Sigma’s latest lens in its Art collection is also notable as the brand’s first f/1.2 prime – and a very impressive lens it is, too.
Designed for full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN lens is available in Sony E- and L-Mount fittings – Canon and Nikon owners will have to make do with the f/1.4 option.
Fast aperture lenses usually mean lots of glass, and this 35mm moderate wide-angle is no exception. It houses no fewer than 17 elements with three SLD (Sigma Low Dispersion) and four aspherical lenses. With its dust- and splash-proofed casing, this lens tips the scales at 1090g, which means it is very much the senior partner on Sony bodies. For this test, I used the full-frame Sony A7R III and also tried it on the APS-C format A6300. The latter combo is definitely a lens with a camera attached. Combined with a larger Panasonic Lumix S body, the partnership might be more equal.
The aperture ring is click-stopped in 0.3EV steps, with the option (for video shooters) of running smoothly if you prefer. There’s a click-stopped but not lockable A setting, too.
A large Sigma HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) has the required power to drive the focusing lens group quickly and in near silence.
Other controls on the lens include an AF lock button that can be assigned to various functions and a AF/manual switch, although it has full-time AF manual override, too.
Click the images to see a larger view
Image These test pictures were shot at IWM Duxford with the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 fitted to a Sony A7R III. This was mounted on a Benro carbon-fibre tripod with the shutter released using the camera’s self-timer. The Raws were processed in Adobe Lightroom CC with no extra sharpening applied and the test shots viewed on a BenQ SW320 32-inch monitor
Fast lenses are pointless unless they are decently sharp wide open – unless you want smudgy results, of course. Well, this Sigma does not disappoint at f/1.2 and it’s very good in the centre and more than decent at the edges, too. Add a little unsharp mask and even critical users will be satisfied. Lovely pictorial effects are possible by being very selective with focusing and using lovely background blur. Suffice to say, though, you need to make sure you are focusing accurately to make sure what you want to be sharp is sharp.
Stopping down to f/2 and f/2.8 improves detail rendition across the frame further, but any gains from that point are less obvious – only because the performance levels are high to start with. The peak is in the mid apertures of f/5.6 and f/8, but there’s no problem at all with the wider settings if shallow depth-of-field or nice bokeh is your goal.
Bokeh is smooth and the 11-blade diaphragm helps to produce nice round, out-of-focus highlights from pinpoint light sources, which looks great at the wider apertures.
Diffraction does soften the image slightly at f/11 and more obviously at f/16, but this can be minimised with some unsharp mask.
The large expanse of glass at the front of the lens means you need to watch for ghosting in strong lighting situations and the lens hood should be used to keep any problems from oblique lighting down to a minimum. If you include the direct sun in frame, you are likely to get flare.
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The Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN is not cheap at £1459, nor is it small and compact, but it is a remarkable, very capable lens that thoroughly deserves the Sigma Art tag. For Sony and Panasonic owners demanding the very best, who need the speed and have the budget, then this lens has simply got to be considered. It’s seriously impressive.
Pros: Superfast aperture, image quality, option of smooth or click-stopped aperture ring
Cons: It’s big, price
For more information, please visit the Sigma website.
As featured in issue 72 of Photography News.