Last year, Sigma was the first to announce an f/1.2 lens (with autofocus) for the Sony E-mount. Indeed, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art is, to this day, the only autofocus full-frame f/1.2 prime available for the E-mount!
Why would you want such a large, heavy, fast lens? There are many reasons, and we’ll talk all about them in this review. However, there are also plenty of reasons why you might want to avoid it, too. We’ll expand on those reasons, too.
To spoil the ending, here’s the biggest thing you need to ask yourself when deciding whether or not this lens is right for you: Do you absolutely need an aperture e that is just ONE HALF of a stop faster than f/1.4? Because if not, there are innumerable 35mm f/1.4 primes out there that would really suit you much better.
Make no mistake, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DN Art is incredible, and has almost everything, going for it when you use it at f/2.8, or f/2, or wide-open… Honestly? Besides a little bit of pixel-peeping at f/1.2 , it’s a phenomenal lens all around!
But again, there are just so many other 35mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.8 primes out there, many of which are extremely high-quality, too. Even Sigma’s own 35mm f/1.4 Art is an incredible lens, and significantly lighter, smaller, and more affordable than this f/1.2 Art.
So, that’s why it really all comes down to this: “How badly do you really want f/1.2?”
So, without any further ado, let’s dive in! This review is about an f/1.2 prime. If you’re not here for the big one-point-two, you have been warned! This lens is heavy, huge, and very expensive. Let’s find out who might be interested in it, and why…
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 35mm (63.4°)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount (FE full-frame)
- APERTURE RANGE: f/1.2 to f/16
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: Yes, ultrasonic ring-type
- MANUAL FOCUS: Fully electronic, no distance or hyperfocal scales
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 17 elements in 12 groups, 3 aspherical, 3 “SLD” elements
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal, some weather-sealing, Fn button, Aperture ring (de-clickable)
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.19x magnification, 11.81 in (30 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 82mm filter threads, plastic, gripped hood with click-lock mechanism
- SIZE: 3.46 x 5.36″ / 87.8 x 136.2 mm
- WEIGHT: 38.45 oz / 1090 g
- PRICE: $1,499 (B&H)
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Review | Who Should Buy It?
This bears repeating: You must REALLY want f/1.2 if you’re thinking about buying this lens. The competition from f/1.8 and f/1.4 primes is just too good for there to be any other reason to buy the Sigma DG DN Art.
In fact, the competition is often much more well-suited for many types of photography, too, if portability and compactness matter at all to you. Here are the reasons you might want this lens for certain types of photography…
Portraits are all about shallow depth, (to many photographers at least) and sometimes you can never have enough of that smooth, creamy background blur, AKA, bokeh.
While you might feel like f/2.8, f/1.8, or f/1.4 offer more than enough background blur at focal lengths like 70-200mm, 85mm, or 50mm, here’s the thing: Once you get to 35mm, due to the wider angle, depth of will appear less shallow. In other words, a 35mm f/1.4 prime has effectively less shallow depth (DOF) than a 50mm f/1.4 prime does.
That is why f/1.2 at 35mm will allow you to achieve a whole new level of blur, one that really gives viewers a unique experience. Simply put, at a wider angle that can capture a whole scene, people just aren’t used to seeing this much blur, so it looks really interesting when you do achieve it…
Above you can see a comparison between the shallow depth, and bokeh, of the common apertures: f/1.8, f/1.4, and f/1.2. Note that not only does the blur increase in significance, (that’s the DoF) but also, the actual character of the blur itself can appear softer or harsher, too. (That’s the bokeh) With softly lit, smooth-shaped subjects, bokeh can appear homogenous, but in the harsh sun, and with complex textures or spectral highlights, you can often notice that some bokeh characteristics are distracting, while others are flattering.
With that in mind, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 Art exhibits not just extremely shallow depth, but also flatteringly smooth bokeh even when facing challenging light and textures.
So, if you do a lot of portraits and you love to work with EXTREMELY shallow depth, and you also like to capture a wider scene than most traditional “portrait lenses” allow, you might consider this lens to be a holy grail.
Having said that, there is a huge caveat: achieving sharpness on more than one face at f/1.2 is extremely difficult, even when you’re doing full-body portraits from a distance. So, if you do family or group portraits, you’ll find yourself shooting from a tripod and very carefully lining up everybody in a single row, otherwise, some faces will be out of focus. Of course, when you get even closer, you might not even get both eyes of one subject in focus, so, beware! A lot of group portraits just aren’t practical to be captured any faster than f/4.
With wedding photography, on the one hand, there is often a need to work in extremely low light where every fraction of a stop of extra shutter speed you can coax out of your camera & lens combination is helpful.
On the other hand, though, many of the candid and portraiture situations on a wedding day are not practical or feasible at f/1.2. Many times, you’ll need more depth of field than f/1.2. Also, you’ll often be trusting your lens to nail focus on active subjects in such terrible light, which this Sigma is unfortunately not the best at, comparatively speaking. Lastly, each big, heavy lens you have in your bag at a wedding means you’re getting closer to spending the entire 10-12+ hour wedding day with that much weight and strain on your back, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and/or fingers.
Personally? At weddings, the whole reason I reach for a 35mm prime instead of my 24-70mm is that I’m sick of hand-holding such a heavy f/2.8 zoom for hours on end. In fact, if I could, I’d photograph the entire wedding with just a 35mm f/1.8 and an 85mm f/1.8, and only reach for a 24-70mm or 70-200mm when I absolutely need the additional range.
To be honest, I don’t actually need to go THAT much faster than f/2.8, either. So, as much as I love bokeh, I’m happy with f/1.8 primes in most situations, and certainly with f/1.4 primes.
Plus, having a “tiny” prime lens allows you to get more personal with shy subjects, whether adults or children, and the 35mm f/1.2 is certainly the exact opposite–it is an intimidating, conspicuous piece of glass to stick in anyone’s face, especially during an intimate, emotional moment.
But, what about those really dark churches or the pitch-dark reception halls? Well, I wanted to be able to say something definitive about this, so I actually went and looked through a few thousand photos from my archives that a few different photographers at our wedding photography studio captured with various 35mm primes over the last few years. And you know what? Virtually all the images I saw revealed a clear truth: The light levels aren’t really that low. Most churches are actually decently lit. Therefore, F/1.4 or even f/1.8 are certainly more than enough, at least 99% of the time.
Fashion & Editorial Photography
You might not need to shoot at /f1.2, but if you like big, impressive-looking lenses that make a statement, and give you incredible image quality at all apertures, you could certainly consider this lens.
You’re more likely to be working at apertures from f/4 to f/8, though, for more commercial types of portraits, because ultra-shallow depth is usually less desirable for many types of work, and to be quite honest, by the time you get to f/4 or f/5.6, the sharpness of this lens is virtually indistinguishable from some of the incredible modern zooms, such as the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art, or even the modest but near-perfect primes such as the Sony 35mm f/1.8 G.
[Related Reading: Sigma 40mm 1.4 Art | Hands-on Review]
Candid & Street Photography, Vacation & Travel Photography
You could not pick a more conspicuous, intimidating 35mm prime for anything resembling casual or candid photography. This is not an everyday walk-around lens, it is not even an ideal once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Disneyworld lens.
Do you want your subjects to be at ease, even when you’re getting closer to the emotional moments and faces you’re capturing? Go with a much more modest lens like the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 G, or the new Rokinon/Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE. They’re very sharp even wide-open at f/1.8, and they’re much better suited to such work with their diminutive size that will let you click away almost unnoticed.
Action Sports & Wildlife Photography
Sometimes, speed is the name of the game. Shutter speed, that is. And a faster aperture can help you get that faster shutter speed, especially if your ISO is already as high as you feel comfortable going.
So, if you need every last bit of shutter speed you can possibly muster, then you might be tempted to go with as fast a lens as possible. However, going all the way to f/1.2 could be a mistake, because the shallow DOF it renders is going to be very unforgiving in most action sports scenarios. You’re very likely to have trouble when pre-focusing and nailing the shot right as the subject passes through your plane of focus, or when tracking a moving subject with autofocus.
All in all, our opinion is, don’t invest in this lens for any type of action photography purely for its aperture speed, unless you really know what you’re doing, such as, trying to photograph or film wildlife or sports by moonlight or something.
Landscape shooters typically spend most of their time at f/8 or f/11 for landscapes, of course, and don’t need f/1.2 at all. However, sometimes the fastest primes are also the sharpest when stopped down. Unfortunately, this is not entirely the case with the Sigma 35mm f/1.2, although it’s pretty close.
Long story short, you’re going to see equally sharp images (and actually slightly sharper extreme corners) with the Sony “G” alternative, or the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 which has the sharpest corners of any 35mm prime we’ve ever seen.
Nightscape & Astrophotographers
A moonless night with a starry landscape is one scene where f/1.2 can really come in handy. Whether you’re capturing still images and avoiding star “movement” due to the earth’s rotation, or you’re actually filming video by moonlight at 1/30 sec or so, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DN Art could very well be your holy grail.
NOTE – To All Types Of Photographers & Videographers:
If you’re going to be doing any type of photography at f/1.2, then for bright daylight conditions you might want to buy a neutral density filter. Most cameras’ lowest native ISO is 100, and their highest shutter speed is usually 1/8000 or 1/4000, therefore, you flat-out won’t be able to expose lighter-toned subjects in full sunlight at f/1.2 with those constraints.
Let alone, if you want to do flash photography at your camera’s max sync speed, such as 1/200 sec or 1/250 sec, or shoot video, with shutter speeds around 1/60 sec. you’ll DEFINITELY need to get a neutral density filter.
We recommend a variable ND filter in the range of 2-5 stops like the PolarPro Peter McKinnon VND ($299, B&H) for most types of still photography, or a “super dark” or a variable ND in the range of 5-10 stops like the Syrp 82mm Super Dark VND ($209, B&H) if you’re hoping to film video in bright conditions at 1/25 or 1/30 sec shutter speeds.
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Review | Pros & Cons
Let’s outline the pros and cons right away, and then dig just a little deeper for the ones that aren’t self-explanatory. Well, actually, they’re all pretty self-explanatory…
- It’s f/1.2!
- Incredible image quality
- Solid build quality
- Decent autofocus speed, good precision
- Customizable Fn button
- De-click-able Aperture ring
- Size & weight make it the most unwieldy 35mm prime available
- Copious glass means autofocus speed & precision slightly less than the competition
- Aperture ring does not have a lock switch
- 82mm filter threads
- Price/value compared to other 35mm primes
Simply put, aside from the complaint of the aperture ring being easy to bump away from “A”, (and then you’re suddenly shooting at f/16 instead of f/2 or whatever) …the entire list of cons basically hinges on this one issue: do you care if a lens is rather large, very heavy, and/or twice the price of competitors that offer just as good image quality at equal apertures besides f/1.2?
Because, if you don’t mind the weight and you have the money, and you really want f/1.2, then there’s not much else holding you back. That is, unless you want to pixel-peep in the extreme corners of the image when using it for astrophotography.
Of course, if you’re already a fan of Sigma’s fastest, most exotic lenses, then you’re probably no stranger to shockingly oversized optics. Sigma made heads turn when they debuted their 105mm f/1.4 Art, which was so big it required a tripod foot, had 105mm filter threads, and a style of clamp-on cylinder hood that is normally reserved for giant 300mm f/2.8 “big gun” super-telephoto lenses.
Whether or not you decide it’s worth it is going to come down to whether or not you’re truly pushing the envelope of what is possible with photography. Maybe you’re already at the highest ISO you feel comfortable using, and the slowest shutter speed you can afford to choose without risking blur, and yet you still need even more light. Or, maybe you’re just totally obsessed with ultra-shallow depth.
Either way, f you’ve never felt these constraints, then you’re probably much better off going with a different option. We’ll get into alternatives below.
Let’s just lump every aspect of image quality all together into two categories: For virtually every kind of photography, image quality could be considered either very impressive, or downright perfect. Even wide open at f/1.2, most of the image is quite sharp, though not perfect. By f/2 and f/2.8, the sharpness is more than enough for a 60-megapixel camera, and probably ready for more. (For the center of the image, I didn’t even bother testing past f/2.8, it was so sharp!)
Colors, contrast, flare, sunstars–it’s all gorgeous and beautiful. Vignetting, distortion, color fringing, aberrations–it’s all minimal, or nonexistent, especially when you get to f/2 or so. Of course, you get some vignetting at the faster apertures, and it’s pretty significant at f/1.2, but it’s a gradual, pleasing look that most portrait shooters will appreciate, and is mostly corrected by the in-camera profile.
The only genre of photography where image quality needs to be scrutinized is astrophotography, where things like coma and astigmatism and extreme corner sharpness come into play. Because, unfortunately, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 Art falls short of its nearest rival, the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD.
The Sigma, at f/1.2 through about f/2.8, has faint blooming of pin-point light sources, such as stars, even in the center of the image, plus, both coma and sagittal astigmatism in the corners until f/2.8. The Tamron, on the other hand, renders pin-point light sources surprisingly perfect wide-open at f/1.4, and has virtually no coma or astigmatism at f/1.4, and far less at f/2 than the Sigma has at f/2.8.
The bottom line is, if you’re shooting astro-landscapes, and thinking that f/1.2 might be really nice, you will be forfeiting a bit of crisp detail in exchange for the added half-stop of brighter exposure. The decision is up to you.
Design & Durability
Aside from the image quality, we almost don’t need to spend much time talking about the rest of the pros and cons of the lens. It’s built to Sigma’s professional-grade “Art” lens standards, meaning no compromises. The hood is a fancy click-lock one like on most flagship 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. The side of the lens barrel is adorned with the AF/MF switch, a customizable Fn button, and an aperture de-click switch for video shooters, although there isn’t a fully locked option to keep the aperture in it’s “A” position, as I mentioned earlier.
Autofocus & Manual Focus Performance
Autofocus is fast, for an f/1.2 lens. However, there is just so much glass to push back and forth in such a lens, you’ll get more snappy results if you use a similarly cutting-edge optic with a smaller aperture, such as the Sony 35mm f/1.8 G. Either way, your decision on whether or not to buy this lens likely won’t hinge on autofocus precision; in other words, you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Size & Weight | So, Just How Big Is This Thing?
We’ve already made it clear that your decision to invest in this lens will hinge on whether or not you’re OK with the size and weight.
Long story short, the price and half-stop of aperture might not be worth it if one of the main reasons you like primes is to have a highly compact alternative to big heavy zoom lenses. This prime is literally the exact opposite of that.
So, just how big is this thing? Here are some comparisons. As you’ll see, we aren’t exaggerating: this thing is, in fact, one of the biggest, heaviest lenses ever to be made in the “normal” focal ranges…
- Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art = 1.09 kg (2.4 lb)
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Art = 0.835 kg (1.84 lb)
- Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM = 0.886 kg (1.95 lb)
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN Art = 0.795 kg (1.75 lb)
- Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM = 0.95 kg (2.09 lb)
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art = 0.625 kg (1.38 lb)
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Sony E) = 0.755 kg (1.66 lb)
- Rokinon AF 35mm f/1.4 FE = 0.645 kg (1.42 lb)
- Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 = 0.281 kg (0.61 lb)
DSLR Lenses (without adapters):
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art (Canon) = 1.02 kg (2.24 lb)
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG NSM Art (Canon) = 1.15 kg (2.53 lb)
- Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Canon) = 1.2 kg (2.65 lb)
- Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD (Canon) = 0.815 kg (1.79 lb)
That last lens, the Tamron 35mm f/1.4, is one of the sharpest lenses ever made in the 35mm focal length, (yes, it’s better at f/1.4 in the corners than the Sigma 35 1.2 Art stopped down to f/1.4) …despite being 0.8 lbs or close to 400g lighter.
Below, we’ll include a few more size comparison images and animations. So, to anyone who is thinking, “oh, they’re just complaining, it can’t be that bad!” …simply ask yourself if you’re ready to carry around a prime that’s actually heavier than your 24-70mm f/2.8!
Video & Vlogging Use | Can It Balance On A Gimbal?
Just to give you an idea of how heavy this lens is, here it is mounted on a Weebil-S gimbal. It’s pretty much the max for even this heavy-duty gimbal. Yeah, this 35mm f/1.2 is actually heavier than some of the 14-24mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms out there; that’s hefty!
In terms of value, it’s all about that aperture, once again. No other lens offers f/1.2, so if you want it, you have to pay ~$1,500. In that sense, the lens has value. However, if you’re not 100% certain you need f/1.2, all of a sudden you realize that the competition, at both f/1.4 and f/1.8, is very close in performance, and often half the price or less. We’ll talk about the alternatives at different price points next…
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Review | Compared To The Competition
In order to talk about other options, we have to play the WHAT IF game. For example, what if you only want to “play around” with f/1.2, and you don’t want an enormous, expensive lens? That’s an easy hypothetical; you can get a cheap, almost “toy” lens like the SLR Magic Cine 35mm f/1.2 for just $299-399. Their image quality won’t even come close to matching that of the Sigma, but if you’re just looking to casually experiment with ultra-shallow depth and unique bokeh characteristics at 35mm, you could give these two (manual focus) lenses a try.
Alternately, what if you want f/1.2, and you really do care about image quality, but also still care about portability? You could see how good the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 is, for $1999, although we’re quite certain the Sigma is still significantly better.
What if you want autofocus, though? What if, you want autofocus and are willing to forfeit f/1.2, but you still want good image quality? Some older 35mm f/1.4 primes have a lot of character, with beautifully smooth bokeh, like the Sony ZA (Zeiss) Distagon 35mm f/1.4, if you’ve got ~$1,600 to spend. There’s also a few other third-party alternatives, from the Rokinon/Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE’s, ($499-799) …to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art ($799-899), the former being “decently sharp”, and the latter being truly impressive.
Last but not least, if you’ve somehow stumbled into this review looking for primes that are both affordable and “tiny”, and you somehow haven’t stopped reading this review even though you already know it’s not the right lens, then, here are the actual lenses for you: A Sony FE 35mm f/1.8, for $749, or the new Rokinon/Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE, for just ~$399. Both lenses are downright tiny by comparison to most all other primes, the Sony being just slightly larger and (as the price reflects) both sharper and more well-built, whereas the Roki-Yang 35mm truly is the tiniest, most portable (autofocus) 35mm prime around.
Oh, unless you want something even tinier, and aren’t going to scrutinize the image quality at all, in which case the Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/2.8 is just $239 when it’s on sale down from ~$400.
That’s about it! There are a lot of other lenses, but at this point, I’m assuming that you’re still reading for at least one of a few reasons. You’re either determined to reach f/1.2, or you’re very interested in maximum image quality, and likely also autofocus.
Just as an exercise, here’s one more “what-if” scenario, because so far we’ve only been talking about 35mm prime lenses exclusively: Let’s say you don’t mind large lenses, and you also have exactly $1,500 to spend, BUT, you also don’t need f/1.2, AND you’re not necessarily attached to the idea of a prime lens.
Instead of this one 35mm prime, you could get BOTH a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DN Art for $1,100, and the new Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.8 for just $400. When you need “insane” image quality from f/2.8 onward, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DN is both incredibly sharp wide-open and a bit lighter than the 35 1.2. Then, when you want to keep it casual and reach for a compact prime that allows you to jam your entire camera into a small backpack with all your other family outing necessities, the Rokinon 35mm f/1.8 is a truly tiny “nifty 35” size.
NOTE: Watch Out For APS-C 35mm Prime Lenses!
Other lenses such as the Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.2 ED AS UMC CS lens are NOT full-frame lenses, they’re made for APS-C cameras such as the Sony A6600. There are a few other 35mm prime lenses out there which are APS-C lenses, so look carefully before you buy!
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Review | Conclusion
[Related Reading: Sigma Art 105mm 1.4 Review and User Guide (Video)]
Sigma really loves outdoing themselves, and one-upping the competition too. In this case, they’ve done both. It’s almost as if they just made the 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art as an homage to their first full-frame Art lens, the legendary 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, a lens that despite being so old I want to add an “EX” to its name out of habit, is still one of the best 35mm primes today.
In other words, Sigma already accomplished a near-perfect 35mm f/1.4, a milestone in the history of full-frame DSLRs, so they had no choice but to make a 35mm f/1.2 as their first full-frame mirrorless 35mm prime.
Is it the right lens for most photographers? No, but it’s not supposed to be. “Most photographers” should absolutely stick with an f/1.4 or even f/1.8 prime.
Personally, considering how much lighter and smaller the new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is, with an optical formula made specifically for mirrorless compared to its DSLR predecessor, (it’s a whopping 1.1 lbs or a half-kilogram lighter) …I find myself wishing that Sigma had just made a mirrorless-optimized 35mm f/1.4 instead, and made it smaller and lighter than its DSLR predecessor.
What about you? You know what type of photo/video work you do, and how much you like shallow depth, and/or how much you like to shoot in impossibly dim lighting. Hopefully, you’ve finally decided whether or not to get this lens.
Check Pricing & Availability
The Sigma 35 1.2 Art is available for $1,499 (unless it’s on sale, which it is regularly throughout the year!), and as of this writing, they are in stock on B&H for both Sony E-mount and Leica L-mount.
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