The new Sigma 50mm Art F1.4 lens would have to be the best built non Canon lens I have ever owned. That is a big statement, and below I would like to explain why I picked this lens up and why I had to have it in my kit bag.
A little about why I had to have one
When I am not teaching photography I am usually in a gym or CrossFit box doing indoor action photography, usually in very poor light, yes the ISO technology has come a long way and ISO 6400 is very usable on my 6D, but like everything I wanted more. I own the three aperture F2.8 lenses the 16-35mm 24-70mm and 70-200mm all Canon L series lenses and all have amazing optics, and fast focusing USM, Canon terminology for Ultra Sonic Motor. I had been using the 16-35mm and 70-200mm in these gyms, and found that the 70-200mm was too long, to get the images I wanted, I needed to be a step or three further back, and then people at the events would not see me and walk between me and the subject, it’s a busy competition so it is hard to stop people doing that.
I needed something shorter, yes I do own the 24-70mm, but I also wanted to separate the competitors from the background more than the F2.8 allowed, and wanted a little more light in these dark scenarios so I could use a faster shutter speed. I started looking at alternatives, Canon make a very very nice 50mm F1.2 L series lens, has the same USM focus system as all my other L series lenses and is F1.2!!! It’s quite an expensive lens, and I could not justify the expense to trial the lens. I had thought of hiring it for a weekend, but instead bought a Canon 50mm F1.4 lens, it is not an L series lens, its focus system is also USM, but not on par with the other L series lenses I own. I used it at a few competitions on a 7D mark II and I really liked the length and how it felt in terms of crop and closeness to my subjects, without being in their face I was getting a nice cropped image of the athlete.
CrossFit: 7D Mark II, Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 F1.4 ISO 1000 and 1/350th the ability to take the background out of the picture and crop in to get the shot is just right.
So I had proved I liked the length on my 7D Mark II, but the images were a little soft, and occasionally, especially when shooting at F1.4 the images were just out of focus. I had read that this was not uncommon, and that it was part of that lens.
So now I had a problem, I liked the length, needed the F1.4, what to do. The release of the Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 fixed all that. I had read that the optics of this lens were very very good, some say that optically, it is the best 50mm lens on the market, but the ability to focus was my concern.
I wanted to test the focusing ability of the lens, I went into digiDIRECT in Adelaide Street, Brisbane and spoke to Emma, they had one on the shelf and more in stock, the first thing I noticed was it was very well made, the body is all metal, and it is quite heavy, I like the weight in my hand, as it makes it feel purposeful, it has a plastic switch for turning off the focus, but importantly has a large easy to grip focus ring, that allows you to manually override focus at any time. It uses a 77mm filter thread too, which is great as all my other lenses have the same size.
I put it on my Canon 7D Mark II and had a trial, whilst in the store I did a near focus far focus test, focusing on the counter and then focusing on the buildings across the street, then coming back to the counter, I was impressed! The lens uses the HSM; the Sigma trade name for Hyper Sonic Motor similar to the USM of Canon, and it is as good as the Canon L series lenses I am currently using.
I was hooked, I needed one NOW! Of course digiDIRECT had them in stock, I walked out happy!
What does it do to my pictures?
After all that writing, the proof is in the pictures, taken on both the Canon 6D and 7D Mark II, I really love the creamy out of focus background that this lens creates, and how it really allows you to separate the subject from the background.
Agapanthus: 7D Mark II Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 ISO 100 F1.4 1/6000th. The little flowers on the back of this stem are already starting to blur away.
Bike rider Riverside: 6D Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 ISO 100 F1.4 1/4000th the rider is separated from the background.
Bamboo: 7D Mark II Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 ISO 100 F2 1/8000th even shooting into the sun, the lens has little lens flare (lens hood included with the lens) and did not have trouble focusing on the backlit leaves.
Best man speech: Canon 7D mark II Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 ISO 1600 F1.4 1/125th having the F1.4 aperture allowed me to shoot at a reasonable shutter speed to get the shot.
At about half the price of the Canon 50mm F1.2 L series lens, the Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 lens is very good value. The Art range of lenses represents a major step forward for Sigma, they are no longer just a manufacturer of great glass, they are now incorporating excellent build quality and amazing focusing technology. They used to say Sigma lenses were half the price for 95% the quality, I think that is no longer true.