I don’t usually post about modern lenses – there are lots of reviews out there already of any photographic kit made recently. However, this is the exception which proves the rule as this promises to be one of the best third-party lenses of recent years. All shots taken on a 5D Mk2, processed in DXO Optics 9. DPP (Canon’s RAW developer software) won’t help with distortion etc as this isn’t a Canon lens, but DXO has all the correction profiles available.
What was hoped for. Contrast, bokeh, colours and sharpness (including spider’s web). A good start to say the least.
Having been distinctly unimpressed by the weak construction of the Canon 50mm f1.4 (it needed a £150 repair after a slight knock) I started looking around for a replacement, and there isn’t that much available which is affordable (i.e. not the Canon 50mm f1.2), optically sound and well-built. There is the manual focus Zeiss Otus available, but as I don’t have £3k+ free it’s a non starter (I’ve had cars cheaper than that).
Left – Canon 24-105mm f4 ‘L’, centre the Sigma 50mm f1.4, and for comparison with the way things were done in the past, the compact and excellent Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4. Amazingly the Zuiko is the equivalent of the Sigma!
Onto the lens. It’s big and heavy! It feels about as heavy as a Canon 24-105 f4 and it’s around the same size. Much has been made of this, but as I’m now used to the size and weight of the 24-104 on a 5D Mk2 it’s not really a problem. Build quality is excellent, the autofocus is quiet and the whole thing exudes a feeling of quality. Costing £700 it should I suppose!
Using Live View (CDAF) the focussing as fast as any lens on the 5D Mk2 (ie slow), using the viewfinder (PDAF) it’s as fast as the 24-105. Low light focussing seems as good as the 24-105 too.
Is it any better than the Canon 50mm f1.4 in the sharpness dept? At f1.4 through to f5.6, definitely and noticeably yes. After f5.6 they’re about the same.
Here’s the full picture in this quick test :-
What a surprise – it’s The Mill again!
f1.4 centre – excellent for a 1.4 –
Update – having tested manual focus on a 60D here this may be ever so slightly out of focus when using autofocus – a little AF tuning required. Having done some MFA in camera adjustments -5 seems the best compromise for all distances (the correction required is different at various distances).
Here’s the result using Live View and manual focus shot on a different day – much more like it!
f1.4 edge using autofocus and slightly mis-focussed – the trees are out of focus even at these distances (see later shots)
f2 centre – AF
f4 centre – as good as it gets
f5.6 centre – astonishingly sharp!
f5.6 edge – and again.
f8 edge – things soften slightly at f16.
What’s noticeable other than the superb sharpness, is that at wider apertures, the trees which are 100 yards or so further behind the chimney in the edge shots out of focus – see the shots at f8 where they are. This narrow a depth of field isn’t something you’d expect for a 50mm lens focussed close to infinity, illustrating just how important accurate AF is. For a much more professional discussion about this see Roger Cicala’s excellent post about using fast lenses here.
This shallow depth of field ‘problem’ explains why some users are initially disappointed with the results from fast lenses – these lenses are difficult to use wide open, you need to be very precise with your focus point and shoot a few shots each time as the focus can vary slightly – even a tiny amount with this narrow margin for error can be disastrous.
Let’s try another shot:-
Autumn on the way (at f2.5)
Centre crop – that is very sharp.
Top centre crop – very sharp too.
Depth if field at close distances is tiny as you would expect :-
The Siggy at around two feet (60cm) at 1.4 – a centre 1/3 crop of a frame and that depth of field is around 1/8th of an inch (2-3mm). To get more in focus the focus point would need to be the centre of the bell rather than the bottom and maybe use f2.8. You need to be careful with this lens!
Contrast at 1.4 is OK, but picks up quickly – by f4 the lens shows quite strong contrast – maybe a ‘neutral’ rather than ‘standard’ colour profile would be best if you like to shoot JPEGs.
Colours are very good to excellent straight from the RAW files, with a tendency towards a cooler neutral look (the Canon 50mm f1.4 produced ‘warmer’ results) :-
It’s all going on here – shallow DOF, contrast, colour and bokeh!
My stand in portrait model at f2 – the hair really is blue.
A crop from the centre. Focus on the eye is spot on!
Bokeh when the background is deeply out of focus is lovely, but when it’s ‘almost’ in focus it can be bit ‘busy’ :-
Very out of focus bokeh – this is as good as the old Helios 85mm f2 used in previous posts!
A full range of ‘out of focus-ness’. The intermediate distance bokeh displaying a slight degree of jitter with a detailed subject.
This subject though – because it has less detail than the leaves – fades smoothly into soft bokeh.
Chromatic aberration is evident at wide apertures but DXO corrects it very well (sometimes with the manual sliders) –
A crop from the above – a hint of slight green and magenta on out of focus areas but for a shot at 1.4 this is excellent.
I didn’t need to do any lens callibration focus adjustments on the 5dMk2 (the Canon rather huffily just reports ’50mm’ for the lens in the MF adjustments screen!), and it looks as if it’s also fine on the 60D though this needs proper testing. I only ever use the centre focus point – edge points may not be as accurate.
I haven’t worried about vignetting – DXO does an excellent job of removing it (I didn’t see any in other words). I also tried to get some flare without the lens hood attached but wasn’t successful, which may mean the lens hood isn’t needed….
So, all as advertised it seems, but who is going to buy one given the price (3x the Canon version) and the weight? Other than me obviously.
It seems to me that this lens offers an alternative to the fast/sharp in the centre/blurry at the edge/heavily vignetted fast prime ‘look’ which has been accepted for years. To have a f1.4 lens which is sharp wide open at the edges opens up some interesting opportunities, whilst allowing for ultra sharp images across the frame at f5.6 onwards. Photographers who would like to make the most of this new wide aperture ‘look’ will find this attractive.
The weight is a non issue in my humble opinion – if you’re carrying a full frame DSLR with a 24-104mm or 24-70mm zoom you already don’t care about weight and do care about maximum image quality (if you do care about the weight you may have the wrong camera system!).
Based on this initial series of images, the Sigma produces some of the best results I’ve seen. It’s not the easiest lens to use – where you place your focus point is critical, and choosing backgrounds with less detail provides better bokeh at mid distances (a universal rule not specific to this lens). If it had a proper aperture ring and image stabilisation it would be perfect!
Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.
If you’re interested in using other lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.
p.s I have no connection with Sigma – just using their products