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A New 50mm

Trail

So earlier this year Sigma announced their new 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens which works on both crop and full-frame bodies. Earlier this month, they started shipping and after seeing some initial reviews I decided to pick one up to check out. Now I've tried 2 of the 3 (well, 4 if you count the discontinued f/1.0) Canon 50mm lenses and had found them lacking in one way or another. The two f/1.4's I've had in the past had great image quality but after gettiing used to the L-quality build on my other lenses, the f/1.4 is rather lacking in that area to say the least. The one f/1.2 copy I tried was not sharper wide open or at f/1.4 compared to the f/1.4 nor was overall image quality that much better and that combined with the purported focus issues at close distances between f/2-2.8 was enough to have me drop the lens from my collection.

Sunflower

So on the basis of the early reviews alone, I had high hopes for the Sigma 50mm. Build quality is nice. It's part of Sigma's EX lineup which is their top-of-the-line so it has that somewhat rough-looking (but not feeling) dark grey finish. It's no L but definitely steps above the f/1.4. The amount of glass this lens appears to be packing is impressive as well which is a little odd cause the Canon f/1.4 doesn't look to be containing anywhere near as much glass. Although my eyes could be deceived by the 77mm business end of the Sigma. The HSM motor focuses the lens silently and quickly enough and I have more confidence in it than that odd lil' micro-USM drive that the Canon f/1.4 uses.

The Way

But the most important part obviously is the quality of the images that this lens makes. Truthfully, with this copy, I wasn't overly impressed at its sharpness wide open. Then again I've always thought I've been spoiled by the 2 Canon f/1.4's I've had previously because to me they seemed great wide open which is typically where most reports on that lens say it falls flat. But stop it down a bit and it looks very good. Plus you can always sharpen things up further with PS3 and/or Noise Ninja. If it weren't for the slight softness wide open, this lens' IQ won't be beaten by Canon's offerings.

Macy's

However, the one thing that this lens excels at is blowing away OOF areas. The bokeh that this lens produces is super creamy and smooth. Whether or not one likes that type of bokeh is obviously based on personal taste. I do like it, especially for portrait shots. For those with crop bodies it's like having an 85mm f/1.2 at a third of the price. And considering that many other owners are calling this the sharpest 50mm they've seen (my copy notwithstanding), this can be a pretty compelling lens.

Devon at the Playground

Another issue with this lens that I'm seeing is that the autofocus doesn't seem to be 100% reliable. Every now and then I get a shot that appears to be front-focused even though I'm 100% certain that I focused on the correct spot. Because of the obviously slim depth of field that such a fast lens can have in combination with its mushy bokeh, I'm having a tough time deciding whether the lens actually has a focusing problem or if it's just been user error. So I have another copy on the way that I'll do a comparison with and hopefully that will help reveal the true nature of this lens.

Either way I'm still undecided on whether or not I'll keep a 50mm prime around. A few months back I was seriously considering searching for a superb copy of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens, dropping my 35 f/1.4 and 85 f/1.2 lenses and just going with a 3 lens (2 zooms, 1 fast prime) set. But after completing my Holy Trinity of primes recently, I'm less inclined to go that route. Plus I think I'm getting used to the width of the 35mm and am not so enamored with the 50mm length anymore. So we'll see.

[UPDATE]: So the second copy of the Sigma 50mm came in and after a few quick tests, it's just a tad softer than my first copy. And my Canon 35mm still beats both in sharpness and also displays a bit more contrast than the 50's. Color is pretty good though. Autofocus on both of the 50s seem to show a tiny bit of front-focusing so I'd probably have to send both my body and lens in to Sigma for calibration if I were to actually keep them.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 16, 2008 10:56 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Wanted: A Haiku.

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