Like many Sony FE shooters, I was eagerly awaiting Sigma’s announcement of Sony FE mount lenses. Various rumour sites (and Artisans I recall) were feeding suggestions of a 35mm f1.4 ‘ART type’ lens that would be somewhere in between the Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 Sonnar and Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon in size. This ‘new design’ seemed ideal and perfectly in keeping with the form factor of the A7/A9 series bodies. It hasn’t happened, but isn’t all doom and gloom either. Let’s have a quick look.
What Sigma has chosen to do is to change the mount of existing lenses to accommodate the FE mount and shorter flange-focal distance. This means adding a FE mount with about 25mm/1″ of ‘tube’. This makes the lenses a bit longer than their Nikon/Canon/Sony A siblings. You may be surprised to hear that I have opinions on this!
Doom & Gloom First
1.These lenses are actually slightly larger and heavier than their DSLR brethren. Mounted on camera, the front of the lens to the rear of the camera will be about the same when comparing a DSLR or a Sony A7/A9.
2. The larger lenses, such as the 50mm, 85mm and 135mm ARTs are pretty darned big for a prime of their kind even on a meaty 900g DSLR. These issues are going to be even worse on a Sony A7/A9.
3. We don’t get anything ‘better’ than the existing ART lenses. There have been complaints about consistency with the first ART, the 35mm, for example. One assumes those issues will be carried over, because only the mount and rear (non optical) section will be changed.
4. There are no zooms (yet).
1.Anyone expecting microscopic f1.4 primes on any system are likely to be disappointed. Anything designed for the 24MP A7 sensor really does need to also do well on the 42MP A7R II/III. This gets exponentially harder (and more expensive) as you make lenses smaller. There is certainly scope for making f1.4 lenses a little smaller, but this may mean less uniform resolution at f1.4 or other optical trade offs. Or greater cost (exotic glass). Or both.
2. Many Sony FE users don’t see their cameras as having value only because they are smaller and lighter than DSLRs. They regard them as better tools (for them), period. This means ending up with comparable bulk and weight to a DSLR when using the best f1.4 primes is less relevant, if this isn’t the only reason for using mirrorless in the first place. For this same reason, lots of people are very happy with their 16-35 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 GM lenses. As always, Sony FE users have the option of smaller lenses.
3. Personally – very personally – I regard the lenses of 35mm and below as the most compelling options here. I personally think the 50mm and above are already that bit too heavy on DSLRs, never mind mirrorless. Someone who shoots portraits or products in a studio may have a different view, of course. If, for example, the new 35mm ART FE is about the same weight and length as the Zony 35mm f1.4 Distagon, but retails at 50-60% of the price, that’s something to be pleased about, right?
4. There is no 24mm f1.4 AF prime in the Sony FE mount line up that I can think of, whether from Sony, Zony, Zeiss, Samyang or anyone else. For many photographers this is one of their important lenses. We have had the superb 25mm f2 Zeiss Batis for some time, but f2 isn’t f1.4. We also have the smaller and optically amazing Zeiss 25mm f2.4 Loxia. So we have options. If you really need f1.4 in 24mm, now you have it. Unsurprisingly it is larger and heavier than the 25mm Batis. You could say the same for the 20mm f1.4 ART FE, except here the closest comparison is the 18mm f2.8 Batis, at TWO stops slower. Again, its options. The 14mm f1.8 is just plain unique and so I will stop right there.
5. Sigma is getting to market as quickly as possible and offering seven lenses in one go. No waiting is required, once available of course. One suspects that Sigma will indeed produce bespoke designs for the FE mount (as Tokina now is), but have chosen to provide lenses people are already using on an adapted basis, in native mount. The number of people out there using the Sigma MC-11 or Metabones III/IV is massive. Many are happy with their lenses and have no complaints. These new lenses will perform better, as they will have full native functionality. We can expect AF to be better, continuous eye AF to be available seamlessly, etc.
6. These lenses will all be much better than the DSLR versions. Yes, they will. Really! This is because none of them will need calibrating with a USB dock. Seeing as the Sony A7/A9 focuses off the sensor, calibrating these lenses will not be required, as per all lenses on mirrorless bodies. AF calibration/microadjustment is needed on DSLRs because what the Camera and Lens AF duo thinks is in focus may not what is actually in focus on the sensor. Not only does this save a bunch of time on one body, it saves a boat load of time for someone shooting perhaps 3-4 ART lenses across 2-4 bodies. This is all a ‘pro’ for the pairing of these lenses with a Sony A7/A9, rather than DSLR.
7. Sigma *may* offer the option of switching existing Sigma A/Nikon/Canon ART lenses into FE mount, as they currently do for the DSLR mount versions. This may be possible, but may not, in light of the fact that it isn’t just a mount, but also an extension tube and possibly very different electronics to the DSLR versions. I very much hope so, because that really would go down well. Quite a few people are sitting on Canikon/Sony A ART lenses that would get a real boost in AF and do away with the need for swapping adaptors around. When working in the heat of the action, if you have only one adaptor, but several lenses that require adapting, along with native lenses, things can get rather complicated and confusing. You must remove the adaptor from the body to fit the native lenses. The maybe the next lens you want is an adapted lens that does not have the adaptor on it. You now have to switch the adaptor from one lens to another and then mount it.For location photographers, this is one bit of faff than they’ll be glad to pay $X00 to do away with.
This is mixed bag, but progress nonetheless. I will admit to being a bit disappointed on a personal level, largely because I don’t yet have a fast 35mm lens for FE and I want one. The Zony 35mm f1.4 Distagon has a reputation for many copies having a degree of optical skew (minor to major) and the 35mm ART is probably regarded as the most erratic of the ART lenses. There have been lots of focus issues reported (which may well not occur with the FE version), but I have personally had two 35mm ART lenses for EF mount that had optical issues, so I am a little gun shy with this lens. By contrast, my 24-35mm f2 (which is a much later design) is one of those ‘how can it be this good?’ lenses. A newer 35mm f1.4 with more modern production and QC would have been perfect. I also think it is one of the lenses most Sony FE users wanted to see. With the 35mm f1.4 Distagon and little 35mm 2.8 Sonnar, there isn’t much in between. At least Sigma offers us the aperture of the former with the price of the latter and lenses that aren’t up to snuff can always go back. I’d be surprised if many Sony FE users are euphoric at the announcement of FE versions of the 85 and 135 ARTs for the reason I mentioned: size. We already have the amazing 85 GM, Batis and f1.8 Sony, all are superb, and all price points and sizes are covered. At the other end of the scale, the 14mm and 20mm are unique, niche lenses and I’d love to know which applications people most value them for (astrophotography?). Sigma will sell plenty of these new ART FE lenses and, in the meantime, we can be sure they’re ploughing their R&D into dedicated FE designs. I would wager, however, that they will differentiate these new lenses from the new ART FE lenses. We should be prepared for them mixing things up, like releasing a compact 35mm f2/f1.8 rather than a f1.4, for example. After all, a top notch 35mm or 24mm f1.4 isn’t going to come packaged much smaller than these new ART FE lenses.
What do you think?