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Everybody loves a 50! It was a kit lens focal length for a long time, back when SLR’s first started appearing and ever since then it’s been the darling of every photographer out there. With the advent of video in the DSLR world, things aren’t much different. From the budget Canon 50mm 1.8 II right through to the deluxe Canon 50mm f1.2L & extraordinarily expensive Leica 50mm .95 Noctilux, there’s a 50mm to suit every budget and taste. But what about the inbetweeners? Couldn’t there be some right pearlers in there? Well yes there are, and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is one of them, a midde of the range lens that gives a surprising performance.
Now given that I am a self-confessed gear whore and quite partial to an L series lens, I’m sure you’re wondering why I opted for the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM over the Canon 50mm f1.2L, especially considering the wider aperture of the Canon? The answer is quite simple. . .The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is a really great lens and at 1/4 of the cost, it’s very hard to justify that extra expenditure for a red ring around the barrel and a little more street cred.
Don’t get me wrong, the Canon 50mm f1.2L is a beautiful lens – fantastical build quality, amazing optics and super fast, there is no doubting that it’s a better lens than the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM. But for me, it’s not THAT much better. It’s not a whole 300% better as the price would have you believe and for the most part, I think a lot of people would have trouble telling them apart if they were looking at video shot at the same aperture on the same camera in a blind test.
Photography however, that’s another story entirely, of course when shooting wide open at the 21MP, pixel peeping at 100%, the 1.2L is going to eat the Sigma for breakfast (A nice hearty, solid breakfast though, given the build quality of the Sigma). Ok, maybe eating it for breakfast is a bit extreme since the Sigma is quite sharp in the centre at f1.4 but the Canon 50mm f1.2L will still outperform it, it’s got to be said. For me it does the job, it falls off a bit towards the edge of the frame, but not so much that a client is going to spit chips. On a full frame camera, there is also a slight vignette when shooting wide open, which I absolutely love. Why people find this an undesirable characteristic I don’t know, I think it looks great. If you don’t like it though, stopping down to around f2 will make it disappear.
Despite still being quite sharp when wide open the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM does exhibit some chromatic aberration at f1.4. When fine-tuning focus in live view mode, it is clearly visible. Stopping the lens down to f1.8 does show a marked improvement, increasing sharpness and dramatically reducing CA.
In my experience, I get the sharpest photo’s out of the Sigma at around f8-f10, but that’s when being an overly picky pixel peeper. I have no real hesitation shooting this lens at any aperture when shooting video, the differences are really so small you would be splitting hairs to quibble over it.
But wide open is where I find myself most, lounging around in the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM‘s creamy bokeh, which is really quite lovely. Thanks to it’s 9 aperture blades, the Sigma’s out of focus highlights are nice, round and considerable in size when focused on a close subject. With this lens, you will not have any trouble getting your background to dissolve into a dreamy haze of focusless (I just made that word up! Patent pending.) vapor. I just re-read that and man, I’ve got problems. Yeah, I’ll admit it, my name is Christian and I’m a bokeh addict – The Sigma does give me a good fix though. Don’t take my word for it though, check out the video!
Now the AF in this lens, I don’t know, I seem to get inconsistent results when shooting portraits and I’ve read of focus issues with this lens on the net, but if you search any lens at all, you’ll undoubtedly find somebody who has focus issues. So that doesn’t necessarily mean they all do. I use the lens in manual focus mode 99.9% of the time anyway, so it’s not really an issue for me. It’s got a HyperSonicMotor (Which is where the HSM comes into the inordinately long model name) so it does focus quite quickly and quietly which is cool. But the focus ring on this lens, like it’s little brother the Sigma 30mm f.4, is a dream to use. Well damped and very nice for manual focusing. You won’t find it hard to hit a mark or execute a nice focus pull with this lens.
Overall, The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is a nicely constructed, well performing lens than will suit most peoples purposes. I am a stickler for quality and at the time could have purchased either the Canon 50mm f1.2L or the Sigma. I couldn’t justify the extra expenditure for a fraction of a stop, the “L series” badge and a less than impressive increase in image quality. It’s really as simple as this. Sigma made a great lens, they made it affordable, and what it comes down to is the pictures – in this case they look fantastic.
Please do your own tests and share your thoughts with us here in the comments section.