Sigma Primes on Nikon Full Frame

Started Dec 9, 2017 | Discussions thread
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truthseekerh Forum Member • Posts: 88
Sigma Primes on Nikon Full Frame
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Wanted to share a few observations with anyone considering buying Sigma lenses for a Nikon Full Frame or already have one or more of these lenses already. I am going to throw in a few comments about Nikon and Tamron lenses as well. I just went through an extensive set of reviews of a number of lenses and have finally settled in on my kit (at least for a while). I am very satisfied now with my choices but regret it took so much buying and selling to get here, but fortunately I made some good deals along the way to ease the pain. I figure I am no worse than paying retail on my gear having bought most of it used but in mint shape. Anyway, here goes.

Basically I have abandoned the idea of owning a wide angle zoom in favor of primes which now are the Sigma ART 35, 50, and 85 trio. I pair this with a Nikon 70-200 F4 on a Nikon D750. For me it is the minimum quality level I can accept if I am going to invest the time to use my gear. I am primarily interested in portrait photography and low grade events (non-weddings) I know this sounds snobbish but I just cannot accept less and cannot afford more. I would actually prefer medium format but it is prohibitively expensive. I would like to at least add a D810 and the 70-200 FL (VRIII) lens in the future but would have to see some actual monetary incentives to go that far. I was using the Sigma 24-105 which is a very fine lens, but its edges were  a little soft and I wanted a step up. So after evaluating Tamron 35, 85, and Nikon 35, 85G and Sigma Arts 35, 50, and 85, I went with Sigma. Here is what I learned along the way.

Each of these 3 manufacturers has their strengths and weaknesses based on their optical formula's and marketing strategy. The buyer has to decide what his/her needs are and select from there. As a group, the Nikon G lenses are the most reliable focusing lens with a Nikon camera due to the propriatary algorithms they use which Tamron/Sigma do not want to pay liscense fees for to keep costs down. So Sigma and Tamron have come up with devices to do field calibrations which is pretty cool. The Nikon lenses appear to be the most natural to me as well, having excellent balance between resolution, color and contrast. In fact I would say the Nikons as a group have the best color/contrast overall. However, the are not the sharpest in many cases and typically have softer edges. But I have gained an appreciation for the color/contrast component of a lens, but do place a high premium on resolution. It is for this reason that I love Lenscore reviews as they quantify these values in their ratings unlike most which just list resolution and make references to color contrast as a observation. Anyway, if you are not looking for ultimate resolution capability and want the safest most reliable choice, stay with Nikon lenses. The 35 1.8G and 85 1.8G take warm pictures but the 35 does have some pretty significant CA and the edge is a little soft. The 85 1.8 G is clearly one of the best values in all of Full Frame offerings.

For lenses over 100mm, I am all in on Nikon. Gorgeous. The VRII is a great lens. I am sure the VrIII is even better.  I downsized to the F4 because i did not want the extra bulk and the F4 paired with the low light capabity of the D750 is more than adequate for my needs. It is a gorgeous lens.

Let me digress for a moment and say that when I evaluate a lens, I concentrate on difficult subjects which include low light, low contrast, muted color subjects to stretch out a lens. Too many reviews are done in optimal conditions which don't always discriminate the weaknesses of a lens. I have found that the resolution numbers available on sites like, LensTip, CameraLabs, PhotoZone, Photography Life, DXO, Digital Picture, etc are fairly accurate and are helpful in identifying winners and losers but there is nothing like getting the lens on your camera and doing your own tests under real world conditions.

As to Tamrons, the represent great value. Tamron's optical formulas deliver some of the best edges out there.  I could see a 24-70G2, 70-200G2 and a 35 and 85 as a great kit along with the Tap In console. Tremendous value. The stabilization on the 70-200G2 is the best ever at a true 5 stops. The stabilization on the 35 and 85 is only fair at best however, but to Tamrons credit, they offer it. But I have some doubts about Tamrons in low light (as I do with Sigma as well). And the color and contrast are not stellar as a group but quite acceptable. There is much to like here.

Which leads me to Sigma. Absolutely love these lenses but a few comments are in order here (sorry it took so long to get here). You must have the Dock. It is a mistake to rely on in-camera fine tuning alone. It has been my observation that most Sigmas need to be tweaked for your specific camera and that there is a difference in the adjustments under 6 feet and over 8ft. This becomes more of an issue as you go down in focal length. The 35 1.4 is the most finnicky and requires the most time to tweak. On the other hand, the 135 Art was great right out of the box. By the way, I did not keep the 135 as it did not have the color and contrast that the 85 did but was easily the sharpest lens of the bunch. Remined me of the Samyang 135 manual focus which had the same deal, great resolution but less than stellar contrast and color. The 85 is simply the best, FULL STOP. The 35 and 50 are also great. Adjust them and enjoy. The extra optical quality makes the bulk, and tweakiness worth it in my opnion. And no this is not cheap, but I have no regrets here. One other point, turn off the AF assist on your speedlight because it absolutely causes all Sigmas to misfocus. With the D750 I can turn off the camera and speedlight assists and focus just fine in the darkest of situations. I love this.

To fine tune, I use a tape measure at a 30 degree angle on a well lit table (30 degrees above the tape on a tripod looking down) or coming in level with the tape laying sideways on the table at a 30 degree angle. Be sure you clear the Fine Tune settings in the camera and start with the deafults in the lens. Take a picture with center focus point only of say the number 10 on the tape measure and see which numbers are in focus. if 9 and down are more in focus that you need to start adding numbers to fine tune. If numbers above 10 are in focus, the subtract numbers in fine tune. You can use the review and magnification buttons in camera to review this. No need to unload card and go to the computer. Once you find the optimal numbers then repeat with each range listed in the Dock profile for the lens. Be sure you are using the correct distances between the lens and the tape measure. Do not cut corners here. This works. I suspect that some of the complaints about Sigma lenses are from people that are not using a dock or are not doing it properly. I would concede this point, it is possible that you may get a situation when between 8 feet and infinity you have to make a compromise, meaning that at say 15 feet you may achive perfect focus but at 30 feet it could be less than perfect. I would say tha you should concentrate on distances that you will most likely use and then rely on live view for true infinity say for landscapes etc. Lens are all about compromises. I suspect that if you do the ist 3 ranges properly, you will lessen the possibility that the 4th range (infinity) will be a problem.

OK, good luck

Nikon D750 Nikon D810
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