Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM review
The 50mm F1.4 DG HSM uses essentially the same cosmetic design as its 35mm F1.4 sibling, but is slightly larger in size. The majority of the barrel exterior is made from high quality plastics, with a shinier metal section immediately adjacent to the mount. A small inlaid silver plaque with the letter 'A' denotes that it's part of Sigma's high-end 'Art' line. There's really nothing to complain about here in terms of fit and finish, which feels excellent. One possible concern, depending on your needs, is that the lens isn't weathersealed; but then again, few of the alternatives are, either.
The broad manual focus ring occupies the front of the barrel, and turns smoothly; it doesn't rotate during autofocus, which is always welcome. Focus is fully internal, meaning that the front element doesn't move during the process. The auto/manual focus mode switch on the side of the barrel is unusually generously-sized, and a large section of the barrel's underside is ridged to provide a positive grip when changing lenses. These small touches help make the lens a pleasure to use.
Design and specifications compared to other similar lenses
The 50mm F1.4 Art is quite different from any previous autofocus 50mm F1.4 for full frame, and much more similar in size and optical design to a typical 35mm F1.4 lens. This means it's almost twice the length, and three times the weight of the more traditional double-Gauss designs from Canon and Nikon. It's also substantially larger than either the older Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, or the Sony Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM, both of which are pretty sizeable for a 'fast normal' prime.
|Here you can see how much larger the Sigma 50mm F1.4 is compared to a traditional design the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM. For some potential buyers, this extra bulk may be reason enough to discount the Sigma.|
The table below compares the Sigma's key specifications to other 50mm F1.4 primes, and the $4000 Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 to which it's widely been compared. The key point to understand is that it's the second-largest and heaviest lens here by quite some margin. It's not as huge as the Otus, but it's about twice the length, and nearly three times the weight of Canon and Nikon's more traditionally-designed 50mm F1.4 lenses.
|AF motor|| Ring-type
|Filter dia||• 77mm||• 72mm||• 58mm||• 58mm||• 72mm||• 77mm|
|• No||• No||• No||• No||• Yes||• No|
|Available mounts|| • Canon
| • Canon
|• Canon||• Nikon||• Sony|| • Canon
The take-home message is that if you're considering upgrading to the Sigma from one of the camera manufacturer's 50mm F1.4 primes, you're going to have a accept that it's a much bigger beast to carry around with you.
On the camera
The Sigma is a pretty large lens, indeed it's the heaviest and physically longest of all autofocus 50mm F1.4s. Despite this it balances well on larger SLRs, and is perhaps most at home on mid-size bodies. Above we're showing it on the full frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II (left), and the APS-C Canon EOS 70D (right). On smaller APS-C SLRs like the Canon EOS 700D, 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.
The 50mm uses Sigma's Hypersonic Motor for autofocus, which is very quiet indeed. For normal eye-level shooting we've found our Canon-mount copy to perform pretty well, offering fast and positive focusing. When using the central AF point we've seen no evidence for systematic focus errors on test bodies ranging from the entry-level EOS 100D to the top-of-the-line EOS-1D X, but accuracy and consistency deteriorates with outer AF points, especially with lower-end bodies. As always, 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 get more complicated, depending on the camera used. We found that the lens works very well with the Canon EOS 70D and its (currently-unique) Dual Pixel AF, providing fast, accurate focusing that's also much more reliable when using off-centre AF points. This is great news for 70D owners, but less helpful for anyone else right now.
For users of cameras that rely on Hybrid or Contrast Detection AF, the lens performs somewhat less well. Even on the EOS 100D (which has Canon's best performing live view Hybrid AF system to date), focusing slows down considerably, although it is at least still pretty quiet. However if you refocus during movie recording, the clicking of the AF motor as it fine-tunes focus might easily be audible on your soundtrack in quieter conditions.
Lens body elements
USB Dock compatibility
The 50mm F1.4 is compatible with Sigma's unique USB dock, a relatively inexpensive accessory (£40 / $59 / €60) which allows you to hook Sigma's latest lenses up to a computer - click here to read our quick review. Using the Sigma Optimization Pro software you can then apply detailed autofocus microadjustments if you find your lens consistently mis-focuses on your camera (which can be something of an occupational hazard for SLR users). There's also an option to update the lens's firmware, if it should become necessary in the future.
When we tested the USB Dock last year, we found the main problem to be the lack of detailed documentation, and specifically any real explanation of how to determine and set autofocus adjustment values. We also suspect that most buyers of the 50mm will be using it on cameras that include AF microadjustment settings in their firmware, which reduces any need to use the USB Dock. Despite this, we're pleased to see that Sigma is offering the option.
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