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Full review of the Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG lens. 

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Box and contents

 
 
The Sony A77 and A900 were used for this review.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located at the very bottom of the page.
 
 
Introduction.
 
The full frame coverage Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM lens was introduced in late 2012, and is available for most major camera mounts, including Sony alpha which is tested here.  This is Sigma's first Global Vision 'Art' series of lenses; and as such; claims to take artistic expression to a new level---so are you ready to be whisked away to a new level of expressiveness?  Or are you happy being in the lower levels of the dreaded artistic doldrums?  Either way, read on!
 
Found on the outside of the lens is an AF/MF switch and focus distance scale under a clear plastic window, plus depth of field hash marks (F/16) between the focus index mark.  The Sigma 35mm F/1.4 has a plastic focusing ring along with what appears to be a metal body, and of course a metal mount.  Build quality is very good, with a nice fit and finish, and it feels solid in the hand.  The lens body has an appealing black matte paint finish.  Filter size is a somewhat odd 67mm, which is used only on Sony's full fame 28-75mm F/2.8 lens; and a couple of NEX lenses like the 18-200mm.
 
Sigma claims the use of 4 'SLD' (special low dispersion), elements, 2 aspherical, and 1 'FLD' (fluorite) glass element in the design of the lens.  The Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG says 'made in Japan'.
 
The Sigma 35mm F/1.4 HSM uses a focus design that moves the rear optical group slightly outside the mount at infinity, therefore, don't set the lens bottom down without a rear lens cap when set to infinity or the rear element will make contact with the surface, and will wobble around.  The lens doesn't extend out when focusing.
  
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, plastic petal type hood, and a thoughtful (but worthless) padded carrying case and owner's manual.   
 
Focusing.  The manual focusing ring is damped a tiny bit too much in my opinion, and is hard to turn with one finger, but It doesn't "wander" when jiggling the camera.  Focus ring travel is 1/4 of a turn form close-up to infinity, which is a good amount of travel, and allows precise focusing, but will depend on your focusing screen and eye sight. 
 
AF; This lens uses a focusing motor inside the body, and Sigma calls it HSM or "hyper-sonic motor."  HSM is almost silent, and pretty fast, and it's better than Sony's cheap SAM system, but not better than the excellent Sony SSM system.  With Sigma HSM, you can over-ride the AF system by simply turning the manual focus ring after the AF locks. 
 
When using F/1.4-2 at closer focusing distances like a living room or a small restaurant, my copy of the Sigma 35mm F/1.4 focused slightly behind the subject with my A900 and A77, and AF micro adjustments did not completely correct this issue.  Sigma sells a USB 'Dock' (not available for Sony at this time) that you can use to try and correct focusing problems like this.  This devise eliminates the hassle for Sigma to get the AF protocols right, and allows Sigma to churn out more lenses with defective focusing; but in turn allows the end user to spend their own time and money to do this job, smart thinking Sigma!  On a more happy note; at longer focusing distances there were no problems with focusing accuracy on either the A900 or A77.
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

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Side shot showing 'Art' series badge, filter size, serial number and lens name.
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Back side showing moving rear focusing group at infinity
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Green and magenta coated front element.
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AF switch on left side
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Sigma X-ray view and incomplete MTF chart

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, hood, padded case and users manual.

Cost

Approximately $899

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

Introduced late 2012. Sigma's page for this lens.  A good alternative to the more expensive Sony 35mm F/1.4 G lens.  Don't forget about the less expensive Rokinon 35/1.4.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

13 elements in 11 groups

Angle of view

63.4˚ full frame,  43.4˚ APS-C 

Aperture

9 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Made for full frame, but works fine on APS-C cameras.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Depth of field hash marks at F/16, and focus distance scale in window.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

11.8"  (300mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

5.9"  (150mm) 

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No.

Length changes when focusing?

No.

Focus ring turns in AF?

No.

Filter size

67mm.

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.19x or 1:5.2

Min. F/stop

F/16

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

N/A

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.07" x 3.75"   78mm x 94mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

3.75"  (94mm)                                                    

Weight bare (my scale)

23.4oz  (663g) bare.

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  About average control.  I occasionally see some green and orange colored arcs and ghosts.
 
Light fall-off.  Heavy on full frame wide open, and low on APS-C.  See samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Lateral color fringing control is above average and hardly noticeable.  You see some axial color fringing also when the aperture is wide open, but it clears up mostly by F/2.8, see crops in the full frame section.
 
Bokeh.  Mostly smooth, see examples below.
 
Color.  Seems about the same as Sony lenses.
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  A tiny amount noticeable in the far corners at F/1.4.
 
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off problems using APS-C or full frame cameras.  
 
Filter size.  67mm.  As of this review, only one Sony full frame lens uses a 67mm filters; the 28-75mm F/2.8.
 
Distortion.  Very minor barrel type on both sensor sizes.
 
Distortion sample directly below.
 

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Mild barrel distortion.

 

Distortion is mild using an APS-C camera.

 
 
Light fall-off samples, (APS-C).
 

           F/1.4

              F/2

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Light fall-off is very light and not a problem, even at F/1.4 with a filter attached. 

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

           F/1.4

             F/1.4 along lower side

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           F/2

             F/2.8

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Bokeh in the center area looks pretty smooth at all apertures, however, I see some spherochromatism at F/1.4-2.8, which causes that particular aperture bokeh to appear less smooth than at other apertures.  Spherochromatism shows itself as colored tinges around blurred highlights, such as when the foreground is blurred, you'll get red outlined highlights, with the background blurred, you'll get green outlined highlights, this goes away as you stop down, and is mostly noticeable on fast lenses when used wide open.  Bokeh along the sides of the frame is harsh at wide apertures, but that's typical for this type of lens.  Distance to in-focus subject; about 6' (2m) with the background about 12' (4m) away.

 

 

 
Maximum reproduction size.

Check out the cropped image of the stamp.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A77 24MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a short 5.9" (150mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has an approximate reproduction size of 0.19x (1:5.2) which is about average for this type of lens, and it turned in a sharp image of the stamp.  At close focus I noticed sharp images from F/1.4 to F/11, (which is crazy), the only difference being some color fringing at F/1.4-F/2.  The stamp shot is displayed full size, but cropped.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.  
 

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As close as you can get, F/2. Click for larger image.

 

 

 

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Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

 

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

            F/1.4

              F/2

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            F/2.8

              F/4

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There is definitely more light fall-off using a full frame camera, with noticeably dark corners and mid-sections at F/1.4, but it clears up nicely by closing the aperture one or two stops.  Using a regular "thick" type filter produces little to no additional light fall-off.

 
 
Full frame distortion.
 

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Mild barrel distortion.

 

I see some minor barrel distortion with full frame coverage, (although straightening out at the ends); it's mostly repairable in post processing.

 


 

 

  
Conclusion. 
 

The Sigma 35mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM is a fast, wide angle lens that is well suited for available light, hand held conditions, such as night-time street scenes.  This fast, wide focal length is a welcome addition to the full frame alpha mount as Sony hasn't shown any real sense of urgency to update its aging fleet of full frame lenses.  Currently Sony has a dated 35/1.4 G lens designed in the 1980s by Minolta, and an excellent newer 35/1.8 DT lens that is much lighter, smaller and less expensive than the Sigma, but only works with APS-C cameras.  Another lens on the radar in this focal length is the Rokinon/Bower/Vivitar/Walimex/Samyang/pro-optic/Falcon/Opteka 35/1.4 with manual focusing.  So out of all those, which one is the sharpest, and/or best overall?  Unfortunately, I don't have the other lenses on hand for a comparison, but I can make an uneducated guess based on memory and going over other reviews on this site.

 

First off, let's see what's good about the Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG lens.  The best quality is probably the overall sharpness at F/1.4; it's quite impressive from center to corner.  Distortion is managed well, as is lateral color fringing and coma.  I also like the close focus performance, it's really sharp at the widest apertures, that's crazy for this type of lens, I'm not sure how they manged that, or if it was a design accident.

 

A couple of items that weren't so great; focusing at shorter distances with a wide aperture; both of my cameras focused behind the subject so much so that the shot was not very usable, but this wasn't a problem at longer distances at any aperture.  Also, magenta axial color fringing was a little strong for what I was expecting, but this type goes away as you stop down the aperture, so not really a big deal.

 

So is the Sigma 35/1.4 DG better than the Sony 35/1.4 G?  Based on memory, I'd say at F/1.4-2 the Sigma is much sharper, but they probably average out around F/2.8-4.  How about the Rokinon 35/1.4 manual focus lens?  I'd say the optical performance is roughly the same as the Sigma.

 

APS-C users will probably be better served with the Sony DT 35/1.8; it's much less expensive, smaller and lighter and gives very good performance, however, there is a 2/3 stop advantage to the F/1.4 lenses, that may be important for night-time street shooters.

 

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Full image showing crop area.

 

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/1.4

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summer2013/s3514mid14.jpg
summer2013/s3514corn14.jpg

F/2

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summer2013/s3514corn20.jpg

F/2.8

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summer2013/s3514corn28.jpg

F/4

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summer2013/s3514corn40.jpg

F/5.6

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summer2013/s3514corn56.jpg

F/8

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F/11

summer2013/s3514ctr11.jpg
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At F/1.4, the centers are sharp, but lack contrast; and more so as you move towards the sides.  There's a big jump in contrast in the centers at F/2, although the sides still lag a bit behind.  Moving to F/2.8, I see a very sharp center, with the sides starting to show improvement. At F/4, the whole frame is looking quite good; however, F/8 seems to be the best for the extreme corners.  Stopping down past F/5.6 or so shows some softening in the centers due to diffraction.  The mid-sections were taken from the same place as the APS-C corners would be.  Exposure differences are from light fall-off.  Distance to subject is around 300' (91m).

 

That's it for the review.  Please check out the Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG here to help support my site, thanks!