Earlier this month, Sigma announced three new lenses for Sony E and Panasonic/Leica L Mount cameras: The Sigma 35mm f/2, 65mm f/2, and 24mm f/3.5. These lenses, while bearing the “Contemporary” badge, are part of a new “I series” category.
Sigma says that they define a new standard for sophisticated class and quality, and achieve the nexus of both compact and premium. With this differentiation, there may be I series Art or Sport lenses in the future. The lenses have an all-aluminum exterior, aperture ring, rubber gasket on the lens mount, and come with a metal lens hood and magnetic lens cap (along with a typical pinch cap). Sigma sent us the 35mm f/2 and 65mm f/2 to test out for a few days, and this is what we thought.
Just like Sigma’s Art Primes, the new I Series primes all look the same. The focus ring is chunky and easy to grip, with a nice resistance to it – despite being a focus by wire ring. The aperture ring is similar, but sometimes I felt that it was a little too easy to move and found myself accidentally changing aperture without realizing it. There is no lock when you change the aperture ring to “A” like on some Fuji lenses, but it does require a bit more effort to get out of that mode. One major downside to the aperture ring is that there isn’t a switch to de-click it.
The lenses have a new AF/MF switch compared to other Sigma lenses. While they’re easy to find and switch from one to the other, they stick out more (both physically and visually) compared to the switches on the Art lenses. The magnetic lens cap that came with the 65mm f/2 we tested (the 35mm f/2 didn’t have one at the time Sigma sent it to us) is a cool feature that allows you to quickly attach/remove it, but if you have the lens hood on, it’s almost impossible to remove easily unless you want to smack the lens against your hand – not something I’d recommend. Both lenses when mounted on a full-frame Sony camera had a nice balanced feel to them, and my knuckles didn’t hit the barrel of the lens as they have on some previous Sigma lenses for E mount.
Unlike Tamron’s E-Mount lenses, the I Series lenses from Sigma have varying filter sizes. It would have been nice to see a unified filter size for this series, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Both lenses produce nice, smooth bokeh, especially for not being as fast as some of the primes on the market.
The optics of the lenses are top-notch, and the lenses were sharp throughout the aperture range, and quite sharp wide open. The 35mm was a bit softer wide open, but stopping down improved it considerably, and unless you’re using a high-resolution camera (test photos are done with an A7R IV), you’re not likely to notice the slight softness wide open. The 65mm was sharper wide open and didn’t show as much improvement stopping down, though the more visible issue with it was some pincushion distortion (take a look at the test chart edges).
Sigma 65mm f/2
Sigma 35mm f/2
Both lenses showed some vignetting wide open, and that improved by stopping down – though some natural vignetting isn’t really a deal-breaker for most. Oftentimes when shooting wide open, and at close focus, some primes can struggle to produce a sharp image – the 45mm f/2.8 was guilty of this, but both the 35mm and 65mm were quite sharp close up.
Chromatic Aberration wasn’t too noticeable on the 65mm, but on the 35mm you can easily see some when shooting wide open. At the time of writing this, no Lightroom profiles were out for these lenses, but once those are released, many of the issues above should easily be corrected with just a click of a button.
The Sigma 65mm is an interesting lens to use. Generally, when shooting portraits, I prefer 85mm over 50mm, but the 65mm is a unique length that allows for some more flexibility that you can’t get out of an 85mm. Having a minimum focusing distance of about 10 to 12 inches closer than most 85mm lenses can help get those tighter headshots that you would get from an 85mm, and the f/2 aperture helps smooth out the background too. Is it worth picking one up if you already have an 85mm? Maybe, maybe not.
Both lenses feature internal focusing and use stepping motors that are quiet and quick. Neither lens had issues tracking a person’s eye or missing focus, and both lenses acquired focus without much if any hunting in lower light conditions. The small size of both lenses was convenient when carrying around a small messenger bag instead of a backpack.
The new I Series from Sigma opens up a lot of potential for the company. Their previous lenses, while sharp, fast, and optically great, were large and heavy for most mirrorless cameras. These lenses may not hold up to some of the fast primes on the market, but their unique look and build quality, and their compact size are great for photographers who like to travel with minimal weight, or only want to take a small camera bag instead of a massive backpack.
The Sigma 65mm f/2 and 35mm f/2 are expected to ship in mid-January and can be pre-ordered here.
About the author: Ihor Balaban is a photographer and store manager of the camera store Pixel Connection in Avon, Ohio. To learn more about the store, head over to the Pixel Connection website. This post was also published here.