Review: Sigma 35mm F1.2 Art DG DN (All of the Bokeh, and Weight)

The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is a fantastic lens, but very heavy.

I’m not sure from where Sigma got the memo that making the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN into a mammoth was a great idea. The last time I knew, mirrorless camera lenses were supposed to be small. However, I have to admit that it seems like only Olympus, Fujifilm, and Sony have been sticking to that philosophy. The tradeoff here is a lens that delivers a look unlike anything else on the market. The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is a lens that really chooses to do things differently. It can be used with a click or de-click, has an f1.2 aperture while providing autofocus, adds weather sealing, and is meant to last. With a price tag that will accordingly leave a lasting hole in your wallet, I pondered whether the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is worth purchasing. For the duration of my review, I had a lot of second thoughts. But in this case, I don’t think that it’s Sigma’s fault.

Before I go into this review, I have to rant a little bit. The L mount alliance is a fantastic idea. Leica basically took what Olympus has with the 4/3rds coalition and made it better. But it’s still not an entirely great idea. The L Mount alliance is all about the protocols involving using the mount and the autofocus. What that means is, if you own a Panasonic S1R and you choose to get a Leica SL camera, there’s a chance that you may need to work with two flash systems. How does that make sense for the customer? I find it asinine. I consider it a slap in the face to the customer. If you want to use Leica’s cameras, then you need to buy one or two of them? For a professional or a content creator, you then need to invest in a new flash system unless you’re going all manual. When you want to go from Sigma to Panasonic, you’ll have to switch flash systems again. Really folks?

Okay, let’s get on with the review.

Sigma 35mm F1.2 Art DG DN Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Beautiful image quality
  • Gorgeous bokeh
  • I adore the aperture ring
  • Weather sealing
  • Sharp image quality
  • Gorgeous colors on the Panasonic S1R
  • While Face detection on Panasonic isn’t that great, AF tracking isn’t terrible with the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN.

Cons

  • On the L mount system, the autofocus is very lousy and doesn’t allow you to take the fullest advantage of the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN.
  • It’s cumbersome and even heavier on Panasonic’s L mount options
  • It’s a massive lens that goes against the whole point of mirrorless
  • Sometimes I wonder if Sigma is in competition to prove that they can make the biggest prime lenses.
  • A few fringing issues, but they’re rare. There should be none with a lens like this though.
  • On the untextured areas, the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is slippery to hold.

 

Gear Used

The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN was tested with the Panasonic S1R.

 

Tech Specs

Specs are taken from the Adorama listing. The lens is $1,499.

  • Newly developed high-performance lens series for full-frame mirrorless cameras
  • SIGMA’s First F1.2 maximum aperture, large-diameter prime lens
  • High operability that supports various shooting situations in both still and video
  • Substantial functions enable user confidence, even in tough environments
  • Lens Mount: Lens Mount: Leica L
  • Lens Format: Lens Format: Full-Frame
  • Fixed Mirrorless FL: Focal Length: 35mm
  • Maximum Aperture: Maximum Aperture: f/1.2
  • Special Features: Aspherical, Bokeh Effect, Dustproof/Splashproof, Weather Resistant
  • Lens Type: Wide Angle Lens
  • Lens Series: Sigma ART Series

 

Ergonomics

The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is a lens unlike many others. It’s one of the first lenses from Sigma to have an aperture ring that’s designed for still shooters. The barrel is dominated mostly by the large, rubberized focusing ring on the front.

The aperture ring has an A function in case a photographer wants to operate the lens aperture from their camera. The aperture ring itself also has some grooves.

On the side of the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN are three controls. You can control the focusing, the AF-Locking function, and the aperture click.

Oh, and it’s a monster lens! Just look at this thing!

 

Build Quality

During our review period, we didn’t get a chance to take the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN into the rain. However, the mount is sealed with a rubber gasket. In addition to that, there are seals throughout the body of the lens. If I took it out into the rain, I’d be confident in the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN’s ability to shrug it off. Coupled with the Panasonic S1R, I’m even more confident in its durability. The photographer who will really care about this is the one who shoots in the rain. But in addition to that, you never know when someone will accidentally spill a drink on you. Further, the extraordinary build quality will mean it will last longer than other lenses.

With durability usually comes a price though, and the weight perhaps adds to the already pricey lens. On Sony cameras, it is a bit heavy. On Panasonic cameras, it makes me feel as if I’m shooting with an old Canon 5D Mk II. I thought I left those days long behind. But with the Panasonic S1R, I feel it all over again with the sloth-like autofocus and the heaviness. It’s just a great reminder to photographers to invest in health insurance.

 

Ease of Use

The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is pretty straightforward to use and will remind Sony users a lot of their current 35mm f1.4. There is an aperture ring on it that can be set to the A mode for control from the camera. But otherwise, you’re bound to use this lens like many others that are on the market. Primarily you’re pointing, focusing, and shooting. Unfortunately, there is no distance scale for zone focusing on this lens. If you want to shoot candid frames with the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN attached to the Panasonic L mount system, good luck. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

 

Autofocus

Missed focus on Dan’s face

While I made that previous statement about the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN and the Panasonic L mount system, we experienced intermittent autofocus performance. In situations where we were in low light and had a backlit subject, the autofocus was pretty awful. Face detection was unacceptable, and we had to resort to manually selecting an autofocus point instead. It’s annoying, and that shouldn’t be a problem in 2019. These companies have more than enough money to invest in the engineering required to detect what a face looks like.

In backlit situations with ample light outdoors, the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN nails the focusing well. Here is where you’re not only able to appreciate the colors that the lens delivers but also the sharpness. Outdoors in the daylight and at a low ISO setting is where the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN excels on the Panasonic S1R. That’s a bit strange though: the lens is designed for low light usage.

Got the focus on the woman moving

Oddly enough, the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN and Panasonic S1R can lock onto moving subjects. At first, the tracking was a bit slow. But I adjusted it in the menu system and found it to be very reliable. It’s comparable to Fujifilm more than anything else. Sony, Canon, and Nikon are all still ahead. The photographer who will care about this is not only an event shooter but also a photojournalist. On the Sony camera system, I’ve heard of better performance. Still, I’m not quite sure that it’s as good as Sony’s own 35mm f1.8 FE. That lens is not only very lightweight but modern and fast to focus. I can’t imagine a better lens for capturing scenes. It’s also very affordable. With that said, I’m not sure the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN will take the cake on autofocus performance here. There are much better options on the market right now.

 

Image Quality

Editor’s Note: As a matter of ethics, we do no editing to our images beyond exposure and white balance adjustments. In some cases, we will convert to black and white. Our dedication to being as transparent with our readers as possible continues with this review. 

Despite a few qualms with the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN, what you’re paying for ultimately is image quality. At the moment of publishing this review, the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN doesn’t have a Capture One Profile. To that end, getting rid of some of the purple fringing issues is extra tricky. Luckily, it’s only really noticeable if you’re looking for it. And in some situations, it’s acceptable. In other cases, it’s blatant and annoying: it shouldn’t be there at all, quite honestly. However, this is one very traditional way of looking at the lens. The other way of looking at it is this: Canon’s f1.2 lenses for EF mount had fringing issues, and it never stopped photographers from creating beautiful images. It was part of a look. They just fixed it in post. Personally, I hate working in post-production unless I really have to. The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is a lens that delivers something akin to the look that you’re going for. There isn’t anything else on the market like it. So you’re going to get beautiful colors, punch, sharpness, etc.

Bokeh

One of the reasons why you’d buy the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is the bokeh. Of course, the photographer who really enjoys bokeh will go for this lens. But for most of us, there is very little practical reason to do it unless you plan on working with special lighting and delivering a unique look. Canon’s 50mm f1.2 RF provides an almost medium format look. But the Sigma doesn’t give me that vibe. Besides the bokeh, the argument for an f1.2 lens would be to use it in low light. But with ISO abilities at 12,800 being fairly decent, I’d make an argument that this is rubbish. So why go for f1.2? Honestly, it’s the bokeh. You really want that slim, sliver of the scene in focus. Again, couple this with off-camera lighting for an even more unique look.

Chromatic Aberration

Although you’re paying around $1,500 for the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN, there is purple fringing. It’s rare, though. But when it rears its head, it’s ugly. The distortion and other issues are kept down overall. To that end, the photographer who uses the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN will need to use some post-production skills to get rid of the fringing. Otherwise, just embrace it with film-like colors or by rendering the images in black and white. In fact, that’s arguably my favorite way of working with this lens.

Color Rendition

The color rendition of the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is pretty flat. I’d liken it to the look of early digital–almost. It’s not the stuff that you’d see in a Tarantino movie, but more akin to what the old Canon 5D Mk II used to do with RAW files and colors. Couple that with the versatility of modern-day camera sensors and you’ll be smitten with the images. Indeed, I am struck with the colors that are possible here. I’m typically the photographer to balance to 5200K, 5500K, or 3200K. But I’m embracing all of the color possibilities here and enjoying what I get.

Sharpness

It’s easiest to see just how sharp this lens is when you shoot in black and white. That’s what we did here. We didn’t use a flash for this review, but the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN indeed renders very sharp images wide open and stopped down. When stopped down, we don’t see much improvement beyond f4. It’s very sharp overall but not like Zeiss Milvus or Otus-sharp. This is a tool that is designed to be shot in low light and to deliver a look. I think that Sigma is succeeding.

Extra Image Samples

 

Got the focus on the woman moving

Conclusions

Likes

  • Durability
  • Image quality
  • Aperture ring
  • It can deliver a look. But it’s not the same look that I can get straight out of the box with Canon’s lens options with each shot.

Dislikes

  • Autofocus on Sigma’s own alliance system
  • Heavy
  • Price, but I can see how this can be justified

I like the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN. Sigma is truly innovating in the lens space and doing something no one else has done. The photographer who will go for the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is not only just the enthusiast but one who genuinely requires shooting in low light. It’s also a damned good portrait lens. But truth be told, I’m sitting here in my office onsidering a purchase of either this or the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE. If I go with the f1.8 version, then I have most of what the 35mm f1.2 can give me with less bokeh and in a much smaller size. The size is more balanced with Sony’s cameras, but if I went with the f1.2 version, then I have a lens that I’ll only pull out of my bag at certain times. Those times will be for portraits, wide-angle shots, product images, and work. This won’t be a lens for fun at all. Perhaps I need that. Sony’s 55mm f1.8 FE is more than good enough to serve the purpose of a lens that I’d use for anything. The Sony 35mm f1.8 FE is a lens that I can use for both fun and work. The Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is more than twice the price of the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE. We really liked the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE too!

So let’s break this down, Why would you buy the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN?

  • The bokeh: it’s lovely and in the right hands can create a look other lenses can’t.
  • It’s sharp: But this is something that can be done in post. Embrace it SOOC with the look of black and white, and you’ll get something no other lens can on the market. I’m perhaps one of the few who really hate spending time editing on a computer. I’ll do it, but if I can nail my shot in-camera, then I’ll opt for that instead.
  • Built well: While this lens is made very well, so are lots of others on the market. But arguably, this lens could have the most weather sealing.
  • The aperture ring: Video shooters and content creators will really value this and the de-click function with a button.
  • The colors: The colors are unlike anything else on the market. It’s akin to the colors I used to get from my 5D Mk II. I really miss those. Yes, I know I just waxed poetically about the black and white look, but the colors aren’t bad here either.

So Why would you not buy the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN?

  • You’re weak, and you don’t lift: it’s heavy
  • You have an excellent 35mm lens that isn’t held back at all by anything else that you do.
  • The autofocus: of the 35mm lenses on the market for the Sony E and Leica L systems, it’s probably the slowest.
  • No zone focusing: no distance scale or depth of field scale is a big bummer.
  • You have more sense and adoration of bokeh than you need.

This lens is awarded five out of five stars, but I’m hesitant to give it an Editor’s Choice award. Honestly, the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art DG DN is a nearly specialized tool. For what it specializes in, it’s terrific, but not everyone needs it. If you want one though, you can snag it at Adorama for $1,499.