Tuesday, May 27, 2014

REVIEW: SIGMA 50mm f/1.4 Art Series–Is it really as great as everyone says it is? (Part I of II)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series

Last December I was floored so much by the SIGMA 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series lens that I declared it “The best SIGMA I’ve ever tested”. When I first put the new 50mm Art Series in my hands this past January at CES, I knew that this wasn’t just another SIGMA – this was a lens that was going to get some attention.

With an outstanding build quality that makes you think Zeiss instead of SIGMA, people immediately started to try to compare this lens to the instant legendary Zeiss Otus 55m f/1.4 – the sharpest lens I’ve ever tested. However, would this $949 lens not only blow away its Canon and Nikon equivalents, but would it also give the $3990 Otus a run for its money?

SIGMA was generous enough to let me borrow this lens for two weeks so I could give it some real world testing and see what I think. While I wish I had more time with it, I think I’ve got a handle on what you get with this lens, so read on to see what I think.

Getting Started

SIGMA Optimization Pro 1.2

Right after I got the lens, I do what any geek would do – I ripped open the box and started shooting with it! Immediately I noticed that something was off because my playback AF point was showing I hit my desired target yet my focus was way off in the captured image.

Fortunately I had the SIGMA USB dock (pictured below) that I could attach to the lens and start calibrating it using my Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid. After about an hour of futzing around at different distances, I finally settled with +7 across the board.

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

The cool thing about the SIGMA dock is that you can actually choose to do corrections at four different distances as indicated on the lens, which I experimented with, but ultimately I took a conservative approach and kept all of the values the same.

After my +7 adjustment I ended up with this which was as close to perfect as I could get without the lens giving me decimal point level precision adjustments.

Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid
Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid
SIGMA 50mm After +7 Adjustment

While I’ve never had a lens that needed this extreme of an adjustment before, this was a one time fix that seemed to have things sorted out for the rest of my review. As a result I deleted my original images and moved on with this newly calibrated setting. Of course, this is only applicable to those who autofocus, and your lens/camera combo may not require this or any other adjustment.

Real World Test Shots

During my limited testing, I ended up with over sample shots taken with a Canon 1D X. The full gallery is located here, and all are in-camera JPEG’s with zero post-processing. You may download and pixel peep the images, but please delete them when you are done. You may not print, edit, or redistribute the images in any way as they are copyright ® Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

All shots were handheld unless otherwise noted. Any handheld shots < 1/50 sec at the amazing Chihuly Garden and Glass were done using this technique to respect the no tripods rule at this amazing exhibit.

Click the images below to view the original in-camera JPEG’s for your personal viewing usage:

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4 @ 50 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800, No Flash

Make no mistake, this is no sports lens but the autofocus isn’t glacially slow like most 50mm primes. While it couldn’t get the same keep rate as a 70-200mm, it did make for nice images with its keeper frames.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/800, ISO 100, No Flash

Whenever I get my hands on any lens that goes below f/2.8, I start getting obsessed with the wide open aperture and this was no different. f/1.4 exhibits a little vignetting that goes away at f/1.8, but it’s still plenty sharp and has creamy bokeh.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/200, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Some say 50mm is the portrait lens, but I much prefer a more flattering 200mm like this. However, this did prove to be a super sharp lens that picked up every little detail on this models face (also featured on my Nikon D4s Review).

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 50 mm, 1/100, ISO 250, No Flash

Yeah, this lens has plenty of sharpness and delicious bokeh so it was a lot of fun to shoot with.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 50 mm, 1/160, ISO 200, No Flash

Is there such a thing as too much sharpness? My wife thought so but that’s what skin softening products like Portraiture are for right?

Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 50 mm, 1/125, ISO 200, No Flash

Even though I was using a camera with a optical low pass filter, I had no qualms with stopping this lens down to f/16 to get the depth of field I wanted for a shot. It’s plenty sharp so it can handle it.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/200, ISO 200, No Flash

Can you spot the bee? You should be able to as this lens is razor sharp and so is anything in focus!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4 @ 50 mm, 1/1000, ISO 200, No Flash

Canon EOS-1D X, f/8 @ 50 mm, 1/400, ISO 200, No Flash

This lens will have you seeking out textures to see how awesome it is at faithfully capturing all the detail of your subject.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 50 mm, 1/60, ISO 200, No Flash

I often found myself sacrificing the better shot for the shots that showed off more detail because this is one super sharp lens!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/800, ISO 200, No Flash

Yes, this lens made me obsessed with textures and found myself taking pictures of way too many!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4 @ 50 mm, 1/2000, ISO 400, No Flash

When I first glanced at my camera and saw this shot is when I started to wish I didn’t have to return this lens. I was very happy with the results I got during my testing. This is definitely an awesome lens!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/500, ISO 200, No Flash

I constantly found myself thinking – wow, there’s detail in this shot that my naked eye wasn’t picking up which made me start to think it was time to go see the optometrist again – ha, ha!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 50 mm, 1/4000, ISO 200, No Flash

Bokeh this smooth

Canon EOS-1D X, f/2.8 @ 50 mm, 1/1000, ISO 2000, No Flash

Even at ISO 2000, there’s so much sharpness from this lens that little bugs and veins on this leaf are super crisp

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/200, ISO 640, No Flash

This was another shot that just made me say wow and appreciate what a great lens this is. I definitely have no hesitation recommending this lens to someone who wants a super sharp 50mm.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 1/640, ISO 200, No Flash

This level of sharpness with its wonderful bokeh make it super easy to convey what your subject was in your image – even before you do your post-processing. This is what you want from a great lens!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 50 mm, 1/160, ISO 200, No Flash, (on my back on the floor)

What you usually get with a great lens is great contrast, and I was definitely pleased with my out of camera results with this lens

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 50 mm, 1/50, ISO 200, No Flash

Again, 50mm is a tough focal length for me but I frequently found myself

Canon EOS-1D X, f/9 @ 50 mm, 1/80, ISO 200, No Flash

I found myself having a love affair with f/9 for its balance of sharpness and depth of field. I never felt compelled to use a different aperture for more sharpness. I shot what I wanted for the shot and knew it would always be razor sharp. There’s no lens in my bag right now that gives me this level of confidence!

Canon EOS-1D X, f/11 @ 50 mm, 1/200, ISO 200, No Flash

Over and over again I was very pleased with the color as much as I was the sharpness that I got from this lens

Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 50 mm, 1/100, ISO 200, No Flash

50mm sucks when you really need a wide angle, but again I was very happy with what f/16 pulled off here in terms of sharpness on the Space Needle

Canon EOS-1D X, f/11 @ 50 mm, 1/200, ISO 200, No Flash

f/11 provided super crisp detail on the leaves here yet provided just enough bokeh on the Space Needle to make it clear that the leaves were the subject – exactly what you want from a good lens

Nikon D810 SIGMA 50 mm Art Series @ f/16, 1/200, ISO 100

Nikon D810 with SIGMA 50mm Art Series @ f/16, 1/200, ISO 100

Nikon D810 with SIGMA @ f/1.8, 1/2000, ISO 100
No Flash, Cloudy White Balance, Silver Reflector

By now you probably realized that, yes I really did love this lens. It offers excellent color and contrast on top of sharpness that is practical in the real world from f/1.4 to f/16. I stopped thinking about sharpness and just thought about the aperture that I wanted for a shot because I knew I’d have a sharp shot with great color and contrast no matter what aperture I chose.

Visit http://photos.ronmartblog.com/lens/sigma/50mmart for a full gallery of images I took during my review.

Bookshelf Test

As is the tradition on this blog, I did a series of shots on my tripod with mirror lockup using the 2 second timer to see what f/1.4 – f/16 would like against a static subject.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1.3s, ISO 100, No Flash

f/1.4 has super shallow depth of field, but it is razor sharp in the center

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 50 mm, 20s, ISO 100, No Flash

f/5.6 is where things get crazy sharp from edge to edge

100% Crop at f/5.6
100% Crop at f/5.6 shows that this lens is very sharp, but some softness still shows up on the The Hobbit. See my next installment to see how this compares to other lenses on the market.

Canon EOS-1D X, f/16 @ 50 mm, 25s, ISO 640, No Flash

f/16 exceeded 30 seconds at ISO 100, so I took the easy way out and boosted the ISO to 640 to avoid a bulb mode exposure. With that said, the sharpness is excellent with the added benefit of great depth of field (look at the front of the shelf) so I had no hesitations using f/16 whenever I wanted maximum depth of field.

Compared to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G & Zeiss 55mm Otus 

CLICK HERE to see my next installment for my comparison.


I provide the rest of my conclusion in part II, but if you are wondering if this is a lens that’s worth ordering I’ll be brief – YES. This lens really is worth the hype because it’s an excellent lens at a price that’s much cheaper than the Canon f/1.2L or Zeiss Otus 55mm, yet it offers performance that would make you wonder why should you pay more?

Yes, it’s isn’t cheap and personally I feel 50mm isn’t a very exciting focal length so I don’t think people should be rushing out to get it just because it’s sharp. For some the outstanding Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series Lens will make more sense, and for others longer focal length Art series that are inevitable might be worth the wait. However, if you find yourself spending a lot of time at 50mm then yes, this is the lens should be on your short list of lenses to consider.

Come back for the final part of my review where I show how it compares to Canon, Nikon, Zeiss and a few others just for fun. 

Learn more about this lens available for SIGMA, Canon, Nikon and Sony/Minolta mounts at http://www.sigmaphoto.com/product/50mm-f14-dg-hsm-a.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order the the B&H web site. My friends at Amazon have it available here, and Adorama has it available here.

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1 comment:

Derrick & Merle said...

Hello there, just a short note, Lightroom does no favours to a Fuji x sensor. Many much better raw converters available. Thanks for the interesting review though!