Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary: Occasionally a lens comes along that makes you contradict yourself

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Had what should have been my perfect 50mm-ish lens if you listen to what I say I want in a lens with the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8.

Samyang/Rokinon FE AF 45mm f/1.8
A7 II/Rokinon-Samyang 45mm f/1.8
Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception
Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception

I cannot name one single thing technically wrong with this lens. Candid, low light wedding, night and day it did everything asked of it. While initially very happy with the lens I lost interest after a while. Cannot put to words why really. As I stated in a review update:

Update: Yeah… I sold it. Have gone back and bought (re-bought my own copy from the local camera shop) the Rokinon/Samyang 50mm f/1.4. Why? As stated in the post link, “I can offer you no good, logical reason. But I do have a few illogical reasons to offer.”

The only thing I can come up with is that despite the film like quality images it produced it was a bit soulless as a lens itself in operation maybe? I do not know. But what I do know is having bought, sold, and re-bought the (same exact) Rokinon/Samyang 50mm f/1.4 I am not selling that lens again. But I did feel there was still a hole in my lens line up. Portability. I really like the 50mm f/1.4 and the images it produces…

Rokinon FE 50mm f/1.4

…but it is a bit too large to be a knockabout every day 50mm-ish prime. Small size and weight with a slightly wider focal length was what I liked about the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8 but I had no interest in going back there again. There was another lens I test drove once that has remained on my radar since. Photo below of it and from (Excellent photographer Wilson) my first quick test run at SE Camera:

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary Test Drive

I was immediately drawn to this lens but fought it off because the lens did not make ‘sense’. On paper:

  • Slow for a prime at f/2.8. The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 technically covers this focal length and aperture and while not as small as the 45mm no one would describe it as huge either.
  • Tested side by side the Rokinon/Samyang is sharper at f/1.8 than the Sigma is at f/2.8.
  • If asked I will say that I do not need an AF/MF switch and aperture ring.
  • Expensive when compared to the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8 (with a brighter aperture).

Done deal then? Nope. As mentioned even considering everything above the admittedly very good Rokinon/Samyang did not ‘speak’ to me. So what kept drawing me back to the Sigma 45mm f/2.8? Welp:

  • The lens is gor-jus. To me it is Leica like in build and feel. Very different from previous Sigma offerings and I like it. While this has no impact on IQ it does matter. Both lead to greater enjoyment of photography for me. Almost… almost manages to make a plain Jane Sony A7III look good. Definitely improves things. This lens would be a perfect match for the rangefinder-ish shaped A7c in all black.
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
  • Image quality. While not as sharp as the Rokinon/Samyang wide open there is a loveliness to the bokeh and fall off that I just love in every sample image I see. I praised the Rokinon for its film look under certain conditions and this lens does even better. I cannot put my finger on it but I really like almost any image I see taken with this lens.
  • Build. I touched on this above when mentioning the looks but more than just the look the feel of this lens is very impressive. The metal hood feels and looks amazing with a design that matches the lens perfectly. The focus ring, aperture ring, lens barrel, and AF/MF switch have a quality solid all metal feel to them that would not be out of place on a much more expensive lens.
  • Very small. While not pancake like it is shorter than the already small Rokinon/Samyang 45mm. Small, quality built full frame lenses seem in short supply.
  • Close focus. While not macro the 1:4 reproduction rate did impress me when I gave it a test drive.
  • While I do not ‘need’ an aperture ring and an AF/MF switch they are nice to have. Typically features like these are reserved for considerably larger and more expensive lenses so they are a nice touch.

The one item left was cost. Based on build, IQ, and aesthetics I believe the Sigma is worth every bit of the $549 asking price brand new. But I did not want to pay that much. It took some patience but I chose to troll KEH weekly to see if one would pop up. Took a while but an EX copy showed up with hood and caps in spitting distance of the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8’s price new.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary

Now that I have it everything I noted above rings true and I can add:

  • All of what I had seen in my first test drive and sample images proved true. It produces wonderful images.
  • Amazing bokeh. I am not sure of how they accomplished this but if I did not know any better I would think that this lens had a wider aperture than f/2.8. Not based on this thinness of the depth of field but on the creaminess of the background blur. It has a pleasing look to it.
  • Speaking of that f/2.8 aperture. Thought it would be an issue, but it is not limiting at all in actual use. Perhaps due to the excellent out of focus rendering but I could not care less that this lens is not an f/2 or brighter aperture.
  • The existing close focus capabilities play very well with inexpensive Neewer extension tubes for macro photography. Samples below.
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
  • Sharp enough at f/2.8. I have recently throttled back from pixel peeping and started concentrating more on the entire image. Easily tweaked for a bit more sharpness in Lightroom after the fact or in camera by turning the aperture ring a couple of clicks. f/3.2 is sharper and f/4 should satisfy the most stringent of pixel peepers. Below are hand held shots at every labeled aperture.
f/2.8 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/4.0 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/5.6 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/8.0 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/11.0 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/16.0 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
f/22.0 - Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
  • That build. Just a great feeling lens in hand. Has that cool to the touch metal feel and slight ding to the body and hood that the all plastic Rokinon/Samyang cannot match.
  • Also this lens makes me out to be a complete hypocrite. While on lens controls are usually not my thing they feel right at home here and fit the character of this lens perfectly. Adds a vintage feel that very few new AF lenses possess. Writing a waiver for this lens. To get that film camera feel one could (and I likely will) put this on an A7c, reverse and fold in the screen on the back, spin the aperture ring off of A, flick the switch to MF and you have yourself a chimping free, broke man’s focus peaking Leica M-D. Not the same, but for me it will do.
  • One of the fastest, quietest, and accurate focusing lenses I have ever used. Shots on the fly are no issue at all. Heavily cropped sample shot of workers on lifts below were taken on the move.
  • Firmware. The lens arrived with firmware v1 and v2 was available that says it further improves AF when used with IBIS or something of the sort. Always glad to see a company continually improve their lenses through firmware.
  • Great colors. Reminds of how Zeiss lenses render and they are my favorite lenses for colors.

I could go on but I will stop here. Here is an ongoing sample gallery and below are some of the first images.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary Test Drive
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
Heavily cropped shot taken on the flu mentioned above.

So do I recommend it? If you have a need or desire for a lens that is…

  • versatile
  • solidly built with a rangefinder lens feel
  • 45mm
  • capable of creating great images with lovely colors and bokeh
  • acceptably sharp wide open
  • very sharp closed down the least little bit

…then yes. I do not believe you will be disappointed. Because of this lens I am very much looking forward to getting out and adding images to the gallery linked above.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary
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