A tale of 3 Sigmas. Part 3: Best for last. EX 50mm f/1.4

Full disclosure: I LOVE 50mm (or near 50mm) prime lenses.

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If I could only have one lens that is what it would be. What is not to love? Smaller than a zoom. Not wide enough to distort. Not tele enough to require backing up much if the subject is close. Usually even the most thrifty variants are sharp enough (even if a bit of stopping down is required) to capture a distant subject and crop later. Usually bright enough to offer very nice bokeh and low light capabilities… Ok. I’ll stop. Personal preference of course. Some would go with a different way, but if you are in the market for another lens this is a good choice. Plus even a bad 50mm is usually still a pretty good 50mm. Everyone makes them. The go to lens on all of my 35mm film cameras.

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While brand agnostic I have always had Pentax leanings…

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and since 50mm lenses are so affordable I have a hard time turning away a 50mm or near 50mm prime. With adding M42 screw mount lenses this number increased further. Up until recently my go to lenses were the Pentax film era AF 50mm f/1.7 for convenience…

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and the Takumar M42 screw mount 50mm f/1.4..

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when sharpness and low light took precedence over AF. (The newer, still produced AF Pentax 50mm f/1.4 is nice also, if a bit soft at f/1.4.) All was well until I recently went to a local low light gallery event to hear the talented Zun Lee speak at WSSU’s Digg’s Gallery. I went for the Takumar f/1.4 for low light and the fact that the screw drive f/1.7 can be a bit noisy in quiet environments. But usually easy manual focusing was a bit tricky in such low light. Worked, but I saw where a proper AF lens would have made things easier.

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What to do? After some research I settled on the Sigma DG EX 50mm f/1.4. Discontinued and oddly difficult to find in a Pentax mount however. There was the one concern of getting a bad copy of this lens where accurate focus would be an issue, but since:

  • Pentax does not currently offer a silent focus full frame 5omm prime.
  • Sigma did not see fit to make a K mount 50mm Art lens to replace the EX. Exceptional reviews, but if I am honest even if they did make a K mount version that lens is:
    • …a bit large for my liking.
    • …about 3 times what I wanted to pay for such a lens.
  • the 50mm EX had love/hate reviews depending on whether the lens received focused properly or not which kept prices in check.
  • the one lens I was able to find was from B&H with a top notch rating so I had some expectation that they would not bother to sell a ‘bad’ copy of this lens at such a high rating.

I decided on this lens. Received the lens in like new condition with box, padded case, and all original documentation and after some quick testing I found that it was indeed a good copy.

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Before I go on about how much I love this lens I must state one caveat.

Disclaimer: If you do order this lens, regardless of mount, brace yourself in advance for the possibility that you will not get a good one and you may need to return it. It is discontinued so any example purchased will be second hand so buy from those you trust. For that reason I personally avoided ebay (no intended slight on the company itself) for concern that some would try to unload a bad copy on me. I stayed to the big boys, KEH.com, Adorama.com , and BHPhotoVideo.com . From the looks of it non-Pentax mount versions are readily available on one or more of the three.

Now that I got that out of the way HOLY MACKEREL THIS LENS IS AWESOME!… <ahem>…

Where to start?

Look and feel:

  • I understand the front element is so large because Sigma really does not like vignetting, but the side result is the beginning of an impressive looking lens.
  • Walking around the lens reveals impressive fit, finish, and feel. Very business like.
  • Front element movement during focus range is confined within the lenses dimension unlike my f/1.7.
  • This is a big lens with dimensions one would expect for an 85mm rather than a 50mm. Not a plus or minus. Just is.

Operation:

  • Only one switch so this will not take long. Since Pentax puts an AF switch on the camera one would think one is not required on the lens. But Pentax offers a catch in focus feature for manual focus lenses that is active when lens AF is off, but camera AF is on. This proves very handy.

Focus speed:

  • Will set no records, but has proven more than accurate with minimal to no hunting in my experience so far.

Value:

Image quality:

  • Acceptably sharp at f/1.4. Very sharp f/2.0 on.
  • I love the way this lens renders colors. Far better than any of my other 50mms with the only possible match being the M42 Takumat 50mm f/1.4.
  • The bokeh is just beautiful and the transition between in and out of focus bits is great.
  • Owing to that monstrous front element (requiring a 77mm filter) vignetting is no issue at all.

End result? This lens stays on my camera most of the time.

Day 1 I took a chance and tested this lens at a St. Baldrick’s event I was asked to photograph at my job. A bit of a gamble, but given my testing the evening before I had some confidence that it would hold it’s own. Instead this lens performed far and above my expectations. Samples from that event and other photos below and a gallery with updated images here.

-ELW