Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
04/26/2019: Gallery Images added
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC + Sony A6000
A terrific portrait combination under $1000
by Dave Pardue | Posted: 04/26/2019
I can't help it... I crave high quality images at budget pricing and budget sizes. Reviewing high-end cameras makes it easy to crave the quality inherent in the higher-end rigs, but my job plus having kids doesn't generally allow me to be able to afford them, so I'm always on the lookout for a new combination at an affordable price.
The same goes for size and weight, because as I've mentioned in my write-ups many times before, I'm generally on the go (as a reviewer and as a dad) and I just don't want too much bulk for my day-to-day shooting. And yet, once again, I still crave the quality. What to do?!? Ah... a Sigma Contemporary lens to the rescue.
1/3200s / f/3.2 / ISO 100
(Images have been resized to fit this page, cropped and/or altered in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights as needed. Clicking any image will take you straight to the full-resolution image. For unedited versions, additional images and EXIF data please see our Sigma 56mm f/1.4 Gallery page.)
In 2018, we decided to answer the question "What is the Best Portrait Setup Under $1000?" for our esteemed readers and also for ourselves. We came away feeling like one combination edged-out the rest for overall quality (Nikon D3400 + 85mm f/1.8 lens) and yet, in our comparison shooting, we found a combination from pretty much all of the major manufacturers in this price range that would "fit the bill" so to speak. And those combinations included the pairing of the Sony A6000 with the FE 85mm f/1.8 lens.
Each lens used in that shootout were either f/1.8 or f/2 lenses at their brightest, and that's due to the obvious budget price constraint. And yet the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 recently released for Sony E-mount (MFT and EF-M too) changes that equation, because this is one of the few modern mirrorless lenses with AF to come in at f/1.4 and yet remain at a retail price of less than $500. In similar fashion, the Sony A6000 had long since fallen to a popular street price of less than $500 as well, making this camera-lens combination oh-so-intriguing!
I had the privilege of shooting the Sony A6000 several years ago for an article showcasing portraits with that camera, as well as one pairing it with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 lens, and found it to generally excel as a portrait camera. But this was when paired with more expensive glass, as there was certainly nothing at that time in the budget portrait range that was anywhere near as bright as f/1.4! It was therefore a no-brainer to try this combination and see if it could stand up to those pricier pairings in terms of both sharpness and overall bokeh quality.
OK, so it can separate the subject from the background quite well, and deliver fairly tasty bokeh to boot. But is it sharp wide open? Let's take a closer look at sharpness below with the lens shooting at f/1.4, and also while stopping down a bit for brighter conditions.
Without yet having the luxury of lab charts to analyze, it's nevertheless clear that this inexpensive lens still excels in both sharpness and also quality bokeh potential, even when stopped down a bit. We'll have you a more detailed explanation of variables like chromatic aberration and vignetting once our lab tests have been analyzed, but these real world images are thus far painting a solid picture of overall good performance for image quality.
1/4000s / f/2.5 / ISO 160
Birds: Attempting to channel my inner Hitchcock on this one, with the juxtaposition of a dark bird and a gray sky. I suppose black and white would yield better results for the intrigue-factor, though.
As many of you know but which bears repeating here, the E-mount version of the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 lens represents a 35mm field of view equivalence of 84mm. This is roughly considered to be "classic portrait range," although some prefer even longer focal lengths for portrait work. Interestingly, the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC is also available in a Micro Four Thirds mount version, and when mounted to an MFT body your 35mm equivalent focal length will be 112mm, which should prove to be quite an intriguing FL for portrait work once we're able to try one out.
This lens has weather resistance built in as well! We've not yet been provided an MFT-mount sample but certainly hope to get one in at some point, as there are plenty of MFT bodies that could benefit from such a bright-yet-weather-resistant portrait lens on a budget. (Hmm... the hopefully-soon-to-be-announced E-M5 Mark III could be a logical candidate indeed, assuming it is weather-resistant like its predecessors. Stay tuned!)
1/320s / f/4 / ISO 100
Of course, it's also fun to use a lens like this to get "portraits" of landscapes, and this combination is more than equipped to excel in that area. And for a bright portrait lens, the 56mm f/1.4 is quite light on its feet, tipping the scales at just 9.9oz (280g). This is yet another example of how the smaller size and weight come to your aid, for instance in family vacation scenarios, as I certainly didn't want to lug a heavy portrait rig around on a recent (and rare!) trip to the coast.
1/320s / f/5 / ISO 100
I often come across people looking to upgrade from their smartphone limitations and asking for my recommendations on what to purchase in the camera world. However, it's a bit tricky because most people these days don't want to invest a lot of money if they're just getting started. And yet they obviously want better quality than what a smartphone can provide. A combination like this one is a no-brainer to make the short-list, especially if they mention the magic word "portraits," which they often do.
In addition, the size and weight of this combination won't likely be a shocker to anymore moving up from smartphones or point-and-shoots either, weighing in at only a combined 22.4oz (746g). And the weather sealing of the lens is a big bonus, even though the A6000 is not, as you can always "trade-up" to a weather-resistant body, such as the A6500, down the road. So if you need a good rig to have on hand for images above and beyond what your smartphone can accomplish, or even if you're just out strolling the beach, this is a rig I can wholeheartedly recommend.
As for whether or not it's the absolute best combination for portraits under $1000, and without entering it into a direct competition like we did last year, it's not so easy to say empirically. However, if you need that extra push over the brightness cliff for low-light situations without breaking your bank account nor your biceps, the image potential from this combination thus far suggests that this little rig is one heck of a good way to get there on a budget.
1/500s / f/5 / ISO 400
(PS: There's an excellent sale going on now for Sigma's trio of f/1.4 DC lenses! Don't forget to use our affiliate links which get you the same low price and help us continue to bring you valuable and unbiased review content!)
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(From Sigma lens literature)
Third addition to the F1.4 Series following the 30mm and 16mm lenses
The first of the series is the standard lens 30mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary, and the second is the wide-angle lens 16mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary. The third addition is this smallest mid-tele lens in its class*, 56mm F1.4 DC DN | Contemporary. While retaining the compact, lightweight, and outstanding image quality concepts of the Contemporary line, thanks to SIGMA's leading-edge technology, this lens provides the amount of bokeh and admirable brightness expected from F1.4 lenses even in the mid-tele range. This addition completes the large aperture series comprised of portable wide-angle, standard, and telephoto lenses.* The smallest in its class among F1.4 mid-tele lenses for APS-C mirrorless cameras
1. Impressively compact construction with image quality rivaling SIGMA's Art line
To achieve such a compact construction, lens design is considered based on the capabilities of the camera body function to correct peripheral light amount and distortion. Moreover, axial color aberration, which is difficult to eliminate by image processing, is efficiently corrected by incorporating an SLD glass element. A compactness and lightweight construction combined with superb image quality is achieved.
2. The only three F1.4 AF lens system for APS-C Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras
The lens benefits from an open aperture of F1.4 to achieve sufficient amount of bokeh and admirable brightness even with APS-C size cameras which tend to have smaller bokeh effects compared to 35mm full size systems. Its compact and lightweight body is perfect for daily use, capable of capturing various scenes ranging from portraits to snapshots, as well as night view.
3. Smooth AF ideal for video shooting
The combination of optical design for video AF and use of the stepping motor enables smooth and quiet autofocus. This lens is also compatible with the Sony E-mount Fast Hybrid AF, achieving precise AF tracking. By using the face recognition or eye AF functions of cameras, focus will continuously be on the face or the eye even if the subject moves during the shoot.
Mount with dust- and splash-proof design with rubber sealing
Available Mount Conversion Service
Designed to minimize flare and ghosting
Evaluation with SIGMA's own MTF measuring system: A1
9-blade rounded diaphragm
High-precision, rugged brass bayonet mount
"Made in Japan" craftsmanship
Accessories: Case, Petal Type Hood with lock (LH582-01)
Available AF mounts: Canon EF-M, Micro Four Thirds, Sony E-mount
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
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