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Review by Markus Stamm, published February 2013
Special thanks to W.-H. Rech for providing the lens!
At photokina 2012 Sigma announced a new "Global Vision", which divides their lens portfolio into 3 categories: "Contemporary", "Art" and "Sports". These product lines don't apply to existing Sigma lenses, but any newly developed lens will be assigned to one of them, giving a rough guidance about the intended purpose of a lens.
The first lens that carries the "Art" tag is the 35mm f/1.4 DG. Sigma already has some experience in building fast prime lenses, a market segment that has not seen much contribution from 3rd party suppliers in the past. Just like their other full frame primes, the EX 50/1.4 and the EX 85/1.4, the new Art lens competes with the original manufacturer's products. Since we're looking at the F-mount version of the Sigma lens here, the direct competitor is oviously Nikon's own AF-S 35mm f/1.4, a highly regarded lens, but also a rather expensive one. Retailing at roughly half the price of the Nikkor, Sigma now offers a more affordable option to Nikon shooters.
So, let's have a look at how the lens performs on our current FX test camera, the Nikon D3x.
Sigma's new vision not only leads to new categories, but also a new product design. However, unlike a few years ago, where they simply changed the coating of the EX lenses, Sigma this time obviously started from scratch and came up with a result that is very impressive and totally different from what we've seen from Sigma in the past. In fact, the 35/1.4 is built and designed so well, that several experienced photographers we showed the lens to had trouble believing they were looking at a Sigma lens ;)
Parts of the lens tube are made from metal, including the focus ring (which also features the usual rubber ring to provide better grip). However, some parts also seem to be made from plastic, for example the body part containing the distant scale and also the lens hood, so there's a bit of material mixture. Nonetheless, the lens really feels like a premium product.
The focus ring is nicely damped and operates smoothly. It rotates in "Canon" style, however, which is the exact opposite of how the focus ring works on Nikkor lenses. If you're used to the Nikon way of manual focusing, the Sigma lens may be a challenge for your muscle memory. And you'll also have to remember that the focus assist in the viewfinder assumes a Nikon lens and consequently suggest the wrong direction of focus ring movement.
Because of an internal focusing (IF) design, the physical length of the lens remains constant at all focus settings and the front lens does not rotate during focusing. So, using a polarizer is no problem.
The lens features HSM, which is Sigma's version of ultra-sonic drive. Thanks to that, the lens is fully compatible with all current Nikon DSLRs, including the entry-level DX models. Typical for many HSM lenses, the AF is virtually silent and very fast.
The Sigma is a G-type lens and thus does not offer an aperture ring.
|Optical construction||13 elements in 11 groups including SLD and FLD elements|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||0.3 m (max. magnification ratio 1:5.2)|
|Dimensions||77 mm x 94 mm|
|Filter size||67 mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||petal-shaped (bayonet mount, supplied)|
|Other features||Lens provides distance (D) information to the camera, Silent Wave AF motor|