Review: Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM Art (Canon EF)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 20mm f1.4 Review product images (6 of 7)ISO 4001-160 sec

For the past couple of months, I’ve been incredibly busy testing gear from many different manufacturers. But as many of you know who have been readers of this blog for a while, I switched all my DSLR lenses over to Sigma a couple of years back. Why? To be honest, they’re fantastic–especially with their primes. So when the Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM Art came in for review, it seemed to be like coming home in many ways.

The Sigma 20mm f1.4 is the widest angle f1.4 lens that also offers autofocus available on the market. It’s beautiful, big, and has lots of signature things about it that make it a Sigma lens worthy of being in the bag of many photographers.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Incredibly, ridiculously sharp
  • Sigma’s fastest autofocusing lens, and arguably the fastest autofocus of any DSLR lens that I’ve tested.
  • Super saturated colors
  • Extremely sharp wide open
  • Not bad bokeh for a lens this wide

Cons

  • At this point, Sigma should really be incorporating weather sealing into their lenses
  • Some bloke in the DPReview forums is bound to complain about the negligible color fringing that this lens sometimes exhibits.

Gear Used

The Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM was tested with the Canon 6D.

Tech Specs

Tech specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the lens for $899.

Performance
Focal Length 20mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Canon (APS-C)
Angle of View 94.5°
Minimum Focus Distance 10.9″ (27.69 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:7.1
Elements/Groups 15/11
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread None
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.57 x 5.11″ (90.7 x 129.8 mm)
Weight 2.09 lb (950 g)
Packaging Info
Package Weight 2.85 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 7.0 x 4.9 x 4.9″

Ergonomics

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The Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM Art is one heck of a big lens. To start, you’ll find this massive front element with the lens hood permanently attached. It needs it because of the bulbous front. The lens cap for this lens goes over said hood.

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The exterior of this lens is characterized by a metal finish that is smooth and pleasing to the touch. You’ll also find the massive focusing ring with rubber grooves to give the lens better gripping abilities in your hand.

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The top of the lens also sports the focusing range scale. As with most autofocus lenses, there is no depth of field scale, and I’d honestly argue that this lens doesn’t really need one.

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Turn to the side and you’ll find the only other control: the AF/MF focusing switch. Here is where you’ll see something else that’s pretty cool–notice the texture on the underside? That gives this lens overall better grip in your hand.

Build Quality

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While there is no weather sealing or weather resistance to speak of, the Sigma 20mm f1.4 is built incredibly solid. In the hand, it feels like, well, a metal brick but nowhere as heavy. You could probably use it to bludgeon a robber with it; then you’ll their his or her picture. I’m kidding; you’ll be too busy running instead.

As stated earlier on, what’s really different is the new texture added to the bottom–which in turn just feels really nice and gives the user more gripping area.

Autofocus

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I own the 35mm f1.4 Art, and I’ve used every other Art lens out there–nothing focuses this quick. Part of that has to do with the fact that this lens is a 20mm wide angle but when I say that it made the Canon 6D focus as fast as a Sony A7s Mk II with a 28mm f2 lens, then I’m being super serious.

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To be perfectly clear here, I’m talking about using both a specific autofocus point and letting the camera focus and find its own point. In both situations even when shooting wide open at f1.4 I had zero misfocus issues. Absolutely zero–which is a new record here on the Phoblographer when shooting in real life situations and with both good lighting and dim lighting.

If you have any doubt about this lens, this feature alone is worth purchasing it for.

Ease of Use

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Using this lens is generally as simple as attaching it to the camera, focusing, shooting and enjoying the experience and images. It’s really that simple. For the first time ever for a wide angle lens, I actually want to declare that I didn’t at all need a depth of field focusing scale. Why? It focuses that quick and that accurately–especially on the streets.

I may be singing the praises of this until the end of the review.

Image Quality

EXIF DATA FOR ALL IMAGES IS IN TACT

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Finally, we get to what most of you care about. The reason why in the start of this review I stated that using this lens is like coming back home is because the image quality is exactly what I’m used to. Super saturated colors, sharpness, incredible bokeh, and very little to complain about. But to be honest, I feel that the new Sigma 20mm f1.4 Art lens is the sharpest of the bunch.

To boot, there isn’t much distortion and any vignetting in the images just adds to the quality.

Sharpness

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I was absolutely incredibly surprised at how sharp this lens is wide open. In fact, it performs like many other comparable lenses at f4 when it’s wide open in terms of sharpness. Stopping the lens down improves it but not by anywhere as exponential as what happens with other lenses. Still, Sigma should be praised with how sharp this is.

Something that I really like: it’s so sharp even at f2.8 that I don’t need to stop down to f5.6 when shooting architecture.

Bokeh

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Though it’s sometimes tough to get bokeh with this lens, expect it to come when you’re very close to your subject. In case that you do render bokeh, know that it’s very, very creamy due to the 9 aperture blade design. You’ll be happy with this and in some cases it may even make you just shoot with the lens wide open.

Color Rendition

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Sigma’s color rendition since the Global Vision program started has always been top notch. This lens is no exception. For architecture, street and other stuff including landscapes, you’ll sit there and look at your results in complete disbelief that a lens is capable of delivering results so incredible.

Zeiss comes close; but it’s not Sigma.

Color Fringing

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Though the lens puts up a good fight against the color fringing monster, it’s still there–but only in areas where it’s very tough for many lenses made today to get rid of it. In the image used for the bokeh section of this review, you can see it on the branches in the left side and you can see a bit of it in the image above in some of the edges.

Still: as I will always say, it’s very simple to remove purple fringing from any image using Adobe Lightroom.

Extra Image Samples

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Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 20mm f1.4 Review sample photos (4 of 51)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.8

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Conclusions

Likes

  • Incredible feeling in the hand
  • Fast focusing, incredibly fast focus
  • Beautifully saturated colors
  • Low distortion
  • Bokeh…that is all.

Dislikes

  • Would’ve liked weather sealing or weather resistance.

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

If you’ve read the entire review before hitting the conclusions and didn’t expect an Editor’s Choice award, you need to lay off the alcohol for a while.

The Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens is sharp, contrasty, saturated, and overall delivers incredible image quality that you really can’t sit there and complain about. It’s a beautiful lens that will find its home amongst architecture photographers, street photographers, and landscape photographers. As I’m writing this review, I keep thinking about how sad I am to send it back to Sigma since the review is over. But it’s positively incredible and there is very little to hate here. Any of its flaws I wouldn’t even say I hate, I just wish that it were better in some regards. My biggest regret? I didn’t shoot this lens with a film camera.

For what this is though, Sigma is already giving you quite a bit of incredible performance and quality.

The Sigma 20mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens receives The Phoblographer’s Editor’s Choice award and five out of five stars. This flippin’ fantastic lens can be bought over at Amazon (now with international support in Canada and Europe via the links!)

Recommended Cameras

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Canon 5Ds: This camera will resolve the most from this lens in terms of sharpness.

Nikon D810: For Nikon, you’re not going to get anything better than this.

Canon 6D: Why the 6D? When using this lens, I really recommend that photographers embrace the shoot and share mentality. Shoot something beautiful, use the Canon App to upload it to your phone, edit the image, and put it out there for the world to see the great moment you captured.