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Gear Reviews

Head2Head: Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Canon 50mm F/1.8

By Anthony Thurston on April 15th 2014

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art Review Series

This post is part of our ongoing series of reviews and comparisons related to the new Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. Below you can find links to the rest of the content in this series. Enjoy!

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Canon’s “Nifty Fifty”

I am just going to come out and say it, there is no comparing the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art to the Canon 50mm F/1.8. The Sigma is better in every aspect with the only exception being the cost. But still, there is a reason for the comparison you are about to see/read.


I get asked all the time about the Canon 50mm F/1.8 vs the Canon F/1.4 or F/1.2 (Be sure to check out our Canon Lens Wars for an in-depth look at how these three stack up), so today, I wanted to take the opportunity to show you exactly how much better of an image you will get with a higher quality 50mm lens. For those of you thinking about upgrading, this comparison will show you why this new Sigma should be at the top of your list.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a comprehensive review for either lens, just a quick comparison and overview of how the two lenses compare to one another. RAW files will be provided for download at the end of the article so you can download and compare on your own screen for anything I may have not compared directly in this post. 

Size & Build Quality Comparison


As you can see from the image above, the Sigma is significantly larger than the Canon 50mm F/1.8. Not only is it larger, it has a solid build. Where the Canon is almost all plastic, the Sigma is almost all metal.

The focus ring on the Canon leaves a lot to be desired, and makes manual focus a pain. The Sigma, on the other hand, provides an ideal manual focus experience with a smooth motion and good feel.

You can really see the price difference of $850 between these lenses in their build quality.

Handling Comparison

Put simply, the Canon 50mm F/1.8 is sort of a clunker. It’s AF is loud and screechy, and as mentioned above, the manual focus is a real pain.

The Sigma, on the other hand, handles beautifully. It has a quick and snappy, but most of all silent, AF system that is a accurate as it is quiet. It balances well on both full frame and crop bodies, and feels solid in the hands.

Image Quality Comparison

There is really no comparison here. The Sigma is again better than the 50mm F/1.8. It is sharper, has less distortion, and less CA. There is literally not one thing about the Canon 50mm F/1.8 that I find to be superior to the Sigma.

Compared Wide Open at F/1.4 and F/1.8

You can click on the images to view a larger size (1200px wide), these RAW files will also be available for download at the end of the article.

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art, Canon 6D, ISO 100, F/1.4, 1/400th 


Canon 50mm F/1.8Canon 6D, ISO 100, F/1.8, 1/320th

Sigma50mm-Art-Vs-canon-50mm-1-8-3233Obviously there is some difference here due to the Sigma being wide open at F/1.4 and the Canon being wide open at F/1.8. Looking at the 100% crops below and you will see that the Sigma is clean and sharp, while the Canon is hazy and barely useable.

canon-100percent-srop-center sigma-100percent-srop-center

Compared at F/2.8

You can click on the images to view a larger size (1200px wide), these RAW files will also be available for download at the end of the article.

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art, Canon 6D, ISO 100, F/2.8, 1/250th Sigma50mm-Art-Vs-canon-50mm-1-8-3265

Canon 50mm F/1.8Canon 6D, ISO 100, F/2.8, 1/250th  Sigma50mm-Art-Vs-canon-50mm-1-8-3271These lenses are closer at F/2.8, but the Sigma is still much sharper. Here are a few more 100% crops so you can see for yourself…

canon-100percent-crop-center sigma-100percent-crop-center

 More Sample Shots

Normally here we would have a test to see if you could tell the difference, but given how the Sigma is so clearly better in every way, it would be pointless. Instead, here are some more sample shots from the two lenses for you to compare.






In Conclusion

It is clear to see, as expected, that the new Sigma 50mm F/1.4DG HSM Art is, in every way, better than the Canon 50mm F/1.8. I hope that this comparison was helpful to those of you who may be considering upgrading from a Nifty Fifty. Hopefully, this helps you see how much you can improve your image quality with a higher quality lens such as this Sigma.

If you are interested in the RAW files, you can download them here and compare the two lenses yourself. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Sigma 50mm Review Status Update
I just sent back the lens this morning, so you can expect my full review on the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art to be out either this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Thanks!

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Kali Perez

    At the end of the day it’s all about what is front of the lens and behind the viewfinder. I’ll take my fantastic plastic stm over the Sigma Art for street anyday.

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  2. Eidmantas Ivanauskas

    Thank you for the review, though I must say that the H2H vs 50mm 1.8 is a tad iffy. I was amazed at the poor quality of your 50/1.8II pics – as mine is much sharper. Quite similar to your Sigma. Though I must admit the hair sharpness manages almost that 3D effect – amazing on the Sigma. For me – I guess I will go over the review from the POV of the larger aperture, handling and bokeh quality then.

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  3. Simon King

    I checked this review out because my canon 50 f1.4 has got dementia and can no longer focus – (a common problem with this lens apparently) and…(like one or two other Canon shooters am toying with getting the new 50MP DSLR) – as I personally favour the 50mm lens for its natural perspective; up comes the question of whether to replace my decrepit 50mm lens with something that will give a difference in print.

    Others have made valid points about whether this is futile speculation and and effort perhaps not worth the trouble. Nonetheless….

    Certainly at the price point of this Sigma lens with its wide f-stop it would be logical to compare it with the Canon 1.4 and 1.2, I agree the f1.8 comparison , whilst fun, isn’t really answering the needs of most that will google 50mm comparisons.

    My needs do not require wide f-stop comparisons, rather I want to know whether there is £400 quids worth of extra resolution and micro contrast between f5.6 and f11 and whether it’s worth the weight penalty.

    Wide f-stop comparisons are irrelevant for my thanks for taking the trouble to write this article but if there’s any chance you or other readers can point me in the direction of results that cover my particular parameters I’d be most grateful

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  4. Jason Boa

    I think the sigma wins

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  5. Peter-Jon Harding

    The 50mm f1.8 is still a good lens. It may be cheap but it can still get the job done.

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  6. George Roberts

    Great article, thank you for considering such a comparison. This is something that no other sites are offering (that I have found)

    Very useful!

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  7. tcchip

    Thank you for the comparison. I have a Canon 50mm 1.8, and it is a great first prime lens (it was mine), with great bang for the buck. It’s fantastically sharp at f4 and smaller. But since I shoot a lot of low light, the lack of sharpness and contrast when wide open is very telling, to the point where I try to stop it to at least f2 or 2.2 just to squeeze a little bit more sharpness out of it. I recently bought the Canon 40mm f.28 pancake lenses, which superior at f2.8 than the 50mm f1.8. But it’s still not a replacement for the 50 in extreme low light, so at some point or another, I’ll most likely pick up this Sigma, or the much cheaper previous generation model instead.

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  8. cemco

    why people are so rude? I just don’t get it… thanks Anthony! it’s a great comparison.

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  9. Jimmy

    Come on, people. I have the 50 1.8 and am thinking about upgrading to the 1.4 . This review will help me to decide if i should spend the money or not. I like this type of short and to-the-point reviews. Thanks Slrlounge.

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  10. Clape

    So we’re comparing a $150 entry level prime to a higher end $900, one stop faster lens?

    That makes all the sense and to me it says volumes about the nifty fifty 1.8.

    This thurston guy. Is he for real?

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  11. robert

    sure you can see the sharpness difference between these, but personally this price tag doesnt warrant that extra amount. I see no problem going with nikons or canons 1.8 or 1.4 offerings. no bride or groom ive shot ever zoom in 100% and say “man the bokeh is horrible on this” or “damn why are you using the 85 1.8 lens instead of the 1.4” and even printing albums the rez from the nikon or canon do a wonderful job.

    a 50 is a boring focal length. give me an 85 105 or 135 instead. no way in hell im investing a grand for a must have in the bag as a backup lens $1000. eff that. thats crazy.

    has the 50 been the moda now? I didnt get the memo I guess. nothing has changed in my book. its a boring uninspiring focal length. I only have mine just in case my 28-70 AFS goes down. no other reason. I use my 85 105 and 135 and almost never take take out the 50. hell ill take out my 24mm before I take a 50 out. (and I skipped the 35 because it a lens thats neither here nor there.

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  12. profilepictures

    Oh dear, this is a shame really.

    The Canon nifty 50, remains the best value prime or otherwise lens it’s possible to buy, these tests do nothing to shake that accolade.

    The Canon 50mm f1.4 is sharper, but vignettes alarmingly and worst of all, a bump on the front element will mean a repair (twice I suffered this before opting for the Sigma 50 f1.4 dg ex.

    The comparison between the old Sigma 50mm f1.4 and the new ‘ART” version is what’s needed here, and then between the ‘Art’ and the Canon 50mm f1.2L.

    I’d be surprised if the new Sigma is easily discernible from the old, but if it is, I will buy it. Whether the extra half stop of the Canon f1.2 then makes an image more achievable of interesting is the next question.

    I wish the review had been more relevant, because here, it’s done nothing but prove the nifty 50 as a worthy first lens choice.

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  13. Trek

    It honestly amazes me how much people keep falling back to ‘build quality’ as an excuse to pay $800 more. Honestly I do not know of, or heard a story about a single 50mm lens from Canon or Nikon, break. Not one. and if it did, the chances are it was the users fault. So stick the build quality where the sun don’t shine because its neither here no there for judging which lens is better. A metal body is nice to have, not something that should be a deciding factor when buying a lens.
    It’s a lens, it’s all about the optical results that should be your deciding factor (along with price). The sigma lens looks amazing no doubt, but even in some of the picture above I preferred the canon picture (and I shoot nikon!) over the sigma. This could be down to the pish-poor job of a review that Anthony Thurston has done by using different poses with the subject for each picture. For example in the first picture comparison, the Canon provide a MUCH better shape to the guys head. Could be down the change of angle, could be distorted by the sigma lens. We’ll not know until we try it ourselves because Anthony Thurston did a crap job.

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  14. Thiago Souza

    Canon 50mm F1.8G. haha sorry but that was funny :D Great comparison btw.

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  15. Nakul Bhatnagar

    I don’t see the point of doing a comparison between the Sigma f/1.4 vs. the Canon f/1.8. You guys should have done a fair comparison between the Canon 1.4 and the Sigma 1.4. I think Canon 50mm f/1.4 is still a better buy than Sigma, and saves a ton of money!

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    • Ryan

      I think they were more or less showing this because of the bajillion comments I’ve seen over the last few days along the lines of: “You can get the 50mm F1.8 for cheap, why buy the Sigma?”

      Personally whether or not which is a better buy is up to interpretation. I think the Sigma is a WAY better buy, personally. Just the build quality and reliability alone makes it a better buy. The fact that the optics are sensational is just icing on the cake. But it depends what you value I suppose, if price is your number one factor then the Sigma isn’t an ideal candidate but personally I have had so many shoots ruined by shitty nifty fifties that I refuse to shoot with them now.

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    • Chris

      I think the more interesting comparison would be vs. the 1.2. Especially after seeing the results of the 50mm shootout.

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    • Matthew Saville

      The Canon 50 1.4 may offer almost-on-par sharpness, however that is not even close to the whole story. Build quality has always been a huge issue with the Canon 50 1.4 for example, and autofocus reliability as well.

      Simply put, there are innumerable aspects of lens value and you have to weigh which is most important to you, before purchasing. Also, you have to consider your own standards and current satisfaction. If you currently own this or that lens and are decently happy with it, then you probably don’t need to rush out and spend $500-$800 MORE on a new lens. ;-)

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    • Chuck Eggen

      It beats that too. This lens is a winner! Sigma is hitting it out of the park lately.

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    • Jim Hawthorne

      I was optimistic and enthusiastic about the Sigma given the almost universal praise, and expected it to trounce my noisy old Canon 50mm f1.8 mk2. However I’m sending my 50mm ART back to Sigma, from whom I bought it at GBP150 discount (because an old Sigma lens I had from film days didn’t work on my DSLRs and they let me do a trade in).
      With real world testing on a heavy tripod, using mirror lockup and time delay shutter release, I found minuscule differences in image quality and resolution, and that’s 99% of what matters to me. My test scene included a wall with textured bricks and tiles, weeds and small sharp edges stones in the foreground, and trees and an old church with tile roof in the background, and some small lettered signage in the mid distance. I had every expectation of gleefully retiring my nifty 50, but that isn’t how things turned out…
      In some cases the Canon shot was sharper, and in some cases the Sigma was: it was a balanced split decision with no clear winner – very unexpected, and disappointing.
      The micro contrast of the Sigma is slightly better, as is the build quality of course, and the quiet auto-focus. Chromatic aberration control is similar.
      The portability of the Canon is far far superior, as is the price. As regards build quality, with sandy shoes I stupidly fell down with one leg between the bars of a cattle grid at the start of the road to New Harmony, Utah, in October. I fell about 2.5 feet before my leg jammed, and my EOS 5Dmk2 with Canon 50mm clanged into the bars of the cattle grid. I clambered out and examined the 50mm, whose front element was jammed at an an angle of 20 degrees to square. I pulled the front section of the lens off and spent 10 minutes carefully lining it up and pushing it back into place. It was fine for the rest of the trip, and remains so, except it doesn’t focus so quickly now, but I shoot landscape mostly so that’s no big inconvenience. Maybe the Sigma would have survived better, or maybe it would have broken irreparably. My Canon costs GBP 80 to replace though, not 600; and at 132 grams with tiny dimensions Vs the 816g beast, I could easily pocket a spare if it were a vital focal length to me for a trip.

      In the end the Sigma, being over 6 times the weight of the Canon, could not justify its inclusion in my kit bag. It’s too heavy, and does not have sufficiently superior image quality, detectable at print sizes most people would consider printing. My alternative plan is to buy the lightweight Canon 40mm for GBP100, which gives me a gap filler between my Tamron 15-30 and my Canon nifty 50, and is close enough to 50mm to temporarily replace it if it dies during a trip.

      That’s just my experience though, maybe I have a dud Sigma; but even the 100% crops in the article are hard for me to differentiate a clear winner, and I’m sitting 18 inches from a Sony 4K 49-inch tv I use as a monitor. I usually shoot 5×4 inch and 6x9cm, and carry a heavy tripod and ball head, but I also carry a DSLR kit for the unbeatable convenience: 5D2 body, Canon 24mm f2.8 (great IQ, and featherweight), my nifty 50, and my nice IQ 70-200 f4L, all of which justify their easy portability vs image quality. Others may find the fractional )and inconsistent) IQ advantages vs weight and price worth the bother, but alas not me. JimHawthornePhotography

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