Thoughts on the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art

Sigma announced the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens back in January of this year, but we were left with a couple of big unknowns such as the price. I guess it has become the latest trend to announce early development efforts by a number of manufacturers now – Nikon did the same with their Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 lens and the D4s DSLR camera. A couple of days ago, Sigma finally announced the pricing and availability of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM “Art” and I must say, after hearing rumors about Sigma challenging the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 in optical quality, I was very surprised to find out that the lens is going to be retailed for $950. As you may already know, I am a big fan of the new revamped line of Sigma lenses. After reviewing the 35mm f/1.4 Art, I was blown away by its sharpness, focus speed / accuracy and color rendition. So when Sigma announced the 50mm f/1.4 Art series, I looked at the MTF charts and knew immediately that the lens will not disappoint.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art

Unfortunately, Nikon does not offer a professional-grade 50mm line in its line-up. Ever since the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G came out (see my detailed review), the older 50mm f/1.4G just does not make much sense anymore due to its inferior performance, especially at the maximum aperture (see my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs 50mm f/1.8G comparison article). It has been three years now since the 50mm f/1.8G came out and Nikon still has not announced any plans to revamp its 50mm f/1.4G lens. Many pros that want f/1.4 have been hanging on to their 50mm f/1.4 “G” and “D” lenses, or have switched to the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4, which is not a stellar performer either. And for Canon shooters out there, the problem is somewhat similar – the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is far from being superb at the maximum aperture and the 50mm f/1.2L is pretty expensive for the budget conscious, with its own list of challenges in the autofocus department. So Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 Art lens is definitely designed to fill these gaps for both Canon and Nikon mounts.

Take a look at the MTF chart comparison between the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G:

Sigma-50mm-f1.4-DG-HSM-Art-lens-MTF-chartAF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G MTF chart

Now that’s a huge difference in resolution at f/1.4! The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is supposed to deliver much better sharpness and contrast compared to the Nikon. I can see a bit of field curvature in the mid-frame, but boy, that sharpness is going to be amazing. Zeiss wants your $4K for its insane 55mm f/1.4 Otus, but that’s a huge lens with no autofocus capability, making it a “no-go” for many. As much as I love the Zeiss Otus, it is just really hard to focus on a DSLR camera with a standard focusing screen. And the price alone limits the Otus to a rather small group! The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is not a small or lightweight lens like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G / f/1.8G, but it is lighter and significantly cheaper than the Zeiss Otus. So for those that are looking for top notch performance, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is going to be a “no-brainer”.

Our rep at B&H indicated that the Nikon version of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art will be available on May 31, 2014. I requested a review sample ASAP for in-depth testing and looks like I will be getting the Canon version in about two weeks, so the Nikon Imatest results on the D800E will be delayed until sometime mid-June. By then, I should have most vital info available, including some bokeh comparisons between the Sigma and Nikon lenses.

Sigma definitely deserves a praise for its efforts to make excellent third party lenses. It is about time to wake the sleeping giants and show them that there are other options! Way to go Sigma!

Pre-Order Links

As usual, you can pre-order the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art from our trusted partner, B&H Photo Video for $949 with free shipping:

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for Nikon
  2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for Canon
  3. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for Sony Alpha
  4. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for Sigma

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Paul
    April 15, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    How is it half the weight of the Octus?

    The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is not a small or lightweight lens like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G / f/1.8G, but it is twice lighter and significantly cheaper than the Zeiss Otus.

    It’s about 900g, not 470g as you listed in your spec page. :)

    • April 15, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      That’s what happens when you trust DPReview :) Their initial specs indicated 470g (see some comments) and that’s where we took the info from. Should have double checked the source – my bad! I fixed the reference to weight in the article, thanks for letting me know!

  2. April 15, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    A few months ago I decided to finally buy a good “prime” lens. I am just an amateur, not a pro, but can afford good equipment for my hobby and my business here in Australia. I have a D4, a D300s, and a venerable old D200. I also have a good collection of Nikkor zoom lenses including the admirable 70-200 f2.8 (which is a classic lens, but just too heavy for me to cart about). My day to day lenses are the Nikkor 28-300 f3.5 – 5.6, and the Sigma 12-24 f4.5 – 5.6. I am in the property business and find that these two lenses (on a D4 body) cover everything I ever need. But to get back to the point! I went to a well known photographic retailer here in Oz and talked about buying a good prime 50mm lens. The shop assistant recommended (instead of 50mm) the Sigma 35mm f1.4 prime. It was good advice! A great lens at a great price. Probably a bit dearer here in Oz than you can buy it for in the USA (most things are), but worth the money anyway. I doubt I would invest in the Sigma 50mm because the 35mm does everything I need, but thank you for the review.

    • April 15, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      Mike, thanks for sharing! Sigma is definitely on the right track with their newest lenses. I initially heard that the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 would cost $1700, so it was a nice surprise to find out that it was under $1K in the US…

    • 5
      ) Jay
      April 15, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Hi Mike Butler,
      We own a 35mm, and it is by far one of the best prime lens out there, especially for that price. The build quality simply put Nikon and Canon to shame (except the old Nikon lenses). There is also very little distortion, which is awesome. For your property business, I would recommend the 35mm 1.4 as well.

      I would also like to make a modest suggestion for your camera of choice. Since you’re primarily focusing on properties, the D4’s benefits of high fps, low noise at high Iso, and fast auto focusing just doesn’t seem to be needed. Instead, I would highly recommend selling it for a camera with a higher resolution that keeps you more details, dynamic range, and color tones. With a d4, you should be able to sell it, get a d800E + 35mm 1.4 and maybe a 24-70 on top. 24-70 is a huge IQ upgrade from the 28-300mm. If storage is a problem for whatever reason, WD digital offer 2TB of data for less than $100 USD, which can store around 52,428 raw d800 files.

      Just a suggestion, hope it helps :) Feel free to correct me Photography life community!

  3. April 16, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I have the 35mm 1.4 art lens and love it. While I do like how lightweight my Canon 50mm 1.4 is, I find the autofocus very clunky these days so can’t wait for the new Sigma lens.

  4. 7
    ) Satheesh Soman
    April 16, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Dear Nasim, thanks for information…Have you received any chance for reviewing Sigma 18-250mm DC Macro OS HSM? Kindly advise me…

    • April 16, 2014 at 12:28 am

      Satheeth, to be honest, I am not a huge fan of superzoom lenses. Definitely planning on reviewing more Sigma gear, but that particular lens will probably be closer to the bottom of the list :)

      • 9
        ) Satheesh Soman
        April 16, 2014 at 12:35 am

        Thank you Nasim for reply. I am a big fan of you. Anyway, I am planning to buy one travel gear.

        • Profile photo of Mike Banks
          24
          ) Mike Banks
          April 16, 2014 at 11:03 am

          Nasim, Perhaps I can help Satheesh here.

          Satheesh, in my professional work I do a lot of macro photography. I use mostly Nikon macro lenses because they just work for me. However, I always look into new offerings by 3rd party manufacturers and the Sigma 18-250 DC HSM was one of these. I think you will find this lens to be a great addition to your kit. As a general walk around lens it is very manageable and offers a wide range of focal lengths. It is relatively sharp at all ends of the spectrum and should you want to make an extreme close up of something it will afford you that opportunity. Just don’t expect it to replicate more expensive zoom lenses from OEM manufacturers or even from Sigma. In the case of this lens I decided to keep is as my wife likes it on her D7100 giving her the same opportunities in photography that you will find with this lens. Happy travel and good shooting.

  5. April 16, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Hi Jay,

    Really appreciate your input and advice. While the business I own employs some 400 people and I take an awful lot of real estate type photos, I also sponsor about four corporate golf days each year for my clients and customers, and have found myself in the position of being accused of being less dangerous with a camera in my hand than a golf club! At least, this is what my staff tell me! Consequently, I roam the course with my trusty D4 and telephoto lens on a monopod taking high speed sequence shots of some of the WORST golf swings you have ever seen. I often then post these on Flickr for everyone’s amusement. I also sponsor a Race Day at Caloundra (on the Sunshine Cost north of Brisbane) each year and take some great horse racing shots for posterity. I know the D4 is overkill (I have resisted the temptation of a D4S because my wife would kill me), but I just love the capabilities of that D4 camera. I am now 68 years old, and I guess will have to retire sometime soon. I think the D4 will probably see me out as it does EVERYTHING I could ever wish for. On a similar topic, I have owned every Panasonic Lumix travel camera since the TZ7. If you are in the USA, their naming is a bit different, but a Google search will reveal the USA name. I have owned the TZ7, the TZ10, the TZ 20, the TZ30, the TZ40 — and now the TZ60! I will not buy another TZ beyond the TZ60, because Panasonic have now delivered me the ultimate in travel (pocket) cameras — RAW recording (finally), a 30x optical zoom with good optical stabilization, and a real viewfinder (inadequate as it might be).

    My problem is that my wife is an early adopter of all sorts of technology. We have a house full of all the latest crap! WHY? Well, because it is the LATEST crap! I can only retaliate by having the latest photographic equipment. It is a MAN thing! LOL!

    • 19
      ) Jay
      April 16, 2014 at 6:19 am

      Hi Mike Butler,
      Fair enough! In that case, sounds like the d4 is a perfect fit! The d3/4 series just last for ever, got to love their body and shutter mechanism. They just keep going and going and going!

  6. 11
    ) Adrian
    April 16, 2014 at 1:17 am

    Another review to tempt me! Hoping you’ll be reviewing the 30mm/1.4 soon :)

  7. 12
    ) Lance
    April 16, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Just a general comment… I recently started browsing around photographylife and I really like the style here…. The resident “master” with a staff of talented writers/photographers, providing clear and concise information through a pleasing page design. Nasim’s photo’s have stood out to me since I first noticed this site…. To say modestly, one of the best nature photographers I’ve seen…. Just stellar work all around. Please keep at it Nasim and team, and I’ll be stopping back! :)

    • 20
      ) Marc J
      April 16, 2014 at 7:23 am

      I agree with you on this Lance. One other thing that needs to be commended is the ‘civility’ that one can find in the comments. Many other sites (ex. DPR) are infested with individuals who like to proove themselves by writing insults.

      • 28
        ) Lance
        April 16, 2014 at 11:01 pm

        lol, yeah reading the comments at that place and others makes me sick to my stomach. Lots of big ego’s in the realm of photography… Nice to see a place where people connect on a regular level. :)

  8. 13
    ) David
    April 16, 2014 at 2:46 am

    Stick to canikon and you miss the superb Zeiss ZA 50 and the 24/85/135 and the best and growing range of sensors, nothing like an open mind.
    Ps I have been lucky enough to use every format and make going.

  9. 14
    ) JP de Ruiter
    April 16, 2014 at 3:21 am

    I agree that the new optics by Sigma are impressive, and that that is good for the market, but in the experience that I and my friends have, the AF algorithm of the new Sigma lenses, at least on Canon (6D, 5D3, 5D2) is very often way off. Nikon users also report problems, but I have no experience myself as I do not have a Nikon camera. This is probably why Sigma provides the USB interface so users can micro-adjust the AF personally. But even then it’s very hard to get it right for all distances (like tuning the G string of an acoustic guitar :-). No matter how good the 35 1.4 optically is, I need AF that completely nails it at least 95% of the time, and the “mere” fact that the Sigma is good or even better optically sadly becomes irrelevant if the thing doesn’t focus well. This is an aspect that in my opinion deserves extra attention from testers and reviewers.

    • 21
      ) mark
      April 16, 2014 at 7:26 am

      You realize that you cannot guarantee that with any lens… regardless if its a nikon camera and nikon/nikkor lens. Every camera light box is different in terms of sensitivity. I have had more issues with nikon lenses needing fine tuning to my camera body then I have ever needed from my sigma lenses. But you can always send our camera body and sigma lens to Sigma and they fine tune them to each other.

      • 29
        ) JP de Ruiter
        April 17, 2014 at 2:24 am

        I did send my Sigma 35 1.4 back to Sigma because of AF problems. They said that there was nothing wrong with the lens and that the problem was my camera (a Canon 6D), despite the fact that I sent the my test images as well, and told them that I’m using 10 other lenses on that very same camera without problems. Had they fixed it, I’d be a happy Sigma fan. Now, I’m very happy with my Canon 35 1.4L.

  10. Profile photo of Daniel Michael
    15
    ) Daniel Michael
    April 16, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Nasim, I’ve already made space for this lens in my bag!

    I had bought the Sigma 35 Art for my cropped sensor Nikon, and loved it so much it stayed on there. Since moving to full frame it is still stuck to the camera but obviously has a wider field of view, so a 50mm just as sharp as the 35mm will be great! I have the older Nikon 50mm 1.8D but it really is a world a way in sharpness compared to the 35mm, so it never gets used! Also the price of the Nikon 58mm 1.4 which you reviewed a while ago was a little prohibitive.

    I can’t wait!

  11. April 16, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Nasim,

    It seems to me that the best glass comes from Zeiss and Sigma but both are poorly suited to, say, a D800. The former are hard to focus on a D800 and the latter too often don’t autofocus accurately. Would it make more sense now to take the glass as given and look instead for bodies that would complement them well? Just a thought for future articles.

    One can tell from this post that I don’t use telephotos. Fauna doesn’t do it for me and atmospheric distortion drives me nuts for most other applications. A 60mm macro prime is about my upper limit. It seems that telephotos are still the domain of Canon and Nikon so that one must think differently about bodies for their use.

    Ron

  12. April 16, 2014 at 5:35 am

    Nasim,

    Excluding the cost of the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus. Which lens would you recommend to a buyer the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 or the Sigma 50mm f/1.4? Everything that I have read tell me that the Zeiss is still better than the Sigma. Manual focusing wouldn’t be a huge problem with this lens because I’d only use it for portraiture.

    • April 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Eric, if you want the best of the best, the Zeiss Otus gets my vote. A huge lens, but feels so good in hands. An instant classic and it will be as valuable, if not more, 10 years from now. When you buy Zeiss, you buy real German glass. Nothing beats the German glass – you just cannot compete with their 100+ years legacy of making optics. I once talked to a guy who actually worked at Schott and he told me all about German glass and how it is made. He said “Japanese glass has a red/pink tint in the glass, Chinese glass has blue and other tints and the German glass is just clear. That’s the nature of glass which you cannot remove and Germans know how to do it right. That’s why the colors from Zeiss, Schneider and Leica lenses are always neutral and natural when compared to everything else”. I agree – colors from Zeiss and Leica lenses have their own “look” and it probably has to do with the superior glass elements…

  13. April 16, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Hello,

    If one does still life’s like I do from a tripod only the D800 plus Zeiss Otus 55mm is just breathtaking. For me the first lens besides the Zeiss 135 mm Apo Sonnar that does justice to the D800’s fantastic sensor. To focus accurately I have to use life view plus magnification. If one is interested, there is a link to my still life’s on the bottom of my homepage. I use the Sigma Art 35 mm as well. A great lens and most precise autofocus at 1.4 with D800.

    • 23
      ) Jay
      April 16, 2014 at 7:51 am

      Based on what you said, some of them are taken with a D800 + Zeiss 55mm combo……?

  14. 22
    ) Thomas
    April 16, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Hi Nasim,

    I have read that manufacturers use different test procedures to produce MTF charts. Hence, the assertion that comparisons between MTF charts within a manufacturer’s lens line are valid, but comparisons across manufacturers are not. Can you shed light on this (no pun intended)?

    Stopped down, Nikon 50mm lens old and new perform well (as does the 24-70 at 50mm). To me the real issue is how they shoot wide open. On the D800E, my 1.4G and 1.4 Ai are soft. I would very much like to see a comparison between the Zeus Otus, the Sigma Art, and the Nikon offerings at f1.4. Ideally, the 50mm 1.2 would be thrown in for good measure!

    Keep up the good work!

    Tom

    • April 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Tom, that’s a valid statement and it more or less accurately reflects the reality. Yes, it is true that comparisons across manufacturers are not 100% accurate. However, most manufacturers today more or less standardize on their “calculation” of MTF charts and their peaks. In this particular case, I feel confident that the comparison pretty accurately reflects the reality – the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 should be much sharper than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4. Obviously, this will be tested in my lab as soon as I get a hold of that lens, but the manufacturer provided MTF should serve well as a “guideline” on its potential performance.

      Unfortunately, aside from Zeiss and very few others, the MTF charts are just an approximation of the best case scenario – it is NOT a real measured result. Sigma does the same thing as Nikon and Canon – there is no real MTF figure anywhere…

      I am planning to test all the 50mm lenses I own with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, so it should be a good comparison between all. Zeiss Otus will also be included :)

  15. 27
    ) Manuel
    April 16, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Nasim, hi all,

    thank you very much.

    For me, all about buying a 1.4 lens is to use it at 1.4 most of the time. Elsewhere, a 1.8 lens would do for much less money. I love doing street photography at night time, and a hobby is taking photos of trams (streetcars). Throughout Germany, at night you can dial in 1/125s, f1.4 and ISO 3,200, the brightness of street lamps seems to be standardized. On big crossovers, 1/160s may be enough.

    For moving vehicles, 1/125s is the borderline in my experience. A 1.8 lens would lead to only 1/80s, which is too slow, and higher ISO than 3,200 doesn’t convince me till today.

    Currently, I own the ‘holy trinity’ of Nikon primes (24mm/1.4, 35mm/1.4 and 85mm/1.4) as well as the Nikon AF-S 50mm/1.4.

    In night scenes with bright light sources inside the frame, like street lamps or headlights of vehicles, the AF-S 50mm/1.4 is very much prone to flaring and ghosting. Furthermore, it shows strong color fringing around the headlights of vehicles as well as a great amount of coma around street lamps on the edge of the frame, which both is impossible to correct in post processing.

    Therefore, I’m looking to replace the Nikon AF-S 50mm/1.4. At the moment, I’m confused about the options:

    – The Nikon AF-S 50mm/1.8 has certainly better image quality for my kind of subjects, but it’s too slow for moving subjects at night time (see above).

    – The Nikon AF-S 58mm/1.4 is claimed to be corrected exactly for my kind of subjects, but surprisingly I haven’t seen any sample images taken with this lens that actually prove that. And it’s expensive beyond limits.

    – Now we have the Sigma 50mm/1.4 Art lens. It seems to be very sharp wide open and reasonably priced. But what about its performance at night scenes? Ghosting, CA, Coma? Any idea?

    Many thanks and best regards from Berlin, Germany,
    Manuel

  16. Profile photo of Daniel Michael
    30
    ) Daniel Michael
    April 18, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Something I forgot about as well, I heard a while back that Sigma have a re-mounting service, so if one day you decide to go from Nikon to Canon or Pentax etc, you can have your whole fleet of lovely Art lenses moved over with you! Don’t know if other lens manufacturers do this!

    In fact it actually makes me feel happier about spending money on the new Sigma line as opposed to double the price on Nikon equivalents…

  17. 31
    ) Lester
    May 1, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I have the 35mm Art. It is excelent. I would love a 85mm 1.4 Art. But I would love to see a nikon 58mm vs Sigma 50mm Art comparo.

  18. 32
    ) NG
    May 20, 2014 at 8:02 am

    I too would love to see a nikon 58mm vs Sigma 50mm Art comparison. I already own the new Nikon 58mm/1.4. How much better is the Sigma 50mm art?

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