Battle of the best 50mm Prime Lenses
The Sigma’s art series lenses have always been regarded pretty high.
They represent the epitome of sharp lenses, tools that are a photographer’s delight. The Sigma 50mm prime f/1.4 DG Art lens is born out of that same philosophy. This lens has often been regarded as the best in its class. It can be considered one of the best 50mm prime lenses without a doubt!
Some photographers claim it is the best ever 50mm f/1.4 lens. A tall claim indeed!
This should be a fun exercise, pitting two extremely good lenses against each other to find out which one’s the better.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4
Design and ergonomics
- The Sigma weighs a hefty 815 grams making the Nikkor feel a bit puny at only 280 grams.
- Even the front element of the lens is quite large using a filter size of 77mm compared to only 58mm on the Nikkor.
But size doesn't always matter. In this case, though, the Sigma has more than just weight working in its favor.
The Sigma is definitely better built among the two with a lot of metal used in its construction. They call it Thermally Stable Composite (or TSC). Compared to it the Nikkor do feel a bit plasticky. But then each has its own benefits.
Thus, while the Sigma does tend to be a bit intimidating for pursuits like street photography and candid shooting, the Nikkor is lighter and easier to use for a longer duration.
Both the Sigma and the Nikkor has rounded 9-blade aperture diaphragm which produces excellent background blur for those soft mushy melting out of focus effects.
Both the lenses work on full frame, crop sensor DSLRs as well as 35mm film SLR cameras with a compatible mount.
The biggest talking point of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is its optical sharpness. It's tack sharp and that too even when the lens is wide open.
The older 50mm DG HSM lens (if you are on a budget you can the old model second hand at a few $100), had a bit of optical softness, especially when shooting wide open. This lens scores heavily in that respect with no discernable softness even when shooting wide open.
Most 50mm prime lenses tend to be extremely sharp when stopped down one or two stops. The Sigma is sharp when it's shot wide open and is excellent when stopped down.
The point where you can notice its key features and therefore the point where it shows its class over other lenses in the same category is corner sharpness. The corners are exceptionally sharp and free of distortion.
Corner sharpness isn’t, however, something really that important. Unless you are shooting a group of 500 people or maybe a brick wall and you need every detail across the sensor to be tack sharp nobody pays too much attention to the corners. In that respect, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G is a great lens to shoot with, too. Stop it down one or two stops and the Nikkor does an acceptably great job.
The Sigma scores over the much hyped Otus in terms of vignetting at f/1.4. The Otus has some but the Sigma has none! Plus the Otus is a manual focusing lens, which for most parts would discourage all enthusiasts and even some professionals.
We are not going to get too much into a comparison with the Otus as it is a true champion when it comes to standard 50mm prime f/1.4. But the Sigma is the next best choice and the best 50mm prime lens if you are an enthusiast photographer.
The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G
Discussed at length about the Sigma, but we shouldn’t forget the other contender in this duel.
The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G isn’t a pushover. But if the discussion is solely on sharpness wide open then the Sigma will win hands down.
Corner sharpness on the Nikkor at wide open isn’t as good as the Sigma. Stopping down to about f/4 does tend to make things better. Sharpness improves and so does contrast.
Sigma calls its autofocusing technology powered by HSM and Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM). They are both the same thing.
Autofocusing performance on the Sigma, however, is slightly faster than the Nikkor. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker though because you wouldn’t really feel the difference if auto-focusing is a fraction of a second slower.
Both lenses also have full-time manual focusing override.
At twice the price you get much better optical performance, better contrast and sharpness at wide open and of course better build quality.
Final verdict: The best 50mm prime lens
- If you are a true professional and nothing comes between you and optical nirvana, not even price, then neither of the two lenses should be your first choice. You should go for the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Manual focusing lens.
- For the Enthusiast: If you, however, need the next best thing in auto-focusing and with a 50mm focal length opt for the Sigma.
- For all other photographers working on the Nikon platform, the Nikon 50mm prime is the most logical choice.
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.
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