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Extended First Impressions: Sigma 35mm f1.4 (Canon EF Mount)

by Chris Gampat on 12/06/2012

You know what sucks about photography these days? No one wants to take a chance these days. Back in the film days, everyone took a chance; and that philosophy translated well into other traits of their personality. For years, first party glass was the first choice for professionals and high end enthusiasts. But these days, I personally feel that the third parties have been fighting back very hard: especially Sigma, Zeiss, Rokinon, and Tamron. We had our first impressions of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 at Photo Plus; and we loved it. Then, I announced that I’m taking a risk, selling all my Canon glass and going all Sigma because of how excellent their optics have become. When my lenses came, I did a quick informal test comparison, and my Sigma shone in my eyes.

I’ve recently had some extra playtime with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 though, and here are some extra first impressions and image samples.

 

Gear Used

For the test in this post, I used the Sigma 35mm f1.4 with the Canon 5D Mk II.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo Video listing

Performance
Focal Length 35 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
DSLR (APS-C Sensor)
Angle of View 63.4°
Minimum Focus Distance 11.81″ (30.00 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:5.2
Groups/Elements 11/13
Diaphragm Blades 9
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.03 x 3.70″ (7.70 x 9.40 cm)
Weight 23.46 oz (665 g)

Ergonomics

Something that must be said about the Sigma 35mm f1.4 is the fact that it feels leaps and bounds better than previous Sigma glass. The new branding for the, “Art series” lineup of lenses shows its colors quite a bit as this lens really seems like a piece of art in and of itself.

Besides the sexy black exterior, the lens is characterized by a couple of main parts:

- The curiously tall and skinny lens hood

- The massive manual focusing ring that feels absolutely wonderful in the hand

- The distance scale

- The MF/AF switch

The lens itself is actually rather large: it is larger than the 50mm f1.4 from Sigma though with a much smaller front element.

Due to the front element not being so large, you have less to worry about if you haphazardly store the lens away; though we would never encourage anyone to do that. However, problems do occur; and assistants can screw up.

The MF/AF switch is thoughtfully and very ergonomically placed on the exact left side of the lens; and if one ever needs to reach for it they can take pleasure in knowing that the muscle memory will come like second nature.

Build Quality

Everything about this lens feels super solid. I’ve had other staffers hold it and proclaim that it feels like an entirely metal lens. When putting a Zeiss lens right next to it though, it is clear that this lens’s exterior is not made of metal. However, if you squeeze the lens, it feels even more solid than previous optics made by Sigma.

Trust me, it’s something to get excited about.

Autofocus

The Sigma 35mm f1.4 performs overall quite well with the 5D Mk II. I didn’t need to microadjust the lens through Canon’s menus so far, but I may have to. The reason for this is because sometimes it can misfocus by just a but and the images I expect to be sharper sometimes aren’t. To be clear this, this happens more with the outer focusing points vs the center. The 5D Mk II’s strongest focusing point is the center; and during my review of the 5D Mk III I also found the center area to still be the strongest.

I really do need to do more tests, but during my initial comparison post, the lens seemed to misfocus a bit indeed. However, I still think that it may have more to deal with the 5D Mk II than anything. Perhaps, I will take my own advice when it comes to tuning AF.

Ease of Use

This lens is very straightforward: you just need to autofocus and shoot. That’s it. However, when it came to street photography performance, my preferred method is to focus out using the distance scale and depth of field scale of a lens. The one on the 35mm f1.4 is pathetic at best. I really wish Sigma had put more effort into that part as it would have made this lens a real king for street photography.

Image Quality

In my initial tests, I found a bit of color fringing; but it was nothing that was so bad that Lightroom 4 couldn’t take care of it. Once again, this is an issue that really shouldn’t be worried about in today’s day and age with such excellent software technology. However, the lens doesn’t have a profile yet in Lightroom, so I cannot really gauge how terrible the distortion or vignetting can be when affecting real life situations.

When it comes to color rendering, this lens actually does an excellent job; far better than anything Canon could put out so far. I do not feel that it can match Zeiss or Rokinon, but it surely is up there.

In my use so far, I’ve found the lens to be more than sharp enough for my needs and loved almost every image it delivered from my 5D Mk II. For the money, this lens doesn’t seem like it can be beat. There are offerings from Zeiss, Rokinon, and Canon that are all really quite exceptional. However, most people want a lens that autofocuses and this lens gives the most bang for the buck. Once you step into Rokinon and Zeiss’s crosshairs though, you’ll quickly start to see just how sharp an optic can really be when the engineers only need to focus on the optics and not autofocus motors.

Something that can be said about this lens is that it tends to nullify Canon’s ability to want to render images warmer due to the white balance algorithms. Even though Canon will still usually win and many images will come out warmer, they will still look cooler than when Canon glass is attached to the camera.

For what I’ve seen so far, the bokeh is extremely pleasing and beats Canon’s by leaps and bounds as well. At many times I’ll jokingly say to my staff that I’m admiring the, “Borkehliciiousness” of the lens; in which I’ll then get a chuckle because of the fact that I’m acting like a fanboy with no idea of what they’re doing. In reality though, the bokeh on this lens is really quite tasty looking. However, I need more time to assess exactly what may be going wrong with the lens if anything at all. My gut tells me it is the 5D Mk II’s performance issues or that I may need to clean my contacts.

Here are a couple more images from my first shooting session with the lens. The area is the South Street Seaport and lower Manhattan area that was recently affect by Hurricane Sandy:

First Impressions

So far, I’m still quite head over heels for the lens. The wide open and stopped down performance is really quite good and it’s made me reach for my 5D Mk II much more than I used to. In many ways, its breathed new life into the camera.

The build quality so far is stellar and is the way it feels in my hands. And for the price, I really can’t see anyone going wrong with this lens.

More to come in our full review, and hopefully my opinions won’t change.

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