Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art: In a League of its Own

 
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Can the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art recapture the sheer magic of the previous Art lenses that preceded it? K Madhavan Pillai discovers a new favourite, even as he finds out.

The third in the line-up in Sigma’s full-frame prime Art series of lenses, my expectations from the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art was extremely high. It already faced significant competition from Nikon and Canon 24mm prime offerings. If at all, Sigma’s previous stellar successes was the singular biggest reason why I chose the 24mm as the only lens to accompany me into the small labour room, where my wife was having our first child. And I am very happy that I did.

Features
In line with Sigma’s basic philosophy of simplicity, from the outside the Sigma 24mm seems to be quite nondescript. Its biggest draw is its maximum aperture of f/1.4. This opens up a wide variety of possibilities in low light and in freezing action. From the inside, the complex optical design (15 elements, most of them specialised glass to check aberrations) shows just how tough it is to design a lens at this focal length.

One of the big draws of this focal length is how intimately close you can get to your subjects and still include a lot in the frame. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/5.6, ISO 3200). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

One of the big draws of this focal length is how intimately close you can get to your subjects and still include a lot in the frame. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/5.6, ISO 3200). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

The minimum focusing distance of 9.8 inches, while not spectacular, is good enough. There are 9 aperture blades. The lens has a standard filter thread of 77mm, and the front of the lens does not rotate on focusing. AF is enabled by a silent HSM motor. The lens comes bundled with a petal-shaped lenshood.

Handling
With lenses of this nature, how well it handles is linked to how much you can achieve with it. Amongst its competitors, the Sigma 24mm is the heaviest, but the overall shape and feel ensures that it both fits into the hand and balances extremely well, to the point where one hardly notices the weight at all. The overall build of the lens inspires confidence.

While a wide aperture ensures that you almost never have to move into a situation where MF is required, one of the highlight of the Art series design is the wide, rubber ribbed focus ring that falls exactly at the right position at the fingers. The ring has the right resistance to allow precise movements, and there is full-time MF override.

Performance
Critical analyses of images show exactly where the challenges lie in the design of a 24mm, as opposed to the 35mm and 50mm in the Art series. The level of sharpness that the Sigma 24mm can produce at f/1.4 at the center of the frame is simply fantastic. The edges have a marked drop in resolution and I must say I was slightly disappointed to see that. With a 24mm lens, the main subjects are seldom right at the center of the frame. That said, overall sharpness still compares favourably to competing lenses. There is also visibly apparent but easily corrected vignetting f1/4. At f/5.6, the lens peaks in terms of overall optical quality, and brilliantly so. Negligible fringing is present at the edges wide open, but complete disappears on stopping down. Distortion is well controlled.

Both the sharpness at the centre, and the soft-edged foreground and background focus blurs at f/1.4 are nothing short of stunning. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Both the sharpness at the centre, and the soft-edged foreground and background focus blurs at f/1.4 are nothing short of stunning. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

As with the previous lenses in this series, the AF locks quickly and conclusively. A note about the AF with reference to sharpness—when a lens gets so beautifully sharp, ensuring that the AF locks at the right point is very critical. A lot of my missed opportunities were, in fact, photographs in which I was not very careful with where the camera locked focus.

Conclusion
Priced at Rs. 65,900, the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a little more than half the price of the Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II USM, and almost a third of that of the AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED. At its least, it equals their performance and at its best, it sets the standard. Can there possibly be any question about its value? Enough said.

FINAL RATINGS
Features: Maximum aperture of f/1.4, HSM motor, many special glass elements  17/20
 Performance: Excellent sharpness, some loss at edges  32/35
 Build Quality: Metal barrel with high grade plastics  23/25
 Ergonomics: Broad, well-positioned MF ring, Full-time MF  14/15
 Warranty & Support: Wide area service network, two year warranty  3/5
 OVERALL  89%

MRP: Rs.65,900

Who should buy it? Perfectly suited for street, interior and action photograhy. Practically anyone looking to buy a large aperture 24mm prime lens.

Why? Exemplary optical quality, excellent handling and a great price are an unbeatable combination.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, May 2015, Sigma 24mm, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art price India, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art review, sigma art lens