Review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art


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“To buy or not to buy?”, that was the question when I was having to make a decision on whether I should order the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art or not. Arguments against buying were the facts that, one, portraits are not amongst my favourite motifs, and two, my needs for a shorter telephoto lens were already met by the Sigma DP3 Merill and its excellent 50mm prime lens. In favour were the large aperture and the fantastic image quality even at maximum aperture. Even so I cannot fully claim that I would have really needed the lens. However, with every top rating that the 50/1.4 Art received in the reviews, resisting the lens became ever more difficult. In the end, and as is often the case with photographers, heart, aka ‘I’ve got to have this’, trumped reason. 🙂

Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)

Note: I own the following lenses which I’ve tested before the 50/1.4 Art: 30/1.4 Art, 35/1.4 Art and 18-35/1.8 Art.

Build quality and Handling

As all A/C/S-lenses by Sigma, the 50/1.4 Art too consists mainly of “thermally stable composite” – a very robust and thermally resistant synthetic material. The lens feels cold, as if it were made of stainless steel. The manufacturing quality is very high; it feels as if it were all of a piece. Apart from the TSC, the weight certainly contributes to this impression as well. Coming in at 815g and measuring 10cm/8.5cm in length/breadth, it is definitely not a small or light lens. As with the other three Arts that I have tested, the mount is made of metal. There are no surprises when it comes to the focus ring and the AF/MF switch either. The first turns evenly. The focus throw is around 90°, which is not a lot, but since the focus ring is rather stiff, it is still possible to set a very exact manual focus. In addition, the resistance prevents accidentally changing the focus area. There is not much to say about the AF/MF switch; it locks satisfactorily like in the other lenses as well.

Image quality

Although my expectations for the 50/1.4 Art were very high – last but not least because of its nickname, “Otus-Killer” – the lens managed to meet them. I do not own an Otus lens myself, but the next best thing, the Sigma DP cameras. In a direct comparison, at close range – comparing the sharpness at long range is going to follow soon – the SD1M + 50/1.4 Art combo was superior to the DP3M, not only at the same aperture, but also at the lenses’ respective maximum apertures (f/1.4 vs f/2.8).

Considering that there is hardly any other lens which even comes close to the image quality of the DPs, this is a true great feat. However, the 50/1.4 also convinced me in everyday situations. It practically does not matter if photos are taken at maximum aperture or stopped down, as only the depth of field changes. The phrase “usable at maximum aperture” does not do the lens justice. I have added a couple of pictures and respective 100% crops below so that you can have a look yourselves.

Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)

100%-Crop , f/1.4. Due to automatical scaling down done by the blog software, which makes the images look soft, it is imperative to click on the crops and view them in full size in a new browser tab.

Crop

Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)

100%-Crop , f/1.4. Due to automatical scaling down done by the blog software, which makes the images look soft, it is imperative to click on the crops and view them in full size in a new browser tab.

Crop-1 Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution) 100%-Crop , f/1.4. Due to automatical scaling down done by the blog software, which makes the images look soft, it is imperative to click on the crops and view them in full size in a new browser tab.

Crop-2

Autofocus

The three biggest Arts – the 35/1.4, the 18-35/1.8 and the 50/1.4 – all focus equally fast, so much so that one might think that they all have the same AF motor. That this is not the case becomes obvious if one spends a little more time with the lenses. The motor of the 18-35/1.8, for instance, is so quiet, that sometimes one might almost think it isn’t working – at least not until the AF confirm light starts flashing in the viewfinder. The motor of the 50/1.4 Art is audible like the one of the 18-35, but anything but loud. Since inner workings of the 50 weigh pretty much the same as the 18-35s, but since the motor is more audible anyway, the motor has got to be a different model… Anyway, the 50/1.4 Art focuses quickly enough as far as I am concerned. Whether it is fast enough for sports and action shots I do not know, as I have neither the experience nor any particular interest in these areas of photography.

Conclusion

Whether the 50/1.4 Art is the “Otus Killer” or not, does not make much of a difference to us SIGMA-niacs. The Otuses are not produced with an SA mount anyway. What is important for us is that the lens cuts a nice figure when attached to the SD1M, and most likely it is going to fit nicely to the next SD as well. It sends its DPM counterpart off into the corner like no other – which is nothing short of a miracle in my eyes. The excellent image quality is, however, met by a number of disadvantages. First, the lens alone costs almost as much as two DP3 Merrills. Second, it weighs as much as two DP3Ms and, attached to the SD1 Merill, it is also as big as two DP3Ms. Third, and in contrast to the DP3M, it does not handle macro shots well.

As often, the decision which equipment is better depends on the available budget, personal acceptance limits regarding weight and size, and the intended motifs. Both combinations allow for some motives (bokeh vs macro) that cannot be photographed equally well with the respective other combination.

The following sample shots are at full resolution (15 megapixels) and are available on Flickr. Simply click on the pictures to view them at full size.
Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)Sigma SD1 Merrill & 50mm f/1.4 Art (volle Auflösung - full resolution)

You can find more of my photos, taken with the 50mm f/1.4 Art on the SD1 Merrill, on Pinterest and Flickr.

  1. Charles Mutter May 28, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Dear Lars, many thanks for this insight and the beautiful illustrative shots.
    Would you say it would be a waste of time/money to use any of these three Art series lenses on a SD15?
    Best wishes,
    Charles

    Reply

    1. Hi Charles!

      Well, I assume the 35/1.4 A and 50/1.4 A, being FF lenses and designed for much smaller pixels, would probably be overkill on the comparatively low resolution SD15. They would also be much larger compared to the alternatives, like the 30/1.4 A, 18-35/1.8 and 50/1.4 EX. However, if you are planing on upgrading to the SD1M or the rumored SD1Q down the road, you should consider the 50/1.4 Art at least. I’m not sure about the 35/1.4, though, because in my experience it isn’t THAT much better than the 30/1.4 A. I think I would go for the latter, if “bang for the buck” was more important than best IQ regardless of the cost. Don’t get me wrong, the 35mm is better than the 30mm, but we are talking about diminishing returns here. The increase in IQ (primarily edge and corner sharpness) is far less than the increase in price. Regarding the 18-35/1.8: it is an amazing zoom lens. I’ve never used anything like it. However, it is quite large, heavy and expensive compared to the 30/1.4 A. That being said, getting it makes perfect sense, if you don’t care about size and weight or if you like all 3 of the “primary” FLs (18, 24, 35) it covers. It’s more like 3 primes in one lens, the IQ is really that good. I think out of all the Arts, it makes the most sense on a SD15. Because you don’t only get incredible IQ, but also added flexibility, thanks to 18mm f/1.8 and 24mm f/1.8, which you can hardly get with any other lens.

      Best regards,
      Lars

      Reply

  2. […] That is not only because of the very similar appearance of the DG Art lenses (24/1.4, 35/1.4 und 50/1.4), but also because of their very good image […]

    Reply

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