A bright 50 mm f/1.8 standard lens is much loved by photographers with a full-frame camera. Understandably. The field of view and perspective are consistent with what you perceive with the naked eye, making pictures appear natural. You get sharp images with a nice background sharpness at an attractive price. If you would like the same image quality on a camera with a DX or APS-C sensor, simply choose a 35 mm f/1.4 lens. The choice for a Sigma 35 mm 1.4 Art is obvious, because we know from an earlier test that the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art scores fantastically well in combination with a Nikon D800E. If we pair this high flyer with a Nikon D7100, then you get just as sharp images, with an equally beautiful bokeh, as pictures made with a standard lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. In addition, the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art on a Nikon D7100 suffers less from distortion and vignetting than a standard lens on a full frame camera.
Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 DG HSM on a Nikon D7100
Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 @ f/2.8
Construction and Autofocus
This lens shows its quality and is very solid built. Without any doubt, it’s professional level. All the rings turn smoothly and without any slack. The mount is metal. It comes with a tulip-shaped lens hood that you put backwards on the lens when you’re not using it. There is a coating on the front and on the back lens.
The lens has an MF/AF switch and a (very small) depth of field scale. The setup is, for a professional lens, perhaps on the short side (about 90 degrees from infinity to minimum distance). The Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 has a built-in focus motor of the USM-type; the auto focus on our Nikons worked very fast and virtually silently.
Sigma 35 mm 1.4 Art @ f/1.4 Move your mouse over the image for a 100% crop
This lens really puts forward a top performance in terms of resolution and gives its best performance at apertures 5.6 to 11. With the naked eye, you experience the sharpness at maximum aperture even in the extreme corners as very high. At aperture 5.6, the sharpness in the centre and in the extreme corners are actually equal to each other. We are living in a great time. Since the introduction of digital photography, lens designs are improved, in such a way that the quality differences between zoom lenses and fixed focal lengths among the very best lenses has diminished. When the sharpness is concerned, the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 zoom lens gives nothing up to the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art. Where these two lenses are concerned, your personal preference or style of shooting is more important in choosing between fixed focal length or zoom lens, than any quality differences.
At wide-open apertures, there is present and visible with the naked eye vignetting. In RAW you have to stop down to f/4 aperture (3 stops) to get rid of the phenomenon. The jpg files benefit from the in-camera adjustment of vignetting by the Nikon D800E, which was set to ‘normal’. Probably you would get for jpg files a bit better results if you set the vignetting correction of the camera to ‘high’.
Most lenses exhibit the most distortion in the corners/at the edges. If you use them on a camera with a smaller sensor, that results in lower distortion. The distortion is at 0.8% barrel-shaped indeed slightly lower than if you used the same lens on a Nikon D800E. Also compared to the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 at 35 mm, the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art scores slightly better. You will not be able to see the differences in practice.
Sigma 35 mm 1.4 Art @ f/1.4
We wrote it already in our test of the Sigma 18-35 mm f/18 zoom lens: for a beautiful bokeh you do not need a camera with a full frame sensor. The same is true for the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art. The bokeh of the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art with a Nikon D7100 (with a DX/APS-C sensor) is just as beautiful as pictures made with a 50 mm f/1.8 standard lens on a Nikon D800E, at maximum aperture at least. Because if you open the aperture a little, from aperture 4 the aperture blades are visible. It's notable that the large number of rings that can be seen in the bokeh: it's not very pronounced, but certainly visible. This phenomenon we find more often with lenses with very high sharpness.
The Sigma 35 mm 1.4 has very, very little trouble with flare and ghosts. In our practice shots, we did not encounter any. In the studio, we subjected the lens to a flare test. With difficulty, we did manage to get flares there, but such an extreme test has little to do with daily practice. If there is a very bright light source up close that shines in the image, there is a zone with reduced contrast and there are also several green spots visible. As mentioned, in the pictures taken in practice, there is nothing to note.
The Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 does not suffer from chromatic aberration in the form of red and blue-green edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image ('lateral chromatic aberration'). Lateral chromatic aberration is low at all apertures, both in RAW and jpg files. In practice tests, we encountered no lateral chromatic aberration. That, given the high brightness of this lens, is a very good performance. Color bokeh (longitudinal chromatic aberration) in the form of green edges at sharp contrast transitions behind the focus field and purple fringing in front of the focus field (see the picture on the left) you will sometimes be able to recognize. That's pretty much always true for bright lenses, and the degree to which it occurs with this lens is remarkably low.
Conclusion Sigma 35 mm 1.4 ART review
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WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the files are stored in the camera as RAW files. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
Excellent image quality
Mechanically very well built
Exceptionally low color bokeh
Very little flaring or ghosts
Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 provides the same image quality at a lower price
If you would like the same image quality as a bright 50 mm standard lens on a camera with a DX or APS-C sensor, then choose a Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art or a Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 zoom. The choice is personal. In terms of build quality and image quality these two Sigma lenses are pretty well on par with each other. You can thus choose the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 zoom lens without worrying, because this state-of-the-art zoom lens image in terms of quality beats almost all lenses with a similar fixed focal length that we tested so far.
Even so, there is also something to say for the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4. This lens is designed for use on a camera with a full-frame sensor, which in terms of image quality translates into a lower distortion and less vignetting if you use this lens on a Nikon D7100. And if you keep shooting with a fixed focal length, or you want to one day switch to a camera with a full-frame sensor, then you will certainly be happier with the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.