Sigma 14mm f/3.5 Zen
seriously wide angle of view that's difficult to master, but fun to
my, here's a lens wide enough to take in almost your entire
vision, yet with very little linear distortion (i.e., straight
lines remain straight).
degrees (35mm); ~90 degrees (D1)
pound 2 ounces
has been making high quality, unusual optics for some time. One
of my earliest non-Nikon purchases was the 14mm f/3.5 (now replaced
in Sigma's lineup by an almost identical lens that has a larger
maximum aperture of f/2.8). If you've never sighted through the
viewfinder with a lens this wide, you're in for a real treat (or
lens has a maximum f/3.5 aperture, with a minimum aperture of f/22.
Focusing reaches as close as 7 inches (0.18m). The front element
does not move during focus changes, though this doesn't do you any
good, since it sticks out like the bottom end of a plastic cola
bottle and doesn't accept screw-in filters. A built-in "hood"
attempts to block off extraneous light, but don't count on it--the
front element curvature is so extreme that the middle of the lens
is beyond parts of the hood, and is extremely prone to catching
degrees is seriously wide, and poses a real composition problem,
as this picture demonstrates. The bush is about 3 inches away
from the front of the lens, while I'm standing about eight
feet away. The mountains (those are the Towers of Paine just
to the left of me) are more than two miles away. Nikon F5,
Fuji Velvia, unrecorded aperture (but likely f/16).
focus ring is narrow, but easily distinguished by its knurled
rubber pattern. You can't really use filters with this lens, though
there is a small "slot" at the rear that can be used
to slip in thin gelatin filters cut to size.
over a pound (1 pound 2 ounces), you'll be amazed by the heft
(it's a small lens, just heavy).
doubt you'll be manually focusing this beast--you get almost no
benefit from doing so due to the huge depth of field--but if you
do, you'll find the action a little loose and finicky. Autofocus
on my N90s, F100, F5, and D1x is quite fast, almost amazingly so.
I've never seen the lens hunt on autofocus. But...the focusing is
a louder than the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8--this is not a lens to use in
aperture ring is fine, with solid click stops. The front element
is very significantly exposed, so you're going to get fingerprints
on this beauty if you aren't careful. The supplied "lens cap"
is one of the more unusual I've seen--it actually has a cap on the
cap! You really have to see it to understand.
one major caveat, the Sigma 14mm f/3.5 is a decent performer. The
edges are a little soft wide open. And I wouldn't use the lens at
f/22, as defraction seems to take a bit of sharpness away at minimum
aperture. Fortunately, depth of field is so great even at f/3.5
(hyperfocal distance is less than 8'), that you'll never really
need to stop all the way down. I expected more light falloff in
the corners, but this common wide-angle problem is well controlled
on this lens. Unbelievably, straight lines really do stay straight.
extreme front element curvature produces a penalty you need to be
aware of: flare. If any stray light hits that big hunk of glass,
contrast is greatly reduced, making images unusable. Worse still,
direct hits of light on the element sometimes produce a strange bit
of flare--essentially a hot spot in your image (the depth of field
is so great at smaller apertures and close focus distances, that at
times it can be at the front element, meaning the light hitting the
lens is rendered in the image!). I can't think of a time when I haven't
had to shield the lens from stray light. In fact, I invested in one
of those inexpensive snake-like holders (Flarebuster) that fit into the hot shoe
(the other end is a small clip, and you put a small piece of cardboard
in it to shield the lens, adjusting the snake arm as necessary).
don't generally recommend shooting portraits inches away from
a subject with a 14mm lens, let alone doing so while pointing
into the sun, but...F100 with Sigma 14mm, Fuji Provia, slightly
cropped! Note lack of contrast in upper left corner.
Control. Watch for any stray light hitting the
front element. Get in the habit of shading the lens. I bought
a small clip gizmo that mounts in the hot shoe and whose gooseneck
arm allows me to position a small piece of cardboard to shade
the lens. This solves the problem 90% of the time.
Problems. When you're taking in 114 degrees, you'd
better be a master of placing objects in the frame (and have
a 95% or better viewfinder). As with any wide angle, it helps
to have foreground, midground, and background interests, but
the 14mm will push your wide angle framing skills. I can't tell
you how many shots I thought would work didn't, usually because
of big expanses of midground that just sat there empty.
Lens Cap. Because it slips over the built in hood,
the unique cap has a tendency to come off in my tightly packed
camera cases. Moreover, that strange cap on the cap sometimes
pops off, leaving the front element exposed.
- Sharp and clear. Sigma has managed to make a very wide angle lens without most of the optical issues that plague them (light falloff, corner softness, chromatic aberration, etc.).
- Great value. Much less expensive that some of the alternatives (see below), yet you don't really give anything up.
14mm f/2.8. Newer version of the f/3.5. Virtually
everything I've written above applies to this lens, too. Using
a one-day loaner from my local store, I didn't see enough
difference in results to justify switching, though the slightly
brighter viewfinder image is useful.
Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D, Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G DX, and Sigma 15mm f/2.8.
Not really an apples versus apples comparison, since all three of these lenses actually take in a wider area and
are what is known as a full-frame fisheye (straight lines
appear curved unless they're dead square in the middle of
the frame); the 10.5mm does the coverage over the smaller DSLR frame, the 15mm and 16mm do it over a full 35mm frame. Nevertheless, most photographers can only afford
one exotic wide angle lens, and the unique properties of these
lenses are compelling. In almost any situation where I'd use
the Sigma 14mm, I'd consider using the Nikkor 16mm or Sigma
15mm (or a 10.5mm on a Nikon DSLR). The exception: interior architecture shots, where the
straight line rendering of the Sigma 14mm is clearly preferable.
14mm f/2.8D. Much more expensive than the Sigmas.
And frankly, I don't see enough difference to justify the
cost difference. The Nikkor does seem to have less problems
with contrast control than the Sigma, though the problem isn't
completely gone. Optically, I don't see much to distinguish
the two other than a slightly warmer color out of the Sigma.
14mm f/2.8. I haven't shot with this lens.
It, too, is more expensive than the Sigmas, so it would take
something extraordinary in its performance to be considered
in this group of competitors.
especially if you can find a used one in good shape at a decent
Update: July 23, 2003
"cap on a cap" is for digital photographers using the
Nikon D1 or something similar. Since the digital camera has a CCD
smaller than 35mm film frame, it can use the lens with the big cap
on and the end cap off without vignetting. Of course it has the
field of view of a 20mm lens. You can even use standard filters
where the small cap.
responds: A clever idea, but I doubt this was what Sigma
intended, as the lens predates the D1 by many years (I owned my
Sigma 14mm for six years, and I believe the lens was available
before that). If you have a D1 and use the Sigma with the outer
cap still on, you need to remain alert for vignetting, as the
outer cap has a habit of getting slightly dislodged when brushed
would concur with the assessment of the Sigma's performance. With
the Nikon D1 [D1h, D1x, D100, S2 Pro] this is an outstanding wide
angle lens. It has excellent color and is sharp; granted, the
D1 only uses the center portion.
responds: Using only the central portion of the lens
is a big asset (the digital sensor of most DSLRs doesn't cover
the full 35mm frame). Besides avoiding the inevitable softening
that happens in the corners on fast, wide lenses, light falloff
is nonexistant. On a D1, D1h, D1x, D100, or S2 Pro, the 14mm becomes
something closer to 21mm, which is acceptably wide, but watch
out for light hitting that front element, which will reduce contrast.
RT writes: I puchased the Sigma 14mm f2.8 two months
ago and have been very impressed. I've used the lens on a Nikon
N80 and an F4s. For interior architectural shots the lens is superb,
though you must be careful to hold the lens camera perfectly vertical,
otherwise distortion occurs. For outdoor scenic shots it provides
very good contrast and sharpness close to that of my Nikon 20mm.
I've yet to get gels to place in the rear mount and have been
surprised at the lack of blue shift with flash and daylight shots
since there is no UV or other filtration. Corners do get soft
and have less contrast, but not overly so. The HSM focusing is
quick and silent. Manual focus is slightly tight but very definite
and smooth. The lens will focus past infinity mark for reasons
unknown to me, perhaps allows for thermal expansion of the plastic
parts. The Sigma weighs significantly less than the Tamron and
Nikon offerings, which I do think is a plus, since those lenses
push the two pound mark. I suppose the Nikon is sharper and more
corrected than the Sigma, but I doubt it is worth double the price.
I am very pleased. This lens is a real keeper and worth every
responds: Lenses that incorporate special elements (such
as the Nikon ED glass) focus beyond infinity for exactly the reason
you mention: to insure that the lens can still focus at infinity
at differing temperatures. As for "lack of blue shift,"
virtually all modern films have such altered UV response that
a UV filter is no longer necessary, even at altitude. It used
to be that some films--I seem to remember Ektrachromes and the
early Fuji slide films being seriously troublesome in this regard--had
enough UV response that photos taken at even 6000 feet had serious
blue shift. Lately I've taken Fuji Provia and Ektachrome VS up
to 18,000 feet without filtration and seen no shift.