Wednesday, December 4, 2013

REVIEW: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series Lens–The Best Sigma I’ve Ever Tested

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series Lens
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series Lens

I never would have bothered to review this lens had I not seen a Facebook post from one of the best Fashion photographers / print masters ever, Douglas Dubler. He mentioned in a casual personal posting that this was a very sharp lens that impressed him. I almost dropped dead on the spot because Douglas is the kind of guy who does NOT settle for second best, so to me this was like a Formula 1 race car driver hopping out of their car and bragging about the performance of their Buick! I was like – what the heck???!!!! However, I know Douglas well and he’s a tough New Yorker who tells it exactly like it is. If he says something is good, it’s fantastic and no amount of money in the world is going to make him say that if it isn’t true.

With this in mind my mind as I arrived out to see Douglas in New York for the PhotoPlus Expo, I asked him to take me by the Sigma booth to show me this lens he was so excited about. While I was there they were kind enough to offer me a test drive of this lens to prove that Douglas hadn’t sold out because this really was a great lens.

After using this lens occasionally around my house, I quickly got excited about its potential. I decided to buy some flowers and bring a few models over to the studio to see what it could do. Read on to see if it lived up to the hype, or if I’d be disappointed yet again.

Sample Images

Copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Taken using a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A Lens
for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, & Sigma DSLR's
Image Copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Model: Adriana Cristina

The shot above was post-processed for impact, but you can click it to see the full unedited in-camera original.

Excluding the shot above, all of the images below and in the gallery are all in-camera JPEG’s take using a Canon 1D X. Zero post-processing has been done on these photos beyond what Canon does for its internal in-camera RAW processing, so what you see below is what you can expect to get with this camera and lens combo. 6D users should get nearly identical results under identical conditions, and 5D Mark III users can expect results that are almost as good.

I did not test this lens with any other cameras, so I can’t comment on their quality – however I’d expect similarly excellent results with other camera bodies as well. The only variants would be the performance of the sensor and in-camera processing results.

35mm is also a terrible focal length for portraits (I prefer 200mm), but photos of people really help you see the strength of this lens. As a result, I’ve included a few mug shots below just to illustrate this point.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4 @ 35 mm, 1/60, ISO 3200, No Flash. Handheld

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 35 mm, 1/80, ISO 1250, No Flash, Handheld

Canon EOS-1D X, f/8 @ 35 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash

Mugshot #1 shows the incredible sharpness in Adriana’s hair and eyes,
despite being a horrible focal length to photograph people!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/10 @ 35 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash

Mugshot #2 shows rich color and warmth in this intentionally underexposed shot

Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 35 mm, 1/13, ISO 100, No Flash

Delicious bokeh abounds at its maximum aperture of f/1.4

Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 35 mm, 10s, ISO 100, No Flash

Stopped down to its minimum aperture of f/16 still produced great results

Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 35 mm, 1/40, ISO 320, No Flash
Beware f/1.4 has a very shallow DOF so don’t expect to live at f/1.4 all the time
Vignetting is extreme at f/1.4 compared to other apertures

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 35 mm, 1/40, ISO 2500, No Flash

Don’t ignore f/2.8 as you’ll be handsomely rewarded
with better
DOF and wonderful sharpness

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 35 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash

I got my son to jump in the studio and stay still for 2 seconds to capture the detail
of this traditional Korean outfit. Zoom into the patch and prepare to be impressed!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/8 @ 35 mm, 0.6s, ISO 100, No Flash

f/8 is great so lots of delicious detail is available for landscape shooters

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4 @ 35 mm, 1/125, ISO 5000, No Flash
 (Handheld in wind)
f/4 has a great balance of extreme center sharpness and a nice fade around the edges

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 35 mm, 1/100, ISO 12800, No Flash, Handheld, High ISO & Wind

We can’t always shoot in perfect conditions, so here’s what you get when
all the odds are against you – I can live with that!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 35 mm, 1/15, ISO 6400, No Flash, Handheld

High ISO and handheld again, but also real world challenges still perform admirably

Canon EOS-1D X, f/8 @ 35 mm, 1/160, ISO 100, No Flash

Not my best shot of Adriana, but I wanted to capture black feathers on the shadow side
and this model’s gorgeous blue eyes in the light to show that f/8 is definitely great!

Click here for a full gallery of over 65 images (and nearly 1GB) unprocessed JPEG images exactly as they came out of the camera. Some images repeat because they’ve been taken at different apertures, and some are intentionally underexposed to offer more detail in the shadows to offer more tonal range to explore. All non-studio images at ISO 100 were taken on a Leica tabletop tripod and ball head, but the rest (including the studio) were all handheld. The outdoor handheld shots were taken using the tripod against my body for additional stabilization.

Bookshelf Test

Fans of my blog are intimately familiar with my bookshelf test. If you aren’t, then just check out the camera reviews at the end of this article for links to learn more.

I was very impressed with the sharpness that this 35mm lens offers. The gallery has many more shots, but I wanted to show the maximum aperture of f/1.4 here as well as the sweet spot at f/5.6 (based on what I see for the blur test on

Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 35 mm, 2.5s, ISO 100, No Flash

Just what you want at f/1.4 – razor sharp center with nice bokeh at the edges

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 35 mm, 30s, ISO 100, No Flash

The sweet spot is definitely sweet!

Sigma USB Dock

Sigma USB Dock attaches like a lens cap for focus adjustments and other advanced feature access
Sigma USB Dock attaches like a lens cap for focus adjustments
and other advanced feature access

One advantage of buying Canon lenses is that you can use the EOS Utility to download your peripheral illumination correction and distortion control data from Canon’s web site. This gives you virtually distortion and vignette free in-camera images, but this feature only works for supported Canon lenses. The Sigma USB Dock brings the ability to fine tune the focus, update the firmware (yes, lenses have firmware), and advanced settings (like AF / OS speed for supported lenses).

It’s a really cool enhancement that cost less than $60. I’ll be reviewing one of these over the next 30+ days, so come back to my blog to learn more about it!


Crunch, crunch, crunch – what’s that sound???!!!

Yeah, it’s me eating a little humble pie because I’ve been overly harsh on Sigma in the past. Much of my previously negative opinions came from being underwhelmed by lenses I tried around 2007 & 2008. Since that time Sigma has had tremendous success and it’s clear that they’ve invested their profits into improving quality and performance.

I consider this Art Series lens to be as good as or better than any Canon L lens that I’ve tested, and that’s a HUGE statement coming from me. I never thought I’d ever say that about a Sigma lens because even its much loved Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG left me impressed with the sharpness but underwhelmed with the color, brightness and build quality. I wasn’t alone in my concerns about Sigma quality, but it is VERY clear that this ain’t your granddad’s cheap ass Sigma lens – this is really the good stuff.

I wholeheartedly HIGHLY recommend this Sigma lens. It’s truly outstanding!  At $899 (as of the time of this article) it’s a great value too, so I’ve put it on my wish list for the next time I have spare bucks to buy a 35mm prime.

My only gripe about this lens was that it’s a bit dark and vignettes heavy at f/1.4.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order at B&H web site.

Click here to learn more or order at Amazon.

Click here to learn more or order at Adorama.

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