Lens Comparison: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 “Art” vs. Canon 35mm f/1.4L

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 vs Canon 35mm f/1.4

Over the years, Sigma has produced some nice lenses, but also some dogs, and their prices and external appearances are not always the best indicators of their performance.  Sigma’s new 35mm f/1.4 “Art” series lens is a beautiful looking lens, and with a price tag $400 less than the Canon equivalent, it is a tempting offering, so I got a copy from BorrowLenses.com and put it through its paces.

The results were a little surprising, even though I had heard good things about it.

If you saw my first lens comparison video (between the Canon and Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 lenses), you may have still been left a little unsure about which was the best option for you in the end; the Canon offered better image quality, but the Tamron wasn’t much worse, had image-stabilization, and was a lot less expensive. That’s still a tricky choice.

Sigma made things easier in this case. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is clearly the better lens, according to my tests.

The results from the video can be summarized pretty easily:

  • The Sigma is sharper and provides higher resolution, especially away from the center of the image at f/1.4 – f/2.8
  • The Canon produces surprisingly strong chromatic aberration (magenta fringing), even at apertures as small as f/8
  • The Canon suffers from heavy vignetting, and modest vignetting is a factor even at f/5.6, while the Sigma shows no significant vignetting until f/2.8 (and none worth worrying about until f/2)
  • The Sigma produces smoother bokeh, while the Canon’s is slightly more contrasty.
  • Neither lens offers significantly better AF performance, though in my tests, the Sigma was a little more reliable.

Considering that the Sigma costs $400 less, feels better in the hand, and is constructed of metal rather than plastic, I can only conclude that the Sigma is the better lens and the better buy.

RAW Image Examples

Download RAW files from Seattle Watefront(Waterfront Examples: 12 RAW Files, 360MB)

Skateboarding Pictures

I’ve had a couple of questions about the settings that I used for the skateboarding pictures. They were generally shot at f/2 between 1/1000th and 1/5000th of a second at ISO 100 or ISO 400. The important part, though, was that the shots against the sky had +2 stops of exposure compensation so that I didn’t lose all of the subjects in shadow (at the expense of losing some highlight detail). Since they were shot as RAW, I could then pull some of the highlight detail out in post processing. Here’s an example:

Looking at the finished image now, I’d probably tone down the processing a bit… maybe lighten it up overall. But you should be able to see why I was able to hold the shadow detail.

Want to Help?

If you’ve found this review helpful and are about to purchase or rent a lens, please consider following one of our links to Amazon.com or BorrowLenses.com so that we can continue to make more reviews like this in the future.  Or, purchase your lens from B&H Photo! Thanks!

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    • :-) Do keep in mind that this video was made before the release of the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II, which is better than the old one… though I haven’t compared them myself. The Sigma is an awesome lens, though.

  • Matthew, Thank you very much for these fantastic real-world lens tests. Everything you are testing is important to me: image quality at all apertures (detail, sharpness, contrast, color, fringing, bokeh) and at all points in the frame INCLUDING the very corners! Thanks!
    I earn my living from my lenses and your tests are very helpful.
    Good substance and very nicely presented!

    • Hey Dave,
      Glad you’re finding this stuff useful. This is the stuff that I’ve always wanted to know about lenses before I buy them, and it’s been hard tracking down good info… so I hope this helps you as much as it would have helped me!
      – Matthew

  • I saw online very different reviews and i totally agree with yours!
    I had the Canon 35 1.4 for 2 years and was happy with that. But i had a LOT of purple fringing and often af missed out.
    I used the Sigma now for 2 weddings and i loved it ! af is really more accurate than the canon and the sharpness wide open at the border is amazing. I havent seen purple fringing anymore.
    AF seems a little slow in sunny or bright conditions (very strange i know, but i had this impression, though the canon is damn fast in those conditions). Build quality and finish is nice but the canon looks more solid and durable.

  • I was testing the lens today in store on my Canon 5d1 and 6d. The photos were perfectly sharp in both cases. I didn`t buy the lens because photos looked out of focus on my 5d. But now I see it was 5d display screen`s fault and the photos themselves are perfect. So maybe Sigma improved something.

  • I just bought the Sigma, and I am tremendously disappointed. I am a newborn photographer and it cannot seem to grab focus anywhere towards the bottom of the frame. While testing this lens 80% of the images where out of focus. The only images that were in focus where were the ones that I need focus around the center and I was standing 4 – 5 feet away. This lens is going back. :(

    I had the Canon 35L 1.4 and the focus was too soft.

    Looks like I will be sticking with my 50 1.2L unless the tamron or some other brand is just as good as I really want to be able to get closer to my little subjects.

    • Hey Jennifer-
      That’s a problem that I never had with this lens… it really sounds to me as though you got a bad lens… maybe with an element out of alignment. I’d exchange it, definitely, but that’s really not a problem you should be having with this lens. I’d really be curious to see one of your images that didn’t focus correctly to see whether any kind of optical problem is apparent. If you feel like showing me, you can email me: matthew@lightandmatter.org
      – Matthew

      • Hi K,

        Just curious… what kind of focus problems did you have? Speed or accuracy? What camera was it paired with? I haven’t had any problems with the AF (especially compared to the Canon), so I’m always curious where it might be coming in…

        – Matthew

  • Sigma has really improved their quality over the last year or two. I know that two years I wouldn’t even consider buying a Sigma lens again (had one many years ago), but I hear a lot of good feedback about the lens, so they might be worth considering for the next lens purchase. Another thing with Sigma is that they have begun to produce lenses that is unique in the market like the Sigma 18-35 1.8

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