Sigma Art Lenses – Great glass, shitty bokeh.

Aug 28, 2016

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

Sigma Art Lenses – Great glass, shitty bokeh.

Aug 28, 2016

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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It’s died down a little now, but last year there was an insane craze surrounding the Sigma Art series lenses so much so that I actually ended up buying 2 of them, selling them, then borrowing them again in the future for other shoots when I had no money.

To be clear from the outset, I actually think the Sigma Art lenses kick serious ass, the sharpness, the focus ring, build quality, the price. They are “cheap enough” ($900 for 35mm f/1.4 or $950 for 50mm f/1.4) and give you some serious firepower in the lens department. But after all of this, after all of these wonderful points, I STILL sold the 50mm and the 35mm because of one key factor. I think the bokeh sucks.

It’s confusing, has a terrible ability to render things out of focus in high contrast, mid distance is appalling, there’s no “creaminess” to it past minimal focus distance, at the time my only experience with them was to directly compare to Canon lenses, and Canon lenses SMASHED the Sigma on the bokeh front. No idea what I’m talking about?

^^ That right there is a 35mm Art shooting into a high contrast scene and me being forced to fix it in post to get rid of the distracting background, here’s another example in fact, the bokeh is so distracting in this that a friend of mine actually said to me “This bokeh looks strange / confusing” without me even mentioning it AND they aren’t even a photographer.


Look to the right hand side of this shot, it has this odd onion skin looking confusing horrible rendering of out of focus elements. here’s a closeup:

That’s both a high contrast and a mid contrast area and it struggles in both to create smoothness (ignore the noise in this image, it has no impact on the effect). this has occurred on multiple versions of the lens, on multiple bodies (Canon, Sony, Nikon) so I’m led to believe that it’s the lenses (I also see this issue on FB from Sigma Art tagged shots etc).

So what?! What’s the point of this article other than to slam one bad element of a lens where it shines else where?

Good question!

And here is proof that I think the lenses are actually really great:


I shot that with the Sigma Art 35mm at around f/16 and it’s uber sharp. I LOVE the sharpness and everything else about the lenses I just found myself never being to own one because the second I went to get some DOF or separation I instantly hated it.

I still notice it even in dark environments (look at the drums and high contrast metal etc), it seems to be a serious problem with high sharp edged high contrast rendering:

James- Metal-n-Dan-The-Contortionist-03-

The point is, I really want to bring home to you 2 things:

Buy a lens for what you intend to use it for (this is important when you’re buying a FAST f/1.4 lens, I’m assuming that you’re almost certainly buying it to use it wide open for that “creamy” bokeh). So perhaps if a fast piece of glass is what you’re going for the Sigma might not be the investment you think it will be.

Secondly, invest in the Sigma Art lenses if you’re looking to use them stopped down for high quality, sharp, heavy duty built lenses (of course that’s an opinion!).

It ultimately comes down to one simple thing “Buy the right tool for the job” and with regards to the Sigma Art lenses the way they are marketed is this budget alternative to L series etc that gives you the same quality with half the cost. I just wanted to point out that while this is true on basically all fronts, I haven’t found it to be the case with the bokeh (which let’s be honest here, you seldom invest the money in a fast f/1.4 if you’re not looking to use it at f/1.4 right?!).

Anyways, to summarise!

  • Buy what you enjoy using
  • Invest in the right tool for the job (personal preference),
  • Be aware that marketing has EVERYTHING to do with how a product appears, so make sure you get a hands on demo of what you’re looking to buy and use it EXACTLY the way you plan on using it to see if it works for you. NOT doing that cost me £1200 in 2 lenses I bought for smooth creamy bokeh when instead I could have bought a single L series and be done with it.

I’ve moved over to Sony now, but the point is the same and you know what’s happened? I’ve ended up buying loads of prime Minolta lenses for £30 on Ebay and only investing in 1 modern lens for autofocus etc. I’ve saved money, got more tool at my disposal and I shoot more.

Happy gear hunting folks!

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Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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25 responses to “Sigma Art Lenses – Great glass, shitty bokeh.”

  1. Batman Avatar

    Hahahaha … that’s some load of bullsh*t right here :) How come this is the only article that I have read on the internet, that Sigma’s bokeh sucks ? I mean if it came from some serious photographer, I might’ve believed it, but in this case right here, I just think it’s an attention seeker. The rest of the world loves the lenses, tested them, even against the Zeiss Otus 55

    and it was rival with it, even though it costs a fraction of the Zeiss price. But here comes some bloke, who thinks Sigma lenses bokeh sucks, well … keep practicing, Joseph, and one day you might be able to tell a good from bad lenses. Oh, and by the way, shooting with Canon is a big no no, they can’t work well with other lenses, it’s in their blood to make it like that. :)

    1. Kevin Lloyd Avatar
      Kevin Lloyd

      What an arogant comment Batman. What possible motivation do you think the photographer had to write this other than to express his own heart felt experience?
      Sigma lenses offer massive value, but a mature photographer considers aspects of a lens beyond sharpness and price.
      I own Sigma, Nikon, Olympus, and Fuji lenses in different systems, and agree that (thankfully), each lens has its own character, and value to myself, independent of the price I paid for it.

      1. Jon Miller Avatar
        Jon Miller

        I certainly can’t claim to know his intent, but as to your question of what *possible* motivation, other than to express his own experience, I would say that by now there is plenty of evidence as to the economic value of posting controversial content on a site with advertisements.

        And considering that one of the things that has always impressed me most with the Sigma art lenses is the bokeh (a couple of photographers I know keep posting incredible wedding and portrait shots from both of these lenses on instagram, for instance; they exhibit all of the qualities that this article insists they lack), I suspect that either ignorance or simply jacked up page views may be involved. But that’s just my impression.

        1. Kevin Lloyd Avatar
          Kevin Lloyd

          Sure, I agree there is value in creating click bait just as there is value in creating good opinionated content, I feel this is probably more of the latter. The use of the word “Shitty” as a descriptor falls more into the bait than content side of the equation agreed, but I feel this article comes from some genuine experience. Don’t you?

          1. Joseph Parry Avatar
            Joseph Parry

            Valid thoughts there, though I’m just being honest. I write how I talk so using the word “Shitty” is exactly what I felt hahaha, though I can completely understand from how the internet is in general how that would / could be thought of as a choice trigger word.

            It’s never written in that way though.

            Cheers Kevin!

          2. EAM Avatar

            We’ve heard forever that swearing is considered low-brow and a sign of limited vocabulary. But honestly, nothing draws attention like dropping a good F-bomb once in a while!

        2. Joseph Parry Avatar
          Joseph Parry

          With regards to me and what I write about, I never write an article to be click bait, ever. I just often have contrarian views on things which just by pure definition seem to land themselves into a click bait scenario.

          It’s the internet, you can’t post anything without someone disagreeing, and that’s great! Though it does almost guarantee you;re always going to be creating “click bait” content.

          1. Kevin Lloyd Avatar
            Kevin Lloyd

            Fair enough.

    2. Eddy Kamera Avatar
      Eddy Kamera

      Sigma ART 35mm, although sharp, is known for its nervous bokeh. I’m not sure if your comment are a real comment, or you were just trolling. If it is the later, then keep practicing, one day you might be good at trolling.

      1. Joseph Parry Avatar
        Joseph Parry

        I agree Eddy!

  2. Margaritas Ante Porcos Avatar
    Margaritas Ante Porcos

    So what would you say to summarize your thoughts?
    What your conclusion would be?
    Like any last words to sum up your analysis?

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I already did this at the bottom of the article… With big letters saying To Summarise. Hahaha

  3. Arnold Avatar

    the bokeh is not the main problem.
    that shitty AF precision with cameras using phase detection AF is a huge problem.

    sigma lenses just suck when it comes to AF on canon or nikon bodys.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I thought the Sony used Phase Detection primarily? My friend has no issues with it at all? I was also nailing shots at a concert (shown above) at 1.4 with no problems? And that was on a Canon 6D at the time.

    2. Kevin Lloyd Avatar
      Kevin Lloyd

      Pentax too. But to say Sigma lenses suck perhaps is also an over simplification. Nikon bodies know the profile of Nikon lenses. Sigma lenses don’t get the full communication service from non sigma bodies. My 18-35mm is super consistent using central focus points, but the outer ones are way off (possibly because of field curvature effects?), I know this compromise, but am willing to work round it, and the occasional poor bokeh (in some aspects it’s very nice and certainly developed due to the f1.8 aperture!), for the otherwise fantastic optical qualities like sharpness, contrast and lack of distortion. The Nikon 16-80mm or 16-85mm in this case are probably far safer bets regarding AF however.

  4. catlett Avatar

    Just ignore douchy comment guy wondering why you wrote this. He either has some agenda, is just generally a douche bag, doesn’t really understand the topic or didn’t bother to look at your examples. (possibly all of the above)

    I fully agree with your premise of why buy a 1.4. Even if you aren’t going to shoot at full 1.4 who wants harsh bokeh? I agree that the bokeh doesn’t just look bad it looks very bad. You gave very relevant and great evidence to support your position.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I really appreciate that Catlett, thanks so much!

  5. Andrew Avatar

    I own the 35mm and 50mm Sigma art lenses and have not really noticed a bokeh problem. I think this article is fundamentally flawed as it needs one thing: a side-by-side comparison with the Canon or Nikon or Zeiss equivalent. The same shot needs to be taken with different lenses and the bokeh compared. If this was done there would probably be little obvious difference. Certain backgrounds can render bad bokeh regardless of the lense; hence the need for comparison. No comparison, no genuine evidence in my opinion.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      That’s a very valid point, thanks for letting me know Andrew!

  6. Vincent R Avatar
    Vincent R

    @Andrew. Agreed. To me this lens has great bokeh. “Shitty” in the title is only to get more clicks.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      Not at all, it’s my opinion and how I talk. Though it is what it is, if you read my previous articles and various posts online you’ll see I’m never anything but honest about my thoughts.

  7. silmasan Avatar

    The 50A’s “bokeh” profile is different to that of the 35A. It’s much more even, and therefore the result is not nearly as nervous as the latter.

    So where’s your example shot with the 50A?

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I sold the 50A long before buying the 35A also I think people seem to forget that I don’t get this gear for free, I buy it myself so if I don;t like it I don’t think “this will be great for an article in 3 months to compare” haha :D

      1. silmasan Avatar

        That’s the problem with generalizing things. I wouldn’t get the Sigma 35 Art myself due to this very problem. But with the 50 Art, the situation is quite different already.

        Since the inside of the circle is already smooth, I’m quite sure just by applying a little apodization mod to soften out the edges of the defocus circle, you’ll have something very special with regard to bokeh, while keeping that insane sharpness in the middle region.

  8. Gabor Avatar

    Ridiculous arguments, no point without comparing same shoots with different lenses. Canon is forced to speed up lens development that Sigma did with the Art series. I am not sure if Josephh is an indipendent writer or…