Design

The 35mm F1.4 DG HSM marks a new direction for Sigma in terms of design and build quality. Cosmetically it's unlike any of the company's previous optics, with an all-metal barrel that uses mainly a matte finish, but with a more-glossy section next to the mount. A small inlaid silver plaque with the letter 'A' denotes that it's part of Sigma's new 'Art' line.

The broad manual focus ring occupies the front of the barrel, and turns smoothly - it doesn't rotate during autofocus, which is always welcome. The auto/manual focus mode switch on the side of the barrel is unusually generously-sized, and a large area of the barrel's underside is ridged to provide a positive grip when changing lenses. These thoughtful little touches help make the lens a pleasure to use.

There's really nothing to complain about here in terms of fit and finish either, which feels superb. The lens looks attractive too, which is utterly non-essential but still always a bonus. One possible concern, depending on your needs, is that the lens isn't weathersealed (unlike its Nikon counterpart).

Key specifications compared to other 35mm F1.4 SLR lenses

The table below compares the Sigma's key specifications to its main competitors. All offer minimum apertures of F16 or F22, and minimum focus distances of about 0.3m.

 
 Focus  AF  AF  AF  AF  Manual only  Manual only
 AF motor  Ring-type
 ultrasonic
 Ring-type
 ultrasonic
 Ring-type
 ultrasonic
 Screw-drive n/a n/a
 Filter dia  • 67mm  • 72mm  • 67mm  • 55mm  • 77mm  • 72mm
 Weight  665g
 (1.47 lb)
 580g
 (1.28 lb)
 600g
 (1.32 lb)
 510g
 (1.12 lb)
 660g
 (1.46 lb)
 830g
 (1.83 lb)
 Diameter  77mm
 (3.0")
 79mm
 (3.1")
 83mm
 (3.3")
 69mm
 (2.7")
 83mm
 (2.5")
 78mm
 (3.0")
 Length  94mm
 (3.7")
 86mm
 (3.4")
 90mm
 (3.5")
 76mm
 (3.0")
 112mm
 (4.4")
 120mm
 (4.7")
 Weather-
 sealing
 • No  • No  • Yes  • No  • No  • No
 Available  mounts  • Canon
 • Nikon
 • Pentax
 • Sony
 • Sigma
 • Canon  • Nikon  • Sony  • Canon
 • Nikon
 • Four Thirds
 • Pentax
 • Sony
 • Samsung NX
 • Canon
 • Nikon

Click here for a more-detailed specification comparison between these lenses

On the camera

The Sigma is a fairly chunky optic, indeed it's the heaviest and physically longest of all autofocus 35mm F1.4s. Despite this it balances well on larger SLRs, and is perhaps most at home on mid-size full frame bodies such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nikon D800 or Sony SLT-A99. On small APS-C SLRs like the Canon EOS 650D shown right, the overall balance shifts much more towards the lens itself. But with a normal grip supporting the lens with your left hand, this really isn't a problem.

Autofocus

The 35mm uses Sigma's Hypersonic Motor for autofocus. For normal eye-level shooting we've found our Canon-mount copy to perform very well, offering fast, silent and positive focusing. We've seen no evidence for systematic focus errors on test bodies ranging form the entry-level EOS 650D to the top-of-the-line EOS-1Ds Mark III, either. As always, though, it must be noted that focus speed and accuracy is dependent upon a number of variables, including the camera body used, subject contrast, and light levels.

Switch from the optical viewfinder to live view, though, and the story changes. Focusing slows down considerably, although the exact speed will be highly dependent on the camera used. It's still pretty quiet, but if you refocus during movie recording, the clicking of the AF motor as it fine-tunes focus might be audible on your soundtrack in quieter conditions.

Lens body elements

The lens comes in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony versions; our review sample was in the Canon EF mount.

One point worthy of note is that there's no rubber seal around the mount, or any other specific claim of weathersealing, in contrast to the more-expensive Canon and Nikon equivalents.
The filter thread is 67mm, and due to the lens's internal focus design it doesn't rotate on focusing. This means filters such as polarisers and neutral density gradients are much easier to use.
The bayonet-mount hood is provided as standard, and clicks positively into place on the front of the lens. It's made from thick plastic, and features ribbed moldings on the inside to minimize reflections of stray light into the lens. Sigma has even added a ribbed grip to make it easier to remove.

A discrete grey mark aids alignment for mounting, and the hood reverses neatly for storage.
The focus ring has a 25mm-wide ridged rubber grip, and rotates 90 degrees clockwise from infinity to 0.30m, matching Canon and Sony lenses but opposite to those from Pentax and Nikon. Its action is nice and smooth, and it doesn't rotate on autofocus.
The lens has a basic distance scale, with depth-of-field indicators for the minimum aperture of F16 only. Note that these are calibrated for use on full frame cameras; on APS-C the extremes of the indicated range won't appear as sharp.
The large, positive focus mode switch is prominently placed on the side of the barrel. When set to AF a white inlay is visible behind it; switch to MF and the other side is black. This provides a quick visual cue to confirm the focus mode, that's easier to see in dark conditions.
A generous 31mm-wide ridged grip covers most of the underside of the barrel, and provides positive handling when changing lenses.
A small silver inlay on the barrel denotes that the 35mm F1.4 is part of Sigma's new 'Art' line of lenses.
Sigma's redesign exercise extends to offering new front and rear caps. The chunky front cap has deep centre-pinch grips, that make it particularly easy to remove or replace with the lens hood in position.