Sigma has set the bar even higher, this time upping the wide angle ante with the world’s first 14mm f/1.8 prime lens. Rugged, fast, and sharp, the new Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens exudes pro quality.
With its super-wide field of view—a whopping 114 degrees diagonally— the Sigma 14mm F1.8 is for shooters who need to capture wide open spaces, from interiors of buildings to pictures of the heavens.
Important to know is that the 14mm’s class-leading f/1.8 aperture is not just an optical engineer’s parlor trick. This innovative lens creates stunning images, sharp, contrasty, and color-accurate.
In a time when small-aperture lenses predominate the market, it is refreshing to pick up a lens that not only provides a bright view but also allows shooters to under low light conditions at reasonable shutter speeds and at relatively low ISOs.
Whether you shoot architecture, landscapes, events, or other subjects requiring super-wide coverage and fast glass, the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art would make a great addition to your bag.
Design & Features
The Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art is one of the most recent additions to the lineup of Sigma Global Vision (SGV) optics. The 14mm fits in well with the already-legendary Art series of lenses. Sigma’s Art (“A”) lenses are known world-wide for their innovative optical formulas and pro-grade construction. They have set the bar for durable construction, incredible sharpness, and thoughtful designs.
The 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is built around 16 lens elements arranged in 11 groups. It is comprised of four Special Low Dispersion (SLD) lenses three “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) lenses. FLD optics have performance equal to those made from fluorite glass. The SLD and FLD lenses help control chromatic aberration and flare. The 14mm glass is treated with Super Multi-Layer Coatings.
The Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is designed for use on full-frame cameras. For APS-C shooters, it becomes equivalent to a 21mm f/1.8 lens.
Measuring 3.8” in diameter and 5” long, the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art is medium-size lens. A petal-shaped hood is built into the lens, helping protect the bulbous front lens element. Total weight is 49.5 ounces.
Construction of the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens includes metal and Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) materials. TSC reduces weight and resists expansion with changes in temperature. The back sports a brass mount and a rubber ring that seals the lens against the camera body.
The diaphragm of the Sigma 14mm consists of 9 blades. Rounded blades help to create pleasing out of focus highlights. The left side of the lens barrel sports one switch, which allows photographers to select Autofocus (AF) or Manual Focus (MF).
The minimum focusing distance for the Sigma 14mm F1.8 Art lens is 10.6 inches. This produces a maximum magnification ratio of 1:9.8.
In AF mode, the Sigma 14mm utilizes Sigma’s updated Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for accurate autofocus. In MF mode, focus is adjusted by turning the ¾” rubber ring through 150° of rotation. Manual focus is smooth and well-damped.
All Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lenses are hand-crafted in Sigma’s single factory in Aizu, Japan. Each one is individually inspected before shipping. The 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is covered by a four-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Handling in the Field
The Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens is a pleasure to use, both when shooting and as you review your results. It’s quite ergonomic and darn sharp!
One of the issues with many wide angle lenses is small apertures and dim views. That’s certainly not the case with the Sigma 14mm F1.8. With its amazingly wide maximum aperture, the 14mm provides for bright framing, even in low light situations. This makes line up shots and focusing a piece of cake.
Keep in mind that this is not Sigma’s first foray into ground-breaking super-fast primes and zooms. The 14mm finds joins an impressive team of other Art lens gems, such as the 20mm F1.4 DG HSM, 24mm F1.4 DG HSM, 35mm F1.4, 50mm F1.4 DG HSM, the 85mm F1.4 DG HSM, the 135mm F1.8 DG HSM, as well as zooms such as the 12-24mm F4 DG HSM, 24-70mm F2.8 ODG OS HSM, 24-35mm F2 DG HSM, 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM, and the 50-100mm F1.8 DC HSM.
The 14mm F1.8 finds its closest sibling in the Sigma 12-24mm Art, with both of them sharing the same large aspherical element, an innovative piece of glass that controls distortion.
When you first pick up the 14mm F1.8, you’ll notice its rugged construction. The metal and TSC construction creates a lens that itself is enjoyable to hold and beautiful to behold. The ample petal-shaped hood is robust, inspiring confidence in protecting the crystal ball-like front lens element. A full front lens cap slides on smoothly and snugly over the petal-shaped hood, providing protection to the gorgeous front optic.
Mounted to a full-frame body, the weight distribution is well-balanced. Hand-holding is quite easy.
Autofocus is quick, even in low light. Pointing the 14mm into a dark closet in my studio, I was able to focus to EV 0.33. That’s an exposure of 2.5 seconds at f/1.8 and ISO 100. Even with the bright f/1.8 aperture, there’s no way I could manually focusing in such low light.
While I wrote elsewhere of the benefits of using the Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art for architecture (I’ve written about it here), the Sigma 14mm F1.8 expands your view another 20 degrees. For tight interior spaces or wide city views, this can be a real boon.
During a recent trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, I visited the Taft Museum of Art. The former home of President William Howard Taft, the museum now preserves the estate and displays a wide array of world-class artwork. The rooms of the mansion are packed with art, and the 14mm F1.8 provided plenty of coverage to show how extensive and beautiful the Taft collection is.
A room just off the foyer displays paintings and ceramics, from European landscapes to Chinese urns. Aligning the camera level left-to-right and up-and-down to keep vertical lines parallel, I was able to capture paintings, pottery, furniture, and fireplace, giving a sense of both home and museum.
Decorating the foyer and the main first floor hallways are incredible murals painted by Robert Duncanson, the first African American artist to achieve international fame. The eight beautiful murals, painted in the Hudson River School style, are framed by trompe loeil (“fool the eye”) painted frames. To capture the full extent of these grand works, I employed one of the great uses of a super-wide lens: panoramas.
To photograph the Duncanson Murals, I positioned the camera in the portrait position and then rotated the camera over 180 degrees, capturing nine shots, which I stitched together in Photoshop. The result is the view as seen when entering the front door of the mansion.
N.B. Every panorama stitching technique creates one kind of distortion or another. For the Duncanson Murals panorama, the cylindrique method was used. The cylindrique method maximizes height but causes the walls, which are, in fact, flat, to look curved.
After photographing the Taft Museum of Art, I put the 14mm through its paces at the Cincinnati Art Museum. A good test for both the wide view and the fast aperture was the dynamic installation “More Sweetly Play the Dance” (2015) by William Kentridge. This work consists of seven large panels onto which moving images are projected. The result is a photographic challenge: having a lens wide enough to show the extent of the artwork and one fast enough to freeze the moving projections.
Wanting to keep the noise levels nicely low, I set the ISO to 800 and shot wide open at 1/15 of a second for Kentridge’s piece. The result is a wide, sharp an image (below).
Many times travel photography involves capturing wide vistas, from skyline views of cities to landscapes of coasts or mountains. For these shots I prefer to have a super-wide lens ready-at-hand. The Sigma 14mm F1.8 provides me with this great travel tool.
While everybody loves depicting the Golden Gate Bridge, my personal favorite is the John A. Roebling Bridge, which stretches from Covington, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio. When it opened in December of 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Covington-to-Cincinnati span helped Roebling design the even longer Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 17 years later 1883.
Given the history of the Roebling Bridge and its designer, I always enjoy walking around and across the 1,057 foot-long span, depicting its steel and stone from many different angles. For such photography, wide angles are best. Whether standing in the middle of the bridge on a quiet Sunday morning or shooting from its sidewalk railings at rush hour, the 14mm can capture the magnificence of this antique.
Below the north end of the Roebling Bridge is Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park. One of my family’s favorite parts of the park is the giant, moveable stainless steel flying pig. Part sculpture, part playground, the “Oinkithopter,” as it is officially called, allows kids to have fun climbing (and flapping) while they learn about “Porkopolis,” a nickname that points to the agricultural and industrial roots of Cincinnati.
Two of our kids perched aboard the pig while I used the 14mm to show the picturesque porker, its smiling inhabitants, and the park surrounding it. Imagine the scene: A cold November day, me telling the kids, “Just one more shot,” and, of course, my wife, Olivia, rolling her eyes and saying, “Yeah! Just ONE more shot…when pigs fly.”
When traveling, I often find interesting interior spaces to photograph. Perhaps some of the most unique historical ones are the many-floored contraption-filled spaces called grist mills. With conveyors, grinding stones, hoppers, belts, stairs, and all kinds of jury-rigged gizmos, I find these harbingers of the dawning industrial revolution fascinating.
During a summer stop at Mingus Mill in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I used the 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens to depict the main floor of the mill. One of my favorite techniques with wide angle lenses is to highlight a foreground element positioned close to the lens while showing the larger scene behind.
Put differently, all lenses distort reality one way or another. Wide angle lenses tend to make objects nearer to them look quite a bit larger relative to what is behind them. Using the distortions of a lens to your advantage is one of the keys to good photography.
N.B. The near-object distortion of wide angle lenses is merely a product of viewing distance. Try taking an image taken with a super-wide and view it right in front of your nose. The distortion disappears. To this end, placing a “distorted” wide angle photo in a tight space, such as a hallway, reduces or eliminates the effect.
For the Mingus Mill interior shot, I positioned the 14mm near to a grindstone and control steel wheel. The rising walls, ceiling, and hopper, and window contextualize the massive circular stone.
The Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM is a great tool for nature photography, too. While many nature scenes call for a medium-length lens (distant mountains or flower macros, for example) or require a long tele (wildlife photography more often than not), views of spectacular skies and wide-open landscapes beg for super-wide imaging.
For sunrises, sunsets, weather phenomena, and nighttime shots, the 14mm F1.8 is a great choice. It is sharp, fast, and covers a lot of territory.
During my annual Lakeside Chautauqua Photo Workshop on the southern shore of Lake Erie, we often photograph sunset from a long, concrete fishing pier. This year, shortly after the sun had dipped below the horizon, one of my favorite meteorological phenomena occurred: crepuscular rays.
Crepuscular rays form when the sun’s light is blocked by some clouds and shines past other clouds, forming distinct shadow beams. Sunrises and sunsets mix these shadowy rays with late-day color, making for spectacular sky-wide photo opps. The 14mm from the end of the pier captured the water, the colorful sky, and the wide-reaching beams.
The next morning at the Lakeside Chautauqua Photo Workshop, our group headed to Marblehead Lighthouse for sunrise. After shooting the lighthouse itself, we walked along the rocky shore, capturing pictures of the rocks, water, and clouds in early morning light. Position looking east, perched on a rock edge, I photographed a variety of textures and tones in the vertical/portrait scene. The result is a high key sunrise in black-and-white. The super-wide view of the 14mm contrast textures throughout the scene, conveying a nearly barren, wide-open lakeshore.
Another place to capture cool nature shots, although not so wild, is your local zoo or aquarium. I often photograph at the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium. In the aquarium section, fish often swim right next to the exhibit glass. I turned my 14mm waterside, showing the close-at-hand fish in great detail while the rocks, reef, and plants create an aquatic backdrop. The wide aperture of the 14mm is highly useful in such moderately lit exhibits.
In one shot, a longnose gar swam by. The intriguing fish has a narrow form, long snout, and speckled tail, making for interesting image-making. Using the 14mm almost wide open allowed me to freeze its motion and helped blur the background.
Having shot for a few months with the new Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens, I can tell you this: It is refreshing to pick up a lens that provides both a bright view and allows you to shoot under low light conditions with a reasonable shutter speed and ISO; to impress me, however, that’s not enough. Such a lens also has to produce sharp, contrasty, color accurate shots, which the Sigma 14mm F1.8 does with aplomb.
If you shoot architecture, travel, nature, or other subjects requiring super-wide coverage and fast glass, then you owe it to yourself to take the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art out for a spin. With its speed and image quality, I think you’ll be hooked.