Nikon 24-70 vs Sigma ART 35 & 50 (Also, Why a 24-70 is a Crap Lens Choice – Part 2)

Apr 30, 2015

JP Danko

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.

Nikon 24-70 vs Sigma ART 35 & 50 (Also, Why a 24-70 is a Crap Lens Choice – Part 2)

Apr 30, 2015

JP Danko

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.

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Everyone loves their 24-70 f2.8.

For most photographers, its often their first major upgrade from the kit lens that came with their camera (it was for me anyway).  For pure speed and versatility – nothing else comes close.  But when it comes to pure image quality and artistic vision…there is such a bigger world out there than what is possible with a 24-70.

So in real world use, how does a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 compare to a Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 and a Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4?

Well, in this article I am going to compare these three lenses shot for shot.

Nikon 24-70 vs Sigma ART 50mm at 50mm

First, lets see how these two lenses compare at 50mm.

Sigma ART 50mm at f1.4
Sigma ART 50mm at f1.4
Sigma ART 50mm at f2.8
Sigma ART 50mm at f2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 50mm f2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 50mm f2.8
Sigma ART 50mm at f4.0
Sigma ART 50mm at f4.0
Nikon 24-70 at 50mm f4.0
Nikon 24-70 at 50mm f4.0

Comparing the two lenses for sharpness and bokeh – to my eye, this is no contest.  Its like Glass Joe fighting Mike Tyson.

Even wide open at f1.4 the Sigma ART 50mm is just as sharp – if not sharper than the Nikon 24-70 at f4 – and the Sigma has way better bokeh all they way to f4.

After f4 the differences start to even out, so I didn’t bother comparing further.  However, the whole point of spending the big bucks on fast glass is to shoot wide open with those big juicy apertures (pretty much the only time I ever go above f5.6 is if I’m in studio).

Nikon 24-70 vs Sigma ART 35mm at 35mm

Ok, now lets take a look at 35mm.

Sigma ART 35mm at f1.4
Sigma ART 35mm at f1.4
Sigma ART 35mm at f2.8
Sigma ART 35mm at f2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 35mm f2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 35mm f2.8
Sigma ART 35mm at f4.0
Sigma ART 35mm at f4.0
Nikon 24-70 at 35mm f4.0
Nikon 24-70 at 35mm f4.0

The Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 just slays it when it comes to sharpness.

At 35mm you’re not really looking for bokeh – but at f2.8 the Sigma is slightly better – and when you consider that you can drop that down to f1.4 the Sigma ART 35mm is in a whole other league compared to the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8.

Focal Range Versatility

At this point, you might be thinking – well ya, the 24-70 might not produce as good quality images as a set of prime lenses – but its a zoom lens and it’s strength is its versatility – and it covers a larger focal range.

Meh – sort of.  The thing is 24mm and 70mm are both very awkward focal ranges.

24mm is just not quite wide enough to produce really interesting looking wide angle images and 70mm is not quite telephoto enough to eliminate lens distortion and really separate the foreground from the background.

And in use here, the difference between 24mm and 35mm is about two steps backwards.  To get 70mm from a 50mm – its about one step forward.

So, functionally a 24-70 zoom covers pretty much the same focal range as set of 50mm and 35mm primes.

At 24mm – you can certainly see the effect that wide angle distortion has on the cat at the front of the table with the Nikon at 24mm compared to the Sigma 35mm backed up a couple steps to cover the same area.

With the Nikon at 70mm and the Sigma 50mm a step closer, the results look virtually identical.

Here is how they compare:

Sigma ART 35mm similar to 24mm at f/2.8
Sigma ART 35mm similar to 24mm at f/2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 24mm f/2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 24mm f/2.8
Sigma ART 50mm similar to 70mm at f/2.8
Sigma ART 50mm similar to 70mm at f/2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 70mm f/2.8
Nikon 24-70 at 70mm f/2.8

Cost

The retail price of a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 is roughly $1900.  The cost of a Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.4 combined is $1850.  So they are pretty much the exact same cost.

The selling point of the 24-70 is that you get more lens for the price – it covers more focal range.

However, while that might be technically true – in actual use, you get noticeably better quality images with the Sigma pair (sharpness and bokeh), an extra stop of low light performance (f1.4 vs f2.8) and in most cases you can achieve pretty much the same focal range by moving just slightly forwards or backwards.

Probably the most stark difference is that the bokeh and sharpness you can get from the Sigma ART 50mm wide open at f/1.4 is like night and day compared to the bokeh and sharpness from the Nikon 24-70 at f/2.8.

That leaves the only benefit of the 24-70 is that you don’t have to change lenses.  For weddings, event photography and photos of kids and dogs – speed might just be more important than image quality – and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, for pretty much everything else, you can do the same job better with a set of primes.

What Do You Think

Its really hard to show the difference between these lenses with a series of online photos – and obviously this is a completely un-scientific comparison.  But when you’re working with the images from these three lenses in a professional photography workflow, the differences are significant.

If you are in the market for one of these lenses – the best way to decide which one works for you is to rent them and try them for yourself.

Do you prefer a 24-70 or are primes the way to go?

Is speed and versatility more important than image quality?

What is your favorite lens combo?

Is a 24-70 really a crap lens choice?

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JP Danko

JP Danko

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.

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33 responses to “Nikon 24-70 vs Sigma ART 35 & 50 (Also, Why a 24-70 is a Crap Lens Choice – Part 2)”

  1. Martin Pot Avatar
    Martin Pot

    I had a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens a few years ago, but started having focus issues with it. Canon repaired it under warranty once, but within 12 months, it was mis-behaving, and had to be repaired again….so I sold it.

    I have since bought the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens for Canon, and love it!

  2. Addicted2light Avatar
    Addicted2light

    Good point. As a matter of fact my favorite lens combo is 24/2.8 + 85/1.8 if I’m not expecting to shoot in particularly taxing lighting conditions. If that’s the case I will just add a 35/1.8 or a 50/1.2 to the mix and be done.

  3. andrei ioan Avatar
    andrei ioan

    there are 2 stops between 1.4 and 2.8

  4. Daniel Rath Avatar
    Daniel Rath

    So much hate for the wedding lens

  5. a_eh Avatar
    a_eh

    I never quite understood these kinds of comparisons. I get the point but it’s just not a strong or important one. I think for most people, they shoot with a 24-70 when needed and primes when that’s needed. It’s like asking if the 70-200 is better or an 85 and a 135/200. Or a regular flash or a ring flash. Monopod vs tripod. The list goes on for comparisons which just do not mean much.
    As most of you are already thinking, one has great image quality and versatility while the other has extra great image quality but needing the luxury of a little more time. There ya go. *captain obvious flies away*

  6. Pavel Avatar
    Pavel

    Well, when you need always take 2 lens in your bagpack and change it as fast as you can. But while your shooting wedding for example, you won’t have time for it.

    1. a_eh Avatar
      a_eh

      Agreed. Even having two cameras with two prime lenses isn’t going to work for that. The job will dictate the gear… Pretty much the same for all industries.

      1. JP Danko Avatar
        JP Danko

        This is already Part 3 of this series :) Somehow the one where I talk about how much I love a 24-70 for what it’s good at never gets much attention: https://www.diyphotography.net/5-wedding-photos-can-take-24-70-also-24-70-best-lens-ever-made/

        1. a_eh Avatar
          a_eh

          Man I remember Part I really was not that popular. Part II is more like damage control. Really not sure what your intention for Part III is… but hope you realize this prime lens vs. standard zoom comparison topic was already overkilled with even one article.
          Keep up the good work with your other articles though. Please, just let this go. We’ll forget this if you do.

  7. Justin Barr Avatar
    Justin Barr

    David Wells this is what you were saying

  8. calebwward Avatar
    calebwward

    “the only benefit of the 24-70 is that you don’t have to change lenses. For weddings, event photography and photos of kids and dogs”

    This is a pretty big “only” considering the fact that a large portion of the photographers on this site shoot weddings for the largest portion of their income. That being said the Sigma lenses are a better choice if you’re just looking for image quality.

    1. true Avatar
      true

      Primes / sigmas are good when shooting portraiture or stuff where you have plenty of time for each shot (like shooting inanimate objects, or models asked to pose for you). Anything that’s action related the zoom is already better choice over a prime lens.

  9. David Wells Avatar
    David Wells

    I shot one wedding with a 24-70. I hated the results. I’ve never used one since. If you’re going wide, skip the 28 or 24 and go straight to 20. There’s a reason why the big money lens makers (Zeiss and Leica) make a 20/21mm as their initial “Ultrawide” offering.

    It’s nice to be vendicated by the interwebz…

  10. raceviper13 Avatar
    raceviper13

    if your argument is that 24 – 70 are awkward focal length ranges, not wide enough and not telephoto enough, what does that say about the 35 and 50? they are substantially more not wide and not telephoto enough.

    please don’t include those types of arguments. they are pointless, and they muddy your arguments, making them less effective.

    1. a_eh Avatar
      a_eh

      It really just feels like the writer is stubbornly trying to prove his point from his old “24-70 is a crap lens” article after the harsh and deserved backlash for writing it in the first place. It was a bad call. Just drop it and move on. Trying to drive this home still by now talking up the 24-70 while also bashing it ain’t going to work. Your readers are better than that and so are you. Enjoyed your other articles by the way.

  11. Doug Sundseth Avatar
    Doug Sundseth

    “And in use here, the difference between 24mm and 35mm is about two steps backwards. To get 70mm from a 50mm – its about one step forward.”

    No.

    You will not get the same photos. Composition is done with your feet; different focal lengths are for cropping without loss of image quality and adjusting DoF. If the right composition is right here, then taking a step forward to there or two steps backward to that other place will give me the wrong (or at least less right) composition.

    I’m much more interested in the right composition and not having problematic perspective distortion than in playing with DoF and marginal sharpness.

    1. a_eh Avatar
      a_eh

      Besides, it’s not even true. For objects that are farther away, stepping back won’t help. Say I want a wide angle of a tall building or mountain. The 24mm could work. With the 35mm you will have to step back for… a few miles? And what about if I wanted to take a wide shot of an interior room? Where is your god now, 35mm?
      And also agreed. Composition/angle wise, I would rather shoot a tight headshot with a 70mm than walk up to someone’s face with a 50mm… unless emphasizing your subject’s large nose is your goal, then you only really need the 35mm, walk right up to your subject. Focal lengths matter.

      1. JP Danko Avatar
        JP Danko

        Of course, you’re both right technically speaking. However, for the range at which most medium to wide images are taken from – ie. 5-15 feet there is very little effort needed to frame the same scenes with a 35 and a 50 vs a 24-70 – although as you can see in the sample images the perspective and distortion between 24mm and 35mm is quite different. If we’re talking about landscapes – no its not practical to frame a 24mm scene with a 35, and the resulting images would also look completely different. However, for wide angle landscapes, there are better tools available – such as the killer Nikon 14-24 f2.8 and the new Canon 11-24 f4.

  12. J.W. Avatar
    J.W.

    If you go one step back and think about the saying where not the camera makes the picture but the 30cm behind it, “comparisons” like this are just nonsense. You have a job, you have some gear, get the best out of it. Some are fond with a D4s and some overpriced lenses, some with an iPhone. Both can produce good result – but not because of their gear but of the chances they take with the gear they have at hand.

    So I’d say “Take the gear you love and you are happy with (and you have already!) and shoot with that”!

    I’m so tired of “arguments” like this that tend to tempt people to buy new gear in the hope their pictures will improve because of that new item.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      I would hope that readers would get the opposite message – that spending $2000 on a single lens won’t improve their photography – but there are some very good options at much lower costs that might.

  13. Ed Pereira Avatar
    Ed Pereira

    The ‘Nikon 24-70 at 35mm f4.0’ photo is blatantly misfocused! It isn’t that soft for me, either you have a dodgy lens or you need to calibrate it. I have all three lenses and yes the Sigmas are very sharp, but don’t put up crap photos from the Nikon as it is still an excellent and sharp lens.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      I think you’re probably right – it does look a little back focused, or I might have mixed up the 2.8 and 4 samples – but either way, it doesn’t change the conclusion.

  14. mike ricca Avatar
    mike ricca

    I’m as big a prime shooter as they get, and even I appreciate and love my 24–70. Just later today, I’m going out into the desert to sand surf and take pictures. You think I’m gonna be swapping between primes out there? Hell to the no.

    Lenses are tools. No more, no less. Different ones excel at different jobs. Just because you spend most of your time using drills doesn’t mean hammers are crap.

    p.s. Either your hammer is broken or your focus was off, because even my own Fuji 24-70 is way sharper than the supposed Nikon 24-70 in the samples.

  15. Rob Reeves Avatar
    Rob Reeves

    Your Swiss Army knife sucks. Here’s an article about why you should get twenty different specialist tools to replace it.

  16. Tom Jakob Brablec Avatar
    Tom Jakob Brablec

    Doesn’t everyone know that it’s a general rule that prime lenses are way sharper than zoom lenses? This is a bad comparison, it doesn’t really prove a point. You want to make it more fair? Add a 24mm and an 85mm to the comparison, then add 3 bodies to have all those lenses mounted simultaneously. Oh, right, there’s the problem. People buy the 24-70 for it’s convenience. The lens is damn sharp for a zoom lens as it is.

    Also, maybe you should try playing around with AF Fine. No lens on a Nikon can be perfectly sharp unless you tune the camera first, and I’m speaking after buying a new 85/1.8G with which my D7000 front-focused.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      No, I don’t think newer photographers do realize how much of a difference there is between a general purpose lens like a 24-70 and specialty glass like the Sigmas. The 24-70 is often the first major upgrade newer photographers make from consumer grade lenses (it was for me too), with the expectation that it will drastically improve the look of their photos. I still remember how disappointed I was when I got mine and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. In hindsight – a $100 50mm f/1.8 would have gotten me the look I was after – but because on the surface the 24-70 sounds like such a great purchase – and the internet is full of glowing reviews – I thought I had to spend that $2000 to move to the next level – when in fact I think I would have been much further ahead with more strategic investments in higher quality specialty lenses over time.

  17. Azety Photographe Avatar
    Azety Photographe

    i use the sigma 35 1.4 only since 2 years and i have no regret about it.

  18. Rob de Groot Avatar
    Rob de Groot

    Do you prefer a 24-70 or are primes the way to go?
    ==> I have a Nikon 24-70 but plan to trade for 24mm ART. (hope you test that one too!). I m a landscape photographer and think 24mm is optimal for me. Occasionly I shoot a reception and can rent a 24-70mm which is cheaper in the end.

    Is speed and versatility more important than image quality?
    ==> For my landscapes it does not matter. Changing lenses is fast enough and two bodies can solve the changing problem. I do not carry 2 bodies all the time because of the weight. By the way: Stepping forward changes perspective also.
    The image quality depends on the purpose. Sometimes a phone picture is good enough quality, other times the D800 + 24mm fixed to have an enlargement of 120x160cm with the details of a normal 20×30 print.

    What is your favorite lens combo?
    ==> That would be 24mm fixed, and 200 or 300mm fixed.

    Is a 24-70 really a crap lens choice?

    ==> Of course not. All depending on goal of your photography.

  19. true Avatar
    true

    This test would’ve been better if you had compared sigmas to Tamron 24-70. Why do I say that? Because tamron has almost (if not better) performance than the Nikon, yet the price is so much lower. I think most of the hobby photogs are vouching for tamron over the much more expensive nikon (which some pros might own or rent, but I think even among them there’s many that prefer tamron over it).

  20. mimi Avatar
    mimi

    This is a good comparison and that’s wat I wanna know. As now the VR 24 70 is released, the price between these 2 lenses(35 is not in the consideration due to its poor focus) are getting closer. It s a reasonable consideration whether I should save the bucks to buy a sigma lens with slightly lighter weight and smaller size prime lens. Sigma got another advantage in short closest focus distance which allow u to take pic close to u, eg the food in front of you during ur trip.
    This article is more meaningful to me than those comparison of sigma 24 70 to nikon 24 70, damn, just go for nikon vr without hesitation. So I would say I agree why the author did this comparison with these 2 considerably old lenses in 2015.

  21. kamran zafar Avatar
    kamran zafar

    which one is better in term of center sharpness across all aperture sigma 35 or 50?.and which on is overall better sigma art 35 or 50?

  22. Luiz Valmont Avatar
    Luiz Valmont

    I wouldn’t say 24-70 is a crappy choice. I’ve shot many events with her and it does a very good job. I even filmed a birthday party and have no regrets. I sold my Sigma 24-70 f2.8 because I couldn’t use it wide open and I had absolutely no issues with the Nikon at 2.8.

    But two points made me reconsider.

    First, I do filming as well. From 2.8 to 1.4 you loose 2 stops of light, which is VERY MUCH; that’s the difference between 1/30s at ISO 3200 and 1/120@3200 or 1/60@1600 (I don’t see much of a problem with shallow DoF. Plus, still-wise and in any case, having a backup body is a must for professional photography. So a 35/85 combo will be my kit for still photography; not to mention I still own a 50mm f1.8 G, which is lovely ;)

    Second, I tried an exercise in which you put your lens at a certain focal length and you leave it there. I did this because I absolutelly hated the 35mm focal length; I simply could not compose at 35. I love 24mm but at 35mm was like “hey, what the heck am I doing wrong?”.

    Well, I forced myself to photograph at 35mm during a week trip and came back loving to shoot at 35mm. Then I did this exercise at a concert on a small venue and came out of it with 65% of the images shot at the equivalent 50mm since I did it with my beloved D200 (don’t ask, I’ll cry if I remember I had to sell it).

    So…

    My experience is that although the 24-70 is an excelent lens, reality and exercising made go the prime side of the force.

    Oh, couple of weeks ago I shot a concert at that same venue. I had a D90, D600, a friend’s 20mm f1.8 and the 50mm 1.8. So with all the mixing, I had the following focal lengths: 20mm, 30mm, 50mm and 75mm.

    Lastly, are you interested in buying my 24-70? ;)

  23. Sunil Mendiratta Avatar
    Sunil Mendiratta

    Wedding photography does not need ultra sharpness and i think any 24-70 lens will do great job. But it does not give bokeh as compared to primes.

    Landscape photography can be done with any ultrawide zoom 12-24, 14-24, 15-30 two medium 35 and 45 mm lenses. Reason being i tried few 24-70(tamron/Nikon/Sigma) lenses and nobody is able to make it sharp on Nikon d850. Try comparing that with prime sigma 35 1.4,tamron 45 1.8 you will never go back on 24-70 for landscape.