It’s often said that every photographer should own a 50mm lens. It’s perfect for just about everything. It’s an amazing portrait length of course, but a 50mm lens is also good for scenery, indoors, action… everything! Since it’s pretty close to the way our eyes see naturally, it’s a great lens length. And with a maximum aperture of F1.4, this particular focal length offers natural-looking subject separation and background blur.
It has been nearly a decade since SIGMA released the 50mm 1.4 DG HSM | Art, and while this lens is still an excellent choice for DSLR shooters, it was due for an upgrade for mirrorless cameras. Introducing the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, upgraded in every way and designed especially for mirrorless systems!
First Impressions of the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art
The look and feel of the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is exactly in line with the rest of the SIGMA Art line lenses. It’s definitely what I would expect from SIGMA since I own several other DG DN (DG = full frame, DN = for mirrorless) Art lenses. I know it’s a camera lens, but there’s just something very sleek and classy about these. You can tell that aesthetics were taken into account during the design phase. Everything about this lens just screams “quality”.
In the box, it comes with the regular front and back caps, plus a locking lens hood. The hood is very handy since I like to backlight my subjects often. I didn’t really have a problem with flare though. Even without the hood on, shooting almost right into the sun, I didn’t get the rainbow flare I would have expected.
Getting a bit of a closer look, you can see that the 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art has a manual aperture ring that’s becoming the standard with the newer SIGMA lenses. I love this because it’s so tactile. The lens ring clicks at every stop so you know how many times you’ve moved it, and it just feels nice holding it. If you want to change the aperture in the camera, you can just set the lens ring to A (Auto) instead. It also has switches to lock the lens aperture ring or turn off the click, a handy AF/MF switch, and an AFL button on the lens, which can be customized depending on the camera body.
The first week I had this lens was at the end of January, which isn’t normally very busy for me, so I was excited to get out and play around with the 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art. I scheduled some dance and baby sessions, and I also brought it to the botanical gardens with me for some nature scenes.
The first thing that I noticed is that it’s fast and reliable to focus. It’s so fast that it’s almost instantaneous. In the past, I’ve used other lenses that were so fast to focus that it was TOO fast, and the lens would overshoot the focal point and have to back the focus up. I was a bit concerned that would be the case here, but happily, I had no issues at all. It’s instant focus, but it’s the RIGHT focus every time.
I don’t really have to worry about focus speed when I am doing baby portraits, but I absolutely do with dancers. I didn’t have any problems with the lens being too slow to catch them in the air. The eye-AF is quick and on point every time as well.
And of course I tested it on my cats, and animal eye-AF is just as fast and reliable! It also had zero problems focusing in strong backlight. In those conditions, loads of other lenses hunt for focus quite a bit… but not this one!
Virtually Silent Operation
The second thing I noticed is that this lens is utterly silent. And I mean utterly silent. I heard absolutely nothing from this lens the entire time I was shooting with it. Turning on silent shutter in my camera was a bit wild since the whole setup made zero noise. Very handy if you needed to be unobtrusive.
Great for Detail Photos, Too
The third thing that stood out to me was the excellent minimum focal distance. It focuses about a foot from the front of the glass, which means that it’s amazing for detail shots. And since it’s a F1.4 lens, you can capture detail shots with less background in focus that would otherwise compete with your subject.
Smooth, Rounded Bokeh
Another important thing for me is that the out-of-focus lights are nice and round instead of being a polygon shape. This is a function of the aperture blades inside the lens. The more blades that make up the aperture diameter, and the more precisely shaped they are, the smoother and rounder bokeh you get. It’s a personal preference, but I like round bokeh, and I won’t buy a lens that will produce bokeh with noticeable straight-sided shapes.
That “Fifty” Feeling
For me personally, the 50mm focal length was the first non-kit lens I ever owned (20 years ago!), so running this lens around feels a little like coming home. It’s easy to love. It’s also easy to be the only lens you bring with you since it’s so versatile. I found it the perfect thing to use for an outdoor dance session because I could capture close portraits, but also back up and get full body shots, or back up even more and get the surrounding architecture. I also felt like it was great to use for my in-studio sessions, as I didn’t have to back up too far to stay close to my subjects.
This would also be a perfect lens for newborn photographers for getting the baby’s face in focus but letting the rest of the body fall off into blur. I could see fashion and beauty photographers loving this lens as well due to the sharpness and its ability to stay sharp at F1.4.
Even walking around the botanical gardens with it was enjoyable because I could photograph gorgeous scenery, but also get close enough for the one lizard I found hanging out indoors.
But the absolute key feature of the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art isn’t a button or a switch, it’s a feeling. The feeling of being able to see and appreciate the everyday beauty around you. The understanding that things don’t last forever, and this beauty can be fleeting. It’s a feeling of being connected to the environment you exist in, and being able to view the glorious things despite seeing them every day. In Japan, this is called “wabi-sabi”, the aesthetic defined as the beauty of things “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”.
It may seem odd that I mention this in a lens review, but a camera and a lens can help you see, appreciate, and capture that feeling better than a phone camera ever could. While I am not Japanese (and have never been for a visit), I definitely value that stillness and appreciation of transient beauty because it helps settle my mind… knowing that something isn’t going to be around forever makes me notice the beauty of it even more. This particular lens had me feeling like that very quickly… a very zen experience.
Overall Thoughts on the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art
Overall, I am very impressed with the SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art. It’s fast, it’s reliable, it’s silent, and the bokeh is buttery smooth. Plus the feeling of taking it out for a session or just a stroll is relaxing and casual.
And no matter what camera you use (this lens is available for Sony E-mount and L-Mount systems), this would be an amazing portrait lens where how far you could back up would be a consideration. It’s also a great lens for just walking around somewhere to capture the “everyday beautiful” around you.
I very much enjoyed this lens and would recommend it to anyone who wants a small, compact portrait lens. What would you use it for?