Home L-Mount Sigma Art L-Mount lenses offer outstanding performance for the price

Sigma Art L-Mount lenses offer outstanding performance for the price

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Called into Red Dot Cameras last week to check out the latest f/1.4 L-mount lenses to arrive from Sigma. I took along the Panasonic Lumix S1 and Sigma’s dinky little 45mm f/2.8 which I added to my stable last month. We’ve written quite a bit about this lens — see these Sigma articles.

Superbly made, but dinky it isn't. This 665g Sigma 35mm DG lens offers outstanding performance for just £800.
Superbly made, but dinky it isn’t. This 665g Sigma 35mm DG lens claims outstanding performance for just £800. Strap by Rock n’ Roll

While the three 1.4s (35mm, 50mm and 85mm) are great value for money when compared with Leica’s or, even, Panasonic’s own L-mount lenses, there is no obvious compromise on quality — although we are conditioned to believe that Leica’s design and engineering must be superior. As with the 45mm (which belongs to the lower “Contemporary” range), these three faster Art lenses are exquisitely turned out.

Tour de force

The 85mm, in particular, is a tour de force and, at just under £1,200, has a great deal of promise as a top-notch portrait lens. I didn’t get the chance to try out any of the three lenses, apart from a brief in-store mounting, but from a cosmetic and ergonomic point of view, I couldn’t fault them.

The standout feature, though, is size and weight. Fast AF L-mount lenses are huge (especially to those of us used to M glass), and Sigma hasn’t skimped on quality or specification, judging by the heft. The 35mm weighs 665g and the 50mm is 815g.

It’s interesting to make a direct specification comparison between Leica’s 50mmm Summilux-L ASPH and Sigma’s 50mm DG HSM. Both are apparently designed to appeal to the same audience, albeit those with different-sized wallets.

“Benchmark”

The Leica lens is a known quantity (that is, an established excellent performer) but Sigma’s brochure makes compulsive reading. For the 50mm f/1.4, it claims “incredible resolution, perfect for the high-megapixel era” and that the lens is “a new benchmark large-aperture standard lens.”

Both manufacturers claim outstanding optics, elimination of chromatic aberrations and state-of-the-art motorised controls. We shall have to wait for the comparison reviews, but tests of the same Sigma lens with alternative mounts have been very positive.

On specification alone, the 50mm Sigma looks good. What’s not to like? But what about ultimate performance? We will have to wait for the judges to pronounce their verdict

Nowhere is the contrast between the new crop of L-mount primes more obvious than when considering M lenses. The 50mm Leica Summilux-M, for instance, is a third of the weight of the SL lens at 335g.

Now that’s a lens you can happily tote all day, even though it is not as tiny as its Summicron brethren. Yet it performs as well as the SL fifty.

Whatever the final verdict on performance, however, what isn’t in dispute is the physical characteristic of these lenses.

The Leica is longer (124mm compared with 100mm) and heavier (1065g versus 815g), so it is a greater burden to carry around all day. Remember, both lenses are intended to offer a go-anywhere standard focal length, not a flexible zoom, so weight is of some importance, especially being in mind the extra weight of the L bodies.

The 85mm f1.4 DG is likely to make an outstanding portrait lens. Build quality is outstanding and the ergonomics are impressive. Note the massive padded satchel which is a feature of the Art range.

All things being equal on the performance front (which is subject to in-depth testing of course), the Sigma offers an advantage in size and weight and a very big incentive in price.

At a modest £750, it is one-fifth of the price of the Leica Summilux-SL which retails for a less-modest £3,875.

This price difference has to be a huge consideration for most buyers, even those who insist that the Leica logo automatically means best.

I am not suggesting for one minute that the Leica 50mm f/1.4 is not going to win the performance comparison. There must be some justice in the world. It is a lens that has a strong reputation for excellence of image quality and performance.

However, you have to be convinced that the Leica lens is worth paying five times the price and, perhaps more importantly, that you actually need the additional fraction of excellence.

Three for one

If you own an SL or Panasonic body and are looking for a clutch of prime lenses to cover the 35-85mm focal range, then you can buy all three of these Sigma lenses for £2,750. That is £1,000 less than the cost of just one Leica SL lens.

Above is a very quick-and-dirty set of shot using the three Art f/1.4s with the Contemporary 45mm f/2.8 thrown in for good measure. Click to enlarge.

As you can tell, I like the look and feel of Sigma’s Art lenses. I believe they will be successful in competing with both Leica and Lumix equivalents. The range is growing. If the 35mm f/1.4 is too slow for you, there’s even an f/1.2 alternative for £1,500 — still nowhere near Leica’s prices. You can buy a 105mm f/1.4 also for the same cost, £1,500, and a 135mm f/1.8 for a hundred pounds less.

Price, of course, is never the whole story. There have to be compromises somewhere, but I am struggling to find them when looking solely at the build quality and physical characteristics. In this case, out-and-out performance will be the deciding factor.

Overall, however, it is brilliant to have this wider choice and that is the factor that will make the L-Mount alliance successful.

The one area where the Sigma L-mount range is currently lacking is in zooms. The sole representative in the is a wide-angle 14-24mm Art f/2.8 which retails at £1,450. It’s a lens I would like to try at some point — for those who don’t use ultra-wide-angle all that often, it could be a very sensible buy.

I hope we can look forward to more pro-quality zooms including, for instance, a 24-90mm or 24-105mm which would provide a higher-quality alternative to Panasonic’s inexpensive but still very competent 24-105mm kit lens and Leica’s outstanding 24-90mm SL zoom.

The range of Sigma lenses for L-Mount is now available from Red Dot Cameras in London.

What’s your view? Would you buy the Sigma lenses in preference to Leica? If so, why?

14 COMMENTS

  1. Given the size factor and weight, I cannot see this range of Sigma full-frame lenses having much appeal for owners of CL or TL cameras, which is a pity.

    • The 45mm is almost made for the CL but, in general, there’s not much point in putting the full-frame lens weight on an APS-C camera. Although I didn’t mention it, Sigma does have a range of APS-C lenses that could be adapted to L-Mount and I hope they will do this sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Leica users would be the only target audience and there could be volume considerations or, even, competition reasons not to go down this route. Leica would suffer a sales fall in their expensive TL lenses, for starters.

  2. There was a time when I used to lug equipment of that size and weight around all day and I’d love to be able to do so again, but age and arthritis have taken their toll. These days a Leica M and a couple of small primes is all I can manage. Having said that, if I was capable, I’d be happy with the Sigma lenses. I’m sure at 24mp they are quite sufficient. I find my Voigtlander lenses on the Leica are as good as I need.

    • Richard, I have been trying to contact you for the past two weeks in connection with your article proof. I’m beginning to think I have the wrong email address so, if you see this, please get in touch.

  3. I cannot see why anyone other than a professional photographer with a studio bound business would be interested in these monsters (cameras and lenses). For most people they are utterly counter-intuitive in a digital world. Roll on the boxes with lens arrays and full computational features. These are dinosaurs in more than one sense.

    William

  4. I am very surprised at the direction of this move. Leica’s principal attraction has always been the combination of small size and exquisite, small lenses. This was the raison d’etre for the M system but not for the R, which chased the SLR format but was always an also-ran after the advent of AF, despite the truly excellent R lenses.

    The SL as another attempt to jump on a bandwagon, this time the MLC one, but unfortunately, as others have found, physics will always call the tune and full-frame auto lenses are big!

    It seems to me that, with this in mind as well as the superb new generation of sensors, photographers are once more becoming open to the size advantage of crop systems. Olympus and Panasonic have brought out some fabulous lenses for MFT but they have no size advantage over those for APS-C, which should mean the latter moving towards occupying the sweet spot. I very much hoped that the CL would be prominent here but there is little evidence of any follow-through from Leica or its partners in the L project. Surely it is in the APS-C domain that the Leica advantage should be.

    • I agree that the apparent lack of support for the CL/TL is worrying. All the current lenses were developed some seven or eight years ago and nothing seems to have happened first. The basic 18-55mm (28-85) is technically great but uncompetitive in a world of 24-90 or 24-105 f/2.8 or f/2.8-4 standard zooms. And don’t get me started on the lack of stabilisation.

      It will be very interesting to see if there is a new CL in the pipeline. If so, only IBIS could make the old lenses relevant.

  5. The rendering of the lenses looks amazing. The quality is there no doubt but I guess my shoulder (after 3 accidents and very little tendon left) would vote against them however alluring and enticing the lenses are.

  6. Just to note that I’ve been using the Sigma 45 for the last few weeks on the TL2 (a great compact and good design fit) and my CL – with really good results – better even that the TL 23 aka 35. Effortless auto focus, lighter than most TL lenses and beautiful throw for manual focus.

  7. Nice article, Mike. I have the 45mm f/2.8 and also the 50mm f/1.4. Both are really nicely made. I bought the 50mm on eBay brand new for £609. It’s a real bargain at that price. And the 45mm online was just £418. They are very good value indeed. I love the rendering of the 50mm lens wide open. And the 45mm is a lovely walkabout lens; very compact and beautifully built, with a great aperture ring. The combination of SL, 50mm and the SL battery grip keeps me fit (no need for a visit to the gym). Like you, I’d love to have the 85mm or even the 105mm (another monster). But I’m also waiting for a nice Sigma Art zoom in the 25-90 range, which I imagine will be significantly cheaper than the offerings from Leica and Panasonic. I’m impressed and, as you say, it’s lovely to have the choice.

    • Glad you have the same views, Andrew. As I said to David A, the 45mm is the right size for the CL and, overall, it is a good performer at an affordable price.

  8. Back in the 70’s you could get a Contax, Nikon or other brand 1.4 lens. They were half the size of these monstrosities. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would haul ththese things around.
    Makes even less sense in the digital age where sensors can gather so much light. Bokeh on those old lenses was plenty good enough.

  9. The Sigma glass really adds to the breadth of the L mount viability. Especially for punching way above their weight on cost versus performance. However, I wish someone would bring out more options that are high performance primes with modest F/2, f/2.8 or even f/4 for ultra wide and 200mm plus glass. I have my wonderful fast 50s but cannot carry fast anything else in full frame and do not need fast glass for most applications outside a 50 or 85 – I chose 50. When will the manufacturers wake up that there are a lot of people that would love f/2/2.8/4 prime options between 24 to 200mm that they can actually carry.

    • I support you in this, Brian. Ultra-fast lenses have become a bit of a fetish but slower (f2-2.8) means smaller. The 45mm f/2.8 Sigma is a case in point.

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