The Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary ($479) is small, light, and offers a bright aperture. The lens is available for a few different types of mirrorless cameras, and offers coverage for sensors as large as APS-C. Its angle of view is great for portraiture, but the lens isn’t limited to that purpose. It’s an overall excellent performer, and a welcome addition to any kit—especially if you’re into portraiture. It balances price, performance, and size quite well, so we’re naming it our Editors’ Choice.
Compact, but Not Sealed
The 56mm Contemporary measures 2.3 by 2.6 inches (HD), weighs just 9.9 ounces, and supports 55mm front filters. It’s finished in black, and ships with a reversible lens hood along with front and rear caps.
Sigma markets it for different camera systems. We tested a copy in Sony E mount, and the company has announced plans to bring the lens to Canon EF-M cameras this autumn. Both systems use the APS-C sensor size, where the lens mirrors the angle of view of an 85mm prime.
If you buy the E-mount version you can mount it to a full-frame Sony camera, as the mounts are physically identical, but it shows a vignette. It’s most pronounced when stopped down, as you can see in the image below, shot with the full-frame Sony a7R III with the lens set to f/8.
There’s also a version for Micro Four Thirds cameras. It uses the same optics, but because the Micro Four Thirds sensor is smaller, the lens nets a tighter angle of view. It’s closer to what you get from a 112mm full-frame lens.
Sigma doesn’t include dust and splash protection in the 56mm, which can be a concern. Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony all offer camera bodies with weather protection that work with the lens. None offer similar lenses with sealing at a close price point, however. Sony has the full-frame FE 55mm F1.8, Olympus offers the high-end M.Zuiko 45mm F1.2 Pro, and Panasonic sells the 42.5mm F1.2, all with weather protection, but also for a lot more money.
Optical stabilization is also omitted. How important the feature is depends greatly on the camera you own. Some mirrorless models, like the Olympus OM-E E-M10 Mark III and Sony a6500, include in-body stabilization, which does a decent job eliminating motion blur from handheld shots and removing jitters from video.
The only on-lens control is the manual focus ring. It occupies the bulk of the barrel, and is finished in textured rubber so it’s comfortable to adjust focus. Mirrorless cameras offer manual focus aids, including peaking and magnification, to help you hit the perfect point of focus. Of course, autofocus is supported, and it’s both quick and quiet.
Focus is available as close as 19.7 inches (50cm). It’s good enough for 1:7.4 life-size magnification at its closest focus distance. It’s certainly not a tool you’ll use for macro images, and is similar to what you get from the Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS and Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8.
Another Sigma Stunner
Sigma’s lenses typically excel in terms of resolution, and the 56mm F1.4 is no exception. I tested it along with the 24MP Sony a6400. At f/1.4 the pair manages 2,629 lines on a center-weighted Imatest evaluation, an excellent result. Edge resolution is decent (2,064 lines), but inconsequential to most images made at f/1.4—depth of field will blur out everything but your subject.
Performance crosses to the outstanding range at f/2 (3,141 lines), and edge performance is close enough to average (2,902 lines) that we won’t fret about it from here on out. Images show even more detail at f/2.8 (3,557 lines), and peak performance comes at f/4 (3,878 lines).
Resolution continues to be impeccable at f/5.6 (3,723 lines), but diffraction starts to cut into detail as early as f/8 (3,341 lines). Still, you can shoot there and at f/11 (2,915 lines) and net crisp photos. There is certainly a loss of quality at f/16 (2,354 lines), which is expected.
While we have absolutely no complaints about resolution, the 56mm does show a visible pincushion distortion effect, about 3.4 percent. If you use the lens for images of architecture or other subjects with visibly straight lines, it will capture them with a slight inward bow. It’s very easy to fix using software—Lightroom offers a one-click correction to compensate.
Illumination is relatively uniform from center to edge, even when working at f/1.4. The lens shows a modest -0.9EV drop at the corners of the frame, relative to the center, which is, for all practical purposes, invisible.
A Sharp Lens at a Good Price
It’s hard to buy a bad lens these days, assuming you have the funds. And while I certainly wouldn’t classify the $480 Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary as a budget option, it’s doesn’t carry the high-end price tag, or the bulk, of alternatives like the $1,200 Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.2 Pro or the $1,500 full-frame Zeiss Planar FE 50mm F1.4 ZA for Sony systems.
Both Micro Four Thirds and Sony owners have access to less expensive lenses that serve a similar purpose. The aforementioned Olympus 45mm F1.8 and Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS are two examples, both selling for around $300. And while the promised Canon EF-M version isn’t shipping at press time, it will fill a gap, as Canon doesn’t market a similar lens.
You’ll pay a little bit more for the Sigma, but it’s not that much larger than the f/1.8 alternatives, captures about fifty percent more light than f/1.8 lenses when shot wide open, and is as sharp as you can expect any lens to be when stopped down a bit. If you own a compatible system, and are in the market for a short telephoto lens for portraiture and shallow depth of field images, the 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary will serve you well.