Sigma wasn’t bluffing: 50mm f/1.4 Art appears to match Otus on sharpness, beats it on contrast
posted Friday, February 28, 2014 at 1:54 PM EST
One of the most eagerly awaited lenses in recent memory is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens, the upcoming new entry into Sigma's well received Art line. While we don't know how much it'll go for yet, Sigma has made no secret of the fact that they're going after the big boys—like the $4,000 Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4. And you know what? It looks like they just might be able to pull it off.
Chinese site Xitek has published the first test results that we've seen with the new Sigma (though the site is struggling under the international attention—but you can still see it through Google Cache). They pitted the Sigma against the Zeiss Otus, as well as a Nikon 58mm f/1.4 G, and the Sony Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM. And while these images and figures they've posted are by no means the last word, they do show a lens that's giving the Zeiss a run for its money.
From the looks of these images, the Sigma handily beats Nikon and Sony and appears to be on par with the Zeiss. The story is deeper than that, though. While the Otus appears to render slightly more detail in the smallest numbers, you'll note that the size of the subject areas are not equivalent: at 100%, the Otus appears to occupy roughly 30% more horizontal space, suggesting the Otus was shot on a higher-resolution platform. So sharpness is tough to judge, but it's a very similar matchup.
Something we were told by Sigma president Kazuto Yamaki cued us to take a closer look, though. In discussing lens-design tradeoffs with IR founder Dave Etchells, Mr. Yamaki said they chose to make a very small compromise on sharpness in order to deliver significantly better local contrast. And guess what? The 50mm f/1.4 Art indeed exhibits fantastic local contrast, and if there's any tradeoff in sharpness, it is indeed very slight. (Especially considering the higher resolution of the camera used with the Otus.) Overall, the Otus rendition is just muddier. Looking at the initial results in this test, Sigma seems to have made the right call: even if the lenses were the same price, we'd probably choose the Sigma for our own camera bag.
But if this lens is priced closer to the 35mm Art? It's going to be on everyone's wish list for the foreseeable future. This new Sigma looks so good (at least in these images), that we wouldn't be surprised to see Zeiss halve the price of the Otus to compete.
Before you sell your Otus, it's worth noting that we know almost nothing about the test conditions used to take the photos. We have no idea what -- if any -- post-processing was done to the images. And the lenses were obviously mounted on different cameras. Judging by the file sizes, our guess is that the Sigma test shot was taken on a Mark III, the Sony with an A99 and the Nikon and Otus on a D800 or D800E. But before you sell every 50mm you own to buy the Art, you should probably wait till we get the lens in-house and run our exhaustive, objective tests.