The three sharpest Sigma prime lenses under £1,000

Want to improve your image quality? Our experts delve into the features and benefits of the three best Sigma prime lenses

The best Sigma prime lenses

by Kirk Schwarz |
Updated on

Sharpness is always the key component we look for in a lens. Sure, build quality, autofocus and handling are important too, but what we really want is fantastic image quality.

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So we challenged ourselves to find the ultimate affordable Sigma DSLR glass on the market, asking the independent lens manufacturer to send us its three sharpest lenses with a street price of under £1,000. We asked for primes only (ie no zoom), as the optical design of fixed focal length lenses generally results in the best image quality. Here's what we found:


Best Sigma prime lens

Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art1 of 3

Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art

Sigma's 20mm DG HSM | Art is the world's first prime lens of this focal length bearing a fast f/1.4 aperture. The optic comprises a serious amount of glass – 15 elements in 11 groups to be precise. This, paired with the premium metal build, means Sigma's wide prime weighs in at a fraction under a kilogram. It's also quite big for a 20mm lens, but then it does boast that wide f/1.4 maximum aperture. A focus distance window sits at the top of the barrel when attached to a DSLR and it has f/8 and f/16 markings to indicate the depth-of-field in your shot at these values. There's also an AF/MF switch on the side, which locks with a firm click and falls comfortably near the large focusing ring. This makes it easy to activate and disengage. At the front of the lens you'll find a petal lens hood, which is fixed in place and helps protect the protruding, bulbous front element from knocks and dings. As it can't be removed, it takes a slip-on lens cap rather than the clip-type and can't take conventional filters that screw in via the filter thread, as it doesn't have one. Filters can be used, but require a special slip-on holder. We compared the focus speed to its 24mm | Art sibling and found the 20mm to be slightly faster at finding its target. Details are very slightly soft at f/1.4 across the frame, though this is rectified quickly with impressive sharpness at f/1.8. There is a tiny amount of chromatic aberration and a small vignette from f/1.4 to f/2.8. There's also a tiny amount of barrel distortion, though nothing that can't be fixed in Photoshop. The overall sharpness of this lens between f/4-11 is outstanding, making it an ideal tool for shooting landscapes and astro. Spec Aperture: f/1.4-16 Minimum focus: 27.6cm Filter size: N/A Size (DxL): 90.7x129.8mm Weight: 950g Pros Rapid autofocus Close focusing distance Cons Large and heavy build Need special adapter for filters

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art2 of 3

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art

In keeping with other Sigma Art optics, the 50mm f/1.4 has a high-end, premium feel to it. Inside its heavy-duty metal barrel sits its 13 elements, arranged into eight different groups. With a weight of 815g, it's three times heavier than Nikon's 50mm f/1.4G, though it does have a large focusing ring, and its Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) allows for a fast and precise autofocus operation. It has nine aperture blades for smooth bokeh and there's a 77mm front filter ring too. Image quality impressed, providing outstanding sharpness across the frame between f/2.8 and f/11. We found slightly soft corners and a little blooming at f/1.4, but this sharpened up quickly by f/1.8. We found no chromatic aberration or distortion, and only a small vignette at f/1.4. It's big and heavy, but Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art lens can capture amazing details. Spec Aperture: f/1.4-16 Minimum focus: 40cm Filter size: 77mm Size (DxL): 85.4x99.9mm Weight: 815g Pros Brilliant image quality Fast autofocusing Cons Quite heavy for a 50mm prime

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art3 of 3

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art

Sigma's 24mm packs 15 elements in 11 groups in the 85x90.2mm barrel. Three of these are FLD elements, four are SLD and two are aspherical – said to minimise aberration in the corners. The circular aperture consists of nine blades for smooth bokeh and can be set between values of f/1.4 and f/16. There's a 77mm filter thread around the front element allowing filters to be attached. This is different to the 20mm f/1.4 model, which has no filter thread. It's marginally lighter too. Weighing 665g, it's 30% lighter than its wider 20mm sibling. Chromatic aberration is handled well, with only the slightest purple and green hint coming through in the corners throughout the aperture range. At f/1.4, corners are slightly soft, better at f/1.8 and very impressive at f/2.8. We noted a small amount of barrel distortion and a slight vignette shooting wide-open up until f/2.8. Spec Aperture: f/1.4-16 Minimum focus: 25cm Filter size: 77mm Size (DxL): 85x90.2mm Weight: 665g Pros Bright f/1.4 maximum aperture Compact size Cons Quite heavy for a 24mm prime

The Sigma Corporation was founded over 50 years ago by lens pioneer Michihiro Yamaki. His son, Kazuto Yamaki, now leads the family-run company, with lens production remaining in Japan. Sigma Imaging UK is a subsidiary of this Japanese firm. Photographers love choice, and Sigma has built its business around providing consumers with alternative lenses to the own-brand ones.

Related: The best Fujifilm camera lenses

Third-party optics were sometimes seen as a way of saving money, with many models boasting a more attractive price-tag. But the company oversaw a huge rebranding in 2013 with the new line of Global Vision Lenses. Divided into Art, Contemporary and Sport categories, these optics have an exceptionally high-end, top quality feel to them. It’s clear that Sigma is totally focused on producing glass that competes, if not beats the own-brand models. So it’s no surprise the price is now more in-line with the own-brand optics too.

Looking for more Sima lenses? Read our review on Sigma 85mm F/1.4 DG HSM now.

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Kirk Schwarz is one of our resident tech experts. A tech-addicted photographer with more than a decade's experience, Kirk's used to putting new gear through extreme field-testing.

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