New Sigma 56mm f/1.4 and The Three Mirrorless f/1.4 Prime Lenses

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Lately, Sigma has become quite well known and revered for its popular Art series of lenses for SLRs and Sony E-mount cameras. However, this isn’t to say Sigma hasn’t been innovating in other areas of its portfolio. Catering to the mirrorless shooter who values compactness without wanting to compromise on quality, “The Three Mirrorless f/1.4 Primes” represent Sigma’s answer to this desire. Comprising the 30mm f/1.4 DC DN, the 16mm f/1.4 DC DN, and the newest 56mm f/1.4 DC DN, this well-rounded trio of lenses covers all bases for most shooting applications, ranging from wide landscapes to close-in headshots. Designed for APS-C-format Sony E-mount and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, the lenses are technically part of the Contemporary series of Sigma’s Global Vision program, but, in my opinion, seem to embody many of the same attributes of their Art-series siblings. Each of the three lenses has a fast f/1.4 design, uses specialized elements to produce well-controlled images, and has a comprehensive look and feel that exudes quality.

Looking at the newest entry to this trifecta, I recently spent some time photographing with the 56mm f/1.4 DC DN; an 84mm equivalent portrait-length prime when used with Sony E-mount APS-C cameras (112mm focal length equivalent on the Micro Four Thirds system). Despite being the longest focal length of the group, the 56mm f/1.4 is, oddly, the smallest lens of the three and just 15 grams heavier than the 30mm f/1.4, making it a perfectly compact option for walkaround shooting. None of these lenses has image stabilization, which is okay considering the fast f/1.4 design and presence of sensor-shift stabilization in many newer cameras. And this omission of image stabilization also helps to keep the lenses’ size and weight down, making for a particularly sleek three-lens-and-body kit.

While shooting with this lens, I decided to pay a visit to Asbury Park, New Jersey. This seaside community has a thriving beach and boardwalk scene, attracting thousands of visitors during the warmer months. During the winter months, Asbury Park remains a popular place to visit, for fans of cold-water surfing, a more empty and quiet beach scene, and, of course, the always-fun Silverball Museum Arcade, filled with dozens of classic and contemporary pinball machines and other arcade games.

The 85mm focal length has always been a favorite of mine for general shooting because its little bit of added length over the “normal” 50mm allows you to isolate your focus and subject just a little bit more. Especially when photographing in more bustling places, like the pinball museum, the added length of the lens was perfect for highlighting the distinct details of the machines. Coupled with the portrait-length field of view, the f/1.4 maximum aperture is indispensable for achieving that shallow-depth-of-field look everyone craves when working with this focal length. Out on the beach, I could add that little bit of subject isolation to make subjects pop just a bit from the ocean background. I was impressed by how sharp the image quality still was at f/1.4, too, and illumination remained noticeably even across the frame. When stopped down to f/4 or so, the sharpness and rendering begin to be something special.

Aside from the optics, the lens, as previously mentioned, is surprisingly small for what it is: a fast portrait-length lens. Compared to other 50mm to 55mm primes for Sony E, this Sigma 56mm hangs in as among the smallest and lightest, and with the brightest aperture of the bunch. Of course, it is an APS-C-only lens, but if you’re an APS-C shooter, then… why not jump for this extra savings in size. Its autofocus performance always felt snappy and, to be honest, was something I never noticed while shooting. The focusing never lagged and, as a stepping AF motor, it’s rather quiet, making this lens worthy of some video use. And another thing this lens has going for it is the weather-sealing, making it perfect for use in light rain, snow, or, as I did, on the beach.

It’s difficult for me to find anything wrong with this lens, and, to do so, I kept justifying the decisions Sigma made with this lens. The lack of image stabilization means a smaller and lighter profile, which is ultimately more desirable for me. The somewhat long minimum focusing distance of half a meter, compared to 50mm lenses, is a good bit shorter than 85mm f/1.4 lenses, of which this 56mm matches in field of view. So, for me and my style of shooting, the 56mm f/1.4 DC DN becomes a must-have lens for working with APS-C systems. It’s an asset that really has no major competitors. And even better is when assembled with the 16mm and 30mm f/1.4 lenses to make the perfect three-lens travel kit.

Do you have any experience with any of the lenses from Sigma’s “The Three Mirrorless f/1.4 Primes?” If so, which is your favorite lens of the trio? Type your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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