The Sigma 14mm f/1.8 lens is yet another groundbreaking lens in the Sigma Art line. This photography review weighs the strengths and weaknesses of this ultra wide angle prime lens, with sample photos I’ve shot while traveling with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 over the last six-plus months.
A few years ago, I said my “Dream Team” of lenses would be a Sigma 14mm f/1.4, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, and Sigma 85mm f/1.4. At that time, only one of those lenses existed, but I was absolutely prepared to buy the other two. Or so I thought. Even though this lens did not technically satisfy my dream (it’s f/1.8, not f/1.4), the idea was the same…yet I had trouble hitting “submit order.”
Buying this lens felt like betraying my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (read my review of this lens). If that’s not quite dramatic enough for you, it felt like I’d be selling out one of my children. The Nikon 14-24mm is why I yearned to go full frame, and it has been–by far–my most used lens every year since it came into my family. In a move befitting of Titus Andronicus, I ordered. I never read the ending of that play anyway, so I shrugged it off, thinking “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Actually, I was not quite so confident in my decision. Even after using the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art extensively around Southern California, I brought both it and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 on a couple of trips. That meant carrying a lot of extra weight, but I wanted to be sure that my betrayal didn’t lead to any real loss.
Enough of the Shakespearean set-up, let’s get to the lens review. For those of you reading one of my photography reviews for the first time, I’ll belabor a point I often make. I review photography gear according to how it feels to me based on my real world use. This isn’t some hippy-dippy metaphysical feeling…it’s not like I’m rating a certain lens high because it’s sending me good vibes, bro.
Rather, I judge lenses based on how I believe they performed in actual scenarios as opposed to over-analysis of photographing lab charts. Sterile lab reviews have their place, but so too do reviews like this, because an artificially constrained review doesn’t account for how real photographers will actually use the lens.
With that said, let’s turn to the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 lens’ performance, going through the laundry list of standard photography-review talking points…
We’ll start with the build quality of the Sigma 14mm f/1.8. If you’ve seen another Sigma Art lens, you’re familiar with the build here, as it’s consistent with the product line. It feels nice to the touch, has considerable heft to it, and the brushed aluminum finish looks fancy. Sigma Art’s industrial design is top tier, and head and shoulders above what Nikon and Canon are doing right now.
However, also just like every other Sigma Art lens, this comes with considerable size and weight. If you were thinking about this lens because it, rationally, should be smaller and lighter than the Nikon 14-24mm and thus better for hiking or travel, think again. The Sigma 14mm f/1.8 is heavier than the Nikon flagship, and only ever-so-slightly smaller.
Autofocus is predictably fast on the Sigma 14mm f/1.8. Ultra wide angle lenses rarely struggle with this, so I don’t really want to shower Sigma with undue praise here. I will note that when shooting into the sun–a situation in which lenses predictably struggle–I have experienced a bit of hunting on occasion.
This is a tough shooting scenario and hardly a dealbreaker, but worth mentioning if you shoot into the sun a lot. I think it’s also worth mentioning that, depending upon how you compose an ultra wide angle scene, you might be advised to (minimally) use live view to ensure the entire frame is in focus, or utilize focus stacking.
The latter technique is most necessary with truly layered scenes, or if you’re particularly persnickety about maximizing sharpness. You can read my focus stacking tutorial here. Note that these suggestions apply pretty universally when using ultra wide angle lenses, and are not unique to the Sigma 14mm.
Then there’s sharpness. The Sigma 14mm f/1.8 absolutely delivers, especially in the center. I would have a tough time anointing a sharpness champ between this and the Nikon at the same apertures (that’s where those sterile lab reviews come in handy). Both are scary good.
With that said, the Sigma 14mm has some corner softness at f/1.8. I notice this a bit in daytime images shot wide open with the frame filled corner to corner, but in real world shooting, how often are people actually taking shots like this? To me, this seems largely like the contrived territory of lens reviews.
When I’m shooting wide open with this lens it’s either for creative aims or out of necessity at night when the corners are usually concealed by darkness. In the rare daytime shots I have where this is potentially an issue, the natural corner vignette of the lens tends to hide it. Perhaps I’m missing something and other types of photographers can weigh in, but it’s a non-issue for me.
Even so, I think some corner softness is the cost of doing business with this lens. I’d say show me another 14mm lens that looks this good in the corners at f/1.8, but you can’t, because such a lens does not exist. With envelope-pushing technology, you have to accept some compromises. In my opinion, this is a very minor one.
Speaking of corner softness, I think in some cases this is conflated with the shallow depth of field offered by f/1.8. Many photographers question the value of subject separation when it comes ultra wide angle lenses. I’d respectfully disagree. While the bokeh quality is nothing special here, subject separation is possible with this lens–and useful.
I think this opens some creative possibilities, and allows you to layer a photo or direct the viewer’s attention to a certain area of the frame. Unfortunately, if my many “what was I thinking when I shot this?!” failed attempts demonstrate, it’s really difficult to get right. Still, I think it’s worth a shot, as these techniques offer unique possibilities and are one of the strongest selling points of a lens like this.
Of course, the main advantage of a fast ultra wide angle lens like this will be touted as shooting handheld or at faster shutter speeds in low-light situations. No doubt, those are huge.
I’ve used the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 sans tripod a number of times at dusk, and the advantage it offers over an f/2.8 lens is significant. While I’ve yet to test it for astrophotography, I’m looking forward to taking it out to Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks during Milky Way ‘season.’
Going back to the natural vignette, unless you want to get rid of that, there’s actually little need to use the Adobe lens correction profile for this lens, as barrel distortion is almost unnoticeable. Sometimes I’ll use the profile (just because) and then re-introduce the same level of vignetting because I like the aesthetic, but your mileage may vary on that.
Along with sharpness, the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art’s photos have a certain punch to them straight out of camera. Again, I think this is fairly consistent with the Art product line, and the high contrast, vibrant color appearance of straight-out-of-camera images has become “the look” of Sigma Art. They have a punchy, glossy quality to them.
Finally, in a topic that primarily matters to me and no one else, the sunbursts on this are very good. They have a slight fanning quality that I love (albeit not as much as is common in cheaper lenses, so I’m not sure they’re exactly a feature). Equally as important, when shooting into the sun at f/1.8, there’s a soft blown out look that gives the images a warm glow. It’s an eye-catching look that works well for some scenes, I think.
Ultimately, the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 is another revolutionary lens in a growing catalogue of revolutionary lenses from Sigma. That might sound like hyperbole or some questionable ‘sponsored content’, but it’s neither. In the last several years, my camera bag has gone from 100% Nikon lenses to mostly Sigma Art. The main Nikon holdouts simply don’t exist yet in Sigma form, but I’d consider buying those as soon as they do. While I do miss having 24mm with this lens on occasion, the practical reality is that the massive megapixel count of the Nikon D850 allows for plenty of cropping, and the value of having f/1.8 far outweighs the value of having the long end of the Nikon 14-24mm.
I still haven’t been able to bring myself to say goodbye to my old friend, but after months of just sitting on a shelf, maybe it’s time to move on and sell the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. I would buy the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art and not the Nikon if I were making the same decision today, and that’s something I couldn’t fathom saying a few years ago when the Nikon was my favorite lens. Suffice to say, I have a new favorite lens in my camera bag. You can purchase the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art Lens from Amazon HERE.
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Have you used the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art? Is it a lens you’d like to own, or do you prefer the versatility of the Nikon 14-24mm, or other zoom ultra wide angle lenses? If you use this lens, what do you think of it? Are you considering adding it to your camera bag? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!