Review: Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Contemporary… What manner of sorcery is this?

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Ok. I am no expert on lenses, but after running through my fair share of lenses across many platforms I did believe there were some basic ground rules. It goes something like this.

  • Bright lenses, faster than f/1.8, are never all of the following combined:
    • Autofocus
    • Reasonably sized
    • Relatively light
    • Affordable
    • Good video AF
    • Quick focusing
    • Silent focusing
    • Sharp wide open
    • Good optical performer
      • Low CA, Vignetting, etc.
    • Bokeh machines
      • Smooth transitions
    • When it comes to Sony made for full-frame.
    • Great low light performance.
    • Great colors.
    • “Special”

Something has to give.

If it is affordable you will usually give up AF.

If it is reasonably sized it gives up some optical performance.

If the weight is reasonable it will not be sharp wide open.

So on and so forth. There is always a compromise.

Look at Sigma’s Art line up for instance. I have great respect for Sigma Art lenses, but two things tend to keep me from purchasing them.

  1. They are usually quite large and heavy.
  2. They are usually quite expensive.

The same goes for Sony’s G Master lenses. I have great respect for them, but they typically size and/or price their way out of my consideration except for a few lenses like the excellent Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. Some are so good and have no alternative options (yet) and perform so well so you shut up and pay, like the precious.

Tamron and Rokinon/Samyang (Examples 1, 2, and 3) had both come to my rescue with some great choices that performed very well and managed to be reasonably sized and priced while performing well.

But this lens defies such constraints.

From the first shots I saw something different. Then one shot taken without great expectation caused me to look more closely at what set this lens apart.

What manner of sorcery is this?

I have taken this shot many times.

Most recently with the Konica Hexar AF…

Konica Hexar AF

and the 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1…

a6100

And I had taken a similar shot with the Sigma 16mm.

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Was going for a different look this time though. Instead of getting up on the focus subject, the steering wheel of the Dadmobile Part 2, trying to blow the background to smithereens like I normally do (too often admittedly) this time I wanted to see how it would do still wide open, but making use of the wider 24mm full-frame equivalent field of view. And wow.

a6100

While fully admitting that this is a throwaway shot taken killing time while pumping gas and also admitting that I missed focus (hit the right side of the steering wheel instead of the center shooting from the hip) I must say that I love it. It was dusk so, despite being well illuminated at 640 ISO, there was very little light actually available. And in this scenario colors were rendered perfectly throughout the frame. I love the way the rain looks on the window and the blue of the sky in the distance. I love this shot.

I will be so bold as to say that there is no film camera/lens/film combination that I would have rather used. And for a film head like me that is saying something. As I write this I am working through rolls of film in three different cameras and already have designs on what film cameras I will shoot after that. But at this moment I am in no rush. Instead, I am interested in what this lens can do.

Here are more test shots taken around the same time…

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and one more taken later that same night.

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What the heck?

And it is a lens built for APS-C. One main reason I have bought and sold do many a6000s in the past was due to the dearth of decent lenses at any price built specifically for it. For this reason, this Sigma was the first APS-C lens I owned for the a6100. The APS-C choices I was aware of were overly large, overly expensive, and/or poor performers. I use full-frame lenses on it mostly up (24mm had stayed on it) to this point.

Now that I think about it I should not be surprised that Sigma came through. The only APS-C prime I liked in the past was the (now discontinued) Sigma Art 30mm f/2.8. A decent performer. A bit more humble of spec than I would expect for an Art lens, however. Not the fastest focuser either if I recall. But decent. (Shot below playing paparazzi for my better half as she was being interviewed by a local news team.)

Life

But this 16mm is way better than that lens.

And this 16mm isn’t even an Art lens.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8m2EiZne8M/

I should say thank you since that is likely tied to the lower price and reasonable size. But I thank them for keeping the IQ part of the Art. Much appreciated. I can ask for nothing more. Let me go through my opening lens dream list.

  • Autofocus
    • Not only is it AF, but the performance rivals native Sony lenses.
  • Reasonably sized
    • By no means a pancake, but not a large lens either.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8m2EiZne8M/

  • Relatively light
    • Easily lighter than any other f/1.4 lens I have ever owned or used. Very well balanced on the rather small a6100.
  • Affordable
  • Good video AF
    • Great video AF. Tracks perfectly and is very accurate.
  • Quick focusing
    • Yep. Does that.

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  • Silent focusing
    • Not noticeable at all for stills. If you use an external mic you will have no issues with video either.
  • Sharp wide open
    • Yep.

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  • Good optical performer
    • Most definitely.

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  • Bokeh machines
    • Definitely. Especially impressive at such a wide field of view.

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  • When it comes to Sony made for full-frame.
    • Sony now has an excellent APS-C prime.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8m2EiZne8M/

  • Great low light performance.
    • Yep.

a6100

  • Great colors.
    • Same.
  • “Special”
    • Yep.

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Bonus shot of a test run with Wilson and Manu at SE Camera.

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This lens is a real winner.

I believe I am getting my hands around what it is about this lens that have confounded my attempts to quantify.

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I am a great film buff and will prattle on about that special “something” about how the camera, lens, and film come together to produce special images.

I regularly tout my preference for full-frame over crop sensors where possible.

This combination of crop body and crop lens sets both of these beliefs on their ear.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8m2EiZne8M/

When I take a look at that dusk car interior shot I am at a loss to identify any film camera, 35mm or medium format, or digital full-frame I would have rather have used.

Not a bad looking lens either.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8m2EiZne8M/

All from a combination of camera and lens that combined costs a fraction of the price of a full-frame digital body.

Well done Sigma. This is my first APS-C Contemporary Sigma lens, but it will not be my last. Here is an ongoing album.

-ELW

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