Review: Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary (Almost a Leica)

Using the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is close to being the most perfect walkaround lens. 

When I got the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary in for review, I was pretty shocked at how small it is. I knew and accepted the drawbacks of the lens not being fully weather-sealed and not a faster aperture. But at the same time, I tend to look at review units as what I wanted and what is actually in front of me. After all, that’s the customer experience. To that end, the folks who should go for the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary are those that want and need something super affordable for their L mount or E mount cameras. Sony a7 III users will probably really like it. But at the same time, Sony has its own lineup of small prime lenses that are very affordable. And to be honest, I’m not sure that the person that this lens exists for even has a real camera option at the moment. Pretty much everything that’s L mount is pricey with the exception of Sigma’s FP.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Small
  • Lightweight
  • Feels like a Leica. A cheap Leica lens
  • Fast autofocus
  • Sharp image quality when stopped down
  • Fun to use!

Cons

  • I wish it was fully weather-sealed
  • For an f2.8 lens, this should be a bit smaller
  • I wish it were f2 or f1.8.
  • Softer wide open than we’d like

Gear Used

We tested the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary with the Sony a7r III and Profoto lights.

Tech Specs

Specs are taken from the Adorama listing for $549

  • Newly developed high-performance lens series for full-frame mirrorless cameras
  • Beautiful bokeh and rendering that can be enjoyed in every scene
  • High-speed and highly accurate AF enabled by the stepping motor
  • High build quality and outstanding operability
  • Filter Size: Focal Length: 55mm
  • Fixed Mirrorless FL: Focal Length: 45mm
  • Lens Mount: Lens Mount: Sony E Mount
  • Lens Format: Lens Format: Full-Frame
  • Lens Type: Standard Lens
  • Maximum Aperture: Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Special Features: Bokeh Effect, Dustproof/Splashproof, Weather Resistant

Ergonomics

When you look at the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary you probably wouldn’t think that it was a Sigma lens. When you give it a good stare, you realize that it’s a big deviation away from what Sigma has done for years now. The lens hood is metal and makes a nice loud cling in the same way that most Leica lenses do. In fact, there’s a lot that’s Leica-like about the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary. It’s almost like they were working together.

On the side you can see the focusing right and the aperture ring. Plus there is an AF/MF switch. You can also spot that little Silver “C” that lets you know that it’s a Contemporary lens.

The lens is overall made of metal–or at least it seems that way. There are no distance scales or anything like that. Instead, it’s nice and compact.

Build Quality

The Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is advertised as being resistant to the elements to a point. The only real sealing though is that the front element and the mount. That means that our typical tests involving throwing lenses into the snow and braving monsoon-like rains in NYC couldn’t be done. In fact, we had a meeting about the lens with Sigma before we dared do such things. If you’re the boring photographer that likes to stay dry, you’ll be fine with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary. But if you’re too dry and in the desert, I’d be a tad careful with this lens. It can survive a bit of rain, but make sure that you’ve got an umbrella. However, this is also being billed as a travel lens. I’m not sure that I’d bring it with me everywhere, but it proved to be well worth its build and price in gold during my months of travel.

More importantly, the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is fascinating to me. It very much looks and feels like a Leica lens if it were made in Japan. Considering that the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary also comes in L mount, this just makes sense. But at the moment, the only small L mount camera that will mate well with this lens is the Sigma Fp. I believe Panasonic will do something eventually though.

Autofocus

When using the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary with the Sony a7r III, we found the autofocusing to be snappy. Though the focus isn’t as fast as a Sony native lens, it’s very close. In fact, we wouldn’t expect most people to notice the difference. Sigma did a great job here. In low light, the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary continued to focus accurately. However, it slowed down at certain points. We had to unscrew the lens from the mount, clean the contacts, and then go shoot again. The performance slightly improved when this happened. It’s a testament that weather sealing is very important to the industry these days.

Ease of Use

To really see how simple the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is to use, I put it on a Sony a7r III, put the aperture ring to A mode, set the Sony camera to the Program Auto mode, and put it in the hands of a novice photographer. “This costs so much money but it doesn’t zoom?” is what I was met with just for a bit of a reference. The woman who used the camera and lens together was easily able to create beautiful images. Part of this is due to Sony’s autofocus algorithms and their handy joystick. But if the camera were taken off of those settings, she probably would have pondered a bit about what was happening. Still though, it proved to me that in ideal conditions, anyone can use the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary.

On the other hand, there are tons of photographers who don’t like aperture rings–Paul is one of them. I adore aperture rings. What I don’t like is an aperture ring with no zone focusing scale for normal and wide focal lengths. That’s what I feel Sigma is missing with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary.

Image Quality

Overall, the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary exhibits very good image quality. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that this is easily the image quality that an Art or Sports lens in Sigma’s lineup would have. But it’s not either of those. Where the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary fails though is with sharpness wide open. At f2.8, the lens isn’t the sharpest. But stop it down just a bit and it will become superbly sharp. The bokeh isn’t bad either, but it’s nothing to write home about in my opinion. The colors are very nice and are only a tad more muted than the supersaturated stuff that Sony tends to deliver. But through and through, this is a lens that most folks will really love.

Bokeh

The bokeh from the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary isn’t really creamy. This lens doesn’t open up to enough of a wide aperture for me to describe it as such. Instead, I find it to be very hazy. It’s not distracting though at all. With the right lighting, I feel like any photographer can create an image where the bokeh won’t even really matter. Instead, folks will be looking at the colors and the sharpness. Well, photographers will. What I really hope is that you’ll be creating photos with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary that just look nice. And for that, you don’t really need bokeh. It’s nice to know though that the bokeh here looks a lot more organic than your phone’s. And that’s because it is.

Chromatic Aberration

In our tests, we didn’t find any major traces of chromatic aberration. I was very much surprised at the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary’s ability to do this. The 35mm f1.2 is much more expensive and has it. Fascinating indeed!

Color Rendition

As I talked about earlier on with lighting, I feel like the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary’s image quality and colors will really benefit from artificial lighting. Placing subjects against one another, coordinating colors in a scene, and careful lighting will help photographers create beautiful photos. They’re not going to look as saturated as Sony’s but instead, they’ll appear a bit more lively.

Sharpness

We tested the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary with the Sony a7r III and Profoto lights. Indeed, the images from this lens are very sharp. But when I zoomed in at 100%, I could totally tell that there was something about it that didn’t make it an Art lens. Sigma’s Arts lenses are incredibly sharp. The Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is instead just very sharp. That doesn’t mean that you can’t adjust it in post-production. But my philosophy is that the less work that I need to do in post-production, the better off I am. I love my job, but if I can get something done in a shorter amount of time then I will.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Small size
  • Metal build
  • A bit of weather resistance

Dislikes

  • I wish it were sharper wide open
  • I wish it were an f2 or f1.8
  • I wish there were more weather sealing.

I think that the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is a great lens for the type of photographer that typically goes for the contemporary gear. Sigma has claimed that since the start that any photographer can use any of these lenses in the Contemporary line, Art line and the Sports line. But through and through, I strongly believe that the contemporary line is the affordable yet solid quality option. And with that said, I’d like to compare the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary to a higher-end Rokinon lens that doesn’t have issues and that makes sense with its weather sealing. With that said, I wish that it had the sealing of Sigma’s art and sports lenses. It’s the right price, and for an enthusiast, it will be a great lens. For the photographer that dislikes the mammoth size of Sigma’s Art lenses, the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary is a nice deviation. You’re not really going to have autofocus problems except in low light. Even in low lighting situations, the focus will still be pretty spot on. The more that I think about it, I think what I really wanted was a Sigma 40mm f2 Art lens. The company already has a large 40mm f1.4 lens, but something in between I think would have been ideal. Still though, for what it is, the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary isn’t a bad lens and most folks will enjoy it.

The Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN Contemporary wins four out of five stars. Want one? Be sure to check out the Adorama listing for $549.