When compared with two real optical heavy-weights, the 11-element, manual focus Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 (1,4/35 in Zeiss speak) ZF.2 and the 10-element Nikon AF AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, the Sigma trounces both. That’s quite something given the Zeiss and Nikon are both around $1,850. With each lens paired with the D800, the DxOMark score of 39 points clearly puts the Sigma in the lead.
The Sigma consistently matches or surpasses the others in the group for Transmission, Distortion and Vignetting (corner shading), and even edges ahead of the Zeiss for control of Chromatic Aberration. Without any low-dispersion glass in its construction, the Nikon does not do particularly well in that respect.
The big difference between the Sigma and the others is due to the sharpness, both in terms of acutance and resolution. The Sigma’s 23P-MPix is leagues ahead of the Zeiss and Nikon, both scoring 17P-Mpix on the D800. That equates to a 26 percent difference in sharpness.
In our second comparison the Sigma is pitted against the competitively priced Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC. It may be manual focus like the Zeiss, but at $549 with focus confirmation and a 12-element design incorporating two high refractive glass elements and a single hybrid aspherical lens, it could be a contender. In fact, it fares quite well, with good Transmission values, and similar vignetting. It even has some of the lowest levels of chromatic aberration in the group, coming second only to the Sigma. However, distortion is quite high and it can’t compare in sharpness, although in homogeneity across the image field it performs well. Given the resolution of the Nikon D800 it was tested on, at just 15P-MPix, it’s really only average.
The second lens in this group, the 11-element EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM can’t be fitted on the Nikon D800 (even with an adaptor because of the Canon’s shorter register) however we’ve included it purely out of interest. Although it’s the oldest of those on test, it has an excellent reputation optically and at $1,450 it’s an obvious alternative on any Canon full-frame camera.
The DxOMark Score of 27 is initially disappointing, but much of that is due to the lower sharpness scores from the lower resolution Canon EOS-1Ds Mk III. At maximum aperture the Canon doesn’t fare that well, only really becoming competitive in sharpness, at least centrally, at f/2.8 and onwards. In other areas the lens performs well. It has good transmission, and similarly low distortion. Vignetting is comparable too, albeit a little heavier. Unfortunately the Canon has quite high chromatic aberration, but it’s only just behind the much newer Nikon design.