Knowing the strengths and weaknesses going in, the Sigma 35mm ART doesn't disappoint.
I'd be holding off on purchasing a 35mm lens since purchasing my Sony A7iii over a year ago. I filled in just about every useful prime lens focal distance with the note in the back of my mind that I would get something special for the 35mm kit.
My first requirement was a fast prime. I wanted the 1.4 since I'd held back on other primes and had gone with 1.8 or 2.8s. But since the 35mm focal length is so useful as both a portrait and general purpose landscape lens, I wanted something with a proven track record. Enter Sigma ART.
There were two issues I recgonized going in. First, the lens is heavy. At 755 grams, the weight and even the length of 12cm, causes a bit of hesitation if there's a choice between focal lengths for a particular shoot, especially for anything outdoors. Mounted on my A7iii, I have to stuff the thing into the standard Sony camera bag (the one that comes with the A6000 series). It fits but only just. Plus, if I'm not careful placing it inside then I run the risk of switching back on the camera, which has happened a couple of times in the field. Also, there's no real room for a second lens without stuffing that in on top whenever I'm going out for a short excursion.
The second issue I was aware of going in was sluggish autofocus when compared to other offerings, especially those 35mm choices which are 1.8 apertures. In the real world, this proved to be true when I compared the Sigma against my Sony 85mm 1.8, which is a beast of a focusing lens. It's to be expected, that most if not all 1.4 options are going to be slower compared to their smaller 35mm 1.8 and 2.8 cousins. But in the real world, I could still focus on what I needed, even if it took a bit longer and a little more patience in low light or fast-moving situations. For me, not a deal-killer at all and I doubt I'll have a change of heart after a year of use.
Issues aside, I bought the lens for its reported image quality and background rendering. In these two departments, the Sigma ART does not disappoint. In fact, it's simply amazing when I've managed to get the right subject matter in front of me.
My first test of the lens after purchasing was taking some outdoor shots in Idaho in late fall of 2019. I didn't even bother experimenting at higher f stops - I set my camera to what I call Stupid Mode - all the way wide open at 1.4 and everything else set accordingly. What amazed me were the colors coming straight out of camera and the great sharpness at the center when at 1.4. While not as sharp as say the 85mm 1.8, a little sharpening in post made up for it easily.
My primary use for this lens has been for portraits and environmental portraits. I should quickly add that I also have used it in street photography despite its relatively large size because the image quality is just too good to pass up. The image below is my favorite street shot I've taken to date. I just love the colors, and how I was able to nail the focus on the girl's eyes as she cartwheeled with toothbrush in mouth! The foreground and background blur is also superb to my eyes.
For the sake of fairness, I want to include an image (below) where I missed focus on the eyes. While it still looks great and zoomed out you can't tell, any pixel-peeper would be able to discern that focus was missed. For the record, it was a difficult focusing task for the Sigma ART. There was a shrub in the foreground to contend with and the balance of darker to lighter regions was tricky enough where I couldn't lock on with Eye AF or Face Detect at the distance I was standing to frame the girl and the wall. Had I been at f1.4 on this shot, the eyes may have turned out too blurry to use the image. I think my Sony 85mm would have nailed this shot, no problem. But I want to acknowledge the fact that there will be times like these when focusing on eyes or face may be an issue if there are multiple focus challenges.
I expect as I shoot more with the Sigma ART 35mm, I'll reach the point when I'll know all its limits, quirks, and strengths - to the point when I'll know what to expect just by looking at a scene beforehand. This is the ideal state I'd like to reach before reporting back to you on a long-term review. Until then, I can't recommend this lens enough for those in the market for a magnificent 35mm lens that will produce quality images beyond expectations.