For years and years photographers of the “old school” of thought swore by their prime lenses like they were the air they breathed.  For years back in the day on film zoom lenses really were nothing but a good way to carry a range of focal lengths in your bag while *possibly* getting something that was sharp.  Something usable.  Something never sharp as a prime.  As time went on, so did technology and with technology and time things get better.  Zoom lenses now make up a majority of the market in photography now and for good reason.  I couldn’t survive without my Nikon 24-70F2.8 or my Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2.  The ranges are fantastic, and I can’t imagine having to change lenses throughout those ranges to get the results that I want.   That said a few years ago Nikon, Canon and Sigma all said “Hey, we have all this technology lets make some kickass primes again!” (I’m totally imagining that’s what they said, I have no idea if anybody actually said that anyplace but in my mind it was said and they made T-shirts out of it).  So they did, and Nikon and Canon started making their 58mmF1.4 and 35F1.4 and 85F1.4 and ect and they kicked ass.  At a price point of $1800 each they should kick ass though right?  That’s where Sigma stepped in.  Sigma has always made affordable third party lenses, but until a few years ago I personally only considered them to be third party.  I’ve said this in several blogs over the last couple years in regards to Sigma’s newest Art lens offerings.  Each one has blown me away, and most of them have earned a place in my bag.   This month Sigma will start shipping a NEW 20mm F1.4 lens which is the widest F1.4 being made today.  Did Sigma live up to my imaginary “lets make kickass primes” T-shirts?  Lets find out.

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(Trevor from TR22 Photography obliges me with a portrait outside of IvyTech.  Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/4000th@F1.6.  Phottix Indra5oo set to ETTL with battery pack shot through the Luna 70cm folding beauty dish with cover to above camera left. Phottix Indra500 triggered by Phottis ODIN trigger for Canon from the Camera hot shoe.)

 

So first things first, as usual.  Sigma is not paying me for this review nor have they paid me for my other reviews.  They asked me to do this one though, which means I must be getting something right.  Roberts Camera is also not paying me for this review however Robert’s was kind enough to loan me the Canon 5Ds camera body that I used to shoot all the photos with the Sigma 20mmF1.4 lens.  Next, I was specifically told that my 20mmF1.4 was a prototype and that the firmware was incomplete meaning that there may have been a specific issue with the lens.  I am not going to say what that issue was, but I did not experience that issue.  That said I am also only allowed to post images at a maximum of 1200px on the long end.  There’s why and now that we are out of the formal stuff, lets get to it!  

Let me begin by saying I was a bit afraid of this lens.  Not Halloween, axe murderer kind of afraid, but afraid because this lens to me appears to have a very specific purpose which is very wide, very shallow depth of field frames.  You can start by saying Duh (go ahead and say it) and now I’ll mention another lens that has a specific purpose.  The fisheye.  I love my fast primes.  I have pretty much all of them between my Sigma and my Nikon Collection, but I don’t own a fisheye currently.  The issue with a fisheye is that it is a very specific look that can be overdone very easily.  That’s the last thing I want is potentially more than one “gimmicky” lens in my bag and if you put it in your bag you have to carry it right?  My big concern is that the Sigma 20mm F1.4 would end up being more specialty than it would be a go to lens.  After two weeks of using the lens on a Canon 5Ds I can very confidently say two things.  First of all, I don’t like the Canon 5Ds (no it’s not because I shoot Nikon, it’s because I think it’s super slow), and secondly I am confident that the 20mmF1.4 is NOT a specialty lens at all, but definitely what could be a go to fast wide prime for any shooter.

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4. 1/800th@F1.4)

Look at that depth of field.  Look at the size of the hood on that Caddy! The Close focus distance is just under 11″, which while seems like a long way I assure you with the photo above is plenty for this kind of lens.  Being able to get so close to something and then still completely bokeh the heck out of the background is fantastic, and it goes a long way towards giving you a bit more creative freedom in your photography.  I love my Nikon 14-24F2.8 but not even it can get this shallow which for most things isn’t necessary, but if you are looking for style, artistic expression, some generally neat photos it surely is!  Speaking of the Nikon 14-24F2.8, whether you believe it or not the Sigma 20mm F1.4 is about the same size as that lens, and just like all it’s Sigma Art lens bretheren, the build quality is fantastic.

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/8000th@F1.4)

As far as Sigma’s art lenses go, optically this lens is exceptionally sharp just like all the others in the line.  Towards the edges there was a little bit of distortion but depending on what was in fact on those edges is whether or not you notice it or not.  (Notice how not noticeable it is on the frames above and below?)  I’m not most people, but generally if I buy a lens that can open up to F1.4 I very rarely use it at anything but F1.4 or F2.   As I’ve said in past reviews, if I wanted to shoot at F10 I could use just about any lens of that focal length and F10 will work out any bits of distortion, not so sharpness, or just flat out lens defects.   At that, a lot of folks know that depth of field is created with Focal length, Distance and Aperture so the question is that at 30 feet, how much depth of field do you get? Enough is the answer.

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/4000th@F1.6.  Phottix Indra5oo set to ETTL with battery pack shot through the Luna 70cm folding beauty dish with cover to above camera left. Phottix Indra500 triggered by Phottis ODIN trigger for Canon from the Camera hot shoe.)

The answer is enough.  With this light and depth of field Trevor doesn’t look like he was in the scene naturally, but I guarantee you he was.  You notice F1.4 gives you this strange surreal look to the image, especially at such a wide angle.  It’s something I really like about using my 24mmF1.4 but that extra 4mm in wideness seems to make a really large difference to me in the look and feel of the image.

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(Canoon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/200th@F1.4.  Profoto D1 to camera left  set to 5 with 10″x 60″ strip box triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus II from a Pocket Wizard Plus III in the camera hot shoe.)

Mostly though I feel like the 20mmF1.4 would be great for close up environmental portraits like above.  The shot keeps the subject large in the frame, as well as gives a sense of place without taking too much focus off of the subject.  This is where I’ll say that this lens shines, especially if you check out the sharpness with the 1:1 crop on the image above.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 1.13.17 PM(Click to biggify so you can see true 100%)

So was it all peas and gravy?  Is the lens perfect?  No it’s not quite perfect depending on your style.  At F1.4 the lens vignettes a little bit.  It’s gone by F2.8 but at F1.4 its a little heavy around the edges.  This isn’t a problem for me though as if I’m shooting super wide open a little bit of vignette can draw your eyes into the frame.  I’d rather it be a darker vignette than white vignette though any day although I’m not sure what kind of crazy physics would cause a natural white vignette in a lens…   Anyway, maybe you can even see the vignette a bit in the frames above (and maybe not) and really how it (in my opinion) does not detract from the frames in any way.  If you can’t see it, then it’s not such a big deal now is it?  Speaking of not a big deal; so how does the lens perform at things other than F1.4?

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/250th@F9)

At anything other than F1.4 the lens performs as flawlessly as you would expect.  As I said before, most lenses stopped down work pretty well and the Sigma 20mmF1.4 is no different.  That said other than the frame above you won’t see any others super stopped down from me with this lens.  Did I shoot with the lens at a lot of different F stops?  Sure.  Does it do anybody any good to see a bunch of shots from this lens at F8?  Not as far as I’m concerned so back to the super shallow depth of field stuff.

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/200th@F1.4.  Phottix INDRA500 monoblocks with battery packs set to 1/32 power behind Tom shot through Paul Buff 14″ x 60″ strip boxes triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus III’s.  Nikon SB-900 set to SU-4 mode set to 1/16th power over the front of Tom shot through the Phottix Luna 70cm Folding beauty dish.  Lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus III on the camera hot shoe.)

That frame above was shot while doing some light tests for a project I had coming up at the time.  The Phottix lights you see in the background are relatively new to me and I wanted to make sure they would do what I had in mind before going into a project blindly with them.  They not only performed the test flawlessly, but they performed the job flawlessly too.  So happy I’ve started using Phottix as my primary light kit.  I Digress. While we were there, I  decided to snap one or two with the Sigma 20mm, even though the Strip boxes were showing.  Tom’s garage isn’t exactly a picturesque background but I like the frame.  Even further back for a setup shot gives quite the depth of field thanks to the 20mm F1.4’s depth of field being so shallow.

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(Canon 5Ds, 50ISO, NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, 1/200th@F1.4.  Phottix INDRA500 monoblocks with battery packs set to 1/32 power behind Tom shot through Paul Buff 14″ x 60″ strip boxes triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus III’s.  Nikon SB-900 set to SU-4 mode set to 1/16th power over the front of Tom shot through the Phottix Luna 70cm Folding beauty dish.  Lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus III on the camera hot shoe.)

Overall I feel like what Sigma has done here is incredibly impressive.  Nikon and Sigma both previously have made 20mmF1.8 lenses (Canon however has not, their closest similar lens is a 20mm F2.8), but  Nikon, Sigma or Canon’s previous offerings are like the 20mm F1.4 that the Sigma now produces.  Is the lens for everybody?  Maybe, maybe not.  I think it’ll fit into a lot more photographers kits than anybody might realize though.  You never know when such a wide angle fast prime will be needed.  I originally said I was afraid it would be more of a specialty offering but that turned out to be not at all the case in that I found quite a few uses for it in every day shooting.  With that, unfortunately during my two weeks with the lens I was unable to shoot any astrophotography due to the moon cycle.    I can only imagine some of the cool things people will do using this lens for astrophotography.

All said and done is this lens a keeper?  I think it is, and I’m probably going to sign up with Roberts to be notified when the Nikon version becomes available.  It’s not the smallest lens around as you saw above, but it is the fastest 20mm available and I can only imagine all the possibilities it’ll afford people that are interested in real wide, real shallow portraits.  After the fact I wish I’d have shot more low low light stuff with the NEW Sigma 20mm F1.4, but the Canon 5Ds that I had wasn’t really the proper tool to do that.  Of course that leaves something for all of you to do when you get them.  Can’t wait to see it.  More Soon.

Interested in pre-ordering? Do so at Roberts Camera here in Indy.  They are good people and that’s where I buy about 95% of all my gear.