Sigma 35mm DG HSM Lens Review – Still Amazing A Year Later

Gear & Apps December 18th 2013 7:00 PM 22 Comments

INTRODUCTION

At Photokina 2012, Sigma announced three new lenses in a reorganization of it’s lens lineup. Since then, we’ve witnessed them establish a new confidence and respect in their brand as a top grade third party lens manufacturer. The first new lens that they released was the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens, and it didn’t take long for the early reviews and message board chatter to start raising eye brows.

Since I had been in the market for a 35mm lens for my Nikon bodies at the time, I gave into the hype and quickly placed an order before they were even shipping out. In the past, some of their lenses gave up sharpness, had focus issues, or had bad chromatic aberation. I have owned the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for a few years and it has performed flawlessly for me, so I was willing to take a chance on them again. It’s been a full year that I’ve been shooting this lens now professionally and personally, so I wanted to share my review that I wrote last year mixed in with my thoughts today.

THE BODY

It comes in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony versions; I own the Nikon version and use it specifically with the Nikon D800E and the Nikon D800. A small silver inlay on the barrel denotes that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is part of their new ‘Art’ line of lenses. It’s attractive and clean looking with a nice matte finish, unlike the old Sigma lenses with that paint-like coating that would flake off over time. It’s easily the best looking lens in the Sigma line-up, but it’s not only pleasing to the eyes. The most pleasing physical attribute to this lens is it’s all-metal barrel that is evident from the moment you first pick it up. It gives it a nice and heavy feel, not too heavy, but just enough to make you realize this is a professional lens…and not plastic.

DxOMark

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The filter thread is 67mm, and due to the lens’s internal focus design it doesn’t rotate on focusing. The one and only real surprise is that there is no rubber seal around the mount, unlike the more expensive Canon and Nikon equivalents. A generous 31mm-wide ridged grip covers most of the underside of the barrel, and provides awesome handling when changing lenses. The focus ring has a 25mm-wide ridged rubber grip, and rotates nice and smoothly – 90 degrees clockwise. The lens has a basic distance scale with depth-of-field indicators for the minimum aperture of F16 only, and is calibrated for use on full-frame cameras. On the side of the barrel is a nice large focus mode switch, that has a white inlay that is visible behind it when set to AF.

DxO states

It is clear that Sigma has done something very special with the 35mm f1.4 DG HSM A, they have produced a lens that performs better than Canon’s own 35mm lenses and better than a Carl Zeiss 35mm f1.4. When an independent manufacturer’s lenses can do this, it must make the customers think carefully about their buying decisions. It is also good to see a manufacturer recognize the demand for optics that provide pleasing bokeh and to address this specifically.

The bayonet-mount hood comes standard, and clicks nice and firmly into place on the front of the lens…when it clicks into place you know it, it is a solid mount, much more firm than any Nikon brand hood I own. It’s made from thick plastic, and features ribbed moldings on the inside to minimize reflections of any stray light into the lens. Sigma has even added a nice little ribbed grip to make it easier to twist on and off.

On the inside, the guts of this little gem are made up of a 13 element, 11 group construction that is the most complex in its class. Sigma explains that there are no fewer than four elements made from Super-Low Dispersion (SLD) glass, along with one formed from fluorite-like ‘F’ Low Dispersion (FLD) glass, and two aspheric elements. This allows the minimization of an array of aberrations including both longitudinal and lateral chromatic aberration, astigmatism, and field curvature. Well done Sigma.

Sharpness Samples

Shot @ f/1.4

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Shot @ f/1.4

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Shot @ f/2.8

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Edge Sharpness

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Shot @ f/2.8

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Bokeh Samples

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PROs

  • Very attractive looking
  • Nice weight
  • Extremely sharp, even wide open
  • All metal barrel, not plastic
  • Fast, silent, and accurate autofocus
  • Extremely shallow DOF
  • Pleasing and non-distracting bokeh
  • Excellent Sunstars
  • Little to no chromatic aberration
  • Price! The current price is $899.00, while the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G is $1619.00 and the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L is $1479.

CONS

  • No weather sealing. The Nikon equivalent has weather sealing. The Canon doesn’t so this really isn’t a CON for the Canon shooters.
  • Focus from farther out seems to be not as consistent, up close its on point, but be careful as you distance yourself from your subject.
  • You will now be disappointed when your other more expensive lenses don’t perform at the same level.

THE EXPERIENCE

Shot @ f/1.4

When I write gear reviews, I don’t get overly scientific and throw a bunch of numbers at you. I’m a photographer that uses his gear. I write my reviews the way that I feel would best help me if I was reading them, with real world experience and a lot of sample shots instead of line graphs. The bottom line is, this lens really is no joke. Whether you shoot Nikon or Canon, price aside, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is the winner when up against it’s competition. If you have been on the fence or scared of purchasing a Sigma lens, don’t be. Times have changed, and the reliability issues of old seem to be gone.

Shot @ f/1.4

I’ve been shooting the Nikon version of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 for over a year now and have shot thousands of frames with it, keeping it attached to my D800E most of the time. I’ve shot weddings with it, portrait sessions, as well as a ton of personal work. Prior to buying it, I had used the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G version several times and had planned on purchasing it since I really like shooting with the 35mm focal length. I had bought the Sigma with the idea that if I wasn’t happy with it, I would return it and purchase the Nikon. I never looked back, and I saved myself $700.

[Rewind:Click here for more Sigma Rumors]

One of the biggest complaints I had seen over the years with Sigma lenses was the poor QC and lenses having focusing issues right out of the box. I never had an issue with my Sigma 50mm f/1.4, but the first thing I did when I received the 35mm was through it on a tripod and test the AF. It was spot on at about 5 yards and closer, which is the distance I personally like to shoot this lens at. It wasn’t until a few months in that I noticed a problem. The more and more I shot with it, I began noticing that anytime my subject was a little further away, my percentage of in focus shots would drop. At first I didn’t think too much of it, but once the new lens smell wore off, it started to really bother me. I tested my theory out one day and sadly, I was right. Focusing at anything more than 6 feet away, it would start to slightly back focus. I didn’t want to make any changes in-camera since it was spot on 90% of the time. It was only the 10% of the time that I shot at anything further away that it was off.

SIGMA USB DOCK

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At the time that I noticed the problem, Sigma had just released their new USB Dock, so I was eager to test it out and ordered one. The USB Dock is extremely easy to use and within a few tries, my focusing issue was resolved. Unlike the Nikon in-camera AF fine tune adjustments, the USB Dock allows for adjustments at 4 different distances and it works awesome. Now that is fine tuning. I’m honestly surprised Nikon or Canon hasn’t released anything like this as of yet, I would love to have this much control over their lenses that I own.

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Conclusion

After a year of shooting with the Sigma, I still feel the same way that I did after my first review. If you own the Nikon or Canon version already…sell it. The Sigma is sharper, has less flaws, the same if not more pleasing bokeh…and it’s almost half the cost. I had thought initially that if this lens had flaws there would be no hiding when being shot on the 36mp D800E. Instead, it helped it shine. I shoot both Nikon and Canon, and I got a good deal on the Canon 35mm f/1.4L a couple months ago and went with it. I wish I had went with the Sigma. Apparently I’m not the only one, since the latest rumors have Canon coming out with a refresh to their 35mm L in the coming months. I’m excited to see what Sigma has for us in 2014, and there are a few lenses I would love to see them come out with. A 24mm f/1.4, a tilt-shift lens, or even a 50mm f/1.2 or 85mm f/1.2 would be amazing.

Here are a handful of shots that I’ve taken with it over the past year, both professionally and personally. If you are still undecided leave a comment, I will help answer any questions you have. As always, thanks for reading.

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Crop of the above image

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Flounder

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J. Cassario

About

Jay Cassario is a photographer from South Jersey, and owner of the wedding, engagement, and portrait photography studio Cass Imaging. His true passion is his portrait work, but his love for landscape and star photography has earned him publications by National Geographic.

WEBSITE: Jay Cassario
Personal Facebook: Jay Cassario
Business Facebook: Cass Imaging
Google Plus: Jay’s Google +
Twitter: @JayCassario

22 Comments

  1. Mike

    Any RAW files?

  2. J. Cassario

    What are you interested in seeing Mike?

  3. Gavin Hardcastle

    Good review and some great pictures there J. I’ve never used Sigma before and confess I used to dismiss them but these days they seem to be getting a lot of good reviews. Have you tested any wide Sigma lenses?

  4. J. Cassario

    Thanks for reading Gavin, I appreciate it. To be honest I haven’t used or tested any of their wider lenses, but I’ve always heard good things about their 10-20mm for DX.

    • Gregory Hitchcock

      I own the Sigma 10-20mm DX, it’s the f3.5 10-20, I believe that’s the DX. It’s a wonderful lens. The center is tack sharp, the sharpest I have ever seen in a wide lens. The corners are a bit less sharp, but still very respectable, I would give them a solid B+ and the center an A+. The construction is rugged. I would highly recommend it.

      I am currently debating between purchasing the sigma 35mm f1.4 and the sigma 18-35mm f1.8. Looking for a versatile lens for wedding receptions.

  5. J. Cassario

    Greg, if your shooting DX, I think the 18-35mm would be the better choice for receptions. I have personally never shot with the 18-35, but after reading Matt’s review here http://www.slrlounge.com/sigma-18-35mm-f1-8-ex-dc-field-review, I think that’s the way I would go.

  6. DENNIS

    Is it good for video too?

    • J. Cassario

      I honestly don’t shoot video, so I didn’t test it.

    • Gustavo Lara

      Yo tengo el 50-150 2.8 sigma y escencialmente lo uso para video de escena, es mucho mejor que el lente de serie de la camara NEX EA50 de sony, tambien uso un 24-70 2.8 (serie enaterior) tambien de sigma, por supuesto mas luminosos y las imagenes con mucha claridad. Yo recomiendo usar este tipo de lentes para video.

  7. Juha Sompinmäki

    Very interesting. I’ve had a number of Sigma lenses in the past and totally agree that they have had huge quality control issues. Maybe they have been listening to their customers…

  8. Mel

    I use a 50mm lens. Never considered using a 35mm for taking people pictures. Should I?

    • J. Cassario

      I personally like the 35mm focal length for people, but there is a little more distortion than the 50. I use a 35, 50, and 85 for the majority of my portrait work. Each have their advantages.

  9. Michael

    I don’t have any experience using MA on lenses. For your issue with the lens back focusing at longer distances, was this a difficult process to correct with the USB dock?

    I too have been looking at getting the Canon 35L and was thinking of waiting for Canon’s version II of the 35L but would love to get the Sigma if the IQ is just as good or better.

    • J. Cassario

      The USB Dock worked awesome and it just took few adjustments to get it right where I needed it. Like I said, I have the Canon 35L for my Canon bodies and although I haven’t shot the Sigma on them, I would recommend the Sigma.

  10. BK

    Hi J! Good review and great photos mate. Sorry to go off topic but can I ask how does the D800 perform for your wedding work? Pros and Cons? Cheers BK.

    • J. Cassario

      Thanks BK, much appreciated. The D800s are amazing for wedding work…if you can handle the extra large file sizes. I upgraded all my storage and was ready for it before upgrading. I shot with with D700s before that and I love the extra resolution and dynamic range that the D800s bring. If you can’t afford the D4, I think the D800 is the way to go for Nikon. Although I do plan on taking the new Df for a spin, and if I like it, one of the D800s might have to go :)

  11. Stan Rogers

    I just have one teeny-tiny little nit to pick, and I’m kind of sorry that this otherwise-excellent real-world review was the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting this: internal focus and non-rotating front elements are independent phenomena.

    It is possible to build an all-IF lens having a rotating front element (I’ll admit it wouldn’t exactly be the obvious design choice), and the only prime unit-focus lens I’ve ever owned that had a rotating front element was the Minolta/Rokkor 250mm/5.6 mini-cat (which used rear filters anyway). Rotating fronts were normal on push-pull zooms, and they seem to be normal on “consumer” hybrid-focus zooms these days (where the physical length of the lens is extended AND the internal elements get shuffled around to focus closer), but even the el-cheapo unit-focus AF Nikkor 50mm/1.8D keeps its head on straight, so to speak.

    Again, sorry. Had to get that out, and I don’t have kittens to kick.

  12. syed Nayeem

    Thanks, jay i made my mind sell my canon and get sigma…. awesome review

  13. Black Z Eddie

    I am soooo tempted to get this lens for close quarter shooting. I have a Sony a77 and thinking of getting their 35 f1.8. I think it’s only around $200 (plastic fantastic). But, the constant rave reviews for the Sigma 35 keeps drawing me to this direction.

  14. Casey Luke

    Wow, awesome idea to write this again Jay. I read your first one off of Borrowlenses.com about 8 months ago and it convinced me to rent it. Then buy it. Now I love it. You have to do more reviews, I love your sample shots man. I usually don’t even bother looking at sample shots cause they are usually buildings or mailboxes, yours make me want to go out and buy this lens to take shots like yours. Keep up the awesome work Jay!

  15. Chuck Eggen

    Turns out it’s a great lens. So I bought one.

  16. Rafay Chughtai

    Hi Jay, I am not too sure if you are still scanning the responses here as the review was done almost a year ago – but I will go ahead and state my dilemma here, hoping that someone could guide me to the right direction. I am an enthusiast photographer who just happened to purchase this lens a few weeks back. While I liked the color saturation and clarity of the subject in relation to its background, but I am not too sure about how well it is focusing. Using it at full wide open (daylight or indoor light) leaves me wonder if it is really focusing what I am trying to focus. I ran a couple of tests to spot the issue, but not sure if I am grasping that. Even though, it seems like the area that is meant to be focused, gets focus yet that area is not coming out sharp enough (Btw, I am viewing the JPG version on the camera – didnt convert the RAW of any of the images).

    I did micro-adjust the lens using Dot-tune method, and had that corrected for +3. It seems to have helped, but what I am noticing is that if I take 3-4 pictures of the same subject (with same settings and metering/focus spot) I get slightly different results. A few times, it happens to be user error in terms of camera shake. I would say 1 out of 4 times I do get a very sharp and vivid picture too.

    If it makes any difference, I am using it with Canon 70D body. Any help/pointers would be highly appreciated.

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