Rumors have been around for a while that Sigma would be coming out with many new lenses. And yesterday, that announcement dropped. They announced the 17mm f4 DG DN Contemporary, 50mm f2 DG DN Contemporary, and the 23mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary. Lots of photographers will probably be excited by these; that’s fine. But Sigma lenses still have a slew of problems we’ve reported on for a while. And these aren’t any exceptions.
A Few Notes First
If you’ve read the Phoblographer for years, you’ll know we’re sincere. Years ago, I switched my Canon lenses completely over to Sigma. The imaging world has changed a lot since then. But we’ve maintained a guide to Sigma’s prime lenses for a decade. And depending on when you read it, we’ll have reviewed every Sigma prime lens around. Plus, we’ve reviewed the majority of their other lenses.
In the past few years, we’ve changed along with the rest of the industry. We’re pretty sick of clinically perfect image quality, and so are many other photographers out there. Ask yourself: if every lens manufacturer reaches for clinically perfect image quality, won’t they all look the same after a while? And so, yes, the lenses have all looked the same. That’s to say that Sigma’s pursuit of clinical perfection got incredibly stale and boring. To be fair, they’re not alone in this. We say the same for Sony, Nikon, and others.
But as the industry evolved, Sigma didn’t. They’ve got a fair number of problems when compared to other lenses. And there are some significant holes in their marketing and presentation of the lenses. Sometimes there are issues around the autofocus, which for years, they blamed on the manufacturers. We put that feedback into our reviews accordingly. But when the L-mount alliance was formed, Sigma had direct input. And the autofocus performance didn’t really improve. It’s only recently improved on specific lenses and not others. For example, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art and 60-600mm lens use the same autofocus motor. But why? Shouldn’t a telephoto lens designed for capturing sports have a different motor than one for capturing candid moments?
Our reviews critiqued Sigma on their problems for a while and compared them to the rest of the industry. After a while, we stopped getting Sigma Non-Disclosure Agreement announcements. And instead, we were told by YouTubers that they were paid for videos on the announcements instead. When Sigma wanted to have a call about this, we wanted all communications kept to email instead. But they never got back to us.
And so this is the abridged version of the story on how we, the website with the most real-world lens reviews, were cut off from Sigma for us being authentically ourselves.
So, don’t consider this a bias when you’re reading the rest of this article. Think of it as a well-earned hypothesis coming from the fact that we’ve reviewed their lenses and everyone else’s. And more importantly, our reviews are typically the ones that influence others.
Art Image Quality and Contemporary: the Same?
For years in their marketing, Sigma has said that their contemporary lenses have levels of image quality on par with the art series. Here’s what they said in the press release for the new 50mm f2
The metal lens hood, manual-focus and aperture ring are knurled for a pleasant tactile experience, and the F2 maximum aperture delivers gorgeous bokeh effects; while the optical design delivers performance comparable to the 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art lens in a much more compact form (37% shorter length, 48% less in weight.) The lens is also resistant to backlighting and produces minimal flare, even in difficult conditions. AF is driven by a stepping motor for fast, reliable AF for both still and video use. This is a best-in-class standard prime lens for everyday use, combining exceptional I series build quality, strong optical performance, and a compact, fast-aperture design.
This is much different wording from what they’ve previously used, where they’ve said that Contemporary lenses have Art levels of image quality.
And for us to truly understand this, we have to dive deeper. Sigma’s Global Vision program, now over a decade old, has three components. Sports, Art, and Contemporary. But for years, they’ve never had any definition around them. It was always assumed that Art was the highest quality with faster apertures, sports was for zooms and telephoto lenses, and contemporary was for affordable lenses.
So when Sigma says that Contemporary lenses have Art levels of image quality, that means that Art and Contemporary are the same. If anything, the differentiating factor concerns their build quality designs. While the contemporary series have metal and a classic-feeling aperture ring, they’re not fully weather resistant. However, it’s very easy for Sigma to do this. Don’t believe me? Well, believe Roger Cicala from LensRentals; he agrees with me.
With the Phoblographer being one of the newest members of TIPA, I’ll surely be bringing this to the rest of the members’ attention. Remember that Sigma is also an OEM for various other brands.
APS-C Lenses for L Mount?
This gets even more confusing with the announcement of the new 23mm f1.4 DC DN lens. Sigma made it for Sony E mount and Leica L mount. However, the oddity here is that L mount doesn’t have any more APS-C cameras. Leica discontinued all of theirs a while back just to focus on full-frame. So Sigma is making lenses for a now-defunct set of cameras.
This begs the bigger question: why wasn’t it made for Nikon Z or Fuji X mount? Fujifilm X mount would’ve been a perfect home for these. Instead, Fuji X support is coming later.
This is a big mistake.
Still No Full Weather Resistance?
Sigma has continued not giving the Contemporary series full weather resistance, instead only putting the sealing at the mount. You can say you don’t need a weather-resistant lens, but you’d be wrong. Weather resistance protects against dust, moisture, and so much more. It effectively prolongs the life span of your lens. And these days, there is no real reason for companies to not put full weather resistance into their lenses. It doesn’t cost a lot of money.