Last month Sigma announced three lenses with L-mount under the new Alliance between Leica, Panasonic and Sigma which was born at Photokina last year. There has been great anticipation of Sigma’s well-regarded Art lenses but it came as something of a surprise that the first batch of lenses, announced last month, consists of two Arts and one lens from the less-expensive Contemporary range.
The unexpected “cheap” lens turned out to be the compact 45mm Sigma f/2.8 DG DN.
For me, this was one of the most interesting newcomers. It’s not that fast, but it is tiny — especially for a full-frame lens with such a large mount — and tips the scales at a mere 215g. It would attract on these statistics alone, but when you take into account the reasonable price (£550/€569) it is something of a must-have for anyone owning an L-mount full-frame camera, whether Leica SL or Panasonic S1/R. It is even compact enough to complement the Leica CL or TL2 with no difficulty.
A 45mm prime is a neat ’twixt n’ between focal length. It’s a great angle for street and general photography and, to some extent, it solves the inevitable juggling of options whether to pack a 35mm or 50mm optic. I know there’s not much in it between 45mm and 50mm, but psychologically it definitely helps in the decision making.
Leica (and Minolta) made a play of this mid-angle back in the seventies with the original CL. The “standard” lens for this camera was the Leitz Summicron-C 40mm f/2 and many enthusiasts really took to this focal length. Incidentally, there was a short 400-unit production of a slower 40mm, the Leitz Elmarit-C f/2.8.
And that brings us neatly back to the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary. It’s a tad longer than the CL’s stock lens, but still occupying that satisfying middle ground between 35mm and 50mm. And with that in mind, and at that price, it’s worth a punt. I was one of the first in the queue and I’ve had the Sigma bolted to my SL for the past couple of weeks. These are my very first impressions, but I can say from the outset that I am impressed by the performance and value for money.
First, in handling terms, this is a featherweight addition to the bulky SL, just 41g heavier than an f/2.8 Elmarit-M and substantially lighter than the 35mm or 50mm Summicrons. And let’s not even mention the size and weight of the native Leica SL lenses.
The relationship between the solid workmanship and balance on the one hand and the pleasantly light weight on the other is the most overwhelming impression when using this lens. On the SL, the Sigma fits in well and also, on the much lighter CL, it is still very well balanced and in no way looks out of place.
I was immediately impressed with the finish of the Sigma lens. The black-anodised, scratch resistant metal body is finely executed and the controls are extremely smooth and precise. The laser engraved and white in-filled graphics are superb and I appreciate the raised marker point for blind insertion of the lens into the camera bayonet.
There is no play in the focus ring and the aperture ring features 1/3-stop detents which are precise and firm. The mere fact that there IS an aperture ring will please SL and Panasonic owners who like to have an instant overview of settings without having to check the control window on the top plate. And, as another bonus, the body is dust and splash proof.
The chrome-finished brass bayonet fits the camera precisely and is a very snug fit, no lateral movement that I could detect. The lens comes with a reversible all-metal hood.
- Images below demonstrate the quick and accurate and reliable autofocus. Click on individual frames to see full size.
Autofocus is very fast, locking on without back or front focus and is virtually silent in operation.
Optical performance is exceptional, especially when bearing in mind that this lens is not one of Sigma’s premium offerings and is supplied at a price that belies its quality and results.
There is very good and uniform sharpness over the entire field of view, even in the corners at the widest aperture. A very slight softness can be detected in extreme close-up shots. Stopped down one or two clicks, sharpness is excellent at all distances. In my view, the sharpness is absolutely Leica lens level. The useful close focus (down to 24cm) permits a magnification of 1:4 without accessories.
As far as I can detect there is virtually no visible vignetting, whether at wide or narrower aperture. I also detect no chromatic aberration. Both these aspects have surprised me because, frankly, this is often where lower-priced lenses show their inferiority to premium lenses such as those from Leica and, indeed, Sigma’s own Art range.
Bokeh is not a primary consideration with an f/2.8 lens. The bokeh merchants are happy to pay the premium for their Summiluxes or, even, Noctiluxes in an effort to achieve razor-sharp subject separation. Yet the bokeh on this lens is actually very good as you will see from the example photos.
A final thought to ponder as you see the images from this lens. Leica’s 35mm APO-Summicron-SL is undoubtedly a great lens, one of the finest ever produced by the company. This excellence brings both a weight penalty (720g) and a cost penalty (around £4,000/€4,000).
I find it astonishing that a lens at this price level can so nearly approach in image quality the best Leica optics. Normally I am extremely faithful to Leica and, as a professional, use almost exclusively the native lenses on all my Leicas (M10, SL and CL). This 45mm Sigma is a notable exception.
No way would I suggest that the humble Sigma f/2.8 will equal this Leica masterpiece. But sensible buyers have to weigh the pros and cons. There’s a weight penalty to be paid if you buy the Leica lens, that’s a certainty. On the other hand, you will expect better performance, to compensate for lugging around such a beast. The big question is whether or not that ultimate excellence is worth ten times the price. Only you can decide, but the Sigma is looking more attractive by the minute.
Oh, and did I say that the Sigma has an aperture ring? You won’t find that on a native SL lens.