Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – Hands On Review

I have been hearing a lot of buzz about the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 for a while now, but up until now, I haven’t had the chance to try one out on a real gig.

As a pro photographer, I learned a long time ago that it is a bad idea to make photo gear decisions based on cost – it’s just better to buy the best equipment for the job.

But in this case, it’s pretty hard to argue with a lens that costs about half of its name brand competitors.

In this article I’ll share my hands on experience with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens and some sample photos.

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

Where Are The Test Results?

I’m a big picture person (ha – see what I did there).  Although test results can be important when choosing a new piece of gear, they’re not something that I get too obsessed about. 

All I want to know is: will a particular piece of gear suit its purpose?

I have heard that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 has great optics and I know it costs about half as much as equivalent 35mm f/1.4 lenses from Nikon and Canon.

But, if you really want more detail – check out this excellent review on dpreview.com

Why A 35mm Prime?

Besides 50mm, I find that 35mm is by far the most usable focal length.

If I look through my catalog, the huge majority of my photos are taken at a focal range between 24mm and 50mm.  Whether I’m shooting with a prime or a zoom, I kind of always end up shooting wide to normal.

Occasionally, I get up to 85mm for portraits, but I almost never shoot with a telephoto longer than that.

If you think about it, that makes sense.  Most of my photos are of people.  And most of the time, I’m pretty close to them, with no opportunity to back up and shoot telephoto, even if I wanted to.

When I shoot wide angle, I tend to be indoors, where space is limited and I need to shoot wide to frame the scene.

Knowing that I use a wide angle lens primarily indoors is also helpful to confirm that I need a really fast wide angle prime lens, specifically for shooting low light indoor photos.

As for prime vs. zoom – I think it comes down to personal preference, but for my work zooms can’t hold a candle to fast primes, especially if you’re photographing a candle.

The only problem I have run into with primes is that during weddings, I constantly run into people when I am moving back and forth to compose my shots.

Sample Images Shot With The Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 1

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/60th, f1.4, ISO 800, Natural Light

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Bride in Window Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

This is my quintessential natural window light full length bride shot that I take at pretty much every wedding.  In this case, it was a relatively overcast and dim day, so I am shooting wide open at a mid-high ISO.  Normally, I would remove the green curtains, burgundy chair and table in post, but I left them in there to illustrate how tight this space was – and thus why I needed a 35mm lens.

To get this shot, I am awkwardly kneeling on the back of a couch that is pushed up against a giant TV stand at the far end of the room, opposite of where the bride is standing.

Without the ability to go to f1.4, I would have been at f2.8 and ISO 1600, which is pushing it when it comes to noticable noise in this type of photo – even with the D800.

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 2

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/60th, f1.4, ISO 800, Natural Light

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Natural Light Bride Window Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

Here is a similar photo in the same setting.  Again, this is a natural window light photo, shooting with the Sigma 35mm wide open at f/1.4 and a mid-high ISO.

For this shot, I am standing on my tippy-toes on a very sketchy old chair.  I can see a little bit of wide angle distortion in this shot, but getting a ladder, smashing a hole in the ceiling and photographing this with a 50mm wasn’t really an option.

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 3

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/60th, f1.4, ISO 800, Natural Light and Softbox Fill

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Wedding Party with Smart Phones Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

This is a fun photo of the girl’s smart phone photos.  I took each of their phones and snapped the same photo in turn and then photographed the girls with their phones. 

This is the same backlit natural light setting, but in this case, I am using a small soft box strobe as fill. 

(In case you are wondering, the third phone from the left took by far the best photo in this difficult lighting scenario – it’s a Samsung Galaxy and you can see the difference between the iPhone photo beside it on the right.)

I could have probably used a 50mm for this shot, but the girls were hitting the Mimosas pretty hard and I didn’t want to waste time changing lenses.

I am really impressed with the level of bokeh that I got with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 in this shot.  The bride and her maid of honor in the back there are less than an arm length back from the focus point, but they are already blurring out nicely.  Compared to what I am used to getting at the wide end of my usual 24-70mm zoom, there is no beating a prime lens for bokeh.

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 4

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/60th, f1.4, ISO 800, Natural Light

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Details Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

Details – at 35mm – really!  Oh yes I did…but only because this was about ten seconds before going out the door and I had already packed up my 105mm macro. 

The girls were getting their shoes on and decided that it would be cool to get a photo of all of them together.  I agreed.

I was impressed with the bokeh in the previous shot, but this one blew me away.  I mean this is at 35mm!

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 5

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/60th, f2.8, ISO 1600, Natural Light and Strobe Fill

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Wedding Party Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

Do you ever walk into a room and immediately see the photo that you just have to take?  This was one of those occasions.

This photo is mostly ambient light from the tungsten fixtures in the room, balanced with fill light from a strobe on either side of the room bounced off the ceiling.  Can you guess why it’s black and white?  Because it looks cool…ya right…that’s it. 

Joking aside, I had CTO gels in my camera bag, but again in classic wedding style, setting this shot up took about 30 seconds.  They were an awesome wedding party, but you can only keep a wedding party away from cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for a very limited amount of time.

To compose this photo, I was standing on a chair with the back legs on the very edge of a staircase.  I wish I could have backed up about another two feet, or had a touch more wide angle view because I just cut off the top of the chandelier and the girl’s foot on the right, but again, I was very impressed with the quality of the image from the Sigma 35mm f/1.4.

In a photo with this many straight lines, there was minimal barrel distortion (which a simple lens profile correction in Lightroom got rid of with no problem), and there is even very little perspective distortion.

Sigma 35mm Sample Photo 6

Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – 1/200th, f5.6, ISO 400, Strobe Cross Light

Ancaster Mill Wedding Photography Reception Hamilton Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

Finally, we have the reception and the first dance.  My go-to lighting setup for the reception is to use strobe cross lighting – and yes that flare is on purpose – and yes Dawn (my wife / assistant) and I argue about the aesthetic qualities of strobe flares every single time we shoot a wedding.

There is no ambient here, so I was not utilizing the low light capabilities of a fast prime, but this was a really small dance floor and I needed a focal length that would get me a full length shot of the bride and groom.

There is no time to change lenses during the first dance, and the 35mm gave me the flexibility to shoot full body, or a little closer and crop in in post.  I would have actually liked just a little more wide angle here – to be able to shoot a full body landscape, but I knew that my assistant was taking care of those with the old reliable 24-70mm.

Any Full Resolution Samples of the Original Images?

Nope.  If you really want to see how great this lens is optically, go rent one any try it out yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

Conclusion

I was really pleased and somewhat pleasantly surprised with how well the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 performed in a real world shoot with some pretty challenging conditions.

I can honestly say that the optics are superb and I found the image quality at 35mm far superior to what I am used to getting with a zoom lens at a similar focal length.

The two knocks against the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 that seem to come up repeatedly online are the build quality and future compatibility.

I found the build quality to be excellent – again I was pleasantly surprised with how solid it looks and feels (I own one other Sigma lens and there is no comparison). 

However, it is true that compared to its Nikon and Canon competitors, the Sigma does contain a number of plastic parts and lacks weather sealing.  That may or may not be important to you.

Future compatibility is also a legitimate issue, and Sigma’s recent compatibility problems do not help its case.  I am confident that Sigma will solve compatibility issues with current generations of cameras, and maybe the next couple generations – but I am somewhat skeptical that a camera I buy in 10 years will still work with this lens. 

Of course, who knows what cameras will look like in 10 years – you certainly wouldn’t be mounting any DSLR glass onto your iTricorder.

The bottom line is that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is an excellent lens that costs about half of what a 35mm f/1.4 lens from Nikon or Canon costs.

It’s pretty hard to argue with that kind of price differential.

Would You Buy The Sigma 35mm f/1.4?

If you’re in the market for a 35mm prime, would you pull the trigger on the Sigma or suck it up and go with the big boys?

Do you own a Sigma 35mm f/1.4?  What are your impressions so far?

Leave a comment below!

About the Author

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP
can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water,
or use a camel as a light stand.

To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube.

JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

Comments

  1. Brobby says

    “Without the ability to go to f1.4, I would have been at f2.8 and ISO 1600, which is pushing it when it comes to noticable noise in this type of photo – even with the D800.”

    F/1.4 at IS0 800 is equivalent to F/2.8 at ISO 3200, which is pushing it even further.

    I recently bought this Sigma and noticed a huge jump in image quality in more of my shooting, which tends to be indoors. Where as before I might have been at 3200/6400 I can now easily get away with 800/1600. Also, I never realized how useful 35mm actually is. I definitely prefer it to 50mm now that I gave it a chance.

  2. Barry Freas says

    I don’t see compatibility as being an issue. I’m still using the Sigma 70-200/2.8 that I bought in 2003 and it works as well today on my 5D2 as it did on my 10D back then.

  3. Phillip Mathew says

    Well, I will tip my cap to Sigma on this 35mm 1.4 DG HSM Lens. I read some very early reviews on this which were mostly quite positive and decided it was time to purchase a 35mm prime for my Nikon D700 full frame body. I am *NOT* disappointed in the slightest bit. This lens is delivering everything I had hoped for and more. Having owned several of Nikon’s professional lenses (24-70 2.8, 80-200 2.8, etc) I was surprised to see build quality to be as good as it is. I feel I’ll own this lens for 20 years; it’s built like a tank. I would advice you all to research well before buying read my review at http://bit.ly/1gHIDZx

  4. Guest says

    The Sigma 35mm is sharp at all apertures. I purchased the Sigma to use with my D800E because I always use a 35mm prime (see above) in my photography. However, I wasn’t willing to pay the tariff for the Nikon 35mm 1.4 especially since its reviews were so-so at best (it’s softer than the Canon wide open but sharper than Canon by f/5.6). Given the Sigma’s bargain price and its good reviews, I purchased a copy. I have not been disappointed. The lens is better than all 35mm lenses I have used. It is sharp wide open and just gets sharper as the lens is stopped down. The color and contrast is on par with the Nikon 85mm ( basically, amazing). Vignetting is well-controlled, only noticeable wide open. More importantly, CA, unlike the Canon L, is well controlled. It simply isn’t a problem. You can read my Review at http://bit.ly/1gHIDZx

  5. Gautam Ahuja says

    Thanx for such a nice review sir . That was really helpful as I was confused between canon and sigma . One more thing I want to say about the compatiability issue , I think that can be solved with the Sigma USB Dock device.

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