Eric L. Woods

Review: And portrait lens makes three. Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens

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Finished the trio.

I found out about the three Sigma Contemporary f/1.4 lenses late in the game.

First up was the 16mm.

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

I bought it for video, but it knocked it out of the park for stills.

a6100

Next up was my favorite focal length-ish. The 30mm for a 45mm equivalent lens.

Sony a6000

Another win and has become my everyday lens.

Sigma Contemporary 30mm f/1.4

Now I will be the first to admit I had no need for the last of the f/1.4 trinity, the 56mm. Had this focal length (85mm-ish full-frame equivalent) covered already. A reasonable choice would be to stand down. But:

  1. Since when was photography supposed to be a reasonable endeavor.
  2. As much as I really like the 85mm kit I had the idea of a smaller set up has great appeal.
  3. They made three f/1.4 lenses so…
sigma Contemporary 56mm f/1.4

Another winner? Yes. Yes, it is.

a6100

The first thing I noticed was the size and weight difference. Camera and lens together feel as if they weigh about the same as a full-frame 85mm f/1.4 lens alone. Similarly, size is a real winner also. The full-frame rig will not be fitting into a jacket pocket, but this is actually the shortest of the three f/1.4 Sigmas and I managed to get it into a jacket pocket without much struggle. This pays dividends for candid photography, my favorite. Even novices tend to take notice when I am wielding an 85mm full-frame lens. But this 56mm barely gets any notice.

And it nets impressively similar results as full-frame. Here are shot taken at two rehearsals. This one with the 56mm/APS-C:

Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens

This one with the 85mm/Full-Frame:

Rokinon/Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 FE

In every real-world non-pixel peeping measure the 56mm was a match for the 85mm.

  • Sharpness
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
  • Colors (See above)
  • Fall off/Bokeh
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
  • Fast/Accurate stills focus
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
  • Smooth and accurate video AF as tested below on the a6100.
  • Low light
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens

I felt no compromise when using this APS-C setup. All with considerably less wrist fatigue.

These lenses with the compact Sony APS-C bodies really delivers on the mirrorless promise. Full frame mirrorless cameras can be compact, but full-frame mirrorless lenses are barely any smaller than their full-frame DSLR equivalents. A viable portrait solution this small and light is a bit of a revelation for me.

One would think that this would have me selling off the full-frame 85mm, but no. Another fruit of the APS-C sensor is how it becomes the perfect low light event combination at an equivalent 127.5mm with an 85mm lens.

a6100

I had another 56mm APS-C lens some time ago. The Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2. 

Fujifilm X-Pro1

Under perfect conditions that lens was amazing and f/1.2 is quite impressive on paper. But there are a few things that had me selling this lens off not long after purchase.

  • Focusing was not particularly fast or accurate in my experience.
  • I did not find it to be that sharp wide open. The Sigma is sharper to me.
  • Real-world the bokeh did not blow me away to the degree I expected.
  • It is not cheap at $1,000 brand new. The Sigma is less than half of that.

Another great mirrorless portrait solution was the ridiculously sharp wide open Olympus 75mm f/1.8. (Portrait of Manu below.)

Olympus 75mm f/1.8

But that lens did not last either.

  • At a 150mm full-frame equivalent focal length it can be a bit impractical for daily use.
  • A bit longer and heavier than the Sigma 56mm.
  • The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 might be a better MFT apples to apples focal length equivalent comparison, but that lens was in a different league than these two lenses.
  • Good value for the performance, but it costs hundreds more than the Sigma.

I honestly do not believe I would have captured a shot like this one below, taken with the Sigma while I was mid-stride as a test, with the Fujifilm 56mm or the Olympus.

Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens

Great lens, but snappy AF was not the Fujifilm lens’ thing.

Another Sigma hat trick that even the full-frame 85mm lens cannot match is close focus (1.64′ / 50 cm). This shot was taken by my friend Anthony at arm’s length by him and it surprised us both.

Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens

Based on past experience with portrait focal lengths neither one of us expected this lens to focus this closely.

As an added bonus this is the first APS-C portrait lens that finally got me past the anticlimactic demise of the dead mount walking Samsung NX 85mm f/1.4.

Brother Art Portrait by request

That lens was amazing and a major reason why I hung on to the NX system long enough that it almost proved fiscally calamitous. But now I am good.

It works great for video also.

So Sigma is three for three. If they make another APS-C Contemporary f/1.4 I am likely to but that also.

Well done Sigma.

Here is an ongoing album with a few more samples below.

Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
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