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As I begin this review I find myself searching for appropriate adjectives. A few that come to mind are sharp, crisp, beautiful, sleek, and sexy. Easily, any one of these could be used with confidence when describing a sports car or an extra tasty hot dog. But here, I feel the need to apply such words to what very well may be the most impressively performing lens I’ve encountered in some time, perhaps ever. Before I get too ahead of myself, the one in question is the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art Lens.
The folks at Sigma have long been in the game of photography and lately their newly engineered “Art” line of lenses have been aimed to impress the discerning shooter. Let’s take a look at the 24mm F1.4 Art Lens to see why it’s worthy of all those impressive adjectives.
Aesthetically, this lens is beautiful. It arrived pristinely packaged and once I removed it from the box the high quality of the build is readily apparent. All markings and indicators are well executed and easily readable. The focus ring turns smoothly with very pleasing travel with the autofocus/manual switch being acceptably well placed and crisp.
With Sigma’s Art line came a newly introduced method of manufacture and construction material. This lens is made from Thermally Stable Composite or TSC. The lens barrel is constructed using this material rather than opting for a metal housing such as aluminum. According to Sigma, the benefits of using TSC is its resistance to shrinking and swelling when placed in temperature extremes (not as aluminum would) while maintaining its relatively low size to weight ratio.
It feels remarkably like metal and in the hand, it’s quite difficult to discern the difference. To date, all Sigma lenses I have evaluated which have been made with TSC have performed quite well. The 24mm F1.4 also comes fully weather sealed.
The size and weight of the lens feel very manageable especially once it is mounted on the camera. Balance is something that can be difficult to maintain when sporting this wide of an aperture but the weight is very well managed on the Sigma 24mm F1.4. Even with a substantial number of elements (15), it is by no means outlandishly bulky at 23.5oz (665g). It’s close cousin, the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM weighs in at approximately 22.8oz (646g)
Here’s a full specification list from Sigma:
The overall image quality is, as I mentioned earlier, completely impressive. Short focal length lenses tend to suffer from distortion at the corners as well as loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame. This softening becomes more apparent as the shooter uses wider apertures. Even at f/1.4, there is no considerable reduction in sharpness nor is there any apparent barrel distortion.
Another bane of large aperture lenses is the increased incidence of chromatic aberration as the aperture widens. Not the case with this 24mm. The only occurrence of chromatic aberration that I encountered was during imaging with highly backlit objects. There was a minute amount of purple fringing in those cases, which was only visible at 3:1 magnification. Vignetting was also minimal but nonetheless evident at apertures wider than f/2.8.
Sharpness has been second to none, quite literally. Ultimately, maximum sharpness is one of the great goals of photo makers. The Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art lens delivers the best sharpness I have ever encountered with a lens of this focal length. I place it high in the running for the sharpest lens I have used in my career. I don’t make that claim lightly!
From corner to corner the sharpness is superb. At wide apertures there was virtually no diminishment of clarity toward the edges of the frame. Sigma claims this is due to the inclusion of FLD and SLD glass elements. The FLD is marketed as being arguably comparable to fluorite glass found in many telescope lenses. Whether these claims from Sigma are practically applicable or not, the proof is most certainly in the pudding.
Bokeh at f/2.8 and wider is absolutely dreamy. Pure cream, and as the aperture widens the results were even more impressive. Again, for a lens of this focal length, the bokeh is quite brilliant. The unnervingly close minimum focus distance of 9.8 inches (25cm) does a lot to help the lens in this area, as do the nine rounded aperture blades.
The autofocus capabilities of the 24mm F1.4 Art follow form with the other impressive attributes of this lens. The HSM motor is astonishingly quiet and swiftly focuses on the subject. The autofocus is, of course, overridable so the photographer can manually adjust focus without switching the lens to full manual focus. There is no image stabilization on this lens which, is not uncommon for lenses of such short focal length.
The Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art has excelled in every aspect of testing. It is dumbfoundingly sharp across all apertures, presents low chromatic aberrations, and is virtually distortion free. I don’t mind adding that the lens itself has a beauty that rivals even similar lenses in Sigma’s Art line. Its aesthetic appeal is possibly due to some yet to be discovered cosmic ratio that we haven’t been able to name. In any case…this lens looks downright sexy. There…I said it.
If there’s a cumulative notion I can lend to describe my attitude towards this fine piece of glass it’s this: this lens will likely be finding a home in my bag in the very near future. Here are a couple more sample shots taken with the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens.
Correction: we have learned that this lens is not weather sealed.