Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM AF: Of Art and Freedom

 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM AF

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM AF

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM AF is the first of the company’s ‘Art’ series of flagship optics. Raj Lalwani tests it through a variety of situations and reports.

Two years ago, Better Photography had published a Shooting Technique article, in which we had asked several photographers about what kind of lens they liked most. My favourite photographer, the Magnum legend, David Alan Harvey, had replied that all he needs to view the world, is a fixed 35mm lens.

I identified with Harvey’s sentiment. 35mm is my favourite focal length as well. But I always looked at these lenses from afar. The proprietary f/1.4 version of the fixed 35mm costed well over a lakh, and personally, I did not have the funds to buy a lens that expensive. This is why I watched with great interest, when Sigma announced a 35mm f/1.4 at a price of Rs. 56,900, almost Rs. 80,000 cheaper than the Nikkor version.

Features

Despite the low price point, the company has not skimped on any features. This is an exquisitely designed piece of optics, very rightly (though cheesily) labelled the ‘Art’ series. The lens incorporates several technologies to maintain this premium nature on the inside. It has one Low Dispersion and four Super Low Dispersion elements to minimise the aberrations that are common to fast wide-angle prime lenses.

Besides a Hyper Sonic Motor for silent focusing, the lens also incorporates a Thermally Stable Composite metal. This component is supposed to limit the expansion or contraction of the internal parts, even when ambient temperatures fluctuate. The company claims that this will increase the life of the lens.

While there is no way of confirming this while testing a brand new lens, those who buy the lens through the official channels in India will appreciate the fact that the company has a 1:1 replacement policy, if the lens needs to be serviced beyond a certain level.

Handling

The lens balances perfectly on the Nikon D700 and D800. It feels a little front heavy on the D600, but it is something that one can easily get used to. The lack of weather sealing may have been a compromise to keep the price down, but it is one of the few things that go against this lens.

The focusing ring is large and well damped. I often found myself switching to MF—not because of any AF problems (autofocus is very good), but because the feel of using a fixed 35mm just made me want to take complete control of what I was shooting. The distance scale also allowed me to focus manually at the hyperfocal distance and prowl the streets, simply concentrating on framing and moment.

Performance

It is a great feeling to view images shot at a relatively wide focal length, but with their backgrounds completely blurred. Photography at 35mm is remarkably intimate and the quick AF of this Sigma meant that I was getting several shots that I was proud of.

The colour rendition is fantastic, and the focusing, very quick. Exposure: 1/500sec at f/6.3 (ISO 1000) Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

The colour rendition is fantastic, and the focusing, very quick.
Exposure: 1/500sec at f/6.3 (ISO 1000) Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

When I inspected the images on the computer, it actually hit me. The photos produced by this lens are very sharp, even at the widest aperture. The quality is much better than what one would expect from a non-proprietary lens manufacturer. In fact, it is sharper than the Nikkor and Canon alternatives, and even does full justice to the 36MP sensor of the D800. Vignetting is prominent at f/1.4, but it eases off at around f/2. One can see a bit of pattern flaring in extreme conditions, but there is no loss of contrast.

Conclusion

Rarely do we see a third-party lens that surpasses the capabilities of its proprietary competitors. The fact that one can buy two Sigma 35mm lenses for the price of one Nikkor or Canon 35mm f/1.4, is of course, a little ironic.

If you are a disciplined photographer who revels in the idea of using one fixed lens for all your work, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is an astonishing piece of optics. Embrace the constraint of a fixed focal length, and enjoy the freedom that follows.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
TSC technology, fast f/1.4 aperture, instant manual focus override
17/20
Performance
Tack sharp even at the widest aperture, minimal flare, excellent distortion control
34/35
Build Quality
Solid plastic build, no weather sealing
22/25
Ergonomics
Excellent focusing ring, DOF scale
14/15
Warranty & Support
Limited service centres, replacement policy
3/5

 

MRP Rs. 56,900
OVERALL 90%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5 Stars
Who should buy it? Street and travel photographers who want a fast lens that is not very wide.
Why? The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is not only half the price of the Nikkor and Canon alternatives, it also matches up in terms of optical quality.
Tags: better photography, may, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM AF, 2013, interchangeale lens. sigma