I recently ran into an issue with my beloved Canon 35mm 1.4 L lens. After many years of exceptional quality and loyal service, it started to back focus when photographing an object or subject from that was more than 3 meters away. I find the 35mm focal length to be essential for wedding photography.. especially when it is a prime and can capture subjects in dark situations and help them to pop with its wide aperture. In a pinch with a wedding in a couple days, I picked up the Sigma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM Art Lens from a local vendor. I have read really great reviews so I decided to give it a try. Price when purchased was $899 plus tax compared to the Canon 35 f/1.4L USM which is presently going for around $1,499 plus tax.
I was instantly taken with the great, sleek look of the lens. I liked how it felt on my camera and to the touch. I can’t say I really missed the red ring that is synonymous with Canon’s professional “L” series lenses. The Sigma felt and looked like a really well made lens. With only a couple days until the wedding, I needed to take some pictures to make sure the automatic focus ( AF ) working and that there weren’t any other issues with sharpness, etc..
First thing I noticed is that the AF seemed a tad bit slower. Because I have used the Canon 35mm 1.4 so much, I really have gotten to know it. The AF is blazing fast.. probably one of if not the fast AF out of all the lenses I own. The Sigma wasn’t slow by any means, it just wasn’t quite as fast. Not a super big deal since it WAS fast, just not AS fast.
Another thing I noticed was that the Sigma seemed to be a bit warmer. I didn’t mind this at all when working in post. I always felt the Canon was a bit cool (or more blue). However, to be honest, when shooting in dark situations with low light, I often liked the coolness of the Canon since it helped to balance out incandescent and ambient lights which can make the image look orange or yellowish.
Lastly, it felt like the Sigma was a bit underexposed in a lot of the shots. I came to find out what that was about, but I will explain that more in detail down below.
After the wedding and after getting my Canon back I decided to do a head to head to see how the two lenses compared to one another. When it comes to lens comparison and reviews, I love to do it, but I don’t consider my methods to be super scientific or clinical. In addition, I often test the lenses only at the widest aperture. I do this because when buying/using a prime lens, my intention is to isolate the subject and/or use it in low light. Therefore the performance at the widest aperture is most important to me. Therefore for this particular comparison every shot was taken at an aperture of 1.4. No retouching or editing was done whatsoever. I simply shot in RAW and then exported as sRGB Jpegs
Here are the results!
Comparing the two, the Sigma is clearly the winner. The Canon has a lot of purple fringing along with green (look at chimes in last picture). Chromatic aberration can be a pain in the butt to fix. I always though the Canon did a good job at controlling it, but the Sigma does an excellent job.
I love the brick wall test! It can reveal a lot of subtle differences between lenses, from sharpness to distortion to vignetting.
Comparing the distortion it is clear that the Sigma once again comes out ahead. There is visibly less distortion than with the Canon. How much this matters in the real world is subjective and dependent upon what you are shooting. In most cases, unless it is architecture, it won’t make much of a difference.
Sharpness is a little more complicated. Comparing the center sharpness of the two, the Canon seems a tad bit sharper. From my research, this shouldn’t really be the case. It may be the copy I received. It is very subtle and probably insignificant to the vast majority of situations.
When it comes to corner sharpness, things get a little more tricky. I only posted two corner shots – the top right and bottom left. However, the Sigma was significantly sharper in both the upper corners. The Canon was a tad bit sharper in the bottom corners. So the Sigma gained significant sharpness in the upper corners but lost a tad in the bottom. Overall, I would say the Sigma’s “sharp corners” are much more sharp than the Canon’s “sharp bottom corners”. Thus I am giving this test to Sigma as well.
Vignetting. This is where I feel the Sigma lets me down. I found the vignetting on the Sigma to be rather severe. So severe, that it almost makes the images look a full stop darker since it runs almost right into the center of the frame. One can compensate by exposing just a tad brighter or fixing in post. The Canon clearly wins the vignetting test IMO.
I did quite a few shots trying to capture the differences between the two when it came to bokeh. In general, bokeh is not a primary feature when using a lens this wide. However, out of the many shots I took, I found the Sigma to be a tad bit creamier than the Canon. I could have posted many pictures showing the subtle difference, but I chose the above because I think it is a simple representation of the subtle differences. The edges of the halo’s show more chromatic aberration in the Canon images than the Sigma’s. The Canon also shows more rings in the as represented by the second image. I may post more in the future, but I would say the Sigma once again wins in this category.
So in the end, I think there is a very easy and clear winner – The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM !! Not only did it pretty much win in every category I tested, it is $500 less expensive the the Canon 35mm 1.4L USM! Now the only test left is how well will the Sigma hold up over time. One major consideration when purchasing a third party lens in comparison to a Canon is the customer service. Canon’s is simply the best. I often get equipment back the same week I send it out. If anything goes wrong with the Sigma (and things eventually will) it will be interesting to see how long and what kind of headache I get… in the meantime, it will be thoroughly enjoying my new purchase and will undoubtedly be reaching for it instead of the Canon.