Category Archives: Review

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED (FX) vs. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art – The Definitive Comparison

I, like many photographers, have been going back and forth trying to decide which of these are better.  I had seen some things that just made me wonder.  In my earlier test, it was shown that the bokeh from the Sigma was dramatically different.  The Sigma also just had that “wow” factor that I couldn’t seem to get from the Nikkor, even though the Nikkor was seen to be sharper in some cases, the Sigma in other cases.  I liked the weight from the Nikon, but the “pop” of the Sigma.

I was confused.

I even spent some time on the Leica forums asking what made a lens “pop”.  What makes the rendering of a certain lens special?

So this weekend, I set out to find out once and for all, what’s the best fast 35mm autofocus prime in the world on a D800.  The results may surprise you.

First off, I started out in my darkened apartment to test for both sharpness and bokeh.  Allow me to introduce Green, my willing subject.

Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G FX
Nikkor at f/1.8
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
Sigma at f/1.8

While you can click through to examine to your hearts’ content, I’ll save you some pixel peeping: in the center, they are effectively identical.  But something is going on at the edges of the frame.  The Nikkor spanks the Sigma!

Even at f/2.8, the Nikkor is showing a dramatic, visible difference over the Sigma.

Comparison
Comparison at f/2.8 (Nikon is on the left)

Then there’s the bokeh.  Neither of them are going to win an award.  Onion vs. Donut.

Nikon vs. Sigma (Nikon on the left)

This is not at all uncommon for highly corrected lenses like these.

So, why is the Nikkor so much sharper?  I thought it must be field curvature.  Ok, no problem. Field curvature isn’t always bad unless you shoot brick walls for a living.  It may even be an advantage if you focus-and-recompose. So I focused with live view (like almost all of the samples here) and placed a new focus target towards the edges.

Sigma gets spanked at f/1.8.

Things aren’t looking good for Sigma at this point, it must be said.

So what did I do then?  Drank a beer and went to bed.

Then, the next morning, I woke up bright and early to a poring rainstorm like just about every day in April in Switzerland.
Then suddenly, there was a break in the weather.  Out I go!  You can’t shoot just charts and boxes I thought.  You gotta get out there!

So, using a stable tripod on my nearly-trusty D800, I a couple of landscapes as I’m wandering around the area.

Nikon wins
Nikon wins again

I’ll save you the effort of clicking through, but even at f/11, Nikon wins in an obvious way at near distances and at the edges of the frame.

Nikon left, Sigma right

Ok, I thought, I didn’t buy these primes to shoot landscapes, so let’s go find some more interesting subjects where I can shoot with a narrower depth-of-field.

Nikon at f/1.8
Sigma at f/1.8
Nicer rendering from the Sigma

Don’t ask me what is it about Swiss people and stacking stones, but I quite like the look of this mini cairn against the wet foliage.

Nikon at f/1.8
Sigma at f/1.8
Nikkor sharper, but Sigma more pleasing at f/1.8

Well that’s interesting.  Even though the Nikkor is sharper, I prefer the rendering of the Sigma.  What’s going on?

Confused, I headed to one of my favourite spots.

Waterfall with the Sigma at f/8. Click to compare vs. the Nikkor

Somehow, I quite liked the Sigma image here, although the Nikkor was nearly identical.

I was only able to review the images on the back of my D800 until that point, but even then I was seeing something strange. I had a long walk home to think about the results, but I wanted to review them on the computer before jumping to any conclusion.

Then I did.  And it didn’t clarify anything.

It was obvious that the Sigma was as sharp as the Nikon in the centre of the frame at the same aperture but the Nikkor was really ruling around the edges.  But sometimes (and always at  large apertures) I still preferred the Sigma.

Then I started looking at the shutter speeds.  Now, the Sigma is a much more complicated lens, so I expected that the transmission would be lower.  (Basically, you lose a little light as it passes through multiple glass elements) But in fact, the opposite was true!  The Sigma, at the same aperture as the Nikkor had almost always a faster shutter speed.

What’s going on?

Frustrated, I reviewed the images from the previous night and I had my “AHA!” moment.  Now it was all clear.

At the beginning of this review, I showed you the difference in Bokeh between the two lenses.  See how the Sigma bokeh balls are larger?Compare the bokeh from the Nikkor at f/1.8 vs. the Sigma at f/2.8.  More than a stop difference!

Nikon at f/2.8 vs. Sigma at f/1.8

Now it’s clear why I preferred the rendering of the Sigma in some cases.  The Sigma actually has a larger aperture than the Nikon at f/1.8!  Reviewing my images, I saw evidence of that again and again:  Shallower depth of field, larger bokeh and faster shutter speeds.

That is not to say that Nikon is cheating – we’re talking about less than a stop difference.  That also can’t entirely explain the difference in sharpness at the edges of the frame where Nikon has a visible advantage. However, consider this 100% crop of the Sigma at f/8 and the Nikkor at f/5.6.  Still the Nikkor is a tiny bith sharper, but notice the shutter speeds?

Nikkor at f/5.6 (1/6 s) vs. Sigma at f/8 (1/4 s)

So what am I going to do?  I’m going to keep them both.  The Sigma shines at narrow depth-of-field photography. It’s beautiful.  It has that thing that only Leica people seem to be able to put into words.  One must also consider the huge weight difference between the two as well: 665g / 23.5oz. for the Sigma vs. only 305 g / 10.7 oz. for the Nikkor, but that the Sigma goes to f/1.4 instead of just f/1.8-ish.

What will be in my bag every day?  The Nikkor, but I’ll be wishing for the Sigma. If I go out for a day of dedicated narrow-depth-of-field shooting like portraiture or some street scenes, you can bet that the Sigma will be weighing me down.

So if I had to buy just one, and my back didn’t mind?  Sigma.

X100s – Six Months Review

After six months of using the X100s intensively, I though I would write a review.

x100s_Front_ITM-1

Summary: Beautiful camera, beautiful images, a bit fiddly. The images will not fail to impress.

Pros:

  • Classic, cool design
  • High built quality (except the back buttons)
  • Amazing out-of-camera images both JPEG and RAW
  • Very compact

Cons:

  • Almost too small, especially the lens is too shallow to comfortably fit both focus and aperture rings
  • Back buttons extremely fiddly, overly sensitive and cheap feeling
  • Slow to focus, slow to start, slow to write to cards.  Slow!
  • Overstated ISO leaves one wondering where the shutter speed went

It is very compact, light and practical, but the images – oh my god, the images. Sure, not as sharp as my D800 with Sigma 35mm f1.4 what is? The colors, stunning!

Build quality is a mixed bag.  The metal exterior is very nice and has withstood my abuse well.  It has mostly a premium feel, but some plastic parts, especially the back buttons are embarrassingly fiddly.

Focusing is alright, but you’re not going to shoot sports with it. I haven’t missed any feature yet, except for maybe HDR which I never use anyway.
I love having the optical viewfinder, it’s excellent. The clever hybrid information overlay inside the optical viewfinder is fantastic.

The electronic viewfinder has its purposes but it’s slow. Contrast is so-so, sometimes too bright, sometimes too dark and flares badly when the camera is first turned on. Focus peaking is one reason to use it – great feature, but I found myself using it less and less as the months went by.

Speaking of slow, I imagined that I would be shooting run-and-gun on the street.  Not so fast there!  The X100s is slow enough that you’re going to be planning your shots carefully.

I did find myself bumping up against the shutter speed limitation with large apertures (f2 = 1/1000) so thank goodness for the built-in ND filter, which I programmed to the Fn button.

The ISO does seem almost a stop overstated. On the good side, ISO 800 (say 640ish in SLR-land) is great and uses their automatic dynamic range thing which works well. I haven’t had the need to go higher yet, really, but I’ll report back when I have.

So, some further commentary with images attached below. Only one is heavily edited. Most are almost directly out of camera with just minor exposure and color tweaks. Images are usable right out-of-camera.

The built-in ND filter is a treat:

x100s_Samples_ITM-3

I shoot JPEG + RAW and keep the best.  The JPEG  colors are amazing. Much better out-of-the-box than Nikon colors. Yes, really!

x100s_Samples_ITM-10

Fuji’s RAW format (RAF) can be pushed almost as hard as Nikon RAW, but doesn’t need as much tweaking to make it look good.

x100s_Samples_ITM-2

It’s tiny but not cheap feeling. The size is stable even on a tiny little travel tripod. The optional hood is great, but expensive and allows it to use 49mm filter.   I leave the hood on all the time.

Still it’s very discreet for street photography.

x100s_Samples_ITM-9

The film simulation modes are excellent.   This image is straight out of camera on Velvia setting.

x100s_Samples_ITM-8

There are some rumors and it does seem that the ISO overstated. This photo has plenty of blur in it even though experience with my Nikons in this light would have me a faster shutter speed. Shot in aperture priority:

x100s_Samples_ITM-1

If you’re looking for the very best in compact image quality with a retro feel, this is your camera.  For me, despite the speed increases over the original X100, Fuji needs to increase the speed another order of magnitude before it can replace my SLR.

My Long-Term Review of the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A

Having shot it extensively for nearly a year, this lens is great!

It is surprisingly sharp at f1.4 with good bokeh and very well-controlled CA.

I shoot it extensively on my D800, almost always at f1.4 and it never fails to impress.

Image

Build quality is exceptional. The machined polished metal mount extends into the body making a very impressive first impression. The main barrel (and filter threads) are plastic, but the whole package feels high quality.

Adding an extension tube and shooting at f11 also gives great results.

Sharpness: ExceptionalImage

(Read full review)

Summary: It’s awesome.  Buy immediately.

More images:
(click to see full size)

Sigma 35 Art Isolation Sigma 35 Art Landscape Sigma 35 Art Weather Sigma 35 Art Sharp and Bokeh Sigma 35 Art Cobbled Boot Sigma 35 Art Colors 2 Sigma 35 Art Street 2 Sigma 35 Art Street Sigma 35 Art Colors and Isolation Sigma 35 Art Bokeh Sigma 35 Art Macro