20mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art: Hands-On Sneak Peek with Image Samples

The Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art is the world’s first full-frame 20mm F1.4 ultra-wide angle lens. It is also the first lens in the Art category to sport an integrated petal-type lens hood to protect its bulbous front element, designed to take in a sweeping 94.5º angle of coverage.

This lens replaces the earlier 20mm F1.8 EX lens, introduced well over a decade ago; and is designed for outstanding edge to edge performance, even on today’s super-resolution DSLRs.

Here’s a really challenging shot for a lens. We are at closest focus distance on an outside focus point, stopped down to F11 for both increased depth of field and the starburst effect of shooting directly into the sun. I and the lens were lying on the leaf-littered path to make this shot. 1/20 F100 ISO 100 on a Canon 6D.
And here is a variation of the same, shot wide open at F1.4. Notice how much more abstract the background is, and the super-thin slice of focus on the leaves near the bottom edge of the frame.

Of course, as a Sigma lens in the Art line of the Sigma Global Vision, each lens is individually tested on the exclusive A1 MTF testing device to ensure the optical performance before shipping from our Aizu, Japan factory.

We are near closest focus on this bridge bolt on a Trellis Bridge that once carried trains, but now carries foot traffic. We stopped down to F/9 to keep the full bolt head sharp. 1/60 F9 ISO 100.
Here we are focused at the very middle of the frame, at F10, for virtually limitless depth of field. 1/15 F10 ISO 100.

The lens is unabashedly big, weighing in at 33.5 ounces. Art lenses are designed first and foremost to exhibit exceptional imaging characteristics for its focal length; and the new optical configuration is a serious upgrade from its lighter, smaller F1.8 predecessor.

My beat up old Ray-Bans sit on a bistro table, a few inches from the front of the lens, with the buildings flanking either side of a pedestrian mall, rendered soft and abstract at F1.6. 1/4000 F1.6 ISO 200.
Stopping down to F8 and focusing slightly farther away keeps the full burst of mums in sharp focus, with a less defocused view of the buildings on the pedestrian mall. 1/600 F/8 ISO 200.

At widest apertures, close focusing to just over 10 inches from the focal plane, or just mere inches from the front element offers the ability to isolate a subject from the background to render the background very abstract and lovely, thanks to nine rounded aperture blades. Stopping down and focusing a bit farther afield yields excellent edge to edge sharpness from near to far.

We’re focused across the street, on the graffiti cars, at F4 in this shot in Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. There’s excellent edge to edge and near to far sharpness! 1/640 F4 ISO 125.
Buildings offer skewed reflections off the Javits Center last week during PhotoPlus Expo. I cropped this shot to a more panoramic aspect ratio because I loved the reflections, but the bottom third of the frame was just empty parking lot. 1/160 F/4 ISO 125.

I’ve been lucky enough to have spent over a week with one of the very first samples to arrive in the US, an early production sample that’s running beta firmware. You can view the full tech specs and performance data here.  This lens is super-sharp on the focal plane, even at widest apertures—in other words, it is an Art lens!

A horse in the foreground, Empire State Building just visible in the background. 1/160 F4 ISO 125. I personally like how this horse so casually interrupts the one-point perspective converging lines of the sidewalk.
I wedged my camera and lens out the tiny opening of my hotel window to capture this view of the sunset over the Hudson River in twilight/blue hour. 1/1000 F3.5 ISO 800.
A vertical variation of the above, toned in a slightly more subdued palette. I am on the fence as to which tonal variation I prefer. The people on the deck are directly across the street from my 27th floor hotel room. 1/640 F3.5 ISO 800.

Outdoors, autofocus is swift and responsive, and, even using the outermost focusing points on a Canon EOS 6D, in typical interior household lighting, it is just as swift to achieve and lock focus on a good contrast target.

Hotel Room 2717 at the Courtyard Marriott Times Square West offers a fantastic view of the Empire State Building. I squeezed the camera and lens out the tiny window opening, braced it against the window frame, and fired several variations on this shot showing the street, the buildings, and the moon. I had a camera strap around my neck as well, just in case! 1/2000 F3.5 ISO 2000.
A variation using the window of the hotel building as a mirror of the scene. 1/1000 F3.5 ISO 1000.

Tonal adjustments for my personal visual aesthetic were made in Adobe Camera Raw 9, but no lens corrections have been applied, because this lens is too new to have an ACR/LR profile!

Handcrafted Christmas Ornaments on display at an artisinal market. 1/2500 F1.8 ISO 200.
Here we are shooting this jewelry display frame parallel to the sensor plane, from just a foot or so above the display. The close focusing and wide field of view is great for documentary work. 1/800 F5.6 ISO 200.
Now here is the same jewelry frame, and a much more oblique angle. Notice how the ultra-wide field of view can really emphasize objects in the frame that are very close to the camera. 1/800 F5.6 ISO 200 focused on the center row of earrings.

Landscape, astrophotographers, photojournalists and architectural specialists, in particular, are going to appreciate everything the 20mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art has to offer. This is an incredibly sharp, fast-aperture ultra-wide prime lens designed and tested on, and for, super-resolution DSLRs.

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