Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art: A Classic Redefined

 
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

When we thought that we had seen the best this focal length had to offer, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art came to us. K Madhavan Pillai reports.

The 50mm ‘normal’ lens has seen more iterations, research and optical designs than any other type of lens in the history of photography. While the popularity of the standard zoom has caused interest in the 50mm to wane in recent years, especially among those who are new to DSLRs, this focal length needs some introduction.

The 50mm delivers a natural, unforced perspective similar to that of human eyes. Its larger apertures allows it to be useful for available and low light photography. Despite the larger apertures, the 50mm is also usually small, light, portable, and well-suited for handheld photography. It affords a high degree of control over depth of field, has a good close focusing distance, and has low levels of distortion.

For the student, the f/1.8 variant is the least expensive full-frame lens in the market, and, thereby, also the cheapest entry into the world of primes. For advanced users, some f/1.4 versions are the least expensive of all large aperture lenses available. For the specialist, the 50mm has options with even larger apertures and high-end, superbly corrected optics. But these are quite costly.

This is why the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art piqued my interest. It is a premium lens aimed at specialists who want the very best quality. In the recent past, other Art lenses by Sigma earned praise even from some of the more critical reviewers on the Better Photography team. I was curious to know if this 50mm lived up to the reputation of the others in the Art lineup.

Features
This Sigma 50mm is available to fit Canon, Nikon, Sony and Sigma DSLRs. It is made of 13 elements in 8 groups. To reduce both distortion and aberrations, it includes both aspherical and special low dispersion (SLD) glass elements. A silent HSM motor powers AF. While the lens has a MF mode enabled by a switch, full-time MF override is enabled by simply rotating the focus ring. Closest focusing is 15.7in, which is good, but not exceptional. There is no image stabilisation.

The lens features internal focusing and the front lens element does not rotate, allowing users to make use of polarising or graduated filters. The lens takes 77mm filters, which is a bit of a bother. Not only are good UV and polarising filters of this size rather expensive in India, they are also hard to come by at specialist retailers.

This lens supports Sigma’s new USB Dock accessory, which allows minute focus adjustments and quick firmware updates. A petal-shaped hood is supplied with the lens and fits onto a bayonet mount at the front of the lens.

Handling
This is not a small lens. It weighs a whopping 815g. I tested it on both the Canon EOS 6D and the EOS 1DX, and the lens balances well and feels right at home. Build quality is excellent. While there is no mention that the lens is weather resistant (and it isn’t, so avoid getting it wet), the brushed metal finish and the brass bayonet mount gave it quite a reassuring, solid feel.

Of particular note is the manual focusing ring. It is broad, ridged and a pleasure to use. The rotation is smooth and heavily damped. The only lacuna in handling was the DOF scale. While it is present, it is not as detailed as I would have liked it to be for a lens of its type.

Performance
The very first image I shot was at f/1.4 and I was quite taken aback by the excellent level of sharpness, especially at the center of the frame. By f/2.8, sharpness across the frame is uniformly superb and by f/4, the Sigma 50mm peaks. This lens is all about sharpness, especially wide open.

At f/1.4, chromatic aberrations are absent in sharp areas. I noticed slight blue-green fringing in the bokeh against blown out highlights, at the edges. But this vanishes at f/4. There is no perceptible distortion, and light fall-off is negligible. Focusing is speedy and the lens locks on quickly, without hunting. By any standard, the Sigma 50mm displays exceptional performance, across parameters.

Using f/1.4 threw some of the sparks in the foreground out of focus, turning them into bokeh. Exposure: 1/320sec at f/1.4 (ISO 100) Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

Using f/1.4 threw some of the sparks in the foreground out of focus, turning them into bokeh. Exposure: 1/320sec at f/1.4
(ISO 100) Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

 

Conclusion
At Rs. 65,455, the Sigma 50mm is by no means an inexpensive lens. But it certainly is a lens that performs brilliantly in almost every area of our review. Apart from the incredible level of sharpness that I personally experienced in our field tests, DxO Labs pegs the Sigma as “seriously close” to the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4. What is indeed surprising is that it is not only the sharpest lens amongst its immediate peers, but sharper than equivalent lenses that are twice its price.

Pitched against the AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G (Rs. 1,29,950), or the Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM (Rs. 1,09,995), or the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 (USD 4000 or Rs. 2,40,000) the Sigma 50mm is spectacularly priced and worth the money! Well done, Sigma!

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Silent HSM motor, large filter diameter, USB Dock compatible for micro-AF adjustments
17/20
Performance
Exemplary sharpness especially at f/1.4, fast AF, barely any distortion or aberrations
34/35
Build Quality
Brass mount, metal and high grade plastics
23/25
Ergonomics
Large and heavy, excellent MF ring, large AF/MF switch, full-time MF override
13/15
Warranty & Support
Limited number of service facilities
3/5

 

MRP Rs. 65,455
OVERALL 90%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4½/5 Stars
Who should buy it? Advanced users who needs an ultrasharp 50mm for use with high resolution DSLRs.
Why? Simply put, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art displays better optical performance than its competitors, at a significantly lower price.

 

Tags: 2014, 50mm lens, better photography, interchangeable lens, june, K Madhavan Pillai, Lens, Sigma, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, silent HSM motor, USB dock compatible