Gear Review | Sigma 35 1.2 | Does the lens live up to the hype?
*Before delving into this incredible lens's details, I feel that it's prudent to state that this is a biased review. I'm a huge fan of Sigma's glass. I always have been. I have built my career using their lenses for a variety of systems. Also, Sigma was kind enough to send me this lens to put through the creative-paces and integrate it into my workflow.
With that being said, I am under no obligation to heap copious quantities of praise onto this modern marvel of a lens; however, that is precisely what I am about to do. Here we go...
It's worth noting that this lens was made specifically for the Sony ecosystem and is not merely an adapted, or modified, pre-existing design, like the 35 ART 1.4. From the ground up, this lens was explicitly engineered for Sony, and its performance indicates such.
While this lens is also available for the Leica M mount, I've only spent time with the Sony iteration, paired with my A7RIV. On the Leica front, your mileage may vary.
All of the sample images were shot with the Sigma 35 1.2. Nearly all of them have not been edited/retouched -- solely, processed in C1. I’m sharing non-retouched images as I feel they are a much more accurate depiction of the lens’ character and prowess.
Dimensions | Attributes
Let's start this artistic exploration with a somewhat technical dissection by addressing the elephant in the room. In this case, the lens itself is the proverbial elephant. This lens is HUGE!
At 1090g and 132mm length, with an 82mm filter size, this sleek aggregate of glass is anything but discreet. For comparison, the outstanding Sigma ART 35 1.4 is a meager 665g and 94mm in length. If your primary concern is related to a lens's portability, this is probably not going to suit you. However, if you're willing to get a workout while you shoot, you'll be rewarded with what I firmly believe is the single best autofocusing 35mm lens.
Focusing | Speed - Accuracy
I know, I know, it may seem counterintuitive to address focus before IQ and rendering. When I purchase an autofocus lens, I intend to use autofocus. Image quality and lens characteristics mean very little to me if the lens cannot focus with efficiency, precision, and consistency. While AF lenses can certainly be used with manual focus, I generally find that experience unsatisfying, relative to using a dedicated MF lens such as a Voigtlander or Leica.
More to the point, I have shot with a wide variety of lenses paired to the A7RIV; Sony GM, Rokinon, Tamron, etc. and feel that I have a pretty good grasp on the AF system's performance. The Sigma 35 1.2 is one of the best autofocusing lenses I've had the pleasure of shooting with, hands down. Even wide open, at 1.2, my hit-rate was damn near perfect. This precision does not come at the expense of speed, either. Paired to Sony's unique eye-AF algorithms, the lens seems to find focus without any hesitation. The only exception is when the eyes of the subject move toward to very periphery of the frame. However, that has more to do with the AF coverage relative to sensor size than any deficiency with the lens itself.
Even when shooting subjects in motion, in challenging lighting conditions, the lens never failed to find focus, and never ceased to amaze.
In terms of AF noise, the lens employs a hypersonic stepping motor that manages to move the glass mountains with easeful grace. However, the stepping motor is not silent. If you're using this lens for video and recording from your camera, you will pick up some noise.
Speaking of video, this lens is a brilliant adjunct to Sony's realtime, video eye/subject tracking. Is it the fastest? No. Is there a bit of focus breathing and some haptic movement in challenging scenes? Yes. Does the lens do a remarkable job of maintaining focus when shooting wide open at 1.2, especially given how much glass needs to be moved? Without question. Let's be honest, if video is your main priority, this probably isn't going to be the best choice, nor is any AF lens. For my purposes, however, the lens performs admirably.
On the video front, it’s also worth mentioning that the aperture of this lens is (de)clickable allowing for smooth focus pulls. Moreover, personally, I love having control of the aperture via a physical ring on the lens.
Image Quality | Sharpness - Rendering - Colors
I am a big nerd. I always have been. I love math and am intrigued by all things hard science-related. With that being said, I'm less concerned with MTF charts, when it comes to sharpness than I am to perceived sharpness relative to how I shoot and produce imagery.
For reference, this lens has tested sharper than even the legendary Leica-Noctilux-M 75mm. Given the $12,000 price tag of that lens, the Sigma is an absolute bargain.
I predominantly shoot the genres of fashion and editorial-portraiture. For the former, sharpness and resolution are vital elements of my work to represent and highlight textiles correctly and textures of all sorts.
Of all the lenses I've shot with, this is the single sharpest lens I've ever had the pleasure of using throughout my life and career. Not only is the lens sharp, but it also displays impressive levels of micro and macro contrast. For me, this results in an image with a certain quality and character, unlike any other. When I share the work created with this lens, it's different enough that people inquire if I have switched systems or am shooting with a new lens. It's unique, indeed, in the best possible ways.
Forums and groups have been ripe with complaints about Sony's colors for as long as I can remember, especially skin tones. I feel that the A7RIV has the best color rendition of any 35mm [sensor] Sony camera. Furthermore, after shooting with so many lenses from various brands, I believe that the glass in front of the sensor plays a much more significant role in color rendition than one might expect. I've noticed that Sony glass, sans the 85 1.4 GM, tends to exhibit a magenta shift, while Rokinon errs toward yellow/green. Much to my delight, the 35 1.2 renders in a very neutral and pleasing manner. Colors are vibrant, and the transitions are smooth, but the rendering is still very faithful to life.
Overall, I love the rendering and IQ of this lens. I wish I could have this quality, caliber, and character at every focal length. Except for when the 35mm focal length is contraindicated, this lens does not leave my camera. To me, that says it all.
Rendering | bokeh
Now, we arrive at yet another contentious topic. It seems that, as of this moment, most are either bokeh lovers or loathe this often mispronounced facet of a lens' rendering. I feel like I have a foot in both camps, respectively. When a scene calls for a shallow depth of field, the character and nature of bokeh is an essential aspect of the shot; however, there's no reason to shoot at 1.2 if 5.6 or 8.- is better suited.
Why would I be such a huge proponent of a 1.2 lens if I don't shoot wide open all of the time? Well, it's simple. This lens delivers the best IQ and rendering, for my style, at any aperture, relative to the alternatives. The fact that I can shoot at 1.2, with a bewildering degree of accuracy, is the icing on the cake. Also, now that I am delving into more video work, being able to shoot with confidence at 1.2 is a bonus.
Bokeh is also inherently subjective. Some prefer the buttery smooth rendering od Canon's 1.2 lenses, airy and dreamy. Others, still, prefer a more defined, bold rendering. To my eye, this lens has the best bokeh of any 35 I've ever shot. The transitions from focused to defocused are seamless, and the lens manages to avoid an overly clinical feel.
I have a strong affinity for things that are built to last. When it comes to lenses, I want to know that it will survive being a professional tool and stay with me as I upgrade bodies and all of that. To me, a lens is a long-term investment. I'm happy to say that the Sigma inspires confidence on all of those fronts. From the materials used to the brass mount, to Sigma's warranty and customer service, I'm confident that the lens will not let me down. Hell, the lens screams quality, even when attaching or detaching from the mount; the action is smooth, taut, and reassuring.
The build is similar to that of other Sigma Global Vision lenses and uses extremely high-quality polycarbonate materials. When I handle the glass, it inspires confidence and truly feels like a professional piece of gear.
In the studio | In the field
In the end, I think one of the most significant factors when it comes to lenses is how they feel to live and work with, day in and day out. In the studio, the glass is an absolute dream, allowing me to create fashion imagery with a degree of clarity, resolution, and sharpness that I have not experienced. Furthermore, the lens allows the sensor of the A7RIV to shine without interference.
In the field, my sentiments are very similar. The contrast of the lens is a huge boon when shooting natural light, as the resolution is a delight when shooting environmentally-oriented work. The one caveat is, of course, the weight. I consider myself pretty darn fit; however, I notice after a long day of shooting. For me, the trade-off is well worth a bit of soreness; however, it's worth mentioning.
So, does the Sigma ART 35 1.2 live up to the hype? My answer is a resounding, yes! This lens is the best 35 I have ever shot with; it's the best autofocusing lens I've shot with--period--regardless of focal length, mount, etc.
The design and build, as are often the case with Sigma, are wholly uncompromising. The quality is unparalleled. My work and art, and aesthetic, are well-served by using the best available tools. I love this lens because, to me, it's the best. It helps me bring my visions and concepts to life while knowing that I'm not leaving anything on the table, or in the bank.
Of course, it all comes down to the right tool for the right job. Is this the right lens for you? Only you can answer that. However, if you don't mind or can live with the size and weight and want the very best, this lens is in a class of its own.
Jonny is an editorial|fashion photographer, and creative educator, based out of Denver, CO.
In all endeavours, he strives to empower expression and impel individuality.
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