Review of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art

Most of the work that I do is for National Geographic. This is the 20th year that I have worked for the magazine and I have over 40 articles published.

I think one of the things that makes me valuable to the magazine is my flexibility and the ability to work on a wide range of stories that are very different in nature. Taxidermy, the Human Brain, Evolution of Feathers and Peruvian Mummies to name a few. I also use a lot of camera lighting techniques that I learned from several of the top people in the business. That being said I learned a great deal about what quality is, and a great deal about a wide range of equipment, Nikon, Canon, Leica, Mamiya, Hasselblad, Sinar etc.

I purchased the 50mm Sigma before I received the 35mm. I must say that they are my two favorite lens in my bag. I carry six Nikkor Lens and one Zeiss and two Sigma, (the 35mm and the 50mm).

The 35mm is my favorite, it is a good one to carry all the time when I’m not on a job, and can also use it to shoot a variety of pictures. But before I give you situational information about what I love about the way the lens deals with light, color highlight and shadow detail. Let’s talk about the design: It is simple and not flashy with gold or red lines on the barrel. To me it is a flat black, like the Batmobile.

One of the features that I like so much about this lens is the Auto Focus button. I’m a man, I don’t have the biggest hands but they are strong and I have very good dexterity, I would like to think. The auto focus buttons on the other lens is so small it is hard to find and use quickly. Sigma’s switch is big (not to big) and it clicks. You know that you have turned the AF on or off, no guesswork, or need to pull the camera away from your face. The switch has stayed the same with a lot of use. I have owned both of the main systems for years and other brands show the wear in that feature first.

Besides the functionality of the design, the lens is all glass and metal, not flimsy plastic that cannot take a hit. This lens is old school and has the, “I’m here for a long time”, feel to it.

So on to what I like based on the wide verity of subjects that I cover.

The first day that I had the lens I went do to the water front in Brooklyn, (where I have lived for 20 years, before it was cool) and shot a landscape of the city as the sun was setting. The picture has a great dynamic range and holds the shadows better then any lens I have accept the 50mm Sigma. The capture (on a Nikon D800) had an amazing range of the dark shadows on the eastern side of Manhattan, and the very dynamic colors of the sun reflecting off of the building. I like the capture because of it’s range and also because the colors are not over saturated as I find with Canon lenses. I put the image up on Instagram, (I have around 360K followers) and I had a dozen people reached out to me and purchase the picture. So thank you for that.

I photographed a portion of an Ostrich feather for an upcoming book on Evolution of Feathers. The usage was a good test of one of the types of pictures that I shoot: High key images that are exacting in detail and have a clean finish to the file. I shot an off white Ostrich feather on black plexiglass, and the separation is lovely, no bleeding of exposure range or confusion from the lens on what colors are being photographed. I know that some of the quality goes to the camera sensor, but the sensor need a great tunnel for the light to travel down.

It really works so well for this type of work. I backlight or flare images on purpose and the lens performs so well and does not fall apart and lose detail in the high range of the capture. I only wish that you made a macro lens that could focus 3″ or 4″ inches closer then my Zeiss.

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While I was working in Newfoundland, I was shooting a Tern’s nest. I was using an off-camera flash, I switched from my 24-70mm f 2.8 and put on my Sigma 35mm. I was confused, did I change my exposure, or did my assistant go up on the power setting of the strobe I was using?

No, it was just the quality difference in the glass, the capture with the 35mm Sigma, was at least a stop brighter, and it rendered so much more cleanly then the other pictures that I shot that day. The nest is in this wet coastal area, that has a lot of subtle earth tones to the palette. The file was perfect the way it was captured, and that makes the choices that I have to make in post production so much easier.

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With in an hour after I photographed the tern’s nest, my assistant and I were downloading the files. Elliot turned to the window. I had to shoot a picture of him in that light. The window lit shot has great details in the shadows, the lens is super sharp with out becoming “crunchy” and most importantly, the color of the situation, a subtle free hue of the wall, hat and coat were not lost.

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What ties all these different types of pictures together? Me as a versatile photographer and a very versatile lens that helps me eliminate choices. Let’s face it, we have a lot of choices as photographers, sometimes the most important choice is what not to use. Keeping things simple. For me, my choices have started to become easier. I hear an 85mm is on the way, I can’t wait to buy that next.

All the best, thank you for the opportunity to use this lens, it is truly a great lens. I’m not sure how the work has evolved at Sigma, but I’m telling you for first hand, real world tests, I do not want to use any other lenses.


About the author

Robert Clark is a freelance photographer based in New York City and works with the world's leading magazines and major publishing houses, as well as on cutting edge advertising campaigns.

His work has won numerous international awards, graced the pages and covers of magazines such as Time, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Stern, French Geo, US News and World Report, Discover, and has appeared on more than 40 book covers.

During his fifteen-year association with National Geographic Magazine, Clark has photographed over 30 stories, including more than a dozen covers. In March 2003, he photographed the magazine's first digital cover on dinosaur behavior, exploring how they might have lived. The article, "Was Darwin Wrong?" which Clark photographed for National Geographic, earned the National Magazine award for best essay in 2005.

Known for his innovation, Clark was commissioned by Sony Ericsson to travel the country for 50 days with only a cell phone camera to document the beauty and diversity of America. The unique ad campaign, which was Clark's brainchild, generated tremendous amounts of earned media in major newspapers and TV news programs across the country. His book, Image America, developed into a gallery exhibit in New York City and was the first ever published photography book using a cell phone camera. Clark's trip was hosted on American Photo magazine's website, which closely documented his day-to-day travels.

Early in his career, Clark left his job with The Philadelphia Inquirer to document the lives of hight school football players in Odessa, Texas with author Buzz Bissinger, for the book "Friday Night Lights". The book was a best seller and eventually became a major motion picture and a television series on NBC.

In 2003, Anne Wilkes Tucker of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston brought Clark back to Texas to capture the first year of the new NFL team, the Houston Texans. Clark's documentary and portraiture project resulted in one of the museum's most popular exhibits in recent years. The publication of a collectable 220-page black and white photo book, "First Down Houston: Birth of an NFL Franchise", sold more than 5,000 copies. Clark was also the principle photographer for First Lady Hillary Clinton's book, "An Invitation to the White House".

Clark witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center from his rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His photos captured the second plane hitting the tower and his four picture series was published in magazines around the world. His coverage on September 11th was recognized with a first place award at the World Press Awards in Amsterdam.

Currently involved with a variety of projects, Clark continues his association with National Geographic as well as a book documenting the birth of science and evolution. He lived in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Lai Ling and their daughter Lola.

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