Review: Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary (Sony E Mount)

If you’re a portrait photographer shooting with Sony Crop Sensor cameras, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 is going to give you a severe case of G.A.S.

Up until Sony announced the A6400 in January of this year, some have speculated that the Japanese Mirrorless camera manufacturer had abandoned their Crop Sensor line to focus on their ever popular Full Frame cameras. Coupled with the fact that the last time Sony released an APS-C lens was almost exactly a year before the A6400’s announcement when the company introduced the variable aperture 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens, it’s not hard to see why people were concerned for the life of Sony’s APS-C camera line. With the lineup being alive and well, at least for the immediate future, it’s good to see third-party lens manufacturers continuing their support for the system as well, such as with the case of the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens. This is sigma’s third lens designed with Sony’s Crop Sensor E Mount cameras in mind. They previously released a 16mm f1.4 and a 30mm f1.4, both under the Contemporary line and now marketed as a trio of sorts. The Sigma 56mm f1.4 has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 84mm when factoring in the 1.5x crop factor that Sony’s E Mount APS-C cameras have. For those keeping track, Sigma basically designed this lens with portrait photographers in mind, as many tend to gravitate towards the 85mm focal length. A Micro Four-Thirds version of this lens is also available for photographers shooting with M43 cameras.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent sharpness
  • Gorgeous bokeh
  • Lightweight & compact design
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • One of three widest maximum aperture (f1.4) lenses currently available for Crop Sensor Sony E Mount (besides Sigma’s own 16mm and 30mm offerings)
  • Dust and splash proof design with a rubber gasket integrated found around the lens mount
  • 35mm equivalent focal length of 84mm very nearly matches the 85mm focal length preferred by many portrait photographers
  • It’s less than $500

Cons

  • Lacks optical stabilization
  • Pincushioning is especially noticeable in RAW files, although correctable during post-production
  • While mountable to Full Frame Sony Mirrorless cameras, the lens will only work in crop sensor mode and will otherwise vignette severely. But we expected this.

 

Gear Used

We tested the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens with the Sony A6000 and the Sony A6400.

 

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary taken from Sigma’s official product page.

Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens Construction

Lens Construction 10 Elements in 6 Groups
Angle of View (DC) 28.5º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9 (Rounded)
Minimum Aperture f16
Minimum Focusing Distance 19.7 in
Filter Size (mm) 55mm
Maximum Magnifications  1 : 7.4
Dimensions (Diameter x Length) ø 66.5 mm x 59.5 mm / ø 2.6 in. x 2.3 in.
Weight  9.9 oz
Corresponding Mounts Micro Four Thirds
Sony E-mount

Ergonomics

The Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary is relatively straight forward in terms of exterior appearance. The only movable component you will find on the exterior is the sizeable Manual Focus ring, which takes up most of the real estate towards the front of the lens. The Manual Focus ring turns smoothly with minimal resistance and is covered in rubber ridges, giving you excellent purchase onto the glass.

 

Looking at the front of the 56mm f1.4, you can clearly see the lens’s 10 bladed aperture design, along with the lens’s name and filter thread (55mm) markings etched around the front element.

A bayonet style hood comes included with the Sigma 56mm f1.4, helping to minimize flare.

A small silver “C” badge can be found just behind the Manual Focus ring towards the side of the lens, designating it as part of Sigma’s Contemporary line.

 

Build Quality

The Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary is an autofocus lens designed for Sony E Mount Crop Sensor cameras. A version for Micro Four Thirds is also available. Lightweight and compact in size, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 feels firmly constructed with an exterior made from a mixture of plastics and metal. In terms of optics, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 consists of 10 lens elements arranged into 6 groups with a 9 bladed rounded aperture that open up to f1.4 at its fullest and is capable of stopping down all the way to f16. Built to be dust and splash proof, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 also comes equipped with a rubber gasket around the metal lens mount. Rubber ridging covers most of the Manual Focus ring, helping you maintain a good grip on the lens as well as making manual focusing a breeze. The included lens caps and lens hood are from the same durable plastic used in the lens housing and feel equally robust.

 

“Built to be dust and splash proof, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 also comes equipped with a rubber gasket around the metal lens mount.”

Ease of Use

As far as autofocus lenses go, using the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary is a standard affair. Simply mount the lens onto a Sony E Mount Crop Sensor camera of your choosing, dial in your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed values, and you’re good to go. If, for whatever reason, you’d prefer to take over focusing duties yourself, Sigma’s got you covered with the robust Manual Focus ring situated towards the front of the lens. Lenses don’t get easier to use than this.

 

Autofocus

Throughout our time with the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary, autofocus performance was snappy and reliable. The lens acquired focus quickly and consistently on both the brand new Sony A6400 as well as the now-five years old Sony A6000 that we tested the lens with, even during low light situations. The fact that the autofocus works flawlessly on both the older cameras and the newer cameras is a real breath of relief.

 

Image Quality

As of press time, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary produces some of the best images we’ve seen to date of any lens designed specifically for Crop Sensory Sony E Mount cameras. In-focus areas are tack sharp while out of focus areas pack plenty of bokeh. Images produced by the Sigma 56mm f1.4 are consistently sharp in the center of the frame throughout the available aperture range (f1.4 to f16), with no significant loss in sharpness detected when moving towards the perimeter of the frame.

Bokeh

Thanks to the Sigma 56mm f1.4’s 9 bladed rounded aperture design, the defocused areas of the frame are velvety smooth and help isolate your subject as a result. The transition between focused and defocused is pleasant and gradual, with light sources in the background becoming beautifully rounded bokeh balls, especially if you stop the lens down slightly.

Chromatic Aberration

While we did notice some slight color fringing and onion rings appearing within bokeh balls on occasion, it’s honestly only noticeable if you are pixel peeping and hardly detracts from the overall image. If you happen to be shooting with the Sigma 56mm f1.4 while the sun is backlighting your subject, you may find flares appearing in your picture on occasion. The results are far from distracting and give the images produced by the Sigma 56mm f1.4 some fascinating character. We also noticed some pronounced pincushioning when shooting with the Sigma 56mm f1.4, but as long as you’re shooting in RAW, this can be easily mitigated during post-processing.

To clarify these statements, we had two different copies of the Sigma 56mm f1.4 and found similar results between the two.

 

Color Rendition

The Sigma 56mm f1.4 renders colors accurately, and images produced by this lens will require little to no color correction during post-production.

 

Sharpness

Images produced by the Sigma 56mm f1.4 are some of the sharpest we’ve seen out of all the lenses designed for APS-C Sony E Mount cameras. In focus areas are razor sharp and pack a ton of details.

Additional Image Samples

Here are some other images that we shot with the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images seen within this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced by this lens for yourself.

 

Conclusion

Likes

  • Class-leading image quality for dedicated Sony E Mount APS-C lenses
  • Creamy, dreamy bokeh
  • Exceptional sharpness

Dislikes

  • Pincushion distortion

With all of the excellent G Master lenses that Sony’s been steadily releasing for their Full Frame Mirrorless cameras, it’s nice to see Sony’s Crop Sensor Mirrorless cameras finally get love as well, albeit from a third party optics manufacturer. Although the Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary commands a slight price premium over all but one of the currently available Sony E Mount APS-C prime lenses with its Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of US$479, you’re getting a lens that features a wider maximum aperture than available in any first party, Crop Sensor Mirrorless lens, with arguably superior image quality and a unique, much sought after focal length that wasn’t available in any Sony APS-C Mirrorless prime lens until now. For comparison, the Sigma 56mm f1.4 is less than half the price of the most expensive dedicated Sony Crop Sensor Mirrorless lens: the aging Sony Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8, which still retails at US$1,098 for some reason seven years after its release.

The Sigma 56mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary for Sony E Mount (APS-C) earns Five out of Five Stars and is available now for US$479.00.