Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens Review

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When it comes to off-brand (or third party) camera gear, do you feel a bit skeptical? I was in the same boat for my entire photography career, choosing to invest exclusively in Nikon gear when I was a Nikon shooter, then all Canon when I switched over for the Canon 5D Mark III. “You get what you pay for” is what all of my photography colleagues would tell me, and I was an avid believer until this past summer when I invested in my first ever off-brand camera lens: the Sigma 35mm f/1.4.

Dubbed Sigma’s true flagship lens, the 35mm f/1.4 debuted in 2012 as the very first addition to the Art category, in Sigma’s newly announced lens categories. This shiny prime lens entered a crowded market in which Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have competitive offers, but Sigma’s version comes in at a fraction of the price, which is one of its most attractive features. So in this case, does the adage, “you get what you pay for” truly apply?

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens review

Let me preface this article by stating that this is the very first 35mm prime lens that I’ve owned, so I cannot make true comparisons between Sigma’s lens and that of other manufacturers, but I took it through several test runs to see how it held up. These were my findings.

Main Features

Sigma’s 35mm fixed lens is equipped with a fast f/1.4 maximum, and f/16 minimum aperture. It has quiet, quick Hypersonic Motor (HSM) focusing with manual override and a 0.3m (one foot) minimum focal distance – no image stabilization is included. The lens has mounts for all major DSLR camera types including Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax, and it works on both full frame and APS-C (crop sensor) cameras. Out of the box, the lens comes with front and rear caps, a lens hood and a warranty and instruction guide, all packaged within a nicely padded, zippered nylon case. Brand new, this lens retails for $899, significantly less than other versions made by Canon and Nikon, which run upwards of $1,300.

Pros

Fast, accurate autofocusing speed

On the technical side of things, this lens performed impressively well. Even when shooting at f/1.4, all images produced by this lens were super sharp. Autofocusing speed was pretty fast and accurate, even when attempting to use this lens in an action setting like the concert below.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens review

Little to no visible distortion

After spending some time with the Canon 24mm f/2.8 prime lens that produces quite a bit of barrel distortion, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Sigma 35mm has pretty much no visible distortion. Although bear in mind that lens distortion can be easily fixed in post production using Photoshop’s lens Correction filter (or Lightroom’s Lens Correction panel).

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens review

Cons

Mostly plastic build

Perhaps the first thing that struck me about this lens when I first interacted with it what its sleek, yet mostly plastic build. Compared to Canon and Nikon versions that are made of a mix of metal and plastic, this mostly plastic Sigma lens felt like it may not hold up very well in the long run. The Sigma seems to live up to its Art lens designation with the feeling that this lens would hold up better being used for artistic purposes, more so than run and gun type of shooting.

Larger and heavier than Canon/Nikon equivalent

Despite being made of mostly plastic, the Sigma also feels pretty heavy (23.5 oz./ 665g), and it is indeed slightly heavier than its Nikon (21.2 oz / 600g) and Canon (20.5 oz. / 580g) equivalents.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens review

Overall Take

While I loved capturing the world through a sharp 35mm prime lens, it was difficult to get over this lens’ size. The 35mm is known as a classic lens in photojournalism and street photography, and yet due to its size and plastic build, it was questionable if the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 could hold up well over time, especially in on-the-go style photography. As a result, I have to agree with my photography colleagues that you’d get what you pay for over time.

Investing in the more expensive Canon 35mm f/1.4 would be worth the extra expense ($899 for the Sigma, $1479 for the Canon) just because the L lens designation ensures a higher quality, more durable lens. As an additional option, the slower Canon 35mm f/2 comes with image stabilization and is priced lower at $599.99, so that may be a better budget option. And a final, even cheaper alternative might be to add 5mm to the lens focal length by going for the Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, the smallest and cheapest ($149 USD) of them all.

Basically, splurge for the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and enjoy comparable, superior optics to the Canon and Nikon equivalents, but what you save in money might cost you later when testing the long-term durability of this lens.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens review

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Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a prolific blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • Laurent Breillat

    The Sigma 35 has a better optical quality than both its Nikon and Canon counterparts (go to dxomark.com for the details). It’s worth mentioning : in my opinion, it’s hard to justify spending almost twice the price for a lesser optical quality, since the build quality on the Sigma is excellent and its comparison to Canon and Nikon kind of subjective.

    Unless you plan to take in Iceland under hail maybe, which is clearly not its purpose 🙂

  • i purchased it just because of lower prize and big buzz on net about the better everything.

    i have tho non-professional but with more detailed review about this lens here :
    http://www.victorbezrukov.com/art_sigma_35mm_f_1_4-first_day/

    and here :
    http://www.victorbezrukov.com/art_sigma_35mm_f_1_4-image_quality/

    have no idea why half or review’s texts filled with low prize admiration. in whole this lens even not close to the Canon sister.
    thank you.

  • I’ve had the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art for a couple of years, and love it!
    However, I found that the focus was a bit off at some focus distances, so I bought the Sigma USB dock to calibrate my lens.
    The Sigma USB dock allows you to adjust focus settings at 4 focus distances (when used with zoom lenses, you can adjust the focus settings at different focal lengths too). The USB dock is pretty easy to use, albeit a bit fiddly due to the need to keep swapping the lens between your camera (to take test photo) and the USB dock (to adjust focus settings) until you’re happy with the results.
    I’ve written about using the USB dock at http://martybugs.net/blog/blog.cgi/gear/Sigma-USB-Dock.html

  • Regan Albertson

    You get what you pay for is the truth- I don’t have the brand or Sigma 35mm, but the Sigma is heavier because of glass- 13 elements/11 groups, where a Nikon has 10 in 7 groups. I appreciate the Sigmas that I have used over the years, as they’ve been dependable. The docking option will likely help the newer lenses be comparable with new technology. If you expect to wear out your body in two years from professional use, pay for the brand; if you want to get some good glass for less, get Sigma.

  • Frank Nazario

    It is soo entertaining reading this “reviews” about the Sigma Art series and the Canon and Nikon lenses… really the size of the lens is what bothers you? what do you have butter fingers? so you have a Canon Body or a Nikon Body that is like carrying a brick and you are emotionally affected by the weight and size of this lens… that’s it? After reading this and many other articles trying to down play the Sigma Art series it is becoming more evident to me that this is more of a ” I need to find a fault ” than there is a fault… Sigma blindsighted Canon and Nikon with this lens it blew them out of the water at the price range… they can’t do anything about it and now they are depending on fanboys like Me and you ( Im a rabid Nikonian) to help stop the bleeding. Sigma’s Art Series Lens is simply the best lenses you can buy right now for Canon or Nikon period, unless you want to spend and arm and a leg in Manual exotic lenses like the Otuss line or the Voitlangers… wich for many photographers and their work are useless and cumbersome.

    Get real… and admit it, Sigma has an outstading, hi performance, cost effective, and beautifully designed solution for us pro photographers in the Art series and NO ONE in Canon or Nikon saw it coming… I’m just drooling to see what is going to happen when Sigma announces the 85mm 1.4 or maybe 1.8 Art or a telephoto like a 70-200 under the Art specs.

    And as posted earlier… I AM A 100% RABID FAN of NIKON Glass and Cameras

  • Deryk

    The Nikon 35mm 1.4 is plastic too. The Canon might be worth it, but not the Nikon equivalent (I shoot Nikon). I am probably going to ditch my 50mm 1.8 and get the 35mm 1.4 Art. I love metal bodies, my two favorite lenses being the Zeiss 100 and the Nikon 85mm 1.4d, but I will sacrifice for this. If I didn’t need another autofocus lens, I might have considered the Zeiss 35mm or 28mm, but I just shoot primes, and I double body with one moderate wide and the other 85mm 1.4 when I do events. I don’t care for zooms.

  • Clive

    Each lens range has it’s classic/s and this lens is most likely Sigma’s

  • ogre81

    Nice lens, great result for the price. However I seem to get a high amount of vignetting at the wider aperture. It is perfect for a one lens shooting day, but not really a point n shoot lens due to the size.

  • Nigel Blacker

    To be honest the barrel of Nikons premium premium f1.4 optics tends to be plastic and is warm to the touch.
    In contrast the sigma A optics for the most part are alloy with a cold feel.
    Nikon premium optics, especially the 35mm f1.4 are unfortunately looking dated in terms of sharpness, frankly for the money Nikon are selling sub..

  • You don’t even remotely get what you pay for with the Nikon 35mm f/1.4. You pay for an f/1.4 lens but what you get is a lens that can shoot f/2, occasionally f/1.8, reliably due to sloppy focus and inferior sharpness… Reliability is paramount with a lens like this, and the Sigma is nothing short of magic in that department. It’s one of the few f/1.4 lenses that can reliably be used wide open. The Nikon is absolute garbage compared to this lens.

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