Out of Sigma’s freshly reorganised lens line-up comes a new ‘Art’-branded 50mm f/1.4 with claims of superb design and image quality. Richard Sibley puts it through our rigorous testing procedure to discover what truth these rumours hold
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A review – In use
Image: As can be seen in the background of this image, the f/1.4 aperture produces lovely round specular highlights. Even though the lens isn’t at it’s sharpest at f/1.4, it can still resolve lots of detail, as can be seen in the pull-up of the hoverfly
One of the first things I noticed when using the lens is how quiet it is. The Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) is fast and quiet, and it helps that just a quarter turn of the focus ring moves the lens from its 40cm minimum focus distance to infinity. With such a small turn required, you would think that accurate manual focusing would be difficult; however, the lens was easy to focus using the large viewfinder of the full-frame Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. I was able to focus very precisely, and while this was just as much to do with the chosen camera, the gearing of the lens and the slight firmness of the focusing ring make it possible. Once focused, the lens holds firm and doesn’t slip, requiring a quite definite turn to shift it from position.
With a 40cm minimum focus distance, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens provides a magnification of 1:5.6, which is respectable for a lens of this type, just don’t expect to take too many close-up images with it.
Sigma has used its Super Multi Layer Coating in an attempt to reduce flair, and overall I found that I had no issues with it, even when taking shots of backlit blossom on trees. The coating also benefits the contrast produced by the lens, with images looking crisp, with plenty of micro-contrast between shadows and highlights, which further adds to the optic’s sharpness.
When shooting at f/1.4, the light passing through the lens is obviously unobstructed by the lens aperture. But with nine aperture blades producing an almost perfect circle, even stopping the lens down to f/2.8 and smaller produces smooth out-of-focus backgrounds. It is this shallow depth of field created by an f/1.4 aperture that makes 50mm lenses of this type so popular.
Put the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A on a camera with an APS-C-sized sensor and, all of a sudden, it becomes a 75mm f/1.4 lens, which is very nice for portraiture. At f/1.4, the lens obviously isn’t at its sharpest, but for portraits this can be quite flattering, with enough sharp detail in the subject’s eyes, but with the shallow depth of field and the lens not being at its sharpest giving a slightly more flattering look to skin.
Image: Shot at f/1.4, there is plenty of detail around the subjects’s eye, and the large aperture helps to create a lovely shallow depth of field