Somebody asked me what is that one good affordable zoom lens that every photographer must have. My reply was that the best affordable zoom lens is a 50mm prime lens. You can use your legs to zoom in and zoom out effectively. Any fast 50mm focal length lens can serve a variety of applications from portraits, weddings, street photography, to even shooting (not-so-wide) landscapes. This article is about Sigma’s Art series 50mm F1.4 lens, which I got to review for a week.
For years, I ran the show with a single lens. And I am sure I am not the only photographer to do so. Some of the legends probably pulled an entire career with a prime lens or two.
When I branched off as a freelance and independent photographer, the investments to my photography business had to be minimal, sound and wise. I had to let go of my multiple lens camera kit that I had as a staff photographer at newspapers. I didn’t have the resources to splurge on the best gear that money could buy. So, my whole focus then was to carefully invest on a single zoom lens and a full frame camera. It was the versatile Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L series zoom lens and a Canon 5D Mark II camera. And till date, this combination still gets used 90% of the time on my assignments, and especially in wedding photography
Later on, I added accessories, lights, lenses and new camera systems (my Fuji x100s!) incrementally. From owning a short telephoto zoom lens, the next logical addition to my lens list would be a set of good prime lenses. While I was researching for good primes to add to my existing kit, I stumbled upon Sigma’s Art series 50mm f1.4 lens. Coincidentally, Sigma India was lending out this lens to photographers for reviews and feedback. I seized the opportunity and got the lens to play for a week. I took it out for a spin on live assignments. And I must say that I was truly impressed with its results.
When it comes to image quality and results of camera equipment, I am not into pixel peeping to the last magnified pixel. For me it is the perceptual quality of an image that matters. What I get to see in an image with my naked eye, and how well a camera or a lens helps me to translate my vision into final images, are some of the vital things that go into my decision-making. In these aspects, I give a thumbs up to this Sigma lens.
I used this lens on two assignments. One was a baby portrait shoot and the other was the Sangeet event of a south Indian wedding. I also used this 50mm lens on some personal shoots to make some portraits of family and friends. In all occasions it fared well.
In the portrait shoot, my task was to make evocative environmental portraits of a 10 month old baby boy along with his family. This shoot was part of a series of portrait shoots that I have been doing for this client to document the monthly progress of their little boy through the first year of his life. I wish I had this lens for rest of the shoots in this series too. In portraits, my style is to have greater focus on the subject, with rest of the background disappearing into a nice bokeh – Yes, we are all suckers for a good bokeh. The sigma 50mm lens with its widest aperture at f/1.4 produces beautiful bokeh.
Over the years, my portraiture style has evolved from being an ambient light photographer to being a strobist. I now make use of off-camera flash lights to create the light that I want to see in my photographs. While using lights, the maximum sync speeds of the camera comes into play. Most DSLRs have slower shutter sync speeds, which means lower apertures to compensate for it. This would result in a loss of bokeh. To compensate for lower shutter sync speeds (it is 1/200 on Canon 5D mark II), I use an 8 stop Variable ND (Neutral Density) filter on my Canon 24-70mm lens to ensure that I can shoot at wider apertures and still make portraits with bokeh. I am glad that Sigma made their 50mm lens with the same filter thread size (77mm) of my existing lens. So, I used my existing filter on the Sigma 50mm lens and still photographed with wider apertures when doing flash photography. A bonus point for Sigma to have kept a widely used filter thread size for this prime lens. This means saving on expenses of buying new lens-specific accessories.
During the Sangeet event that I covered, I first used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens to make portraits of the couple. For portraits, I used a manual flash light and a softbox diffuser. It was a late evening shoot and so I didn’t need to use any ND filter here for getting a bokeh. Post that, I continued to use this lens in preference over my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to shoot the unscripted and candid moments that unfolded during the course of the event. Since it was an outdoor event held late in the evening the available light was too low. In this situation, the max aperture of the 50mm lens at f/1.4 gave me light many stops higher than that of 24-70mm lens’ max aperture of f/2.8 . Hence, this lens is a beauty to use in low light too.
My verdict on this lens, if you have some 50,000-60,000 Indian rupees budget for buying a 50mm prime lens, then this is a good candidate for it.
Find below a gallery of photographs I made using this Sigma Art Series f1.4 lens.
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