For years, Sigma had been considered a company that is not taken seriously by the pros. Then, very recently, they released their 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.4 combined with some quality control regulation boosts; the company stole the hearts of many with the pure optical quality. Sigma has completed the trinity with the 35mm f1.4 EX HSM; the company's latest addition to their lineup which they are branding under their "Art" line of lenses. These lenses are all known to have fast apertures and to be traditional focal lengths. Initially, the lens was released for Canon EF mount with Nikon next in line; but all DSLRs with the exception of Pentax and Four Thirds will soon be supported.
This lens is priced far below the options that Nikon, Canon and Zeiss offer for DSLR cameras--costing consumers $899 (compared to $1200-$1800). However, that doesn't mean that the quality is subpar. When holding the lens, one can immediately tell that it was built up to a very high quality standard. It will find itself in the bag of street photographers, photojournalists, wedding photographers, landscape shooters, and more. Indeed, these are the very things it was designed for. For years, photojournalists and documentary shooters mated 35mm lenses to their cameras; and some may even argue that the field of view is closer to the human perspective than a 50mm lens.
But does this lens really have what it takes to win the hearts of modern photographers who demand only the best from their equipment?
Build and Design
The Sigma 35mm f1.4 has a finish and build quality that is very much unlike any other Sigma lens that has come before it. Something about it makes one think of Zeiss or Hasselblad. It could be the smooth finish, svette black exterior, the large manual focusing ring, or the overall size and feel. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX feels as if it is made out of all metal, but it isn't. Instead, it is a hard plastic that still feels elegant to the touch. Despite the elegant feel of Sigma's first Art lens, it also feels very cutting edge and future-forward in its design. The company has created something that feels as if it will last you through one wedding after another.
With all of this said, it's important to note that the lens isn't waterproof or dustproof. So you may not want to take it out into the pouring rain. Even if you use this lens with a weather sealed camera, it won't protect the camera totally; and the lens may also not be totally protected. In our tests though, this lens survived a light drizzle with no problems.
Sigma has also taken a new philosophy when it comes to updating and servicing their lenses. The 35mm f1.4 is one of the first lenses that can be updated via their new USB dock; which connects to your computer and the lens to update any firmware or aid with calibration if needed. Sigma is the first company to do so and it is also an excellent way of thinking about support for the products. Running firmware through a camera is not always the most efficient way of updating a lens unless you're using a first party lens. But when you're a third party lens, you've got some problems that may occur.
The Sigma USB Dock does not have a set price yet.
Sigma's 35mm f1.4 is certainly quite a sharp lens. To experience the absolute sharpness that this lens is capable of though, you may want to micro adjust (or AF Fine Tune if you're a Nikon and Sony user) the lens to your camera body. Wide open, the lens is really quite amazingly sharp. Unlike Zeiss, the lens doesn't include any micro-contrast to boost perceived sharpness. The lens reaches its pinnacle of sharpness around f5.6--where the lens becomes one of the best primes we've seen for the Canon lineup in a while.
While we certainly purchase fast aperture lenses because we wants to shoot with them wide open, consider the fact that this lens vignettes a bit more than Canon and Nikon's lenses wide open. If you're shooting RAW and are a user of Lightroom, this shouldn't be a problem for you. Vignetting is very easily corrected in post-production. Depending on the camera you're using, the firmware could even correct for it.
This lens experiences very little chromatic aberration; and even then, you really have to look for it. Users will see very slight purple fringing--but thankfully no green fringing.
While designing the lens, Sigma managed to keep down distortion quite heavily; and they need to be praised for this. In fact, we would have no problems or hesitations at all using this lens for portraits of around four feet away from the subject.
If you're purchasing a lens of this type, Bokeh will also be extremely important to you. Sigma's bokeh is creamier than Canon's, Nikon's, Rokinon's, and Sony's--but can't beat Zeiss. The bokeh is so smooth that we can only liken it to something like Gelato; it really is that nice. In real life use, it will complement Sigma's 85mm f1.4 very well if you happen to be covering an event with two bodies and two lenses.
Ease of Use
The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is a lens designed for autofocusing. For some odd reason or another, Sigma bothered to put a small depth of field scale on the lens around the focusing distance scale. In all honestly, it's quite useless. However, if your lens is properly calibrated to your camera body (or if you're using Sony's peaking function) this won't be an issue at all due to just how responsive and quick this lens really is as well.
If you really have to use manual focus though (and many videographers may want to do so) the focusing barrel is easy to turn and well grooved for a follow focus. More experienced users, though, may wish that it were a tad bit smoother.
Comparison to Alternative lenses
During this review period, we had Canon's 35mm f1.4 USM L to test as well. As you can see in the photos below, Canon's 35mm f1.4 is blown away by the modern design of the Sigma. Sigma's 35mm f1.4 beats Canon's in sharpness, bokeh quality, and focuses just as fast.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Canon 35mm f/1.4
Overall, not a bad thing can be said about Sigma's 35mm f1.4 EX. The company surely put a lot of time and effort into the design and it's worth every penny. The lens is sharp as a razor, a relative speed-demon when it comes to focusing, and has some beautiful image quality. It may even stay mated to your camera!
If we really had to nitpick, we could talk about the lack of weather sealing; but then the $899.00 price point gets factored in. And that understandably keeps the price down.
Personally, this is currently my favorite lens--I'm old school and was trained to shoot with all primes. If I were stuck on a desert island with only one lens and my camera, this would be it. Sigma's 35mm f1.4 EX wins my fullest recommendations with no contest.