Previously not available in focal lengths wider than 24mm, the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture is now available in the 20mm focal length thanks to Sigma, allowing a wider angle of view to be captured in very low light conditions. Wearing the Sigma Global Vision "Art" designation, this lens does not disappoint in design and function. As we are also accustomed to with the Art series, the price and image quality are equally attractive.
Make focal length selection a priority when choosing a lens because focal length matters. While focal length determines working distance and therefore perspective, very wide angle focal lengths are a lot about making foreground subjects large in relation to the background subjects and about including a lot of background in the frame. This angle of view is notably able to give the viewer a sense of the presence in the images captured by it.
I consider 20mm to be a "scapes" focal length. It is useful for most photography terms that "scapes" can be naturally appended to, including landscapes, nightscapes, cityscapes, buildingscapes, roomscapes, etc. Include peoplescapes in that list, with environmental photos of individuals and groups captured at a wide range of locations from scenic landscapes to birthday parties in small rooms being a 20mm capability. Note that if multiple people are in the 20mm frame, their distance from the camera should not vary by a strong amount, else those in front will appear larger than those in the back.
Weddingscapes are a very big strength of this lens. Think of a bride getting ready with her attendants surrounding her. Think of the first dance at the wedding reception, with this lens capturing the bride and groom large in the frame with the guests encircling them in the background.
While 20mm is perhaps slightly wide for use as a general purpose lens without at least one additional focal length available, there are general purpose uses for 20mm. I successfully used this lens to capture the family's Christmas Eve and morning festivities.
Videographers will find a host of uses for 20mm.
I like to look at focal lengths in comparison format and, since this lens has only one focal length, I'll borrow a comparison from the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens review.
On an ASP-C/1.6x sensor format body, the 20mm focal length provides an angle of view similar to a 32mm lens on a full frame sensor format body, falling between the 28mm and 35mm examples shown above. The 32mm AOV (Angle of View) is only moderately wide and just wider than the ultra-popular and very useful 35mm focal length. While there is some overlap in usage between the 20mm and 32mm focal lengths, they are rather different with 32mm having more general purpose appeal and uses that better align with the 35mm focal length.
The AOV provided by the 32mm focal length is a great choice for capturing a natural perspective. It is wide enough to capture the big scene but not so wide that people and other subjects are readily distorted by the close perspective invited by ultra-wide angles.
The 32mm AOV is a good choice for photojournalistic uses. Wedding and portrait photographers like 32mm, especially for full to mid-body portraits and for group portraits. Landscape photographers have plenty of use for the 32mm AOV. 32mm is also very popular with videographers, especially for creating documentaries. Many medium and large products are often captured at 32mm and similar focal lengths. I'm always happy when a lens with the same or similar AOV (or a zoom covering this AOV) comes across my desk, because I know that I can assign it around-the-house use.
The full list of 32mm AOV uses is very long. I've only scratched the surface here.
Before the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens hit the streets, the widest aperture available in a focal length wider than 24mm was f/1.8. The Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Lens and the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Lens shared the class-leading designation before the Sigma 20mm Art lens easily bested all with its significantly wider (2/3 stop) aperture.
Wide apertures are primarily desired for the amount of light they allow to reach the sensor, making camera handholding and subject action freezing in low light possible. Another big benefit to a wide aperture is the shallow depth of field they provide, causing distracting background details to go strongly out of focus. However, 20mm at f/1.4 is not going to diffusely blur the background unless the subject is very close and the background very distant. Here is an example.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, a 1/8000 shutter speed may be only marginally fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/1.4. Cameras with shutter speeds limited to 1/4000 may need the assistance of a neutral density filter to keep images dark enough at f/1.4. Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.
With their Art series lenses, Sigma has set expectations in many regards, but especially in image quality. These lenses are generally the best available in their class, or at least nearly so.
Most lenses perform their best in the center of the frame, where light rays pass straight through the optics and in the center of the frame, this lens is very sharp even at f/1.4. A modest improvement in contrast is seen at f/2, but with razor sharp results at this aperture, further stopping down results in no visible improvements.
This lens shows an almost linear rate of degradation in sharpness as the image circle radius is traversed with f/1.4 full frame corners being somewhat soft. Lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration) gets some of the blame for the soft corner appearance. Until f/2.8, vignetting clearing is the primary improvement seen in the APS-C corners and full frame mids and corners. A very nice bump in sharpness is seen at f/2.8 and again at f/4. The sharpness improvements at f/5.6 and f/8 are more subtle, but there.
Let's look at some real life images. These comparisons were captured with an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R. Images were captured in RAW format, processed in Canon's DPP using the Standard Picture Style with a sharpness setting of "1" (very low) and cropped to 100% resolution. Note that these images were captured under heavy cloud cover. I seldom shoot comparison test images under anything but clear skies, but ... the last month has been incredibly cloudy and especially foggy and rainy. So, to keep this review moving forward, I settled for cloudy skies. The important part is that you get a clear picture of what this lens can do, and I think that has been accomplished with the examples below.
The following examples are from the center of the frame.
The f/1.4 results have good sharpness and can be very nicely sharpened. While sharpening of some amount is often necessary, sharpening is a destructive process and less is more in this regard. Details are very sharp at f/2 and improve only very slightly at f/2.8 and f/4.
Next up is an extreme bottom left corner comparison, showing the worst possible image quality this lens can muster.
At f/1.4, the vignetting is strong enough to make the corners dark. At f/2, we see the corners brightening noticeably, but sharpness improvement is absent. By f/2.8, with sharpness pressing outward (starting in the top right of these samples), we can see that most of the frame is not very sharp. By f/5.6, this lens is looking amazing for the 20mm focal length and more improvement in the deep corner is seen at f/8.
The bottom right corner of the frame shows similar results:
It is an ultra-wide aperture wide angle lens and therefore, strong vignetting is expected when used with a wide open aperture. There is no missing the 3.5 stops of shading in full frame corners and even APS-C users are going to find a sometimes-noticeable 1 stop of shading in their corners. While the peripheral shading vignette can draw a viewer's eye to the center of the frame, it is not always desired – especially if the subject falls within the shaded area. The two vignetting removal options always available are to use software to remove the shading (with increased noise being the penalty) or to stop down the aperture. At f/2, about 2 stops of shading remains in full frame corners and at 2.8, the sometimes-noticeable 1 stop number is reached. From f/4 through f/16, a seldom noticeable .6 stops of shading remains.
The most easily recognized type of CA (Chromatic Aberration) in a lens is lateral (or transverse) CA. Lateral CA (I'll call it "LatCA") shows as various wavelengths of light being magnified differently with the effect being increasingly noticeable toward the image circle periphery, causing the most-affected area of the image to appear less sharp. Look for the strongest color fringing along edges of strongly contrasting lines running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) near the corners of the frame, generally irrespective of the aperture used. Fortunately, LatCA is easily software corrected (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide.
This lens has a mild amount of LatCA. LatCA becomes more pronounced with an ultra-high resolution DSLR in use and here is a worst-case example from a 5Ds R corner:
Especially good for an ultra-wide aperture wide angle lens is the low amount of spherical and axial chromatic aberration. Only a minor amount of color fringing in front of and behind the plane of sharp focus can be seen in the example below.
The Sigma 20 Art does a great job controlling flare with only very minor amounts showing and even f/16 results looking very good.
I've been looking for the perfect night sky lens and had high hopes that the Sigma 20mm Art Lens would be just that. Along with an ultra-wide aperture and good sharpness across the frame at that wide aperture, I am looking for lack of coma for this purpose. Reason is, stars in the corner of the frame make coma readily visible. Coma (not to be confused with CA) is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image with a long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma is generally most destructive in frame corners at the widest-available aperture. Coma turns corner stars into flying saucers or ... perhaps some type of insects in this case. Here is a sample from the corner of a Canon EOS 5Ds R frame.
Obvious is that there is some coma visible in the corners. Still, this is one of the best night sky lenses available as of review time.
This lens has a modest barrel distortion. Run a straight line across the edge of the frame to make this issue stand out.
With a wide open aperture, the blades are removed from affecting the image and specular highlights are rendered very circular (at least in the center of the frame). Stop down and the aperture blades show increasing involvement with their quantity and shape in particular influencing the image. Here are some f/5.6 examples of out-of-focus specular highlights.
An at least normal number of concentric rings can be seen around the borders of specular highlights with an outer transition that is not harsh. The centers are mostly very smooth, though a sizable blob is often visible.
With an odd-numbered aperture blade count, point light sources showing a star-like effect will have 18 points – twice its 9 blade count. The points on these stars are coming from the blades of the aperture. Each blade is responsible, via diffraction, for creating two points of the star effect. If the blades are arranged opposite of each other (an even blade count), the points on the stars will equal the blade count as two blades share in creating a single pair of points. The blades of an odd blade count aperture are not opposing and the result is that each blade creates its own two points. Nine blades times two points each create 18-point star effects, as seen here.
Overall, this lens is a very good performer optically. If your wide aperture needs involve a subject in the center of the frame, this lens will perform awesomely at f/1.4. If your wide aperture needs involve subjects covering full frame corners, this lens will likely disappoint you at f/1.4. Select a narrower aperture for excellent performance across the entire frame.
Like the rest of Sigma's Art lenses, the 20mm f/1.4 Art Lens AF is driven by Sigma's HSM (Hypersonic Motor). Autofocusing happens with decent speed and, even in a quiet environment, only some very light shuffling is heard during AF. Focusing is internal and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is enabled (unless intentionally disabled using the Sigma Dock).
AF accuracy performance testing is always a high priority for me. Exhausting AF scenarios is not realistic, but I'm not especially excited about the AF accuracy consistency this lens has delivered in the variety of scenarios I've subjected it to. Performance has been reasonable, but not completely reliable. The center point has been delivering better AF accuracy than some of the peripheral points I tested. Interesting is that I've found that center focus point accuracy is best when the lens is focused to a slightly farther focus distance than the subject prior to autofocusing.
When focus distances are changed significantly, 20 Art lens subjects change size by only a small amount. While this attribute is not unusual, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques involving focus distance adjustment should be aware. Videographers pulling focus are sometimes also concerned about this attribute. When critical framing is necessary, focus should be fine-tuned while adjusting subject distance.
Sigma provides a small depth of field scale on this lens, though f/8 and f/16 are the only marks provided.
The 20 Art's 1.59" (40.4mm) manual focus ring is very nicely-sized, ideally positioned and, being raised just slightly from the barrel, is especially easy to find. The focus ring is smooth, has no play and has ideal resistance. The 101° of rotation seems ideal for precise manual focusing over the entire focus distance range.
The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens focuses as close as 10.9" (277mm) for a 0.14x MM (Maximum Magnification). This spec is not the lowest in the comparison chart below, but ... it is not far from the bottom.
|Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.14x|
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.17x|
|Nikon 20mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||7.9"||(201mm)||0.23x|
|Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF Lens||10.2"||(259mm)||0.12x|
|Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.18x|
|Samyang 24mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||9.8"||(250mm)|
|Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||10.9"||(277mm)||0.14x|
|Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Lens||7.9"||(200mm)|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.19x|
|Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens||8.7"||(220mm)||0.15x|
Few are going to be wowed by this lens' close focusing capabilities. Placing one or more extension tubes behind a lens is a common way to decrease MFD and increase MM. With a 12mm ET behind it, the 20 Art focuses at a distance that falls somewhere inside the hood, making this option unusable. Perhaps an extremely short extension tube may work, but ... it needs to be significantly shorter than 12mm.
This lens is not compatible with Sigma teleconverters.
If you are familiar with any of the other Sigma f/1.4 Art lenses, you are already familiar with this one. I'll share a Sigma f/1.4 Art lens family picture to illustrate my point.
Shown from left to right are the 24, 20, 35 and 50 f/1.4 Art lenses, showing a strong family resemblance. It is very obvious that minimally the exterior design characteristics are heavily shared.
The lens hoods sizes, each appropriate for the focal length's angle of view, are perhaps the most-visible external difference among the f/1.4 Art lenses. And on that topic, I'll point out that the 20's hood is missing the ribs and rubberized rear grip surface and the lens barrel is missing the hood alignment mark. Those, along with a complete lack of product images showing this lens without a hood, are clues pointing to the 20's integrated lens hood.
The non-removable lens hood protects a great-looking strongly-convex objective lens element. Here are the standard product images:
Sigma's Global Vision lenses all have an excellent, classy, high-end look and feel and the 20 Art is no different. From the aesthetic mix of matte and gloss black finish to the great-feeling sharply ribbed rubber rings to the smooth overall dimensions (aside from the modestly raised switch area in this lens), these lenses all have very impressive design qualities.
The 20 Art is a fixed-size lens with plenty of ribbed surface provided for a sure grip. Most-significantly ribbed is the focus ring. The deep, sharp, tightly-spaced ribs on the Sigma Art lens focus rings remind me of the quality feel of Zeiss lens focus rings – though the Sigma ring is rubber-coated vs. the all metal Zeiss rings. Additional ribs are provided on half of the lens barrel to aid in gripping the lens, especially when mounting and dismounting.
Lens construction is once again of a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material with traditional metals used in places (significantly internally). This design allows "... greater precision and use in wide temperature variations." [Sigma] This is a solid lens with no play and a fixed size (no extending parts).
The Sigma 20's single switch, enabling or disabling autofocus, is located within easy reach of the left thumb. A classy-looking, high-visibility white switch background shows when in AF mode with black showing when in MF mode. Sigma engraves the product introduction year into the lens barrel of Global Vision lenses, with this one receiving "015", referencing 2015.
Typically revealed by the bare silver lens mount ring showing when the lens is camera-mounted or has its rear cap installed is a lack of weather sealing. Weather sealed lenses typically (minimally) have a gasket that seals this area of the lens. Like the other f/1.4 Art lenses currently available, this lens is not weather-sealed. Make provisions to keep the lens dry/protected if inclement weather may be encountered during use.
The lens hood is large enough to provide reasonable protection, but not so large as to become intrusive.
The 20 Art's size is about perfect for my taste. It is not tiny, but it is big enough that I can grasp securely and controllingly with my left hand. From a carry standpoint, less is always better in terms of weight, though I like having some weight in my hand to help stabilize the camera. This lens gives us the right size, and it has plenty of weight for camera stabilization without becoming a large burden to carry for long periods of time. But, if given a choice, I wouldn't complain about 10 oz (300g) being shaved from this model.
Wide apertures typically mean larger glass lens elements and larger elements typically mean more weight. An f/1.4 aperture is very wide and there is a weight penalty paid to gain that opening. Lenses with a significant amount of glass in them (typically wide aperture lenses), including this one, tend to feel solid due to their density.
Use the chart below to compare many lenses with various similarities.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Lens||14.3 oz||(405g)||3.1 x 2.8"||(78.0 x 71.0mm)||72mm||1992|
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||22.9 oz||(650g)||3.3 x 3.4"||(83.5 x 86.9mm)||77mm||2008|
|Nikon 20mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||12.6 oz||(357g)||3.2 x 3.1"||(81.3 x 78.7mm)||77mm||2014|
|Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF Lens||9.5 oz||(270g)||2.7 x 1.7"||(69.0 x 42.5mm)||62mm||1994|
|Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||21.9 oz||(620g)||3.3 x 3.5"||(83 x 88.5mm)||77mm||2010|
|Samyang 24mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||19.4 oz||(550g)||3.3 x 3.7"||(83.0 x 95.0mm)||77mm||2012|
|Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||33.5 oz||(950g)||3.6 x 5.1"||(90.7 x 129.8mm)||n/a||2015|
|Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Lens||18.4 oz||(520g)||3.5 x 3.4"||(89.0 x 87.0mm)||n/a|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5 oz||(665g)||3.3 x 3.6"||(85.0 x 90.2mm)||77mm||2015|
|Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens||21.2 oz||(600g)||3.4 x 4.3"||(87.0 x 109mm)||82mm||2010|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
As photographers, we are very visual, so let's review a comparison product image. For this one, I selected f/1.4 lenses.
Positioned above from left to right and aligned on their lens mounts (not lens caps) are the following lenses:
I doubt that any purchase decisions between these lenses will be made based on size. The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens to other lenses. I preloaded a comparison with Canon and Nikon 20mm lenses in that link.
A purchase decision maker, for some, will be the Sigma 20mm Art Lens' lack of filter threads. Using a filter on this lens will require an external adapter with very large filters utilized.
An integrated lens hood usually means a non-standard lens cap is required. As shown above, the 20 Art gets a light, slide-on, rigid plastic hood. These are sometimes a pain to use, but this one has not bothered me. With a thin inner flocking rim, the hood slides on smoothly and has stayed attached for me.
The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens ships in a nice zippered, thinly-padded nylon case that includes a belt loop for carrying or lashing to another pack.
Sigma's Global Vision lenses get a classification of "A", "C" or "S", representing a primary Sigma-intended use of "Artistic", "Contemporary" and "Sports". A full description of these categories can be found in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens press release.
While I very much like what Sigma is doing with the Global Vision lenses, I am not such a fan of the overly-simplistic categorization structure. The 20mm f/1.4 Lens gets an "A" stamped in a classy chrome circle on the lens barrel (visible above). As with some of the other "A" lenses, I'm sure that the wide "A"perture has some responsibility for the "Art" classification. To date, Art lens image quality also gets an "A". While there are plenty of artistic uses for this lens, it appears by dictionary definition to be "Contemporary" and the 20 Art could be pressed into use for "Sports" as well (think under the net for basketball or on a remote camera).
Don't limit the lens' use to its letter designation.
A great feature of the Global Vision lenses is compatibility with the Sigma Dock. The dock, working in conjunction with the Sigma Optimization Pro software, allows the lens' firmware to be updated (bug fixes, compatibility updates, feature enhancements, etc.) and allows precise autofocus calibration at four distances. FTM can also be disabled/controlled via the dock as demonstrated below using the 24mm f/1.4 Art lens.
With the 20mm Art, Sigma continues to use good value pricing. The f/1.4 prime lens offerings from Canon and Nikon are all considerably higher priced.
The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Sigma mounts and this lens qualifies for Sigma's Mount Conversion Service in case you change your mind. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. While the risks associated with a Sigma lens purchase are low, compatibility with the Sigma USB Dock is risk reducing as Sigma can release user-installable firmware updates for this lens. Sigma USA's 4-year warranty is superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (Sigma's international warranty is also 1 year).
This evaluation lens was retail-sourced.
Easy to say is that the Sigma 20mm Art lens is the best 20mm f/1.4 lens available. It is also the only one available. If you need to rule the dark with a lens wider than 24mm, this is the one you want.
Also easy to say is that the Sigma 20mm Art lens is optically the best 20mm prime lens available, even if the comparison is made at f/4. This comparison brings the Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Lens, Nikon 20mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens and Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF Lens into the class. The Sigma shows less flare and holds a strong wide aperture vignetting advantage over the f/2.8 lenses when matched to the max comparison aperture. The Sigma has slightly more distortion than the Canon and Nikon f/1.8 with the Nikon f/2.8's linear distortion footprint being different, but similar in total impact. The Sigma is over 2x heavier than the heaviest alternative listed here. The Nikon f/1.8 has a significantly better maximum magnification spec. The Canon option holds a strong price advantage, the Nikon f/2.8 is moderately less expensive and the Nikon f/1.8 is modestly less expensive. Of course, the Sigma has a 2/3 to a significant 2 stop max aperture advantage.
The Sigma 20mm Art lens is a major upgrade to the now discontinued 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Lens. Especially dramatic is the improvement in optical quality.
The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens is close enough to 20mm to qualify for inclusion in this class. The Zeiss is a very impressively built lens and it weighs 2/3 as much, but the Zeiss has a 2-stop narrower max aperture, lacks AF and costs over 2x as much. At the max comparable aperture, the Sigma is sharper in the center of the frame with the Zeiss showing perhaps very slightly better peripheral performance, although it shows more peripheral shading at this aperture setting. The Zeiss shows considerably more flare effects.
If your requirements include an f/1.4 aperture, the nearest comparable lenses will be in the 24mm category as of review time. A primary competitor is the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens. This is the comparison that I personally was waiting for. At f/1.4, the Sigma is modestly sharper with the difference becoming harder to determine at f/2. The Canon has a slight advantage in the corners at narrower apertures such as f/5.6 and by f/8, they are both looking ideal. The Canon has less distortion, has slightly more vignetting at f/1.4, weighs 2/3 as much and has a considerably higher price. I expect that you will see better focusing accuracy from the Canon.
Another primary competitor is the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens. At f/1.4, the Sigma is sharper with the Nikon having sharper corners at f/2.8. The Nikon has more CA and more flare, but shows less distortion and less vignetting at f/1.4. The Nikon is well over 2x more expensive. I expect that you will see better focusing accuracy from the Nikon.
While there is some difference between the 20mm and 24mm focal lengths, Sigma competes with itself to some extent with the 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. At f/1.4, the 20mm lens is slightly sharper in the center and the 24mm is slightly sharper in the corners. By f/2.8, the centers are equalized, but the 24 takes a stronger lead in the corners. The 20mm has slightly more vignetting and shows modestly less flare and distortion. The 24mm is lighter and costs modestly less.
Invite the sun to set and turn down the lights – this lens has no fear of the dark. As of review time, the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens has a wider aperture than any lens wider than 24mm. With this unique tool in your kit, freeze action in low light situations calling for a wide angle of view.
I can't discount some AF inconsistency encountered, but this lens overall is a very good one. The lens design, the build quality, the image quality and the price all come together to make the 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens another great addition to the Art lens lineup for Sigma.
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