Pros: Phenomenal Performance, Buttery Smooth Bokeh, Solid Build Quality, Fast HSM Focus, Cool Lens Hood
Cons: Vignetting, Softer Corners, Back-Focusing Issues on some Copies
50mm was always the ideal "walkaround" focal length range for 35mm film cameras. 50mm is just about what the eye sees, which makes it so useful as a focal length. Even today, with the advent of smaller-sensor digital SLRs, 50mm lenses are still quite popular. When I wanted the ideal range in a fixed-focal length lens on my old Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, I opted for the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens. When factoring in multiplication factor from the smaller APS-C sensor, the focal length of the 35mm lens came to 56mm (35 x 1.6 = 56), which is fairly close to the ideal 50mm. When I upgraded to a full-frame Canon EOS 5D MkII camera, I found that this lens was now too wide. It went on eBay, and I looked for a replacement. There are numerous lenses to choose from for the Canon EOS mount. They mostly include Canon's own in-house lenses ranging from consumer to professional grade. Well... For a while that was all that was available, but then Sigma decided to do something bold. The resulting lens was the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM lens. It was so unexpected with many respects, almost scary to some.
As you know, my philosophy on lenses is to always buy the best available since the memories from photos always last forever. Therefore, I assumed that I would've purchased the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. At the time it seemed like a no-brainer. I also looked at the significantly cheaper Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens which I also borrowed to try out. In the end, I found a second-hand Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM that has made it into my camera bag. I'm happy I chose it over the Canon L-Series lens. I have divided the following review into two large parts. The first part is meant for beginners just getting into the SLR format, and the second part is meant for those that are already familiar with the technology.
--For Beginners Only-
So you're wondering what goes into the name of the lens... Here is every aspect of the name for your convenience.
Sigma - This is the manufacturer of the lens. Sigma is a quality manufacturer based in Japan. They do have their own line of SLR cameras, but create a variety of lenses for the many different mounts of camera manufacturers. The products range from consumer-grade all the way to heavy-duty professional gear. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is available on a variety of different lens mounts, which also includes Sigma, Nikon, and Sony/Konica Minolta. The lens being reviewed is based on the Canon EF mount.
50mm - The focal length range of the lens is a fixed 50mm. That means that the lens doesn't zoom at all to any different focal length. Therefore, you will not have the same flexibility as a zoom lens when it comes to covering different focal lengths. On the contrary, you will have a major speed advantage since the aperture of the lens is much larger. This allows you to take photos easily in low-light environments without flash. This is typically the trade-off when using a "fast prime." There are many different focal lengths to choose from. What makes 50mm so special? When you're using a 35mm film camera or a full-frame SLR, 50mm is considered to be the ideal walkaround range. It emulates the view that you would have from your eyes. Therefore, when it comes to event photography, it is easy to walkaround with the lens and take photos efficiently. It's not too long where you will have to seriously step back, or too wide where you will violate the subject's space. It is very comfortable to use. I have done some shoots at clubs for fun, and didn't have any trouble taking hundreds of photos with this lens exclusively. I found that 50mm was very comfortable to walk around with. Only when an event becomes claustrophobically crowded does a zoom lens become more effective. If you want the advantages of a prime (fast and sharp) to walk around with, then a 50mm on a 35mm film or full-frame camera will be your best bet. If you own a Canon APS-C camera with a smaller sensor, then I would recommend something wider. I have used the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens, also known as the "Nifty Fifty," on my old Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, and ultimately found it too long. Therefore, for serious walk around usage, I opted for the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens which was absolutely superb. I don't think that there's a better walkaround option for the APS-C sensor. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 EX DC HSM is also available, which would be a good option. Therefore, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will give you the ideal walkaround range on a full-frame camera, while it would be too long at 80mm (50 x 1.6) on an APS-C camera. For APS-C cameras, a 30mm or 35mm would be ideal.
F1.4 - What exactly does this number mean? This is the maximum aperture of the lens. The aperture is the part of the lens that lets in light. The lower the number gets, the more light it lets in. This is where the prime lens really shines, both figuratively and literally. So, how much more light does this lens let in versus a zoom with an f2.8 maximum aperture? The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is two stops faster than the fastest zooms, and therefore lets in four times as much light! This can save you in many situations where it would be extremely difficult to use a zoom lens. Therefore, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is a wonderful lens to use at events that have lower levels of light. What you must remember though is that when you are using the lens wide-open at f1.4 or close to it, you will be working with a very shallow depth-of-field. This means that dead on focus will be necessary. Therefore, you may want to take more than one photo, because it is extremely easy to not focus where you intended. This extremely wide aperture also makes the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM a superb portrait lens. Shooting wide-open or stopped down at a wide aperture, the lens produces phenomenal bokeh while isolating the subject. The Sigma lens has rounded aperture blades which create buttery-smooth bokeh. Of course, when working with razor-thin depth-of-field (DOF) good results can be difficult to achieve since a tiny portion of the frame is in focus. When you "get it right" at a very wide aperture, the results are astonishing.
EX - This lens is part of Sigma's professional EX-Series of lenses. These lenses have a signature gold ring at the end of the lens barrel, a large logo on the side, and also have a black crinkle matte finish. The EX-Series consists of numerous sub-$1,000 lenses which includes this one, and also extends to super telephotos that cost thousands of dollars. The Sigma EX-Series lenses are geared towards professionals. The build quality and optical quality of the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM are superb, and without any doubt this lens would be appropriate to use professionally.
DG - This stands for the special coating intended for digital cameras. I do not understand the science behind this, but this at least shows that the lens was built with digital cameras in mind.
HSM - This is Sigma's ultrasonic focusing technology. HSM itself stands for "hypersonic motor." Sigma as of now is the only third-party manufacturer to offer an ultrasonic focusing mechanism. Tamron and Tokina don't offer any such equivalents. Ultrasonic focusing motors have a tremendous advantage in the field. They offer near-silent ultra-fast focusing. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM utilizes this system very well. Even though it isn't nearly as quick or silent as Canon's ring-USM, it is still comparable in speed to the micro-USM on the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. The focusing mechanism is very quiet. There is a quiet "whooshing" sound created as the glass moves forward and backward. It should not be loud enough to disturb those around you, unlike the louder focus motors of non-ultrasonic lenses (especially the whine in Tamron's lenses). In the copy I received, the focus is very accurate and usually dead on. It works very well under poor lighting conditions, and works perfectly with the AF-assist beam from my Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 Flash. You should be aware that there are known focus issues of this lens, where it will severely back-focus. If you purchase the lens new, you can send it to Sigma for recalibration. Please be careful when purchasing the lens second-hand.
Here are some issues that you or others may encounter.
1. Third-party manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina don't make quality products like Canon.
This is probably the biggest issue surrounding this lens... There are many people who believe that third-party manufacturers are inferior to brands like Canon or Nikon. Sure Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina make some junk, but so do the manufacturers like Canon and Nikon! Sigma also creates lenses that are aimed at professionals (of course through their EX-Series), and there are many that costs thousands of dollars. Sigma also creates the most expensive production SLR lens available today, which is the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO IF lens which has an astonishing $28,999 price tag! I've used Sigma's lowest-end consumer lenses before, and they weren't good. But using some EX-Series lenses, which I happen to own two, I have been extremely impressed. There is a huge difference when comparing the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM versus their lowest end zooms. The same would go with comparing the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens to Canon's lowest end lenses. I also used to own the Tamron SP AF17-50mm f/2.8 Di-II LD Lens and saw great results with it. I also know other people who use that lens, and they too achieve great results. Third-party lenses can give you a cost advantage while offering excellent quality. As a professional, you shouldn't be afraid of using some of Sigma's EX-Series lenses, or other third-party lenses for that matter. I find that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM provides superb image quality in a solid package, time after time. So before you write off lenses just because they come from a third-party, you should take the time to research each individual lens specifically, because it may ultimately provide you with a better overall experience than the name-brand product (Canon) itself! Any manufacturer can create garbage lenses, but they can also create gems. This is the case with anyone, whether Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Canon, or anyone else.
2. My zoom lens covers this focal length range... So why would I want this lens? There's no benefit.
Sure, there are some people that use only prime lenses, and some that use only zooms (I was one of those for a while). However, seriously, these lenses are not competitors; they are meant to complement each other. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM does things that my zoom simply cannot due to its ability to gather four times more light wide-open! If you never intend to shoot with ambient light and rely on flash, you may not want this lens unless you really want the better sharpness at f2.8 and higher. However, if you shoot ambient light or need to shoot portraits at a close working distance, then you would benefit from this lens. Many photographers use both primes and zooms, but you really need to appreciate primes to get the benefit out of them.
3. So let me twist this to get a better shot...?
If you are out with a friend and want someone to take a picture of you, you will find that many people have no idea how to use an SLR camera. If they don't know how to take a picture with a zoom lens, then they are bound to mess this up even more with a prime. Since the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM utilizes full-time manual focusing, your image can be very screwed up when someone starts turning the focus ring thinking that it will zoom the lens. I have had to throw away shots because people had no idea how to use this. So beware if you're asking other people to take your picture, especially with a prime lens. So be sure to explain that this lens does not zoom before taking the picture!
4. Sigma has poor quality control.
When I was researching Sigma equipment, I saw that many people had problems with their Sigma lenses. This was often severe back-focusing issues. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM experienced severe problems of this sort when it was reviewed at the-digital-picture.com. Therefore, even though this is not a misconception and a well-known issue, I just wanted to make it aware to everyone. I felt that this was perhaps an appropriate area to post this. The general consensus amongst consumers of the faulty Sigma products was that Sigma does honor their warranties, and will recalibrate lenses. The two lenses that I use though, being the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM and my Sigma 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM have worked perfectly and did not need to be sent in for any calibration. So yes, this is true, but Sigma is willing to fix the issue.
5. There is no way that this lens will be better optically compared to the Canon competition.
Pricing the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM over $100 more than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is a bold move, don't you think? More on this later...
Assuming that you receive a properly-focusing lens, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is really something else. Pricing the lens over $100 more than Canon's closest-competition (aperture-wise) was a very bold move. Typically, third-party manufacturers price their gear less than the comparable competition from names like Canon and Nikon. In this case, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is a bit more expensive. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM does have some advantages that place it above the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens competition, but also has some disadvantages in other respects. First of all, based on my findings when using the Canon lens, I found that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is much shaper wide-open in the center (and is still sharper down the line), shares the same 77mm filter thread as my L-Series zooms, is better built, and features an aspherical lens element which you find in more expensive L-Series primes. On the contrary, I found that the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens was a bit sharper but suffered from a greater degree of vignetting. For people photography, purchasing the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM was a no-brainer over the Canon lens. It will be a sharper overall lens. Center sharpness at f1.4 is quite good, which is crucial if you're using the lens for its primary purpose, which is using it at wide-apertures.
The excellent overall performance of this lens will go well with natural light photography, portraiture, and also wide-aperture flash photography which creates some really neat results. The $499 is an easy price to swallow because you get such excellent performance. The aging Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is by no means a bad lens, but I just feel that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM edges it out for people photography. If you purchase a properly-focusing lens, then it's an absolute gem. I love this lens as much as my far more expensive Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens that I sold when I got rid of my APS-C camera. You know how the L-Disease works... It's an addiction. But when someone is saying that they love their significantly cheaper Sigma as much as their highly-regarded L-Series prime, that means something, right?
--FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS FAMILIAR WITH THE SLR FORMAT-
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is a very bold lens. It's more expensive than the Canon competition, but sure as heck performs better than what it costs! The lens will make an excellent walkaround prime for full-frame digital or 35mm film cameras. I find the focal length very comfortable to use for event photography. There's a reason that 50mm has been the standard walkaround range for decades. Now is your chance to experience it for yourself... But remember, if you're looking for such a prime on an APS-C camera with a smaller sensor, your best bet is to get something wider such as the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens or the significantly cheaper Sigma 30mm f1.4 EX DC HSM lens.
Who this lens is for...
This lens is ideal for those that are into people and event photography. To begin with, the 50mm focal length is perfect for a walkaround lens on a full-frame digital or 35mm film camera. Therefore, if you want to use such a lens for either ambient-light event photography or for shooting wide-aperture photos with flash (gives significantly improved subject isolation), then the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM with its generously wide f1.4 aperture will be an excellent lens. I found that the wide-aperture center sharpness was perfect for this purpose, even when you shoot the lens wide-open. I have shot at events using apertures between f1.4 to f1.8 with flash. The hit rate is very good for such wide apertures. You may wonder, what's the purpose of using a wide-aperture with flash? You get much nicer looking subject isolation as well as incredible bokeh. It does have a very different look compared to using a slower zoom at a narrower aperture from f2.8 and onwards. Use caution when trying this technique... You are working with a very shallow depth-of-field. Therefore, if you are taking a group photo, many of the subjects will be out-of-focus (here it is a good idea to stop it down to f4.0 or somewhere in that range). Also, even if you are taking a picture of two people, if someone is standing a few inches in front of the other subject, one will be slightly out of focus. I find this technique to be almost a hit or miss if done properly. Some results can be frustrating when one or more of the subjects are out of focus. Sometimes, the entire subject(s) can be very soft or out-of-focus (unless stopped down, I found the hit rate to be close to 100% when stopped down 2/3 stops to f1.8), due to the shallow depth-of-field as well as the photographer's own technique. However, when you do get it right, you can get some stunning images. Sure you're taking more risk than using a slower zoom or being stopped down two or more stops with this lens, but the end results can look absolutely stunning.
Of course, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM makes an excellent portrait lens. I have taken many portraits with this lens, and some of my best shots ever were done with it! The bokeh is very smooth, and I liked it better than either the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens (under closer inspection) or the much cheaper Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens, which I previously owned when I had my Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi. I have done all of my portraiture work at apertures wider than f2.0. The lens is quite sharp at f1.4, but you are dealing with a razor-thin depth-of-field. Therefore, if you are shooting close to the minimum focus distance of the lens, many of your shots end up being hit or miss. Therefore, when shooting close to the minimum focus distance, I would stop the lens down. I had excellent results at f1.8, which is 2/3 stops narrower than the maximum aperture. Here I had a very high hit rate. If you take tight above-the-shoulder portraits, you should just be cautioned of the problems you will face shooting at a wide aperture. Often I would resort to the Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM Lens when I have a large working distance. I found the hit rate to be close to 100% at f2.8 and 200mm. I have also done a shoot entirely at f2.0 with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM working very closely to the subject, and had a similar hit rate. However, when you are stopping down an ultra-wide aperture lens, you're somewhat defeating the ultimate purpose of the lens. But of course, we can't overcome the laws of physics. Therefore it's best to find the style that works best for you. You can get some spectacular results when using this lens at f1.4 or slightly stopped down. Just be aware of the depth-of-field issue. If you want a high hit rate, I would also try a technique using a wide-aperture telephoto at its longest setting. These lenses will cost you more, will be heavier, and also require a longer working distance.
If you are a macro photographer, you should look into dedicated macro lenses. Both Canon and Sigma have their own 50mm macros, which are the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro and the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. Both options are cheaper than purchasing the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM.
If you are a landscape photographer, you should probably look into a wider angle lens. Though, I'm sure that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM would make a fine choice if this is the focal length that you are looking to primarily use, assuming that you stop down (the lens has softer corners wide-open).
If you are a nature photographer, don't bother looking at this lens. Whether you're using a full-frame digital, 35mm film, or APS-C camera, the lens will be too short for this purpose.
The most unique thing about the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is of course the price. Generally speaking, third-party lenses will typically be cheaper than the Canon or Nikon counterparts. By looking at the aperture only, you see that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is most closely compared to Canon's highly-acclaimed yet aging Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. The Canon has a reasonable price tag of $389, while the Sigma is priced more at $499. That's a $110 price difference! Bold move Sigma... Bold move. So is it worth buying the third-party for more money than the Canon lens? Since so many people use the Canon lens, I was able to borrow one to try it out. In the end, I found that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM was a superior lens for my purposes. The Sigma is better built, is sharper, utilizes the same 77mm filter as my L-Series zooms, and also has an aspherical lens element which is found in the far more expensive Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM lens. If the lens focuses properly, then you've got yourself one fine piece of equipment. I find the quality to be very close to the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens (thought it was sharper) that I had on my Digital Rebel XTi.
The lens has many attributes that make it better than the two competing cheaper 50mm from Canon. Compared to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens, I found that the image quality was better. The Sigma was sharper wide-open, and also had better bokeh thanks to the 9-blade diaphragm. If you look closely at the bokeh of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens, has slightly rough edges, where it is not perfectly rounded. On the contrary, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM has buttery-smooth bokeh that is comprised of perfectly rounded circles, even when stopped down. Like the Canon, the Sigma features ultrasonic focusing, which has full-time manual focus present. The focusing speed of both lenses is comparable.
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is sharper than the budget Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens which has five non-rounded diaphragm blades, that causes slightly harsh bokeh. The Sigma has a considerable 2/3 f-stop advantage compared to the cheaper Canon. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is significantly better built than the "Nifty Fifty," and also focuses more quickly and silently since the "Nifty Fifty" doesn't utilize any form of Canon's USM mechanism. The one drawback to the Sigma compared to the "Nifty Fifty" is that the Sigma is considerably heavier. Though, this does work well when using it on a heavier professional body.
The final competitor is the far more expensive Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. This lens costs three times more than the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM, coming in at a whopping $1,599. The L-Series lens features a half-stop advantage compared to the Sigma. While the difference from f1.2 to f1.4 may not seem like a big deal, it actually amounts to 50% more light! This can be quite significant if you're planning on using these lenses to their ultimate ability in ambient-light photography. This should also be advantageous for portraiture work if you're looking for the most diffuse bokeh possible. Keep in mind that if you're shooting at f1.2, you will be shooting with an even shallower depth-of-field which can lead to some misses. Similarly to the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM features an aspherical lens element to help improve image quality by lowering the spherical aberrations. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM features nine diaphragm blades versus the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM which has eight. Even though this means that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM should technically be able to generate smoother bokeh, both lenses appear to have excellent quality results based on my own experiences with my Sigma, and by looking at sample photos taken with the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. What baffles me most about the Canon lens is that I've only seen one professional photographer that I personally knew of, using this lens. On the contrary, I have seen countless photographers use the significantly cheaper Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens for professional use. I don't know if it's the fact that the L-Series variant is too expensive (if this is a career choice, it would make sense to use the highest-end gear available), or if people are just unhappy with the overall performance. When I dug around in different threads and websites, I saw that many photographers were not overly impressed with the quality of the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. After looking at the ISO 12233 comparison charts at the-digital-picture.com, I saw that the sharpness of the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM was comparable to the much cheaper Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM. There are users that complain of focus-shift issues with the Canon, which is also a red mark against them. Numerous reports have said that sharpness at narrower apertures isn't any better than cheaper lenses that Canon offers. However, it was said that the lens does perform well at very wide-apertures. But then again, so does the Sigma. I asked the one photographer I knew if he would lend me the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM to try out, but he said no. I don't see myself purchasing any such lens in the future because I am more than satisfied with my Sigma, and I feel that the money can be better spent on another lens such as the Canon EF 85mm F1.2L USM II which would offer an edge in portraiture work.
Therefore, this leads to an interesting conclusion on the price of the Sigma. Assuming that you have a properly-focusing lens, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will clearly beat out both the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens and Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens. It offers better image quality for people photography and also features excellent build quality. Even when comparing it to the much more expensive Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM, the lens would probably be a better option at less than a third of the price. I find that the lens performs similarly to my much-loved Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens that I used to own. The lens is a little bit sharper, but nonetheless awesome. It isn't any worse than any of my L-Series lenses that I currently own. Therefore, if you are looking for a 50mm walkaround lens, I would whole-heartedly say that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is not only a bargain, but also a steal. If you do have issues with the lens, be sure to send it to Sigma for recalibration.
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is like any other Sigma EX-Series lens. It features Sigma's signature matte crinkle finish. There are those that love it, and those that hate it. I personally like it very much. The quality of the lens is considerably better than that of the "Nifty Fifty," and in my opinion, better than that of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. I like the build quality of the Canon L-Series lenses better though, and even though I have not handled it, I believe that the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM would provide the most respectable build quality of the bunch. Unlike the L-Series lens, the Sigma is not weather-sealed. The focus ring also feels a bit stiffer than and not nearly as smooth as my L-Series lenses, but fine nonetheless. Something that I like about this lens is that even though the front element does move forwards and backwards, it does this inside the lens barrel unlike any of the Canon models. This is similar to the zooming mechanism found on the Canon EF 17-40mm F4L USM and Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L USM II lenses. If you place a UV filter (as you always should!) on the front of the barrel, it will not move at all. While for many people, having the barrel change length when focusing shouldn't be an issue. But if you are someone that shoots at "chaotic" events such as night clubs, I feel that it is better protection to not have an extending portion of the barrel in case someone bumps into you. As you may have guessed, the supplied lens hood does not move at all when it is attached to the barrel.
Overall, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM features very good build quality. While the signature EX-Series finish may show finger prints and scratches more easily, it is still quite durable and very attractive. Like any lens, as long as you take care of it, it should be fine.
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM has a variety of different features that you should be aware of...
*Fast Maximum Aperture - The main selling point of the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is the extremely bright f1.4 maximum aperture. This fast prime lens gathers four times (!) as much light as the fastest Canon zoom lenses available, which have a maximum aperture of f2.8. This is extremely helpful if you're into ambient light photography. This works extremely well indoors where light could be limited, or it works well outdoors at dusk or even at nighttime (with ample artificial lighting). You should be aware of the extremely shallow depth-of-field at such a wide aperture. This makes focusing precisely on close objects difficult, since only a small part of the image will be in focus. Thus, your technique must be dead on, and this does require a bit of skill. So in some sense, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM can be a more difficult lens to master. Though, when you do get everything in focus, the sharpness wide-open is quite impressive. The lens provides very good sharpness wide-open, which is assuming that you properly nail the target. As I have stated before, you are working with a very shallow depth-of-field, and this can be problematic for having properly focused shots, especially when you get closer to the minimum focusing distance of the lens.
The large aperture also works wonders for portrait work. I really enjoy using this lens for half and a full-body portrait when light is limited. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM isolates the subject extremely well, and then the bokeh generated is superb. It is perfectly smooth, which is helped by the fact that the lens has nine curved aperture blades. Therefore, there will be no jagged polygons and instead perfect circles when you zoom in close. So if you are particularly concerned about the quality of the background blur, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will not fail to deliver.
There are of course some downsides to having such a large aperture. The lens becomes larger and heavier. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM isn't exactly a light-weight prime, though it does balance very well with my Canon EOS 5D MkII. If I were using a much smaller and lighter Rebel, I feel that the resulting setup may become a bit too front-heavy. If you are looking for an absolute feather-weight lens, then you can opt for the all-plastic Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens. I feel that all of the benefits of having a wider-aperture far outweigh the negatives.
*Ultrasonic Motor - The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM utilizes Sigma's Hypersonic Motor (HSM). I had high hopes for HSM, thinking that it would achieve the same speeds as Canon's highest-end ring-USM focusing mechanism. I found that on the contrary, the speed was similar to the micro-USM present on the two higher-end Canon 50's. This is probably due to the fact that the front element does move during focusing. Focusing is silent, where only a whooshing sound can be heard. There is no annoying buzz that you have from certain cheaper lenses. Therefore, you are highly unlikely to annoy any subjects or people around you. I find my focus to be dead-on, where I'm able to get an extremely high hit rate at apertures wider than f2.0 time after time. If you want Canon's better ring-USM focusing mechanism, you will need to look at the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens (this made using the lens that much better on an APS-C body). There are no 50mm lenses that you can purchase for Canon that will provide the lightning fast ring-USM. This lens does have a reputation, like many other Sigma lenses, of having severe back-focusing issues. So I will repeat this again, if you have any issues, please contact Sigma and send the lens in for recalibration.
*77mm Filter Thread - Unlike Canon's L-Series primes that have a 72mm filter thread, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM has a larger front element that comes out to 77mm. This can be good or bad depending on the kind of photographer you are... This is good if you're already using L-Series zooms, because you can share expensive filters such as circular polarizers with other lenses. This is bad if you enjoy using L-Series primes mostly, because then the 77mm thread will be larger than the 72mm on the Canon lenses. Therefore, you won't be able to share polarizers or specialty filters unless you're using a step-up ring. This is also not good if you don't own any lenses with large filter threads because 77mm filters are quite costly. I have a B W UV MRC 010 filter attached to it at all times.
On the bright side, even though the front element changes length during focusing, it does this all within the lens barrel. Therefore, your filter stays in place and doesn't move. As an added bonus, the filter thread will not rotate, making it a pleasure to use circular polarizers.
*Lens Hood - Unlike the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM does come with a lens hood. It shares the same matte finish on the outside, and has a ribbed inside. It is lighter and feels flimsy compared to genuine Canon lens hoods. On the bright side, it is a petal hood which looks that much cooler. Flare does not seem to be an issue with this lens. Of course it is always good to have the hood on to prevent any bits of lens flare, and it also works as added protection for the lens.
*Lens Case - The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM like other EX-Series lenses comes with a nice high-quality carrying case. Pretty cool, huh?
--The Good Stuff-
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM offers superb image quality. After all, the EX-Series of lenses are intended for professional work...
*Color Rendition - The color rendition of the lens is good. I have tried it in JPEG, and it looks quite good. Sigma has a reputation of having a yellow-cast effect with some of its lenses. I have seen this on many lower-end lenses, but this was not an issue with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM. Even if it were an issue, this can be corrected by shooting RAW and changing the color profile. I found that when shooting RAW and using my own color profile, the colors were very similar to that of my L-Series lenses. The contrast was also very good with this lens. Without a doubt, the lens offers vibrant colors and great contrast. Perfect for professional work.
*Sharpness - The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM performs very well at very wide-apertures. The lens is sharp even when used wide-open. However, like any other fast-prime at its widest-aperture, you will be dealing with shallow depth-of-field. Shots taken at the minimum focusing distance will typically be hit or miss. However, when you get it "right," the results are superb. I found that stopping the lens down to f1.8 will offer close to a 100% hit rate in terms of focus accuracy, and thus offering excellent levels of sharpness. It appears that my Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens was a little bit sharper at similar apertures, but then again that lens costs nearly three times as much as the Sigma. I found that even though the lens produces a nice sharp center from the get-go, corners are a bit on the softer side. You do need to stop this lens down considerably to get sharper corners. However, for the purposes of people and event photography, the center of the frame is what really counts. If I were taking landscape photos at wide-apertures (really?), then the corner sharpness would be an issue. Otherwise, the lens does perform much better than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens when used wide-open. The Canon was too soft for my tastes, and this was a deal-breaker. Like the expensive L-Series variant, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM does very well with sharpness at very wide apertures. After all, this is where you intend to use the lens anyhow. What's the point of purchasing such a fast lens to only use it stopped-down?
*Bokeh - The bokeh produced by the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is as good as it can get. The lens has nine rounded diaphragm blades which create buttery smooth perfectly rounded bokeh when stopped down. The quality is comparable to that of the flagship Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM, and noticeably better than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens and the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens. Neither of the cheaper Canon lenses produce perfectly rounded circles under close inspection. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is still very good by the way... But for nit-picky pixel peepers, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will be the best out of the sub-$1,000 50mm lenses, and it will also challenge the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM or any other fast-prime. The subject isolation produced is very good by this lens, thanks to the f1.4 maximum-aperture. Now just combine that with the nearly-perfect bokeh, and you've got yourself amazing looking portraits. The Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM will hold a bit of an advantage due to the half-stop advantage, but the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM looks great, especially for the ridiculously low price.
--The Bad Stuff-
No lens is perfect, and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is no exception. In fact, it does have some issues that may put off some people.
*Chromatic Aberration (CA) - This is the fringing of colors. This is a defect. CA makes images seem softer due to the color fringing. I test for CA by shooting JPEG and then looking very closely in areas to spot it. The CA is very well-controlled by this lens. Without any post-processing, the images look great without any noticeable problems. If there is evidence of CA, it is a problem that can be easily fixed in post-processing. The worst form of chromatic aberration is purple fringing. There is absolutely no evidence in any photos that this exists. In this department, the lens fares quite well.
*Distortion - The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM produces a slight bit of barrel distortion. For many photos though, this is not very noticeable, and should not pose a problem.
*Vignetting - Everything about the lens seemed perfect up until now... Vignetting is light fall-off at the edges of the image. This is apparent when shooting with a wide-aperture. This is the lens' greatest weakness. When shooting wide-open, there was a considerable amount of vignetting. Not entirely a deal-breaker, but noticeable. I have not been able to correct this in DXO Optics Pro since there is no actual module for this lens available. The situation does improve when stopping down, but the problem doesn't entirely go away. Though, it does become less apparent. I found that vignetting was better controlled here than with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens that I tried out. Even though I have not used the lens on an APS-C camera, but feel that this would be less of an issue.
*Lens Flare - This is when you see stray light affecting the quality of your images. This does not appear to be an issue with this lens.
-COMPARED TO OTHER LENSES-
*Versus Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II - The "Nifty Fifty" is a very popular lens among amateurs and beginners. It is very cheap and creates excellent results for the money. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is superior in many respects. The Sigma has better image quality, superior bokeh, ultrasonic focusing with full-time manual focus, and significantly better build quality. The Sigma is also far more expensive. For those getting into photography, the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens is a great lens to learn from. But if you're more serious about it or are looking at doing professional work, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will offer you more favorable results.
*Versus Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM - The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is a highly-acclaimed lens, and is in the camera bags of many professionals. I did enjoy trying it out, but felt that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM was far better for my purposes. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM provides considerably better wide-open sharpness, better bokeh, and better build quality. I saw that corner sharpness was a bit better than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens, but this should not make a difference for the type of work that I'm doing. Vignetting was better controlled with the Sigma lens, thanks to its larger front element. The focus speeds of both lenses were similar, and despite lacking ring-USM, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens provides full-time manual focus like the Sigma. I find the build quality of the Sigma lens to be better. Yes there are some that don't like the Sigma EX-Series finish, but I do like it. I also like that the barrel doesn't change length when focusing. This is all done within the barrel, and is protected by the UV filter. Even though the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is plastic, it's still a solid lens. Overall, while both lenses are good, I feel that the Sigma out-does it in many important areas.
*Versus Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM - The Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM is Canon's flagship 50mm lens. It offers a half stop advantage compared to the Sigma, allowing for the entry of 50% more light! This is quite significant if you are into low-light photography. This should also allow you to isolate subjects better when doing portrait work. Even though I have not used this lens, I have researched it considerably on the internet, since I was considering purchasing one in the first place. Many reviews do not seem favorable. There are reported issues of focus shift, and the lens is simply not as sharp as people had hoped it to be. At the-digital-picture.com, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM attained similar sharpness results at comparable apertures. This says a lot about the Sigma. With its excellent sharpness, colors, contrast, and great build quality, it can compete hands down with the more expensive big boys like the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. While only slightly softer than the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens, the Sigma still produces results that are very similar. Therefore, I would not hesitate in recommending the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM over the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. It can do everything that the L-Series lens can do, except that it has a smaller aperture (though of course that can be the big deal-breaker). Aside from the aperture, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is sharp, produces buttery smooth bokeh, has excellent colors and contrast, and solid build.
*Versus 50mm Macro Lenses - Macro lenses are used for an entirely different purpose. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM has a minimum focus distance of 1.5ft. Pretty good for portraits, but not so good for macro work. Therefore, this is not a macro lens. If you're looking at macro photography, I would skip this lens. If you're looking at doing portraits and other wide-aperture work, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM will be your best bet.
*Versus Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM - The Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens was a fantastic lens on my APS-C camera. It gave a different field of view. I feel that 50mm is a bit too long on an APS-C camera, and would therefore recommend the wider lenses instead. Comparing apples and oranges, I loved the Canon EF 35mm F1.4L USM Lens on my Digital Rebel XTi. It was a little bit sharper than the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM on my Canon EOS 5D MkII. It also has ring-USM which makes focusing better. But that was on an APS-C sensor, and 35mm is too wide on a full-frame as a general walkaround lens. So in regards to general walkaround lenses, you can not compare the two! You can also check out the Sigma 30mm f1.4 EX DC HSM lens which I've heard good things about, if you own an APS-C camera.
The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is quite a shocker. It's a third party lens that was priced higher than its (technically) closest competition. That was a very bold move by Sigma. Sure some people may think that it's totally crazy... But when you really look into the lens and use it extensively, you find that it's not only better than the competition, but it also gives Canon's flagship 50mm lens a run for its money.
What do you get with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM? You get a solidly built lens with ultrasonic focusing technology. Alright, so it looks good on the outside. Now what's next? When you take a look at the optics, you see that the Sigma has an aspherical lens element which you will find in the far more expensive Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM. It also has nine rounded diaphragm blades which create stunning bokeh, that is noticeably better than the cheaper Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens and Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II Lens. The sharpness wide-open in the center is superb, and it is better than either of these two Canons. It is also supposed to show similar sharpness compared to the Canon EF 50mm F1.2L USM lens.
The main drawback to this lens was the vignetting. Though, it was better controlled than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens anyhow. Also, many users complain of severe back-focusing issues. Yes, this can be a problem. If this occurs, send the lens back to Sigma for recalibration.
With everything aside, you get a stunning overall package with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM. Yes, at first I was skeptical about the higher price tag than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. But when I tested the lens, not only did it meet my expectation, but it also surpassed them so much that I never opted to purchase the significantly more expensive L-Series lens. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is by all means cut out for professional work. It will deliver high quality results time after time. Some of my best photos have been taking with this lens, and I am excited to see what the future holds. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM is really something else...
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