If you are looking for a super-fast, ultra-wide prime for nature, architectural, and event photography, then the Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is for you. Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Built with the same professional durability, usability, and image quality as its predecessors in the Sigma F1.4 Art lens lineup—the 35mm F1.4 Art and 50mm F1.4 Art—as well as that of its newer stablemates, the 24mm F1.4 Art and 85mm F1.4 Art, the 20mm F1.4 is an amazing lens.
Immediately upon unboxing the 20mm, you will likely be impressed by its build quality. Solid, generous (but not too hefty), and beautifully engineered are three things that describe this impressive piece of glass right away, but the real show-stoppers occur during image-making.
As much as previewing a super-bright F1.4 image while shooting is a pleasure, wait until you see the results afterward! Corner to corner sharpness, excellent contrast, and spectacularly accurate color reproduction are the hall marks of this lens.
Here are a few reasons you’ll want the Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens in your bag:
- Built-like-a-tank durability
- Super-sharp, contrasty, color-accurate images
- Ability to shoot at low ISOs and fast shutter speeds in low light
Design & Features
The Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM is one of the new Sigma Global Vision lenses in the Art series. Sigma’s Art lenses are well-known for their innovative optical designs, professional image quality, and built-like-a-tank durability, making them perfect for demanding photographers.
The 20mm is designed for use on full-frame cameras, although it may be mounted to APS-C cameras, where it becomes approximately equivalent to a 30mm F1.4 lens. The 20mm measures 5.1” long and 3.6” wide and it tips the scale at 33.5 oz. It offers f-stops ranging from F1.4 to f/16 and utilizes 9 rounded diaphragm blades. The rounded front element is protected by a built in petal-shaped hood, onto which attaches a smoothly fitting, sturdy lens cap.
The minimum focusing distance of the Sigma 20mm is 10.9”, allowing close-up work at 1:7.1 magnification. Its excellent sharpness, contrast, and color accuracy are the result of 15 state-of-the-art lenses elements in 11 groups. The optics include one FLD glass element, which has performance similar to fluorite glass, and five Special Low Dispersion (SLD) elements. SLD glass corrects for chromatic aberration and curvature at the widest angles. The 20mm F1.4 also contains the latest multi-layer coatings, helping reduce flare and ghosting.
The generous 1.25” textured rubber focusing ring, located between the petal hood and the focusing distance window near the back of the lens, turns 100 degrees. A switch on the left allows for manual focusing.
Autofocus is fast and silent with Sigma’s Hyper-Sonic Motor (HSM), and movement of the elements is internal, so the lens length does not change throughout focusing.
The Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is compatible with the Sigma USB Dock, allowing users to update the lens firmware and adjust various parameter, such as focus. The lens is compatible with Sigma’s mount conversion service. And, as with all other Sigma lenses purchased through a USA dealer, this wide angle workhorse is covered by a four-year warranty.
As much as the build quality exudes confidence, even more so does the image quality—amazing details are rendered by Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM. As you might expect, center quality is outstanding, and so are the extremes. Corners are sharp, right up to the edge. If you weren’t a pixel peeper before, you will be now. In fact, after shooting for a bit with this lens, you may want to keep upgrading to all the newest super-high pixel imagers just to take advantage of all the minute details this optic can resolve.
Beyond the sharpness, images from the Sigma 20mm F1.4 are full of impressive contrast. Add to that accurate color renditions, and you hit the trifecta. Pros will be able to deliver images straight from camera to their clients with confidence.
Handling in the Field
The Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a pleasure to use. This fast-aperture lens, much like the 24-35mm F2 DG HSM Art lens (which I explored here) and the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Art (which I explored here), makes looking through the viewfinder as easy and fun as it was in the days of film: you are presented with an amazingly bright, clear view of your subject, much different than straining to see through today’s diminutive, variable aperture zooms.
The extreme light-gathering ability of the F1.4 aperture not only helps with finding and framing your subject but also makes autofocusing fast. How good is the autofocusing? To test this, I mounted the Sigma 20mm F1.4 onto my Nikon D800E and tried focusing inside an unlit closet in my studio. No problem. How nice it is to be able to focus in such extreme conditions?!
Sigma’s 20mm Art lens is great for two types of landscape shots:
- Grand locations that beg for everything to be taken in.
- Foreground subjects emphasized in their broad contexts.
I have written elsewhere how the most common and perhaps best lens lengths for the plurality of landscapes are in the 24-35mm range, there are many locations require a wider view. That’s where the Sigma 20mm F1.4 comes in. For example, on a recent trip to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, the clouds were looking promising for sunset.
Listening to the advice of a park naturalist and consulting maps, I headed for the west-facing Timber Hollow Overlook along the Skyline Drive. I pulled in just as the sun was approaching the horizon. I quickly realized that I wanted to capture a few flowers in the foreground, the foothills and valley below, and the brilliant clouds above it all, something requiring the 94.5º angle of view offered by the 20mm. I set up low to the ground, included a fair amount of the clouds, and shot when the sun peaked from behind distant clouds. The nine-blade diaphragm and small clouds worked together to produce the dramatic starburst effect seen in the image directly above.
One of my other favorite ways to utilize the 20mm focal length is by photographing a subject close at-hand while showing its broader context in the middle ground and back ground. Fields of flowers work well for this. Mount Desert Island, Maine, in mid-June is bedecked with spectacular fields of lupine. While macro shots of one or several racemes of purple flowers is always a good plan, showing these legumes en masse can create equally compelling images.
To depict a field of lupine near Sommesville, Maine, I positioned the Sigma 20mm F1.4 about 1 foot from several towers of fresh blossoms and low to the ground. Raindrop-covered leaves and a bit of fog sealed the deal. The result (directly above) is an image that emphasizes the purple flowers bursting forth toward the viewer in the foreground, more racemes populating the middle ground, and an expansive view of the larger field occupying the background, slightly enveloped in late-day fog.
One danger of using ultra-wide zooms is the possibility of diminishing background features, such as mountains, due to the ultra-wide field-of-view. To avoid this, include impressive subjects close to the lens to draw viewers’ eyes.. In the image directly below, I captured another stand of lupine near Southwest Harbor, Maine. The strong floral subjects in the foreground and middle ground compensate for the fact that the Acadia National Park mountains in the background do not appear as a large element in the image. Add to this the variety of colors perceived as your eyes move through the scene, which encourages viewers to effectively move through the scene. The mountains set the context, despite their relatively small size in the scene.
The 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is an outstanding tool for architectural photography. With its ultra-fast aperture and low distortion, the 20mm is great for single building or wide skyline shots.
Labor Day weekend, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region throws a party called Riverfest, which concludes Sunday night with one of the Midwest’s largest firework displays. Newport, Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River from the Queen City, provides a great place to watch the fireworks over the river with the Cincinnati skyline as a backdrop.
Arriving early, I captured a sunset view of sunset (above). Using the 20mm allowed me to include the one-third of a mile-long Taylor-Southgate Bridge, the Belle of Cincinnati riverboat, the city skyline and waterfront, and a clear view of river and sky. Even as the day advanced, the 20mm’s F1.4 aperture allowed for easy framing and quick focusing.
The culmination of the weekend is the fabulous fireworks show, which is set off from two bridges and barges anchored in the middle of the Ohio River. While getting good exposures during firework shows is not terrifically difficult, another aspect of image-making during pyrotechnics is often troublesome: focusing. Of course, you can always preset your focus at infinity and gaffer tape your focus ring, but that’s not really necessary if you shoot super-fast lenses like Sigma’s F1.4 Art primes. With the 20mm mounted, throughout the fireworks autofocus was possible.
Of course, architectural photography isn’t always skyline views of large cities. Sometimes hidden away places provide serendipitous photographic opportunities, such as a late-day pic below taken in rural Pennsylvania. Driving home from the shooting waterfalls in the East, my brother and I looked for lodging near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, planning to rise the next day to shoot photogenic Cucumber Falls. We stopped at the Historic Summit Inn Resort just east of Farmington, Pennsylvania. The Summit Inn offers nostalgic comforts. Built in 1917, it is one of the last grand porch hotels in America. Before checking in, we walked onto the massive veranda, drawn forth by the clear, royal blue sky with the setting waxing-crescent moon, hanging delightfully above Farmington, a quarter mile below and a half dozen miles away. I quickly arranged a single rocking chair along the white-railing porch, leveled the Sigma 20mm f/1.4, and began shooting. The result was an inviting view of rocker and veranda at moonset.
If you are shooting nature, architecture, or events, then the super-wide, super-fast Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is just the ticket for you. Its high quality construction, extremely sharp images, and fast glass make it a joy to shoot.
Three reasons to buy the Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens:
- Superb, professional-quality construction
- Super-sharp, contrasty, color-accurate images
- Extreme light gathering ability for low ISOs and fast shutter speeds when shooting in dark environments.