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Review by Markus Stamm, published September 2015
Normal primes used to be fairly predictable products: small, light-weight, affordable, based on a rather simple design, yet nonetheless very sharp, especially stopped down. There were a few exceptions, of course, usually very expensive ones (think of Noctilux, Noct Nikkor or the EF 50/1.0 L USM), but most of the gang offered very similar features and performance - across all brands.
It seems that several manufacturers decided that the most natural focal length (which some call the "most boring one" instead) could need a little more excitement. This has lead to a bunch of new products in this area, but as before, most of them were quite expensive, like for example the new Nikkor AF-S 58mm f/1.4.
Sigma already has some experience in this field, because their EX 50mm f/1.4 HSM lens, announced in 2008, was refreshingly different from most other normal primes at that time. However, that lens earned mixed reviews, combining very smooth bokeh with so-so sharpness at large apertures, the latter often emphasized by its tendency to shift focus with different aperture settings.
The new lens, a member of the "Art" family of Sigma lenses, is widely expected to deliver significantly better performance.
With the "Art" series, Sigma has sort of reinvented itself and raised its reputation considerably: the lenses tend to have a superb build quality and the 50mm f/1.4 is no exception to the rule.
Besides some metal parts, Sigma uses a new material called TSC (Thermally Stable Composite) which contributes to the high quality perception. Not only because of the materials chosen, but also because of its rather heavy weight and size (for a normal prime) the lens gives the impression of a truly premium product. Well... with one exception: the lens hood is made of plastic and feels rather cheap in comparison.
The focus ring is nicely damped and operates smoothly. You've probably read it here before, but we still feel the need to hint at it: the focus ring rotates in "Canon" style, which is the exact opposite of how focus rings works on Nikkor lenses. So, 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 lens is also compatible with Sigma USB dock, so you can fine-tune the AF calibration if you see the need and are willing to invest a little in the extra accessory.
The Sigma is a G-type lens and thus does not offer an aperture ring.
|Optical construction||13 elements in 8 groups including 3 SLD and 1 aspherical element|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||0.4 m (max. magnification ratio 1:5.6)|
|Dimensions||85.4 x 99.9 mm|
|Filter size||77mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||petal-shaped (bayonet mount, supplied)|
|Other features||Lens provides distance (D) information to the camera, Silent Wave AF motor|