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Sigma 50mm f/1.4
World's Sharpest 50mm AF lens
DG HSM ART (2014-)

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Sigma 50mm f/1.4

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG, Nikon version (covers all full-frame and APS-C formats, 77mm filters, 28.5 oz./809g, 1.3'/0.4m close focus, about $950. Also comes in Canon EOS, Sony Alpha (Minolta MAXXUM) and Sigma mounts.) The biggest source of support for this free website is when you use these links, especially this link directly to this lens at Adorama and this link to it at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.

 

September 2015   Sigma reviews   Nikon   Canon   LEICA   Pentax   Sony

NEW: Premium 50mm Lenses Compared 04 September 2014

 

Sample Image Files (more are in the review)

Hoehn, 29 August 2014

Hoehn, 29 August 2014. (Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART, f/8 at 1/250 at Auto ISO 100, Perfectly Clear.) bigger or Full-resolution © file.

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 shaprpness

Rat Palm, 02 September 2014. 36 MP FX Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART, f/5.6 at 1/125 at ISO 100. Camera-original LARGE BASIC JPG (5 MB; the palm isn't flat so much isn't in focus).

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 shaprpness

Rat Palm bark, 02 September 2014. 36 MP FX Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART, f/4 at 1/60 at ISO 100 at close focus. Camera-original LARGE BASIC JPG (5 MB; the palm isn't flat so much isn't in focus).

 

Introduction       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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This Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is an optically superb lens. Optically it is the best 50mm, 55mm or 58mm SLR lens I've ever tested.

Under exacting test conditions, this Sigma lens is sharper than Nikon's and Canon's best, and sharper than LEICA's 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. This Sigma lens also has no distortion, unlike any f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens from LEICA, Canon or Nikon.

Optically this lens is extraordinary — but so are the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G, Nikon 58mm f/1.4 G and Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. This Sigma lens is a little sharper on the test range, and has less distortion than any other f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens — but I'd never see any difference in real-world shooting.

There are no visible sharpness differences between this Sigma and other 50mm lenses at normal shooting apertures. At f/4 and smaller, all these 50mm lenses are the same, and even the f/1.8 lenses are indistinguishable from one another.

The sharpness differences appear at the largest apertures like f/1.4, and appear in the far corners. This is where this Sigma lens shines, and the others are almost as good. If I rig up a test with all other variables removed I can demonstrate the higher corner sharpness of the Sigma lens at f/1.4, but few people have any need or interest in sharpness at f/1.4 in the far corners, since they are usually supposed to be out of focus. If you're an f/1.4 test-chart and brick-wall shooter you'll love this lens to death, but if you stop down, they're indistinguishable from one another.

This Sigma lens is much bigger, heavier and more expensive than similar camera-brand lenses like the superb Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G.

Focus is silent, and you may grab the ring at any time for instant manual focus override. At least on the Nikon version I bought, Sigma finally has this figured out.

 

Compatibility

It comes in mounts for Nikon, Canon EOS, Sony Alpha (Minolta MAXXUM) and Sigma.

It covers all size sensors.

 

Nikon

I tried it on my Nikon D810 (2014), Nikon D2HS (2005), Nikon D100 (2002), Nikon D1 (1999) and Nikon F4 from 1988 and everything worked fine. That's easy, since Sigma knows about these cameras. Our concern is will it work with cameras we buy in 10 years about which Sigma knows nothing today? Only the years will tell.

The Nikon version should work perfectly on every digital Nikon ever made, both FX and DX, from the best Df, D4s, D810 and D610 to Nikon's cheapest digitals like the D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, D5200 and D5300.

It also should be perfect on decent or recent AF film cameras like the F6, F100, F5, N80 and N75.

The incompatibilities for older or cheaper 35mm cameras are that:

1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest new AF 35mm cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.

2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.

3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.

4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras. It will shoot every shot at its minimum aperture.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I" and "G" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a deliberate handicap which removes features and compatibility.

Canon

It is supposed to work on all EOS cameras, which means everything from 1987's EOS 650 to everything in 2014.

 

Specifications         top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

 

Name        top

Sigma calls this the Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM ART.

    DG: "Digital," just marketing fluff. Works fine on autofocus 35mm SLRs, too.

    HSM: Ultrasonic autofocus motor.

    ART: "Art" series, which is more marketing baloney. I create Fine Art, not just "art" (I don't show my work in coffee shops), and would prefer a FART lens optimized for that.

 

Optics        top

13 elements in 8 groups.

Three elements of SLD glass, which Nikon calls ED and Canon calls UD.

Aspherical rear element.

Multicoated mostly in blue-green.

Internal (rear) focusing. Nothing moves externally as focused.

 

Diaphragm        top

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Sigma 50mm f/1.4.

9 rounded blades.

Stops down to f/16.

Very round at large apertures, while still giving reasonable sunstars stopped down.

 

Coverage        top

35mm film, Full-Frame, FX, DX and APS-C.

 

Focal Length        top

50mm.

When used on a DX or APS-C camera, it sees an angle of view similar to what an 80mm lens sees when used on an FX or 35mm camera.

 

Angle of View        top

46.8° diagonally on full-frame.

 

Close Focus        top

1.3 feet (0.4 meters) from the image plane, specified.

1.25 feet (0.39 meters), measured.

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio        top

1:5.6 (0.18x).

 

Hard Infinity Focus Stop?        top

No.

You have to let the AF system focus at infinity.

 

Focus Scale        top

Yes, but compressed and pretty much illegible.

 

Depth-of-Field Scale        top

None, unless you consider ticks for only f/16 as a scale. I don't.

 

Infra-Red Focus Index        top

None.

 

Aperture Ring        top

None.

 

Filter Thread        top

77 mm, plastic.

Does not move.

 

Size        top

Sigma specifies 3.4" (85.4 mm) diameter by 3.9" (99.9 mm) extension from flange.

 

Weight        top

28.545 oz. (809.3g), actual measured.

Sigma specifies 28.7 oz. (815 g).

 

Hood        top

Hood, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

LH-780-06 Hood on Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG.

Plastic LH-830-02 bayonet hood, included.

 

Case        top

Case, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Case, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG.

Nice padded nylon case included.

 

Included        top

Lens, caps and hood.

Case.

Paperwork.

 

Made in         top

Lens made in Japan.

 

Warranty         top

1 year.

Sigma USA's website implies 3 years extended warranty for the USA, for a total of 4 years.

 

Packaging        top

White cardboard box.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Box, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG.

In this box sits the case with the lens and hood inside. The case is the padding - there is no foam.

 

Announced        top

April 2014.

 

Available Since        top

August 2014.

 

Price, USA        top

August-September 2014: $950.

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG. enlarge.

 

Performance       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall    Autofocus    Bokeh    Color   Coma    

Distortion   Ergonomics    Falloff    Filters   

Focus Breathing   Ghosts   Hood    Lateral Color Fringes    

Macro    Mechanics    Sharpness   Sunstars

 

Overall       performance     top

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG has fantastic optics —  but its mechanics and potential for future camera incompatibility are why you pay less for Sigma than for a professional Nikon or Canon lens.

The only way to see any optical difference between these is if you're shooting test charts at f/1.4 and looking in the far corners. If not, Nikon and Canon's least expensive 50mm f/1.8 lenses offer images just as sharp, and also without any distortion in the case of the Nikon 50/1.8 AF-D.

 

Autofocus       performance     top

Overall

AF works great on my Nikon D810 and every other Nikon on which I tried it, even my Nikon F4 from 1988.

It's fast and quiet.

 

AF Speed

Autofocus is very fast.

 

AF Accuracy

On my Nikon D810, AF was dead-on for every frame, especially shot at f/1.4 where this is critical.

 

Manual Focus

Manual focus is swell, just grab the ring at any time for instant manual focus override.

The manual focus ring is geared for general news and action shooting.

It's not as precise (slow) as you might like if you're using Live View on a tripod.

 

Manual Focus Override

Manual focus override works great, at least on the Nikon version I tried.

 

Bokeh       performance     top

Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is fair to good at f/1.4.

Backgrounds go soft and rarely distract, but they aren't always completely soft.

 

Color Rendition       performance     top

The color rendition seems the same as my Nikkor AF lenses.

 

Coma       performance     top

Coma (saggital coma flare) often causes weird smeared blobs to appear around bright points of light in the corners of fast or wide lenses at large apertures. In lenses that have it, coma goes away as stopped down.

I see very little coma with this aspherical lens, and what little there is goes away as stopped down.

 

Distortion       performance     top

Museum, San Francisco

Museum Courtyard, San Francisco, 02 September 2014. 36 MP FX Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART, f/8 at 1/250 at ISO 100. bigger or Camera-original LARGE BASIC JPG (5 MB).

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG has no visible distortion, which is much better than any f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens I've ever tested.

This is more important than sharpness. This Sigma isn't that much sharper than other lenses, but it does have much less distortion than any f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens ever from Canon or Nikon or LEICA. Bravo!

This is good because no Nikon or Canon camera will be able to correct this automatically because there is no in-camera profile available.

This Sigma has no measurable distortion at distances of 1 meter or more. It has slight barrel distortion at its closest focus distance.

The distortion at the closest distance isn't visible and can be corrected easily by plugging these figures into Photoshop's lens distortion filter for more critical use. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.

0.39m (15")
+0.70
1m (3')
0.00
3m (10')
0.00
10m (30')
0.00

© 2014 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

Ergonomics (handling and ease-of-use)       performance     top

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG.

Ergonomics are obvious: grab and go.

This lens is a pain compared to Nikon or Canon's f/1.4 or f/1.2 lenses; this Sigma is too darn big and heavy to actually want to carry it around all day.

Its edges are relatively hard, unlike Nikon and Canon's lenses whose edges are softer.

The ribbed rubber rings grip very well, but have sharp ridges and are much less comfortable than the pro lenses.

The footage scale is illegible; it's tiny and dark gray. In my studio shot above it's well-lit and bigger than life, but in reality you'll rarely be able to read it — and if you can, good luck remembering which is meters and which is feet.

 

Falloff (darkened corners)       performance     top

I see nearly no falloff at f/1.4, and none at other apertures, all on full-frame.

This is superb performance, and important because there are no lens profiles to bail you out on Nikon and Canon.

I've greatly exaggerated what little there is by shooting a gray field and presented the images against another gray field:

 

Sigma 50/1.4 ART falloff on FX and 35mm at infinity, no correction.

f/1.4
f/2
Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff
Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff
f/2.8
f/4

© 2014 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Filters, use with       performance     top

There is no problem with vignetting, even with thick filters.

There is no vignetting even with three stacked filters, even on full-frame.

The filter ring never moves.

 

Focus Breathing       performance     top

Of interest mostly to cinematographers focusing back and forth between two subjects, the image from the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART gets larger as focused more closely.

It seems about the same as a common unit-focussed lens, even though it is a unique internally focused design.

 

Ghosts, Flare and Sunstars        performance     top

Ghost resistance is great. The edges of the elements are all very effectively blackened, and I see little to no internal components off of which flare could bounce.

Even with all this glass, there is but one very dim blue blob, and it's only visible under the most contrived conditions thusly:

Sigma 50/1.4 flare

Flare blob, full solar disc, 02 September 2014. (Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4, f/8 at 1/250 at Auto ISO 100, Athentech Perfectly Clear.) bigger.

Even though the diaphragm is round at large apertures, sunstars are reasonably good at moderate apertures. Bravo!

Sigma 50/1.4 flare

Sunstar, partly shielded sun, 02 September 2014. (Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm f/1.4, f/8 at 1/250 at Auto ISO 100, Athentech Perfectly Clear.) bigger.

 

Hood       performance     top

Hood, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

LH-780-06 Hood on Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG.

The big hood is included.

This Sigma has no flare problems, so the only reason to use the hood is that it can help keep crud and flying food out of your lens.

 

Lateral Color Fringes       performance     top

There are no lateral color fringes as shot on my Nikon D810, which corrects any that might be there automatically for any lens. Nikons need no lens data to correct this; they can correct any random lens.

I have not tested this on Canon, which would not be able to correct it without a lens profile, which does not exist. I suspect this Sigma has little to no lateral color.

 

Macro       performance     top

Macro gets a little closer than every other non-macro 50mm lens.

The published close-focus distance is only 0.4 m instead of the usual 0.45 m:

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Macro performance 24 Apr 2013 noon

Full-frame image at close-focus distance at f/8.

Stopped down, it's super sharp:

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 macro performance

Crop from above 36 MP image at 100%. If this is 6" (15cm) wide on your monitor, the entire image printed at this same high magnification would be 72 x 48" (1.8 x 1.25 meters)!

 

Mechanics and Construction       performance     top

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG. enlarge.

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG is a heavy lens made of plastic and metal, with lots of glass inside.

 

Filter Threads

Plastic.

 

Hood

Plastic bayonet.

 

Hood Mount

Plastic.

 

Focus Ring

Metal; rubber covered.

 

Depth-of-Field Scale

Only for f/16.

 

Rear Barrel

Plastic.

 

Very back of barrel

Metal.

 

Aperture Ring

None.

 

Internals

Seem like plastic and metal.

 

Mount

Shiny chromed brass.

 

Markings

Paint.

 

Mounting Index Dot

Small white plastic ball on the outside, and a red dot painted into an engraving in the lens mounting flange.

 

Identity Plate

None, simply painted on the lens barrel.

 

Serial Number

Laser engraved onto the lens barrel above and the right of the focus scale window.

 

Moisture seal at mount

None.

 

Noises When Shaken

Mild clunking from the diaphragm and focus systems.

 

Made in

Japan.

 

Weaknesses

As an off-brand lens it has unproven (with me) service facilities, and unknown future parts availability. When the HSM motor dies, you're dead unless you can get a replacement part — and you just might not be able to in 10 years when you'd most need it.

New cameras may or may not work with this lens, and off-brand lens makers only sometimes will update lenses to work on new model cameras. Ten or more years from now I know my Nikon and Canon lenses will work on new cameras, but I don't have any high hopes for any off-brand lens.

 

Sharpness       performance     top

Warning 1: Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens.

Warning 2: Lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers.

This is the sharpest 50mm f/1.4 lens I've ever tested — but not by that much.

Amateurs waste too much time worrying about lens sharpness, and since this lens is designed for amateurs, it's super sharp.

I tested this randomly purchased sample on a 36MP DX Nikon D810 on the test range at infinity.

It's super sharp at every setting clear out to the corners, although just a little less sharp in the corners at f/1.4 due to a little bit of coma. It's very sharp in the corners at f/1.4, just quite not as sharp as at the center.

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is astoundingly sharp at every setting. You just need to be sure it's in focus and that nothing moves.

It's actually much more uniformly sharp than the sample of Nikon 58/1.4G I purchased. The Nikon 58/1.4G was softer on the left, which this Sigma is perfectly centered and equally sharp everywhere. Hah!

 

Compared             top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

NEW: Premium 50mm Lenses Compared 04 September 2014

I compared my Sigma directly to my Nikon 50/1.4G and my Micro-NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AF on the test range at infinity.

At most apertures, they are indistinguishable from one another.

The Nikon 50/1.4G is the only lens of these three with any distortion.

This Sigma is actually slightly sharper than the Nikon 50/1.4G at f/1.4, but it's only the very slightest difference, and only visible under tightly controlled test conditions. I'd see no difference in the field for actual photography; the newest Nikon 50/1.4G is a superb lens.

This Sigma is also slightly sharper at f/2.8 than the Micro-NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AF is at f/2.8. Neither has any distortion at most distances, although the Sigma has a tiny bit of distortion at close distances which the Micro-NIKKOR does not.

I did not compare it to the Nikon 58mm f/1.4 G which is even slightly better than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. (I have test data from the same range at a different time.) The Nikon 58mm f/1.4 G has moderately strong distortion, while the Sigma has none.

I didn't compare it to the $4,000 manual-focus Zeiss OTUS. As a manual-focus lens, the OTUS doesn't intrigue me.

These lenses are all so good that I wouldn't worry about any optical differences; I'd worry about how much weight I want to carry and if it auto focused or not, even if the price was the same.

Ergonomically, the OTUS and this Sigma are pigs. They are big, heavy lenses that are not fun to carry around my neck on a 5D Mk III, D810 or bigger camera all day. The other lenses are half the weight or less, and perform the same at anything other than f/1.4.

 

Recommendations       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

This is an optically superb lens, but there is far more to a great photo than a sharp lens. It has to be light enough to enjoy taking with you.

This Sigma is fantastic, if you don't mind carrying it. Personally, I prefer to pay a little more for my fully professional Canon 50/1.2 L, which is even faster than this Sigma, and only weighs half as much. For my Nikon, I prefer my Nikon 50/1.4G which weighs only a third as much, and costs a third of what the Sigma does. The optics are 98% the same, while the size and weight of the Nikkor 50/1.4G are far superior to the Sigma.

This Sigma is ideal for people who shoot with tripods. Its performance is unmatched, but it's more weight than I want to carry.

When shot in the real world, any 50mm lens is going to be extremely sharp, and sharper than than a 24-70mm f/2.8 pro zoom. Before you go spending a lot of money on a super-duper 50mm lens, try any 50mm lens, especially the f/1.8, first.

I may be a little weird, but I always invest long term. I'd be shy about this Sigma lens because I demand the lens I buy today to be earning money for me for at least the next 20 years, and to still be serviceable and valuable when I sell the lens after all that time. My Nikon and Canon pro lenses do this for me. I bought my Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S in the 1990s, and it's still Nikon's top professional ultrawide zoom 15 years later (the Nikon 16-35 VR is only a consumer lens, and the Nikon 14-24 is a special-purpose lens much less useful than the 17-35). My 17-35/2.8 is still worth, used, what I paid for it new.

If all you care about is the best possible optical quality for the next several years, then by all means this Sigma lens is superbly sharp, focuses extremely fast and has no visible distortion. If you don't worry about long-term as I do, this Sigma lens is fantastic.

If you think you want one of these Sigmas, or want the sharpest possible 50mm lens for your DSLR, you'll love it. Its optics really are as good as you've heard.

If you've found my review helpful, the biggest source of support for this free website is when you use these links, especially this link directly to this lens at Adorama and this link to it at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere.

Thanks for your support!

Ken.

 

Deployment

Sigma's caps aren't as good as Nikon's or Canon's. Leave them in the box for resale, and buy a real Nikon 77mm cap to use with this lens instead, regardless of which brand of camera you shoot (Nikon makes the best caps). Also get a Nikon rear cap or Canon rear cap and leave the Sigma cap in the box.

I would also leave the hood in the box for resale time. I don't use hoods.

Honestly, I rarely use front caps at all.

I'd leave either a 77mm Nikon Clear (NC - UV) filter, a 77mm Hoya Alpha MC UV or bulletproof 77mm Hoya HD2 UV on the lens at all times instead. Think of it as a clear optical lens cap, and you'll be shooting a lot faster without fumbling.

If I was working in nasty, dirty areas, I'd forget the cap, and use an uncoated 77mm Tiffen UV filter instead. Uncoated filters are much easier to clean, but more prone to ghosting.

 

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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September 2014