Review: Using the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 in a Lifestyle Shoot

As a working photographer, my gear is obviously very important to me. My most-used lenses, Canon’s 35L and 50L, are both long time favorites and are glued to my camera almost 24/7. For many reasons, I’ve been a fan of Canon’s prime lenses for a number of years, taking both the good, the bad, and the price tag that they each have to offer. When something new like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 comes up I, like most of us, give it a quick once-over and then head back to the comfort of our expensive name brand gear. 

First Impressions: 

When I first heard that Sigma was releasing a new 50mm Art lens, I was kind of excited because of all the great reviews surrounding Sigma’s 35mm lens. I have several friends who’ve used the Sigma 35mm and they’ve each reported similar findings - it is the sharpest lens they’ve ever used. In doing my research on perhaps a potential purchase, I found that not only is the 35mm sharp, but it exceeds expectations in almost every other area as well. Other than those basic facts, I really knew nothing about the history of Sigma, their take on production, and in particular, these two lenses.

john-schell-holly-parker-sigma-50mm

The Shoot: 

As things usually go, the shoot itself came together about as close to the last minute as possible. With only several hours notice, we got in touch with Stars Model Management in San Francisco and worked out the logistics of the shoot, which included booking three models who were in the area, location, and wardrobe requirements, etc. On Tuesday morning, Holly Parker (model and photographer) and I left Los Angeles and drove to San Francisco to meet the lens - I mean, to meet with Jaron... and the lens.

When Jaron opened his bag and handed me the lens, in addition to the classic all-black styling, the first thing I noticed is that lens is the weight. The lens is heavy, much heavier than my 50L and possibly as heavy, if not heavier than Canon’s 85L. But with the added weight comes a more sturdy feel. The lens feels like a tool. I was excited. Jaron and I talked about the differences between it and the different prime lenses in the Canon lineup and it was immediately apparent that I am in no way qualified to talk about the technical specifications of anything.

john-schell-freckles-holly-parker-fashion-san-francisco

So with that understanding, it was time to put the lenses money where it’s mouth was. Jaron, Holly, and I left the hotel and started walking around downtown San Francisco and immediately, I mean, immediately, I was hooked. I have been shooting long enough to know that we shouldn’t always believe what we see in the LCD screen but it quickly became clear that we weren’t dealing with some run-of-the-mill lens, zooming in, the back-of-the-camera previews blew me away.

As we walked around, the excitement died a little bit as the weight of the lens started to become an issue. Bigger and heavier than the 50L, my hand began to cramp. I don’t normally use a battery grip, but if I did, that weight combined with the Sigma would have been much more of a inconvenience than it already was. Though, to be honest, I suppose that after a while I either got used to the weight or I was too excited to notice, but the more we shot, the less of an issue it became.

Details: 

In addition to color, contrast and sharpness, one of the things that nearly everyone goes crazy about is, of course, bokeh. I tend to shoot more wide-open than I probably should, with most of my work falling somewhere between f/1.4 and f/3.2, so while it’s not something I specifically look or shoot for, a nice blurred background for the sake of image separation is always nice. Rest assured, the lens does not disappoint. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of the bokeh that this lens renders, but for me, what I saw was equal to if not greater than the 50L (shot between f/1.4 and f/3.2, respectively).

john-schell-50mm-sigma-review-1

john-schell-50mm-sigma-review-2

sigma 50mm 100 percent crop example 1 copy

As the shoot wound down, I began switching back and forth between the Sigma and the Canon to see if there were any intricacies that I could notice. Aside from the red line, the most noticeable difference was the speed at which the lens focused. The Canon 50L is no slouch, but the autofocus on the Sigma flies in comparison. The AF locked in and stayed there - even when using center point focus and recomposing. In addition, when shooting lifestyle, there is always a lot of movement and with the Sigma, I noticed the amount of missed shots was much less than normal. I don’t know if I can rightly attribute all that to the Sigma, but during the shoot, the amount of “keepers” I saw in-camera appeared to be significantly higher.

john-schell-red-head-skateboard-grunge-90s-life-style

 

As I said earlier, I really have no right speaking about the technical aspects of most things. When it comes to my photography, I play by feel, mostly, but I know what I like in terms of my work and this lens had me constantly looking at the back of the camera because, quite simply, I could not get over how sharp and nicely contrasty the images were. I’m not sure if it was any more than the 50L, but for a lens that comes at a significantly lower price, it was enough to make me start thinking that one of these could be in my lineup sometime in the near future, especially at the low $950 price point.

What I Liked


Really sharp
Great bokeh
Excellent build quality
Autofocus very fast and accurate
Price point is solid

What Could Use Improvement:

This lens is heavy

After the shoot was over and I (reluctantly) handed the lens back to Jaron, Holly and I began the long drive back to Southern California. The fact that it was two in the morning when we got home didn’t stop either one of us from immediately going to our computers to start offloading our cards. Much to my surprise (and Holly’s too, I’m sure), the photos were as sharp and contrasty as they appeared in our respective LCD screens.

I’ve been using various forms of Canon cameras for about as long as I can remember. Even now, my camera lineup consists of digital bodies, film bodies, and smaller point and shoots, and while I am not ready to jump ship anytime soon, my experience with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has me rethinking whether or not the “L” lens will continue to be a necessity in my lineup.

john-schell-red-head-ginger-lifestyle-skateboard-90s

John Schell | Instagram
Holly Parker | Instagram
Jaron Schneider | Instagram

Log in or register to post comments
60 Comments
Previous comments
Jaron Schneider's picture

You've heard of autofocus issues on the 35? The new one? I've used several different copies of that lens with 0 problems with AF. It's actually outstanding. The 50mm is the same: great.

Phil Stefans's picture

I'd just read a few comments from owners in the usually haunts - nothing tested or confirmed, might just be user error @ 1.4. Good to see Sigma putting pressure on the big boys for both quality and price.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I've had issues in low, artificial light, especially going from a near subject to one further away - even 1' behind. Basically in AI Servo mode with high speed continuous shooting the first shot the focus barely moves, the second it's almost to the new subject and the third shot usually nails focus. Strangely, if I remove my thumb from the BBF and then repress it and fire away, I'll often get the same sequence of shots (first 2 out of focus). It's really weird.
Indoors with good light coming in, it's not really an issue too often. Outdoors I haven't noticed it at all. I also don't have this problem with my others lenses (all Canon).
Finally, the camera is set to focus priority rather than speed.

AnnoyingOrange's picture

I have the Sigma 35mm Art. Had one for the Nikon mount when I still had a D800. It was amazingly sharp wide open. But at long distances, it was back-focusing in any lighting condition. Same as what Roger Cicala (LensRentals) experienced. Didn't have the Sigma USB dock back then. Now that I switched to a Canon 6D, I got another 35mm Art and it's great too but also had the same focusing problem at around 6 feet onwards. But I have the USB dock now. Updated the lens firmware and fine-tuned the focusing by eye (no fancy charts and calibration tools). It's perfect for me now.

The 35mm was a bargain considering its performance and price that I don't mind having to buy the USB dock and fine-tuning it myself. Some can get lucky to have a copy that works perfectly with the body they have but even brand lenses will need some fine-tuning on some bodies. And I'm glad Sigma provides a better tool at making lens adjustments.

Looking forward to the 50mm Art!

Miles's picture

I've used my 35mm in all kinds of conditions, never had a problem with AF accuracy or general performance. Some operator error though, as usual ;)

Chris Renton's picture

I have the 35mm 1.4 art lens which I love, so will definitely be getting this. Sigma just need to add a 85mm 1.2 to the lineup now!

My Collectible World's picture

I pre-ordered mine 2 days ago ! I cant' wait :)

marc osborne jr's picture

One way that the Canon 1.2 is a better option for someone like me in Alaska: Weather Sealed. But other than the general beating my lenses get (70-200 2.8 ii fell down a cliff in a bag and was fine).
I wish I could buy the Sigma instead.

Rasmus Laurvig's picture

Which camera did you use? Thx

Đỗ Dũng's picture

I think 5D3 for photos and 70D for video..