The advantages of a smaller image circle are reduced cost, decreased size, and a lower price. The APS-C format Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens embodies those attributes while still providing an ultra-wide aperture and impressive image quality. This is an attractively designed lens with a highly-valued focal length.
If those comments do not attract your attention, others' opinions should. This is a best-selling (#1 in Fujifilm mount, #3 in Sony E mount, #5 in Canon EF-M mount) APS-C prime lens. APS-C camera owners (and full-frame camera owners willing to accept a smaller image circle) looking for a high-quality portrait and general-purpose prime lens should seriously consider the Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary option.
With a prime lens, you get one focal length, and that focal length provides a specific angle of view. That angle of view drives focus distance decisions for desired subject framing, which provides the perspective.
For those of us who work in full-frame angles of view, this lens provides an 88.5mm (Sony 1.5x field of view crop factor calculation) full-frame angle of view equivalent. That angle of view equivalency is essentially the same as the famous for portraiture 85mm length, and the 56mm APS-C angle of view is ideal for photographing people along with products and other subjects.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video uses ranging from moderately-tight headshots to full body portraits, with a wide variety of potential venues, including both indoors and outdoors. Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups. Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentaries, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the APS-C 56mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with a 56mm-provided angle of view. I have shot entire senior sessions with a wide aperture full-frame 85mm lens, and subjects always love the results from this focal length.
That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing genres out there helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people). I also argue that no subjects are more important than people.
People in action are in this lens's capabilities. Some sports, such as basketball, can be captured with a 56mm lens, and thanks to the ultra-wide aperture, this lens can capture such action in very poorly-lit venues, including gymnasiums.
This is an inviting angle of view for street photography. This focal length can work very well for architecture, products (medium through large), commercial, general studio photography applications, and a wide range of other subjects.
Regardless of the camera format being used, like most focal lengths, APS-C 56mm can be useful for landscape photography.
To visualize where 56mm APS-Cfits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens review. The indicated focal lengths are converted to the APS-C equivalent angle of view.
This lens is a great choice for video needs covering the abovementioned subjects.
Having an f/1.4 aperture is liberating when shooting in dark environments, and the background blur this aperture can create is differentiating for this focal length.
This lens's f/1.4 max aperture is nearly as wide as it gets for AF lenses near 56mm (a couple of f/1.2 options are available), though most major lens manufacturers offer a 50mm lens with an equivalent f/1.4 aperture.
Use f/1.4 to allow a significant amount of light to reach the imaging sensor. Use that light to enable subject and camera motion stopping shutter speeds in very low light levels with low ISO settings keeping noise levels down. It seems there is always enough light for handholding an f/1.4 lens.
Another advantage of a wide aperture lens is the background blur it can create. A 56mm lens set to f/1.4 with a close subject creates a very shallow DOF, drawing the viewer's eye to the in-focus subject against a smoothly blurred background. You can add artistic capabilities to this lens's list of highly-desired features.
The following examples show the maximum blur this Sigma lens can create at the respective aperture setting.
If you are shooting under a full sun at f/1.4, you will likely need at least 1/8000 sec shutter speeds at ISO 100 to keep the exposure dark enough. Positive is that there is little action that a 1/8000 sec shutter speed cannot stop, but if the subject has very bright or reflective colors, even a 1/8000 sec shutter speed might not be fast enough to avoid blown highlights. Optionally use ISO 50 if your camera provides this setting, though the dynamic range may be impacted. Better still is that some cameras have shutter speeds faster than 1/8000 available.
Using a neutral density filter is a good solution to retaining the use of f/1.4 under direct sunlight when the shutter limitation is exceeded. Stopping down (narrowing) the aperture is always an option for preventing an image from getting too bright, though stopping down negates the need for the wide f/1.4 aperture and the subject-isolating shallow depth of field is lost.
Creating wide apertures requires larger, heavier lens elements that translate into larger, heavier, and more expensive lenses. Thanks to the smaller APS-C image circle requirement combined with this design, this lens is small, light, and reasonably priced.
For most photographers, the benefits of a wide max aperture prime lens far outweigh the drawbacks. Usually, no flash is required.
The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens does not feature image stabilization. Omitting the optical stabilization system reduces the size, weight, complexity, and cost, and the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture feature aptly handles many low-light scenarios. Still, image stabilization is a very useful feature.
Sony addresses that omission with Steady Shot IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) in their Alpha cameras. In addition to reducing camera shake, the stabilized imaging sensor provides a still viewfinder image, enabling careful composition. Furthermore, sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.
With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS or check the current settings. This extra step is a slight impediment to working quickly, going from tripod mounted to handholding, for example.
At review time, Canon EOS M cameras do not offer the IBIS feature.
Few attributes draw us to a specific lens as much as great image quality, and this lens delivers big on that aspect. This is a sharp lens.
Historically, one could opt to shoot at f/1.4 or have sharp images by stopping down to f/2 or f/2.8. Lens designs have improved dramatically in recent years, and this one is very sharp at f/1.4.
Often, subjects are not centered in a composition. In the periphery of the image circle, where light rays are refracted to a stronger angle than in the center, lenses typically show decreased sharpness. Only in the very extreme corner does this one show a touch of softness, and that slight issue resolves by f/4. Again, this performance is excellent.
The resolution chart is merciless on image quality, so next, we look at a series of center of the frame 100% resolution crop examples. These images were captured in RAW format using a Sony Alpha 1 and processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method. The sharpening amount was set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
The wide-open results show excellent sharpness, and the f/2.0 results are just slightly sharper. There was negligible difference at f/4.
Next, we'll look at a series of comparisons showing 100% resolution extreme corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images. The first set is from the top left corner, and the second result is from the bottom left.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, can be counted on to show a lens's weakest performance. Most obvious in these comparisons is the vignetting clearing as the aperture is narrowed, improving contrast, creating better sharpness.
Corner sharpness is not always important, but I always prefer my lens to have that feature.
This lens does not exhibit focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA).
A lens, especially an ultra-wide aperture lens, can be expected to create peripheral shading at the widest aperture settings. In this case, there are just over 2-stops of shading at f/1.4. Want less shading? Stop down. Just over a stop of shading remains in the corners at f/2. At this aperture, the rate of vignetting decrease slows until just under a stop remains from f/4 on.
One-stop of shading is often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern shown in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
Lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) refers to the unequal magnification of all colors in the spectrum. Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii), with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better to avoid this aberration in the first place.
Color misalignment can be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example. The image below is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of a Sony a1 frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
Only black and white colors should appear in this image, and few lenses deliver as little lateral CA as this one.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light. More simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation, with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The examples below look at the defocused specular highlights' fringing colors in the foreground vs. the background. The lens has introduced any fringing color differences from the neutrally-colored subjects.
While some color separation shows in the widest aperture results, the amount is relatively low for a lens that opens this wide.
Bright light reflecting off lens elements' surfaces may cause flare and ghosting, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes interesting, usually destructive visual artifacts. The shape, intensity, and position of the flare effects in an image are variable, dependent on the position and nature of the light source (or sources), selected aperture, shape of the aperture blades, and quantity and quality of the lens elements and their coatings. Additionally, flare and ghosting can impact AF performance.
On this lens, "Super Multi-Layer Coating reduces flare and ghosting to help photographers produce sharp and high contrast images even in backlit conditions." [Sigma] Additionally, the low 10-element count is helpful in this regard. The sun in the corner of the frame produces little flaring from this lens until streaking becomes apparent at f/11 and f/16.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality. Thus, high flare resistance is a welcomed trait of this lens.
Two lens aberrations are particularly evident in images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either sagittal (radiating from the center of the image) or meridional (tangential, perpendicular to sagittal). This aberration can produce stars appearing to have wings. Remember that Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the top-left corner of a Sony Alpha 1 image captured at f/1.4.
So, rendering pinpoint corner stars is not this lens's strongest characteristic.
"To achieve such a compact construction, lens design is considered based on the capabilities of the camera body function to correct peripheral light amount and distortion." [Sigma] While this lens's vignetting is not strong, its geometric distortion is.
While we might think that, with a single focal length to design for, prime lens designers would choose to eliminate all geometric distortion, that is not the case, and this lens has strong pincushion distortion. With increasing frequency, manufacturers are relying on software over physical lens design to handle geometric distortion.
Most modern lenses have correction profiles available (including in-camera), and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions reduced.
As seen earlier in the review, it is easy to illustrate the strongest blur a lens can create. Due to the infinite number of variables present among all available scenes, assessing the bokeh quality is considerably more challenging. Here are some f/8 (for diaphragm blade interaction) examples.
The first example shows defocused highlights being very smoothly filled, but the 9 aperture blades are not closing evenly, flattening one side of the circle. The second example shows a full image reduced in size and looking good.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the frame's corner does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the frame's corner, the shape is not round. That is the shape we're looking at here.
In this case, the noticeably truncated circles are limited to the periphery. As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming rounder.
A 9-blade count diaphragm will create 18-point sunstars (diffraction spikes) from point light sources captured with a narrow aperture. In general, the more a lens diaphragm is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be. Wide aperture lenses tend to have an advantage in this regard, and this lens is capable of producing attractive stars, as illustrated below.
The example above was captured at f/16.
The design of this lens is illustrated below.
That design delivers excellent image quality, with the strong pincushion distortion being the primary detractor.
Driven by a stepping motor, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens smoothly autofocuses with decent speed. Focusing is internal and practically silent.
Remember that (at least some) cameras, including the Sony a1, defocus the image slightly before final focusing in AF-S mode, even if the subject was initially in focus adding significantly to the focus lock time. Autofocus lock speed is noticeably faster in AF-C mode.
With adequate contrast on the subject, this lens focuses in very dark environments, though not in light levels quite as low as I expected for an f/1.4 lens. Autofocusing becomes very slow (several seconds) in the lowest functioning light levels.
I found this lens to consistently focus accurately, the number one requirement of an AF system. Not every shot was accurately focused, but a vast majority were.
Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as the focus is pulled from one extent to the other. This is focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone critically framing while adjusting focus. This lens produces a big change in subject size through a full extent focus distance adjustment.
This lens does not have an AF/MF switch. Changing this frequently used camera setting requires the use of the menu system (or a camera switch on some models).
The 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens's large, sharp-ribbed, rubberized focus ring is easy to find. The ring rotates smoothly with ideal resistance.
This lens has a variable adjustment rate based on the rotation speed. A full extent focus distance change requires nearly three full rotations (930°) when turning the focus ring slowly. Turn the ring fast, and 360° of rotation does the same.
The slow rotation manual focus adjustment steps are too large for high-precision focusing.
With a minimum focus distance of 19.7" (500mm), this lens has a 0.14x maximum magnification spec, a relatively low number overall.
Due to no identical alternative lenses in the database, the chart below shows a set of complementary Sigma lenses.
|Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.10x|
|Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.14x|
|Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||19.7"||(500mm)||0.14x|
|Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN Contemporary Lens||4.8"||(121mm)||0.36x|
A subject measuring approximately 5.4" x 3.6" (137 x 91mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at this lens's minimum focus distance.
The USPS love stamps shared above have an image area that measures 1.05 x 0.77" (26.67 x 19.558mm), and the overall individual stamp size is 1.19 x 0.91" (30.226 x 23.114mm).
At minimum focus distance, expect soft image quality in the periphery at the widest apertures. By f/5.6, corner image quality improves substantially, though rather strong lateral CA remains throughout the aperture range.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? Mount an extension tube behind this lens to significantly decrease and increase those respective numbers. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function normally. As of review time, Canon and Sony do not publish extension tube specs for this lens nor do they manufacture these items in compatible mounts, but third-party extension tubes are available.
This lens is not compatible with extenders/teleconverters.
The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens has an attractive design that maintains tight tolerances and has a quality finish. The gently tapering barrel diameter leads to this len's only moving feature, the long, straight, and comfortable to use focus ring.
The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens features a TSC (Thermally Stable Composite) exterior. "TSC is a state-of-the-art polycarbonate that is designed to be both lightweight and extremely durable, and its chemical makeup means it doesn’t shrink or expand with changing temperatures. This material is so high-quality that we’re also incorporating it into our Art and Sports lenses to provide lightness and thermal consistency." [Sigma]
180° of the barrel's mount area features molded-in ribs that facilitate grip for mounting and dismounting the lens.
This lens has no buttons or switches. As hinted earlier, I miss the AF/MF button the most. Positive is that the lack of switches means increased reliability and decreased opportunity for dirt and moisture penetration.
"Are Contemporary lenses weather sealed? Contemporary lenses feature a gasket at the mount that protects against dust and moisture, but none feature sealing throughout the lens body (this is an additional reason that Contemporary lenses are more affordable). That said, the vast majority of contaminants work their way into lenses through the rear mount, so as long as they aren’t abused, these lenses will provide many years of trouble-free use, even in moderate weather. For regular use in more extreme conditions, Art or Sports lenses are the way to go." [Sigma]
Note that the EF-M mount lens does not have the rear gasket seal.
This Sigma lens is compatible with advanced mirrorless camera features, including Eye AF, in-camera lens correction (shading, chromatic aberration, distortion), and camera-based lens firmware updates.
Aided by the reduced image circle size required by APS-C imaging sensors, this lens is very small and light for its focal length and aperture specifications.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||14.3||(405)||2.8 x 3.6||(72.2 x 92.3)||67||2021|
|Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||9.4||(265)||2.6 x 2.9||(64.8 x 73.3)||52||2016|
|Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens||9.9||(280)||2.6 x 2.3||(66.5 x 59.5)||55||2018|
|Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN Contemporary Lens||10.2||(290)||2.5 x 2.9||(64.5 x 74.5)||55||2017|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool. Here is a visual comparison of the small Sigma DC DN lenses being simultaneously evaluated:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens to other lenses.
This lens features 55mm filter threads. While 55mm is not a hugely popular filter size, 55mm filters are small and relatively inexpensive.
Sigma includes hoods with their lenses, and the LH582-01 Lens Hood ships with the 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens. The LH582-01, nearly identical to the 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens's LH586-01 hood, offers good protection to the front lens element, including protection from dust, water, fingers, limbs, etc., and from flare-inducing bright light.
The hood's interior is mold-ribbed for reduced internal reflections, and the semi-rigid plastic build absorbs some impact, adding a layer of physical protection to the camera and lens. The rear portion of the hood is rubberized to, along with the mold-ribbed ring, facilitate installation and removal, and the round shape enables the lens to stand on its hood (conditions permitting).
No lens case is included in the box, but finding a case for a common lens form factor is not challenging. Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.
The low price of this lens high-performing lens helps us understand why it is a best seller. The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens is a great value.
The "DC" in the name indicates that this lens provides an image circle wide enough to cover (only) an APS-C imaging sensor, and the "DN" indicates that this lens was designed for short flange mirrorless cameras. The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens is available in Canon EF-M, Sony E, Nikon Z, Leica L, Fujifilm X, and Micro Four Thirds mounts.
Made in Japan, each Contemporary lens is tested with Sigma's proprietary MTF measuring system, ensuring a quality product. In regards to the Sony E-mount version of this lens, Sigma develops, manufactures, and sells lenses based on the specifications of E-mount, disclosed by Sony Corporation under license agreement. Sigma provides a 1-year limited warranty, and Sigma USA provides a limited 3-year warranty extension.
The reviewed Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens was online-retail sourced.
The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens, Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens, and Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens form what Sigma refers to as "The F1.4 Mirrorless Trio". The three lenses are complements, share many similarities, and their reviews are completing in parallel.
The compact, lightweight Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens is a superb choice for portraits, along with other applications advantaged by the 56mm APS-C angle of view and wide f/1.4 aperture. This is a fun lens to use, and looking at the results is even more fun.
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