Within months of each other in early 2021, Sony and Sigma both announced 35mm f / 1.4 lenses for Sony’s E-mount full frame cameras. They were just begging for a comparison to be made.
This isn’t the first foray into the 35mm f / 1.4 landscape for either company. Sony had the Distagon 35mm f / 1.4 ZA available for full frame mirrorless cameras since 2015. On the other hand, the Sigma 35mm f / 1.4 DG HSM ART lens has an E mount but is functionally the old design. DSLR equipped with a removable non-converter. Either way, the new lenses compared here are not updates, but totally original designs. Let’s take a closer look at the Sony 35mm f / 1.4 G Master and the Sigma 35mm f / 1.4 DG DN Art to see which new lens comes out on top.
Design and manufacturing quality
Looking at the lenses side by side, the most noticeable difference in shape would be that the Sigma is longer. In practice, the extra length was never a problem to find a place in my bag or for handling. If you’re running a very tight photography setup with limited space and an extra half inch here means removing half an inch of material elsewhere, that could be a problem. However, for most of us, this is not a compromise.
The same goes for weight, where the Sony is a quarter of a pound lighter. As with the slight difference in size, the weight is not a sufficient difference which in my opinion could influence any purchasing decision. I respect that the Sony lens achieves these ratings, but in the end I can’t say it’s extremely important comparatively. We’re not talking about two inches and nearly two pounds of difference like the Sony 14mm f / 1.8 GM versus the Sigma 14mm f / 1.8 DG HSM.
Continuing the theme of non-difference makers, both lenses share a 67mm thread for filters, meaning one won’t have any additional hidden costs of ownership compared to the other in this area.
Both lenses have the same set of controls, including focus and aperture rings, aperture disable switch, focus hold button, and focus mode switch . The aperture ring can be manually set to specific f-stop numbers or can be controlled through the camera using the “A” setting.
Surprisingly, it’s Sigma that goes a step above here with the addition of an open lock switch. This prevents the aperture ring from going out of the “A” setting, avoiding the scenario where the camera does not want to respond to aperture changes and the photographer does not realize until later that the ring has passed error in manual mode. Points go to Sigma for thinking about this as it is not uncommon for aperture settings to twist when mounting the lens on a camera or throughout use when my hand is working in this area during shooting.
Spending a few weeks with the lenses isn’t going to paint a full picture of the build quality, but I did my best. Throughout my time on the island of Kaua’i, I had to deal with a lot of dust, rain showers, sand, damp surfaces, humidity and sudden changes in temperature. Even after the most difficult conditions, there was no apparent detrimental effect on the two lenses. That’s not to say that nothing will develop over time, but they both seemed trustworthy enough not to have babies as far as my limited time could tell.
This is what it all comes down to. When I think about the differences between Sony and Sigma 35mm f / 1.4 lenses, and why someone would pay an extra $ 500 for the Sony, these are the top three reasons I can come up with.
The very first thing I noticed when shooting identical pictures with both lenses was the differences in distortion. In the example below I have drawn a line above the horizon to see more clearly that the Sigma has barrel distortion while the Sony is very well controlled.
Of course, barrel distortion is not the end of the world and can be automatically corrected when importing images into RAW processing software. I can give the Sigma an “advantage” in that it also gives a scene more field of view compared to Sony. Suppose I am photographing in a forest without an easily identifiable horizon line; it may be welcome to have more scene in my composition at the cost of a distortion which no one can even tell is there.
Both Sony and Sigma lenses have sufficient apparent sharpness to cross the threshold from being good lenses to great lenses. However, at the extreme edges of the frame with the Sigma, there is more of a drop in sharpness with photos taken wide open compared to Sony. The Sony lens keeps things together remarkably well. When stopped at f / 8 in the example below, both lenses have the same sharpness.
When it comes to lens sharpness, I’ll add that when I compared vignetting, flare, and color fringes, I found that all of these are also well controlled. Jumping to the section below, you will find ghosting and aberrations in the Sigma f / 1.4 and Sony f / 8 images.
I also compared the blur qualities of these lenses. Both feature an 11-blade circular aperture, which, for a quick reference, is a step up from the 9-blade aperture used by their predecessors that I mentioned at the start of this article. A wider aperture should mean even more perfectly circular bokeh with less noticeable straight edges, and that’s exactly what we get.
The difference I see is how defined the blurred edges are. With Sony, the edges of the bokeh balls blend into each other. Sigma, on the other hand, has a more distinguished shape and each ball holds up like its own rather than spreading out.
Honestly, these are two different looks and I wouldn’t necessarily say one is better than the other. It depends on personal taste. If you like taking pictures with blurry lights in the frame, the Sigma might actually have more pop and more of a “wow” factor. That said, Sony’s lens will probably be a bit better at blowing unsightly backgrounds in indistinguishable bokeh pudding and for that I would consider it the more traditional winner in this area.
Neither lens totally blew me away in terms of autofocus performance at f / 1.4 when paired with the Sony a7R III. Both are great for less demanding autofocus needs, like tracking a person’s face around the frame or Animal Eye AF for animal portraits, but when it comes to tracking anything or faster, neither worked well most of the time.
After tinkering with my camera’s tracking sensitivity settings and seeing if the Sigma and Sony were just a little picky about their preferences, I considered the two lenses to be equal in terms of autofocus performance when ‘they were associated with the a7R III.
It’s a good year to buy a 35mm lens
At the start of this comparison I wrote that size and weight were nothing that clearly made a winner, but throughout the testing it was clear that the Sony 35mm f / 1.4 GM still had such a slight edge. than in these two physical categories. . There has never been a single area that immediately crowned it the winner, but Sony has an advantage nonetheless. It’s after composing everything I threw on both lenses that the slight victories of the dashboard add up.
Sony is the winner of this comparison, and I think it’s worth spending the extra $ 500 for it given how long the lens ownership will last.
But wait! It must be said that the Sigma 35mm f / 1.4 DG DN Art is not bad by any means. I’m sure some of you will compare these two lenses and decide for yourself that the Sigma is still the best bang for the buck, and it’s totally reasonable. The Sony is my winner, but there was no loser.