35mm Vs 50mm Comparison Essay

While initially testing the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens for our in-depth review, we only had access to the Canon version of the lens (since it came out first), so we could not provide comparison results to other similar focal length Nikon prime lenses. Thanks to our friends at B&H Photo Video, we recently received two copies of the lens for the Nikon F mount to finally complete the review. We also obtained the older version of the lens, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, along with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lenses for comparisons. Unfortunately, the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 we tested was not available at the time and we could not include it in the below bokeh comparisons, although our usual sharpness tests were carried out and those are included in this article.

Before we talk about bokeh characteristics of the above-mentioned lenses, let’s first take a look at the sharpness performance. As usual, we used Imatest software to measure the resolving power of lenses.

1) Imatest Score System Overhaul

While looking at the below Imatest results, you might notice that the scores have decreased from our normal range. This is due to the fact that we have decided to change our lens testing methods for more accuracy and consistency of results. Previously, we relied on Adobe Camera RAW engine to process images, thinking that it was a more realistic approach, as many photographers heavily use Adobe software like Photoshop and Lightroom for post-processing images. However, our experience with the Adobe’s RAW processing engine has shown that Adobe can be quite unreliable and inconsistent when it comes to processing RAW files, particularly when dealing with different manufacturers. Silent application of lens corrections and bad handling of Fuji RAW files were the reason why we’ve decided to permanently switch to DCRaw software for demosaicing RAW files. The results have been much more consistent and accurate.

In addition, we want our readers to be able to compare our Imatest scores to other review sites on the Internet that also utilize Imatest software and the same cameras (for Nikon lens tests, we use Nikon D800E / D810 DSLRs, for the Sony E mount we use NEX-7 / A6000, for the Sony FE mount we use Sony A7R and for the Fuji X mount we use X-E2 / X-T1 cameras). We will provide instructions on how to do that in a separate article, where we will also shed some light on our lens testing procedures.

Since we have tested many lenses so far, we ask our readers to be patient while we transition all the reviews to the new format. In addition, we are also updating each review, so that the provided image samples are of high resolution (minimum 2048 pixels on the long edge) for newer high resolution monitors, tablets and other hand-held devices.

Let’s take a close look at how the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art performs in terms of sharpness and bokeh and compare it to other fast f/1.4 lenses in the similar focal length range.

2) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

How different is the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art compared to the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4 version? Let’s take a quick look at the performance benchmarks:

Looking at the above charts, it is immediately clear that the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM simply does not stand a chance against the new 50mm f/1.4 Art. The older version is much worse at the maximum aperture and does not have near as good of sharpness when stopped down. This is expected, since the optical formula is very different between these lenses.

3) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

What about the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens? Let’s compare the two:

Although the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G starts out better than the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, its performance is nowhere close to what the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is capable of, even stopped down to f/8.0.

4) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4

Here is how the amazing Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 compares to the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art:

Interestingly, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art was actually a bit sharper than the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 at wide apertures in the center. However, take a close look at the mid-frame and corner performance of the Zeiss and you will quickly realize that the Zeiss Otus has very impressive sharpness across the frame at maximum aperture, which is something you would rarely see on prime lenses. And when stopped down to f/5.6, the Zeiss Otus reached the most impressive score of 3209, which is a record-breaking result in our lens testing experience. In fact, no other lens has been able to even get to the 3100 mark! As both lenses are stopped down beyond f/4, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art takes over in the mid-frame and the corners, giving more even performance across the frame than the Zeiss Otus.

Don’t let the above chart fool you though – there is much more to the Zeiss Otus than what you see here. The two Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lenses we’ve tested did not reveal consistent results. Although we always use the best scores a lens can produce, the first sample of the Sigma Art produced inferior results, by up to 12%. This shows that your mileage with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 could vary due to inferior QA / sample variation, something you cannot say about the Zeiss Otus, which goes through much more rigorous testing and QA. In addition, the Otus produces stunning colors that the Sigma cannot match – German glass is neutral in color and is much more natural in comparison to Japanese glass. There is a reason why exotic lenses are so much more expensive…

5) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art vs Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

Lastly, let’s take a look at how the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art fares against the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G:

As we have pointed out in our Nikon 58mm f/1.4G review, the lens is not about sharpness and the above chart reflects that. Not only is the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G noticeably softer wide open, it also has quite poor mid-frame and corner performance due to its wavy / sombrero field curvature. Its corner performance stays poor even when stopped down. Clearly, if you are looking for ultimate sharpness, you should skip the 58mm f/1.4G…

6) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Bokeh Comparison

The bokeh rendering capability of the lens is quite pleasing for a 50mm prime. Highlight shapes do show defined transitions, but they do not look distracting as on some lenses. The dreaded onion-shaped bokeh that I showed on the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art is barely visible when photographing extremely bright points of light. Below are two comparisons that illustrate bokeh rendering capabilities of the following lenses: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G. Here is the first comparison that shows bright highlights:

Based on my subjective opinion and preference, I would rank the above lenses in bokeh performance in the following order, from best to last: Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G clearly shows the least defined borders and very smooth transitions everywhere, so it is my #1 choice here.

What about background transitions? Let’s take a look at another example:

Once again, the smoothest of the bunch is the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, followed by the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4, then the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G.

Looks like the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4 has a superior bokeh construction, although its sharpness is nowhere as good as the new 50mm f/1.4 Art.

7) Summary

Based on the above sharpness comparisons, it is clear that the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is a superb choice when compared to the competition. The lens heavily outperforms its predecessor, both Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and 58mm f/1.4G lenses and shows very impressive results when compared to the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, which is over 4 times more expensive. Although the Zeiss Otus outperforms the Sigma stopped down, the latter actually looks very similar in the center at wide apertures. The Sigma also improves significantly across the image frame when stopped down, showing superb corner performance at f/4 and smaller. The only area where the Sigma Art shows inferior results is in its bokeh performance – the older Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM seems better in this regard, thanks to smoother rendering of highlights and other out of focus regions.

Congrats to Sigma for creating yet another winner. I hope Sigma will continue to impress us with more superb lenses like this in the future. The rumored Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art might have a tough time competing with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and 85mm f/1.8G lenses, as they are already amazing…

The above information was incorporated into our Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art review

So, my poor little 35mm lens was looking a little despondent after I had finished extolling the virtues of my 50mm. The 35mm just sat on the shelf looking at me, forlorn and with a glint of sorrow in its glass. Had I forgotten how much I liked using it? Did I not have dozens of favourite images from around the world taken with it? Indeed I did, and thus I took it upon myself to ensure due credit was given to this gem. Well, that plus another request from a reader to talk about using it.

Most of the images I have taken with it have been on APS-C sized sensors, which give an equivalent field of view of approximately 52mm. Again, this is more about my impressions from using the lens and an encouragement to others to use it too. The 35mm and the 50mm have pretty much been the only primes I have used on my DSLRs. There are now a few 35mms available for the Nikon mount (both DX and FX), but years ago I chose the 35mm F/2 AF-D for its future compatibility with full frame sensors, and also for its very fast and close focusing abilities. All the images here were taken with the Nikkor 35mm F/2 AF-D on APS-C sensors.

As I said in my article on the 50mm, I haven’t used my DSLR gear much in the last year, but prior to that I had enjoyed shooting with my 35mm on countless occasions. As much as I like the 50mm, the 35mm was often my go-to prime for most of my photography.

One of the main reasons I like the 35mm, aside from all the versatility it has in common with the 50mm, is that on APS-C sensors the field of view seems just right to me for so many scenes. I realise many people will say that this is because it offers a similar field of view to normal human vision (52mm equivalent), but photographers have preferences for a variety of focal lengths, from wide to telephoto; 35mm on APS-C worked for me.

Like the 50mm, it’s a light and compact lens. But with a shorter field of view on APS-C than the 50mm it is more effective at placing the subject in its environment. It also means I didn’t have to step so far back to capture a scene.

The 35mm AF-D is pretty sharp wide open at F/2 and has some decent bokeh when close enough to the subject.

It was a favourite of mine for shooting long exposures at night, as the narrow aperture gave me some appealing star effects from light sources (you’ll notice many of the images here are night/dusk scenes).

When embarking on photo challenges, I would often use this prime for all my shots, especially shooting in the street. It is quite liberating not to be encumbered by a bag of different lenses nor inhibited by anxiety about choosing the right focal length. Compositional skill can only benefit in this way, and when out shooting I would often feel glad for myself witnessing other photographers with a huge backpack full of enormous lenses and a cumbersome tripod. Just a 35mm lens was enough to get me into the scene and capture its essence.

35mm is a great choice for candid street photography, and although I haven’t used it much for that purpose, I have tried to capture scenic street views.

As good as the 50mm is on APS-C for portraits, the 35mm holds its own too, and I didn’t have to stand (or sit) so far back from my subject to take the shot. I could also place the subject in more of their surroundings.

 

Finally, the fast aperture let me capture scenes at night hand-held when using a tripod was neither allowed nor practical.

Well, my guilt over momentarily neglecting my dear old 35mm has been somewhat purged. Even more so if my images can demonstrate not only the merit of this focal length but also that you really don’t need much gear to return some decent images. Using just one focal length, either as a prime lens or fixed on a camera, can be both liberating and rewarding. And at the risk of reinforcing a point I have made before (but is worth repeating), it will inevitably improve your photography. Thank you.

(This last photo was taken by my friend Petar – alas I can’t shoot a camera and shoot pool simultaneously.) 

 

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