can even see the speedlight a bit in her glasses, but that's what I get for doing it quickly in two frames, as opposed to setting something up). The Bokeh, or out of focus portions of the image were really beautiful. The colors were right, and the edges seemed full with little vignetting. Honestly though, I don't normally keep my subjects at the edge of the frame, so if there's a little vignette or a tiny bit of edge distortion it doesn't bother me. I saw little to no Color fringing or Chromatic Aberrations though, which really impressed me. Even my Nikon 50mm F1.4G on my D4s will have those from time to time, and while minimal and easy to fix; they are still annoying. Most of the time you can only see things like that when zoomed in at 100% though, so a majority of shooters won't even worry about them anyway. Out of focus backgrounds though appeared very pleasing to the eye whether they were intentionally a large part of the image or not.
(Canon 5D Mark II, 800ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art, 1/320th@F1.4)
Most of my time with the Sigma was spent at either F1.4 or F2 because I'm a firm believer in having a lens like this for a purpose. If I wanted to shoot 50mm F8, I'd use my 24-70 at 50mm F8. You'll tell almost no difference in image quality between the twi lenses that way. Same goes for any lens I own that has a F1.4 Aperture. If I wanted to shoot at 85mm F10, I'd use my 70-200. The real reason to buy a lens with a F1.4 Aperture is to shoot at F1.4 or F2. Otherwise known as that place where other lenses can't go. With that I should mention that at those "regular" settings, this lens really shines too.
(Canon 5D Mark II, 2000ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art, 1/60th@F5.6)
Even on a Canon 5D Mark II, I never felt like the new Sigma 50mm F1.4 was going to let me down. There are plenty of occasions where I've not had faith in my Nikon 50mm F1.4, but I've gotten used to the circumstances that cause any trouble I may have and know how to avoid them. With the Sigma, I felt confident across the board. That may be the whole "it's a new toy" syndrome, or the fact that this lens is twice as expensive as my Nikon Counterpart. This may be a good time to address that in fact. Yes. My Nikon 50mm F1.4 is only $490. The Sigma is $1,000. The Sigma is easily twice as good as the Nikon 50mm F1.4 in my opinion. Super sharp, super fast, and very accurate with Sigma's version of the Silent Wave Motor where as the newest Nikon 50mm F1.4G has been tested to be a tiny bit slower than the old Nikon 50mm F1.4D. Do I feel like Canon's 50mm F1.2 is twice as good as the Sigma? Definitely not. What about The Otus? Is it worth 4 times as much? (4 TIMES AS MUCH???). Seriously? Not a chance.
(Canon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art, 1/8000th@F1.4)
What Sigma has done here is given "ordinary" folk the ability to own the cream of the crop. While as even a pro I'd love to own a Zeiss OTUS, it'll never happen and that doesn't keep me awake at night. The Sigma however? Absolutely. I'd love to own one. (Not to mention that 35F1.4 that I raved over last year). Not owning the Sigma 50mm doesn't keep me awake at night but I do know that not only would I own it but I'd use it quite a bit. It would most likely end up in the condition of my Current Nikon 50mm lens after not too long and that's fine because these things are meant to see and photograph different things, even if those things mean they get a little dinged up. You should see some of the stuff my 85F1.4 has seen. I know that I am someone who very eagerly awaits an 85mm F1.4 ART lens, especially if it is of this quality. I bought my Nikon 85F1.4D for $700 on ebay about 6 years ago, and the new Nikon 85mm F1.5G costs around $1700..... If anybody from Sigma reads this, call me, or call Jody Grober at Roberts because my money is waiting for a new 85mm F1.4HSM Art Lens.
(Canon 5D Mark II, 250ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art, 1/160th@F2)
AAAAAAND there is the ever so ubiquitous cat photo. What do you expect, there are lots of available subjects, but none are as readily available or as sleepy as the cats. As you can tell, there are very few issues in background bokeh, or on the edges in terms of vignetting. This image is obviously back lit and the lens and camera had very few difficulties with this combination. Even if you may not think of a 5D Mark II as an old camera, it is, and there were no issues here. In fact, as I recall it was a fraction of a second "Auto Levels" in photoshop to achieve that uncropped image above. Could I have done that with my Nikon 50? Taken the photo maybe, but not had as little editing to do. That's what you pay for...
(Canoon 5D Mark II, 100ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 HSM Art, 1/1600th@F1.4)
So yea, wow. Sigma has once again impressed me beyond belief by what they have produced in a prime fast aperture lens. So much so that as as I said above. Sigma. Call me. My money is ready for a 85F1.4 Art lens. I don't know what made you decide to step up like you have, but you have put Canon and Nikon on a run for their money and I like it. Sigma Nailed this. Nikon and Canon have the camera bodies and Sigma has added a helluva contender to the lineup of lenses to let the photographers shoot the way that THEY want to shoot. When students ask what to buy when the Nikon or Canon equivalent is a bit out of the price range Sigma is now my go to answer. I challenge Tamron and Tokina to prove me wrong. Everything I've touched or seen out of Sigma in the last 2 years has not only met but far surpassed my expectations from not just the Sigma name, but the Nikon or Canon name as well. If you don't own a 50mm lens (and I am a firm believer that everyone should have a 50mm prime of some kind in their bag) then the Sigma is more than just an option; This time it's the cream of the crop.
If you're looking for a Sigma 50mm F1.4 lens, get one HERE at Roberts Camera here in Indy. I buy about 95% of my gear from them. They are good people, whether you're local or not.
Otherwise as usual. More Soon.