I have wanted a 35mm lens with shallow depth of field capabilities ever since I sold off my Fuji X100. I loved the 35mm equivalent angle of view on the Fuji, but one thing that it always lacked was the ability to get really nice shallow depth of field photos. You certainly can with the x100 but just not enough for my taste. My taste, by the way, is literally what this review is going to be about so I may as well get the standard this-is-not-a-chart-and-numbers-review disclaimer out of the way; If you want in depth MTF charts and controlled tests on this lens, then google is your friend. I won’t be covering that in this review, this is more about my real world experience with this lens and a few sample photos to boot :)
- Mount Type: Sigma, Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax (Nikon Mount was used for this review)
- Focal Length: 35mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 30cm/11.8in
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Weight: 665g/23.5oz.
Using the Sigma 35 1.4 ART lens with the D800 for weddings
My original set up for weddings was the Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens combined with the Nikon 85mm 1.8 G. It worked reasonably well but I really wanted that prime lens look with wider apertures. My previous experience with the Fuji x100 meant I felt most comfortable swapping the 24-70 for a 35mm prime. In the past I’ve successfully used the Nikon 24-70mm to take both wide and zoomed in photos of the same scene. Having the zoom flexibility was a god send to get two types of photos very quickly one after the other. At the time, I worried omitting a zoom lens from my bag could potentially result in me no longer being able to do this, but after using the D800 for a few years now I know I can take a wide shot but significantly crop in for a zoomed in effect. Of course its not the same exactly, but I was safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t miss anything selling my 24-70.
D800 + Sigma wide open @ 1.4 = match made in heaven:
Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART Speed/Focusing
Another thing the above images show is that this lens is quite quick and accurate to focus. For this shot, I just set the focus to single point AF-C and out of about 10 images, 6 were pin sharp in focus. You’re probably reading that and thinking that’s not so good, but in the above scene the couple are walking quite quickly down towards the camera. That combined with lots of confetti floating in and out of focus, peoples arms waving and myself moving mean it is a pretty good hit rate. Now of course it’s not all the lens, the D800 focusing system is pretty darn good, at least for what I use it for anyway.
I mentioned I pretty much swapped out a 24-70mm 2.8 lens for the Sigma 35, what a thing to do! One photographer did call me crazy for doing this, but then again is now the owner of a 35 himself after borrowing mine. The Sigma all in all focuses fast. It’s not as fast as the 24-70mm but it’s fast enough and I’ve never really had any problems.
Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART colour reproduction
What can I say about the the colour? Well it’s not something I was looking out for when researching the Sigma, but it is something that has definitely swayed me. It’s faithful to the original scene and doesn’t have any unusual colour casts. Purple fringing/chromatic aberration is not an issue and I haven’t encountered any problems yet that will put me off this lens. The photos you see in this review have been edited so what you see isn’t strictly what the lens is giving you in terms of colour, but the saying “you cant polish a turd” is true. If the colour was bad, I certainly wouldn’t waste my time trying to enhance colours in post production. The image below left is a great example of what this lens can do. The shot was taken in the right light on a sunny day where the subjects were shaded by the archway. The skin tones are awesome and the colours from the trees/plants etc is just popping right out at you. I have to say I’m satisfied with the colour but I wasn’t blown away like the colour you get from zeiss or schnieder optics. Then again the price of some of those lenses is enough to make you re-mortgage your house!
Using the Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART lens as a Travel Lens
I used to own and use a Fuji x100. Eventually I can see myself getting another one because I remember how much fun I had shooting with it. Would I take it over a Nikon D800 and Sigma 35mm 1.4 combo? I’m not sure, hopefully I’ll have the chance to tell you one day. But what I can tell you is that this is a heavy lens. It’s quite bulky too, but when attached to a D800, it seems to make sense and the D800 body balances it out quite well. I personally think this lens is brilliant for travel photography. It’s a versatile lens that can be used to take both environmental images and landscapes and it can knock out a good portrait too. I recently took it to Italy and there weren’t too many times I thought this thing is just too awkward and heavy. I took the combo around with me using a sling strap which is just more comfortable than a traditional neck strap and it worked a treat.
Most of these images were taken on holiday in typically sunny weather so you could argue that I haven’t tested it rigorously as a travel lens but like I said this isn’t really a numbers or lab testing review so I wonder if someone out there has taken this thing to the Arctic? From what I can gather the Sigma 35mm 1.4 isn’t properly weather sealed either. It definitely doesn’t have a rubber gasket around the lens mount so it is susceptible to dust and debris.
Using the Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART for landscapes
One thing that excited me about this lens was it’s sharpness. I thought…. if it’s sharp wide open then it will hopefully be nice and sharp at its smallest aperture of f16? Well to be honest it’s not amazing, taking photos at these sorts of apertures for landscape can be tricky. I’ve taken photos with it at f16 and it seems to suffer from diffraction one moment, then be fine the next. This sort of commentary is definitely more accurately proven with lab tests but then you’ve still got the possibility of sample variation. As long as you have your technique down, use a tri-pod, use a remote release and/or mirror up, check for wind, vibrations etc…then shooting at f16 is fine, you can get quite acceptably sharp results. I wish Sigma would have given this lens the option to stop it down to around at least f22 just to see how well it could handle it.
What I can say is that I’m quite happy shooting at f16 to gain more depth of field on this lens but to be honest it doesn’t give you much more depth than shooting between f11-f14. If you look all over the net you will find that using the Nikon D800 for landscapes can be tricky as the high resolution sensor can highlight a lenses optical defects. With that in mind I’m quite impressed you can shoot at f14 with my lens and it looks nice and sharp across the frame on a D800. I still feel I haven’t really tested this lens for landscapes enough as I seem to prefer it for more documentary and environmental stuff. I think my eye tends to prefer a wider 15mm-21mm field of view for encompassing landscapes and then a 50mm+ field of view for more intimate landscape shots. I’ll definitely keep updating my landscape/personal blog with more from this lens so keep a look out. I also think this lens is perfect for putting together panorama photos so I’ve yet to give this a good testing. P.S the last of the landscape shots is actually a 3 vertical image panorama, my first attempt with this lens :)
Film Photography using the Nikon F100 and Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART lens
I’ve been using film for quite some time. In fact my first camera was a Pentax ME Super. I love the look of film. It seems to have an amazing luminescence to it and doesn’t have the overly sharp clinical look that digital does. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital and technically and practically for me it has more pros vs film, but film always has that extra special touch to it. The Sigma 35mm lens is so sharp on my D800 I decided to try it on my Nikon F100 camera. My first roll was Fuji Pro 400H and the results I got back cemented my love for this lens. It’s stunning on a digital body and stunning on film. It’s not quite as sharp on film, but the lens was already very sharp in the first place so it translates quite nicely on film for a slightly softer look. There will definitely be more to come using this lens on my film body so watch this space.
Sigma 35 1.4 Art Lens Conclusion
Well if you managed to read any of my waffle you will have been able to tell by now that I love this lens. It’s almost half the price of the Nikon and Canon 35 1.4 lenses, is very well built, has hyper silent focusing and most of all the image quality is outstanding. Since purchasing this lens I really haven’t had a good chance to use it for landscapes but I’m still impressed at what I’ve seen so far. Personally I think I’ll use this lens a lot for travelling and if I was to get a Fuji X100 again I think I would be more likely to use that for landscapes and the Sigma 35mm / Nikon D800 set up for travelling. Generally it’s the reverse for most people, but the only camera I used to own was a X100 and I loved the portability it gave me when shooting landscapes.
Mathew Irving take from a Canon shooters perspective
Great review! Did you ever get a chance to compare this lens to the Nikon 35mm 1.8 FX?
I own that lens, it worked great, a bit slow in AF. After 2 years it stopped focusing now I can only use it with MF and it becomes really complicated, I need to shoot 15 pictures to get one focused.
Thanks for the review.
I own an art lens too on a nikon camera but I would be interested in starting film:
Can you autofocus with the Nikon f100 ?
Thanks in advance.
Yes you can autofocus with the f100. I bought the f100 with a view to shooting more film at weddings but I found that the autofocus whilst working, wasn’t very accurate. This was a disadvantage as obviously you can’t check focus is correct straight away with a film camera. I came to the realisation that I wanted to slow things down whilst shooting film and to do that I’d be better off with a manual focusing camera, hence why I bought the pentax LX. Being a nikon shooter id suggest the nikon equivalent of a Pentax lx which is the nikon f3, although it is a little pricey.
Have you had no out of focus images with this lens on your F100? I find that really hard to believe.
Really helpful article! Does the Nikon F100 still have auto focus capability with the Sigma lens? And did you have to use any special adaptor to make them work together?
Hello! I love your review. I am thinking of getting this lens and I am a hybrid shooter. I would use this with my Nikon D810 and F100. I’ve heard a lot of problems with autofocusing getting out of sync over the months with this lens. Has that been a problem for you?
Hi, love personal feeling over the charts, good job! I own the very same combination you mentioned and I found out that using AF ON button for focusing with any of the focus points seems to be much worse then setting focusing to auto. Seems pretty strange I have no duch a problem with the other lenses a have. What kind of setting do you use? Have a nic day!
Hi Tony – thank you for your kind words. I now own a D750 so I cant be too sure if there were autofocus problems when using AF-ON. There are no problems when doing this with the d750.