Conclusion - Pros

  • Stunning image quality - super sharp, minimal CA and practically no distortion
  • Impressive flare resistance
  • Generally attractive rendition of out-of-focus backgrounds
  • Fast, silent, and accurate autofocus
  • Excellent build quality

Conclusion - Cons

  • Large and heavy for a 50mm F1.4 prime
  • Relatively expensive for its class
  • No weather sealing

Overall conclusion

We've been very impressed by Sigma's recent 'Art' line lenses, such as the ultra-fast 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM and the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM. The 50mm F1.4 DG HSM continues in a similar vein, but if anything it surpasses its illustrious stablemates. Optically it's simply spectacular; Sigma's older 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM outperformed most similar lenses, but the 'Art' lens essentially redefines the class. It's a perfect match for high end full frame SLRs like the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

In fact Sigma's latest 50mm is one of the very best lenses we've ever tested. It's impressively sharp wide open, with none of the 'haze' or 'glow' from spherical aberration that's normally associated with this kind of fast prime. Stopped down, it just gets better; we've been shooting with it mainly on a 20MP Canon EOS 6D, and it's impressively sharp right across the frame at apertures from F2.8 - F11. Indeed it seems pretty clear that the Sigma will continue to give excellent results on higher resolution sensors for some time yet, and is likely to be utterly untroubled by the D800's 36MP sensor when the Nikon-mount version appears.

Chromatic aberration is also extremely low. When shooting wide open you'll see some longitudinal CA (magenta and green fringing around objects which are out of focus), but it's not hugely objectionable. Distortion is almost entirely nonexistent, and vignetting relatively low for this class (1.5 stops in the extreme corners on full frame). We've also found the lens to be impressively resistant to flare, and to give generally-attractive background blur or 'bokeh'. Overall, when looking through the hundreds of real-world pictures we've shot with the lens, it's difficult to find much to complain about at all.

Operationally there's a lot to like about the Sigma too. Autofocus is fast, silent and positive on the Canon-mount version we tested, and the manual focus ring is smooth and sufficiently precise for critical focusing. We generally got most accurate autofocus by sticking to central AF points, which is worth bearing in mind to get the best from the lens. There's little to complain about in terms of build quality (unless you need weatherproofing), and small touches like the large positive AF switch and the grip on the underside of the barrel make the lens a joy to use.

There is a penalty for this exceptional performance, though, and it's size and weight. Sigma has achieved this level of optical performance by using a complex retrofocal design, which has more in common with a typical 35mm F1.4 than a traditional 'Double Gauss' 50mm. The lens is therefore more than twice the size, and about three times the weight, of Canon and Nikon's 50mm F1.4 offerings. All that glass means it's expensive, too; at $950 / £850 / €1000 it's much closer in price to the premium Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G, or Sony Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM.

In fact, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 makes for a particularly interesting comparison with the Nikkor 58mm, which we reviewed at the end of last year. Nikon seems to have decided to trade-off sharpness against bokeh, meaning that the 58mm is visibly not as sharp as the Sigma, especially at large apertures, but blurs backgrounds quite beautifully in return. For certain uses - most obviously wedding and portrait photography - this makes the Nikon the natural choice, but we suspect many users will prefer Sigma's approach overall.

The Final Word

Overall, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art is a pretty easy lens to sum up. It's the best autofocus 50mm prime we've reviewed to date, with optics so good that we can't really find anything to criticise. This does however come with a significant size and weight penalty, not to mention a distinctly high price. But if you're prepared to put up with that, we don't really see any reason not to recommend the lens wholeheartedly. It's a deserved winner of our top award.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art
Category: Normal Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art is distinctly large, heavy and expensive for its type. However this is more than made up for by its fast silent autofocus, solid build quality, and absolutely outstanding optics. Overall it stakes a very serious claim to be the best autofocus 50mm prime on the market right now.
Good for
Full frame users looking for the sharpest possible images, even when shooting at large apertures
Not so good for
Anyone who shoots a lot in damp or dusty conditions
92%
Overall score

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Samples Galleries

There are 48 images in the review samples gallery and 31 images in the preview samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.

Review samples gallery

Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art review samples

48 images • Posted on May 28, 2014 • View album
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Preview samples gallery

We had an early sample of the 50mm F1.4 DG HSM for a couple of days, long enough to put together a quick initial samples gallery. We concentrated on large-aperture shots to show sharpness and bokeh, but have also thrown in several images shot at smaller apertures too.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (Canon) preview samples

31 images • Posted on Apr 17, 2014 • View album
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