Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM

After a few years using the Nikon 50 1.4D I became pretty curious about the Sigma 50 1.4 EX DG HSM. I was never impressed with Nikon’s 50m offering and decided to return the Nikon 50 1.4G after having high hopes. I figured Sigma’s would be no better, but boy was I wrong…

The Quick

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX DG HSM is the best 50mm lens you can find if you shoot nikon. That’s purely my opinion, but I have yet to find another lens that performs the way this does. It’s got wonderfully quick and quiet auto focus, incredibly pleasing bokeh, and great contrast and sharpness at 1.4. If you shoot nikon and you want a perfect all in one lens… buy this one.

The Build

To sum up? Decent build. It’s not metal.. it’s plastic. That’s probably my biggest complaint about the lens. It’s not a cheap lens at $500 so I wish they had splurged for a big of metal. That being said I haven’t had any issues with the build. As a matter of fact (just like my Sigma 85 1.4), I’ve owned the lens for around a year and I barely have a scratch on it, and the glass itself seems to be holding up just fine.

One issue I’ve heard many people mention is that the front glass element of the lens will slowly unscrew and just fall off. I can confirm that the front element on my lens was pretty loose, but I was able to gently screw it tightly with my fingers and haven’t had a problem. Kinda sketchy, but hey – it’s sigma.

The Use

This thing is sharp. That’s always my biggest concern with prime lenses. I don’t buy them to shoot stopped down at f/2.8, f/2, or even f/1.8. When I spend money on a fixed focal length w/ 1.4 aperture I’m almost always going to be shooting totally wide open. I’m a sucker for that dreamy bokeh so I usually like to maximize that effect. My biggest issue with the nikon 50 1.4D and 1.4G is that they weren’t exactly sharp at 1.4. Far from it when compared to the Sigma. So… not much else to say about sharpness.

The focus is quick and quiet thanks to the HSM. Much faster than the new Nikon 50 1.4G, and just as quiet. I will say it’s a tad bit “jumpy.” Meaning it kind of has a stuttering type of feel as it changes focus points, but it’s not too distracting and I don’t even notice it anymore. Small price to pay for fast and accurate focusing.

I will say that the manual focus ring isn’t great. It’s small and it doesn’t override the autofocus like some Nikon lenses do. In my line of work I rarely need to use manual focusing, but for some people I’m sure it’d be more essential. I actually do own the Nikon 50 1.2 manual focus lens and love & use it for situations when I know manual focus is a better fit, but it’s a very specific situation that I pull that bad boy out for.

Here are a bunch of recent photos I’ve made with this lens. All photos at 1.4 except the leaning silhouette.

(Click to see larger images)

The Tips

This isn’t specific to this lens at all, but it’s certainly a tip to consider when buying any fixed focal lens.

One thing I did early on to try and figure out which focal lengths I’d be most comfortable shooting with was arrange all of my photos from an entire year by focal range and a zoom lens (I used the 24-70 nikon lens). This let me see where I naturally tended to spend the most time on my zoom lens. I found it was at 24mm 48mm and at a distant 3rd place 70mm. Thus, it’s not surprising I feel most comfortable shooting with my 24mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.4 lenses.

Transitioning from using zooms to using prime lenses can be a bit stressful when starting out, but after a few months I’ve finally done it and now I rarely use a zoom – unless to keep things interesting. I’ll also tell you that after you’ve been shooting just fixed focal lenses for a while breaking out the old zoom lens makes life so easy it feels like cheating.

The Conclusion

I’ve recently been shooting 50mm a lot. Like, 95% of the time a lot. I don’t know what took so long for me to realize that 50mm was my ideal range, but it is and I’m obsessed. Now, my very first lens was the nikon 50mm 1.4 D. Decent lens, but on my dx camera it wasn’t a 50mm, but more like an 85mm. The thing is also crazy soft wide open. So, I never warmed up to it. earlier this year I randomly got an itch to buy a new lens and was intrigued by the pricey sigma lens. Considering Sigma gear tends to be much less than Nikon gear I found it interesting that they had a competing lens that was actually MORE than Nikon’s. After reviewing some good star ratings on amazon I decided what the heck.

I actually purchased the Nikon 50 1.4G and the Sigma 1.4 at the same time, but to my surprise the Nikon was in the return box the very next day. A part of me was actually relieved that I could be honest with myself. I (like many people) have a strong affinity to Nikon products. I usually find ways to convince myself they might be better, or worth the extra cost. But in this case Sigma comes out way ahead. It’s totally undeniable. I’m looking forward to their update (perhaps a metal casing??), but I’m in no rush.

and the last sample… probably my favorite:

Summary

Rating

Sigma has set the bar suprisingly high with their 50mm f/1.4. Currently, this is my go to lens 90% of the time.

  • Price
    $499.00
  • In my gear bag?
    Yes
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. Agreed again! The Sigma 50 and the 85 are the only non L lenses I own and they hold their own and more, love them!

  2. Great review again Sam. I’m seriously considering selling my 50/1.4G and buying the Sigma. Sharp wide open AND fast AF? I’m pretty much sold. At least until Nikon comes out with a real pro-spec 50mm lens, like a 50 1.2G with AF-S, Nano coating and a 77mm front element.

  3. I agree Sam… The only thing that I wish the Sigma did, was give some flare, it has very little. I hated the G too… Another reason why I think that I like the Sigma “50″ is, it’s not really a 50mm, it’s more like 45mm… http://nikonrumors.com/2011/11/03/seven-50mm-prime-lenses-for-nikon-f-mount-compared-by-cary-jordan.aspx/ if you shoot this lens and a nikon 50, the Sigma is a little wider… I still love the quickness of it!

  4. I like this lens a lot and it produces some amazing pictures. :-)

  5. I agree totally on your observations on the Sigma 50 and 85. I too am a strong Nikon fan and I always went Nikon first (even my polarizer) when it came to purchasing gear. Almost 2 years have passed and I have never doubted that my purchase of the Sigma 50 and 85mm 1.4 was a very good choice. I still look at Nikon first when contemplating buying equipment but in the case of these 2 lens I have not loss any sleep on my decisions. Here’s hoping the 35mm 1.4 lives up to these 2.

  6. Cool review! Where is that location in the video? Looks like an awesome place.

  7. Hugh Reilly says:

    Agreed! If you buy a 1.4 lens you want to shoot at 1.4!!! I just bought the D600. It is my first digital. I’m coming from a Rolleiflex SL35E with a 50mm Carl Zeiss 1.4 HTF lens. I took just about all of my photos at 50mm and as wide open as possible (since I shot mainly K25) without any concern for sharpness. I am spoiled and would love to find a lens as sharp as the Zeiss. I tried an adaptor but it didn’t work. The Nikon 50mm 1.8 AF I have is OK but not as sharp and colorful as the Zeiss. Thanks for the review, maybe the Sigma is just what I’m looking for.

  8. My Nikon 50mm f1.4G broke…. the focus ring stopped turning after only a year of using it! I didn’t want to risk buying another and then I found this review and I brought the Sigma 50mm f1.4. Mannnnnnn, is it fast, accurate and sharp! Just a quick thank you Sam for this review! Can’t wait to use this at my next wedding on Saturday!

  9. Do your sigma 50mm F/1.4 has focusing issue?

  10. Jerry Tosh says:

    Beautiful review and as someone who live in the DMV area *dc maryland and Virginia* im honored to see such beauty captured near by :) I was wondering where that first picture was taken?

  11. sam – do you prefer the sigma 50 1.4 over the new nikon 50 1.8G ?

  12. Great review for a better lens!

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