Sigma 28mm F1.4 DG ART Review
June 14th, 2019
Sigma has been on somewhat of a roll as of late as they continue to refine their process of lens development in the ART series. Early on I found the ART series somewhat frustrating, as there was frequently a blend of very good optics, a reasonable price, but then a frustrating autofocus experience. In more recent history, however, Sigma has managed to make positive changes to the autofocus on most of their new releases, which has made it easier to give their lenses a more wholehearted recommendation. The Sigma 28mm F1.4 DG HSM ART is one of their most recent releases, and, while the concept of a truly reasonable price tag is no longer true, the 28ART is definitely a serious contender that still manages to undercut the cost of the competition.
28mm has become a less popular focal length in recent years, but it was once a staple for photographers. It’s easy to see why with the Sigma 28ART, as it is a very useful focal length that is deadly sharp at any aperture. You can easily switch from landscapes to environmental portraits to events to street and even close focus bokeh shots (like above) with a wide aperture lens at this focus length. Those that are “stuck” between the advantages of the 24mm lens vs a 35mm lens will find this a great compromise. I too was a bit perplexed about the focal length when Zeiss elected to utilize the 28mm focal length for their third (and most expensive to date) Otus lens. I reviewed the Zeiss Otus 28mm F1.4 a few years back and gained some appreciation for the focal length, though the Otus lens is both incredibly expensive (currently $5000!!!) and incredibly large and heavy (3.1 lb/1390g). It is not a lens for the faint of heart nor the light of wallet! While Canon has hinted about releasing a 28mm F1.4 L-series lens over the years, that has never materialized, leaving the Otus as the only EF-mount F1.4 alternative at this focal length. Canon also has a older 28mm F1.8 lens that has seen better days along with a quite good 28mm F2.8 IS lens. The latter lens is a strong performer (and maybe the better street lens if having shallow DOF is not a priority), but suffers from the reality that a lot of competent zoom lenses cover the 28mm with an equal maximum aperture.
On the Nikon front the aforementioned Otus is an option, though Nikon also has a well-regarded 28mm F1.4E lens in their lineup. That lens runs close to $2000 MSRP, which helps to bring the price of the Sigma 28ART into perspective. It’s expensive in an absolute sense at $1399 USD, but relative to the competition (Otus or Nikon), it is a relative bargain. The Sigma 28mm F1.4 ART is also available in Sony FE mount, but there isn’t a direct competitor at 28mm on Sony. If you look at the first party 35mm F1.4 lenses from Canon, Nikon, or Sony, the 28ART still looks like a relative bargain, typically running $300-400 lens than those lenses. Still, the higher price tag means that the Sigma will have to compete more on merit than price. Is it up to that challenge?
I’ve used a Canon 5D Mark IV (I’m testing an EF mount version) for this test, but I’ve also used the 28ART on a Canon EOS RP (via adapter) and on the Sony a7RIII via the Sigma MC-11 mount converter and will share some images from each platform as a part of this review. Prefer to watch your reviews? You can see my video review below:
Sigma 28ART Build and Handling
While it is true that the ART series formula is no longer as fresh and exciting as it was when Sigma unveiled their new Global Vision look, it is equally true that Sigma has been steadily refining the formula. It’s been a while since we have seen revolution in design from Sigma, but we have definitely been seeing some very positive evolution in the ART series formula to what is now a very complete package. The best way to get the details is by watching this hands-on look at the build and design:
Here are a few of the standouts in that evolutionary journey. One of the early knocks on the ART series (for years) was Sigma that Sigma persisted in not including weather sealing into the design. While there has been some debate as to whether or not sealing is effective or necessary, the consensus among most all consumers is that they would rather have it than not. Sigma was slow to embrace that philosophy, but after some years we started to see a bit of weather sealing at the lens mount (a gasket). Better something than nothing, right? But with this lens (and a few other recent ART releases), Sigma has fully embraced the idea of professional-grade build including full weather sealing, and, as the diagram and language suggest below, the 28ART is now fully ready to shoot in inclement weather.
Another key development (at least for Canon shooters) has been that Sigma “cracked the code” in 2018 and now offers compatibility with Canon’s Lens Aberration Corrections (LAC) in camera. This eliminates one of the key disadvantages of third party lenses in the past (a reality that still remains for every other third party, actually, from what I see) in that first party lenses could receive in-camera corrections while third party lenses could not. The 28ART receives near-full in camera support, so JPEGS can receive processing correction for distortion, chromatic aberrations, vignetting, and diffraction. While a lens like this has relatively few aberrations, the ability to have vignette and distortion corrected is certainly welcome. While LAC are not applied to RAW files (for any lenses on Canon), it’s easy to apply those type of corrections in post anyway.
I’ll explore autofocus more in the next section, but I will point out that I found that Sigma took a huge leap forward in their autofocus accuracy (at least on Canon, which is the DSLR brand that I test) about the same time as they got access to Canon’s LAC. I’ve theorized that Sigma entered into a private agreement with Canon and gained greater access to their focus algorithms at the same, though I have no proof to support that theory. What I do know is that I’ve tested essentially every ART series in the lineup, and I noted a huge uptick in focus accuracy and reliability during that same time.
Another area that Sigma has worked to “future-proof” their lenses in the ART lineup is their USB dock. This, along with the Sigma Optimization Pro software, allows you to apply firmware updates to their lenses along with make customization tweaks to lens behavior (like autofocus). I strongly suggest that Sigma owners purchase the USB Dock and spend a little time in the Optimization Pro software to get the most out of their lenses.
The final very smart aspect of Sigma’s evolution that is worth mentioning is Sigma MC-11 mount converter. This is essentially an adapter for Canon EF lenses to adapt to the popular Sony mirrorless FE mount. The advantage is that it is regularly updated (via the aforementioned software) to embrace new focus improvements and to eliminate issues. The end result is that many Sigma lenses function nearly like native Sony lenses via the MC-11 (they now have a similar MC-21 adapter for Leica L). I have yet to test any adapted lens with any adapter that functions as well as Sigma lenses via the MC-11 on Sony bodies. That is truer than ever with the 28ART, which functions seamlessly on my Sony a7RIII. Here are some photos taken with the Sigma on Sony:
There is an E-mount version of the lens if you are solely a Sony shooter, but if, like myself, you use both systems, purchasing the EF mount and using it via adapter on both systems is a tempting option.
The overall look of the lens is familiar, and employs Sigma’s combination of metal bits (including a brass mount) along with some “thermal composites” (engineered plastics) that combine into a lens that is both attractive and with the feel of durability. It compares favorably to similar lenses from Canon, Sony, or Nikon, with a very robust feel. The Sigma falls in the middle of the pack of 28mm F1.4 lenses in both size and weight (though the Otus really tips the scales in the extreme direction).
The Nikon and Sigma share a 77mm front filter thread, while the Otus sports a massive 95mm front filter size. The Canon 35mm F1.4L II (which I did some comparisons to considering it is the closest competitor in the Canon space) is similar in dimensions with the Sigma but weighs about 100 grams less.
One change that Sigma has implemented in this design is the inclusion of a locking mechanism on the lens hood. I’m personally not persuaded that a lock is needed if the lens hood is well engineered, but this has been a recent trend. I will note that Sigma has done a better job of implementing this lock than most other lenses I’ve seen, as the release button is better shaped (large enough to easily depress) and the action of the button is nice and smooth. The lens hood clicks into place (and the lock engages) with a satisfying click.
Sigma’s lens hoods are always well designed, with a mix of materials that includes soft touch materials in the transition area where the hood mounts along with a thin ribbed section that allows you to have a nice grip on the hood when releasing it. One odd negative that I encountered (and surprised me!) was that the lens hood does not cooperate with a circular polarizer being attached. You cannot mount the hood even with a slim polarizer attached. It catches and can cause the filter to bind if you try to force it. This is a very strange oversight, as filters are often a necessity with a lens with such a large maximum aperture. I checked this multiple times, as it seemed almost too strange to be true, but I never discovered a way to mount the hood and a CP-L at the same time. You will have to use the lens without the hood to use the filter.
Sigma gets bonus marks for always including a very nice padded case for storing and transporting the lens in.
There is one switch on the lens barrel, and that is to switch between AF (Autofocus) and MF (Manual Focus). Full time manual override is available. The focus ring itself is nice and wide and well damped.
It can focus down to 28cm (11.02″), which is pretty standard, where it also produces a fairly standard 0.185x magnification figure.
This is very slightly better than the competing 28mm lenses, but lags a bit behind the 35mm options.
This is not a small lens, but it also isn’t as extreme in size as some of the other ART lenses. It’s size and weight are on the larger side of the class (we can exclude the Otus here), but not far off the Canon or Nikon equivalents. It’s a nicely made, nicely functioning lens that did everything that it was supposed to in my tests.
28ART Autofocus Performance
As I noted above, autofocus performance has gone from being an area of weakness to an area of strength. While I still recommend spending some time with the USB dock and tweaking focus at different focus distances, I’ve found that “out-of-the-box” focus performance is vastly improved in recent Sigma releases. My overall focus accuracy was excellent during my review even at F1.4 at a variety of focus distances and focus points on my Canon 5D Mark IV.
I had just one negative experience, and that was in a certain situation the lens just didn’t want to focus on a certain foreground object. It’s as if it couldn’t find a sufficient contrast area even though I felt that one existed (and it could find it when I switched to Live View). Fortunately this was an isolated incident.
I did prefer the lens adapted onto mirrorless (either on the Sony a7RIII as previously noted or on the Canon EOS RP via the Canon EF to RF adapter). This is mostly about the nature of mirrorless focus (in these very good focusing cameras), which allows you to easily select a focus point almost anywhere or to use something like Eye AF to more intuitively function during portrait type work. Here’s a few taken on the EOS RP:
I put on an ND64 filter while doing some video work (using Sony’s S-LOG requires a base ISO of 800) and found that I could still use Eye AF and achieve quality focus.
Later, I put on an extremely dark ND4000 filter (12 stops) and found that (surprisingly) I could still achieve autofocus (at least in bright conditions) for these 30 second exposures.
Some of the earlier ART series lenses were a little rough when adapted with the MC-11, with more noisy focus and less smoothness. The 28ART is more refined whether in Live View on a DSLR or on mirrorless cameras. It focuses quietly and efficiently. When shooting video the focus pulls are smooth and accurate, though in a quiet environment the on-board mic will pick up a light clicking sound as focus changes occur.
I didn’t test the autofocus for sports, but I feel confident that the lens will serve well for the more typical purposes of weddings, events, portraits, general purpose, or street. Autofocus is fast, quiet, and confident: a great combination!
Sigma 28ART Image Quality
Image quality is where a premium lens must justify its price tag, and I think the Sigma 28mm F1.4 ART manages to do that. I did a lot of extensive comparisons to the Canon 35mm F1.4L II (which I own and consider to be perhaps Canon’s finest non-super-telephoto prime lens). The Canon has a certain “specialness” to its images, and I think the Sigma 28ART isn’t far off that high benchmark. Check out my thorough comparisons with the Canon and a general image quality examination in this video:
The Sigma 28ART is a fairly complex 17 elements in 12 groups. Some people are critical of Sigma’s optical designs, complaining that they are overly complex and somewhat clinical as a result. I’m not sure that criticism is justified here, however, as the performance of this lens is excellent.
There is a pronounced amount of vignette at F1.4 (slightly more than the Canon 35L II that I compared it to). It’s as much as 3.5 stops in the extreme corners. Stopping down to F2 eliminates a lot of it (as we’ll see from our sharpness comparisons), with just about everything gone by F2.8.
There is also a moderate amount of barrel distortion (again at a slightly higher level than the less-wide 35mm lens). This is mild enough that it shouldn’t impact most scenes outside of those with very straight lines.
Fortunately, this is essentially the worst the news gets.
The 28ART delivers high levels of sharpness and contrast from F1.4 on. In my comparisons with the more-expensive 35LII, it delivers almost as good of center sharpness with ever-so-slightly less contrast (the Canon employs a very expensive Blue Wave Refractive Optics technology to essentially eliminate chromatic aberrations).
Image sharpness is also nearly identical on the edges, with the Canon again showing slightly better levels of contrast.
This is born out in real world shots, where details are very crisp and contrast is strong enough that one can shoot at F1.4 without any kind of liability.
In this shot (as some others), one could argue that the nature of the vignette produces a desirable effect (it’s fairly linear), though I would argue that I would prefer to add vignette if desired rather than have to clear it up. Fortunately the vignette lifts significantly by F2, and now image quality is basically equal with the Canon in both the center and extreme corners. Both lenses are very sharp across the frame.
Image quality is essentially perfect from F2.8 on, and real world images at smaller apertures are full of life and detail. Here’s a few of them:
Chromatic aberrations are very well controlled even in very difficult, high contrast areas. I was impressed by this performance:
This makes shooting at F1.4 a lot of fun. I enjoy using aperture as a means of telling a story and making ordinary things look unique. I daresay that some of these images have a near Zeiss-like quality, which is not something I often say about Sigma lenses.
The only leftover fly in the ointment (and fortunately its not a huge one) is that the lens can exhibit some flare artifacts with the sun right in the frame. This isn’t overly unusual for a lens with such a wide maximum aperture, but you will need to show some caution how you compose.
One final positive I want to highlight is that the 28ART shows a fairly good performance for coma – most often seen when shooting the night sky. This causes deformation of star points (particularly along the edges of the frame), often causing them to “grow wings” or look like flying saucers. While the 28ART shows a bit of stretching of star points at F1.4, the performance here is really quite good:
F2 is better yet (and also gives less vignette to correct for, which could produce a cleaner result). I would consider this an excellent choice for shooting the night sky. That big maximum aperture allows you to suck in a lot of light and to keep the ISO value nice and low.
All in all, I think the Sigma 28ART is one of Sigma’s best lenses for its overall performance and rendering. The bokeh quality is nice and smooth (see below), the resolution and contrast are strong, and the color rendition seems very nice. The vignette might put some off, but there is little else to complain about. You can find more photos in the image gallery here.
In many ways the Sigma 28mm F1.4 ART is the lens that the 35mm F1.4 ART should have been. It delivers better focus accuracy, richer image quality, and has a superior build. I would actually like to see Sigma build a 35mm F1.4 ART Mark II in the future and update it with some of the experience gleaned since its release (it was the first of the ART series lenses). The only negative that I can point to by comparison is that the price has crept up to where the 28ART can no longer be considered a bargain even if it is cheaper than direct competitors. And that may be the primary obstacle to it being a sales success for Sigma. The 28mm focal length is not intensely popular (though incredibly useful), so the price tag (though probably warranted by performance) may be steeper than many want to pay.
If you want a premium 28mm lens, however, it’s hard to rule out the Sigma 28mm F1.4 ART. It does so many things very well, and produces truly beautiful images. What more could you ask for?
- Excellent build including thorough weather sealing
- Quick, quiet, and accurate autofocus
- Excellent image sharpness from F1.4 on
- Lovely bokeh and excellent rendering
- Good contrast
- Excellent chromatic aberration control
- Good coma control
- Supported by Canon’s Lens Aberration Correction
- Works excellent on mirrorless bodies via adapter
- You cannot use the lens hood with a CP-L filter attached.
- Heavy vignette wide open
- Some barrel distortion
- A bit flare prone
- Fairly expensive in an absolute sense
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Keywords: Sigma 28 ART, Sigma 28mm ART, Sigma 28 1.4 ART, Sigma 28mm, ART, Sigma, 28mm, F1.4, Sigma 28mm F1.4 DG HSM ART, Dustin Abbott, Sigma 28 Review, Sigma 28mm ART Review, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 5DIV, Canon EOS RP, Sony a7RIII, Sigma MC-11, MC-11, Hands On, Video Test, Portrait, Video, Bokeh, Real World
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