A few years ago, Sigma released a set of exceptional and affordable lenses for Sony APS-C cameras. In this trio of lenses there was: a wide 16mm, a mid-range 30mm, and this 56mm, the final and tightest lens of the series.
Even today, this ultra bright portrait lens is still a favorite among Sony a6xxx users, providing excellent performance for anything and everything from telephoto landscapes to simple portraits.
In this review, we’ll be looking at every aspect of the Sigma 56mm F1.4 and showcasing why so many photographers fell in love with this little portrait lens.
Let’s dive in.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Bright F1.4 aperture
- Autofocus is reliable & fast
- Excellent build quality
- Best value APS-C portrait lens
Size & Weight
To start off, I want to highlight how small this lens really is. It measures a rather short 2.3 inches (6cm) and doesn’t gain much more bulk from the included lens hood.
Weight is also reasonable, coming in at about 9.9oz (280g) which is rather in-line with most APS-C primes.
In my opinion, this is about the perfect size when mounted on my Sony a6000 camera. Not too big, but also not so small to where it feels unnatural.
Is the lens well built?
Just as with the other two lenses in the Sigma trio, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 does not compromise when it comes to build quality.
The lens barrel itself is made up of a healthy mix of metal and thermally stable composite, a type of polycarbonate that is both strong and durable whilst retaining a fairly light weight.
Many of Sigma’s lenses are crafted out of this material, and over time it’s generally shown to be very long lasting, scratch resistant, and durable.
In fact, I’ve had my trusty 30mm for years and, despite beating the crap out of it, it still is going strong both visually and functionally.
As mentioned prior, the lens also ships with an included lens hood. The hood is, frankly, not the best quality, but I believe it’s the same one that my 30mm uses so it should last a long while.
It does the job of protecting the front element from both bumps and flare, and it’s reversible for easy storage (fits effortlessly in my Tenba BYOB 10).
As for weather sealing, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 does offer a small gasket just around the lens mount. It’s not perfect, but when combined with a weather sealed body (unlike my a6000), it could make for a really nice all-weather setup.
So is the lens built to last? I think so. I don’t have any long term data to back it up, but again, my Sigma 30mm F1.4 is made out of the same materials and has been an absolute tank for many, many years.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Similar to the other lenses in the trio, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 has a nice and minimalistic appearance. The barrel is finished in this very sleek, black material which contrasts nicely against the white engraved text.
That combined with the giant focusing ring makes for a pleasant and aesthetically pleasing lens, especially when you add in the little silver “C” badge (signifying the len’s as being part of Sigma’s “contemporary” lineup).
My only gripe is the lack of a physical AF/MF switch. As an avid user of manual focus, it would be nice to have that be a physical button, but given the size and simple design, I can see why it was omitted. Instead, I’ve bound the setting to a custom button on my camera which has worked well enough.
As for ergonomics, I’m in love with the small size of this lens. I generally shoot with just a wrist strap attached to my a6000, and that combined with this lens makes for a tiny, tiny kit that’s perfect for all-day usage.
Additionally, the massive focusing ring acts as a very nice gripping point, allowing for great weight distribution and comfortable holding. All in all, I had no issues with comfort when out and about shooting for a few hours straight.
Continuing the trend from the other lenses from the trio, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 provides quite literally class leading sharpness. It is, by the numbers, the sharpest lens ever created for Sony’s APS-C lineup.
When wide open, center sharpness is near perfect although the corners do fall off quite a bit. This type of corner softness generally isn’t a problem with telephoto lenses as the corners will be a mess of bubbly bokeh anyway.
Stopping down just a little bit evens out the corners and sharpens up the centers even more than they already were.
At F5.6 is where the lens peaks and the point where it claims the accolade of being the “sharpest lens”. Even extreme pixel peepers will struggle to find any flaws, whether that be in the centers or even the far-off corners.
Diffraction starts to set in rather early at F8, but doesn’t tend to get real bad until F16. Overall, literally top tier sharpness.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
As for optical flaws, the only major point to touch on is distortion. The lens suffers from some pretty heavy pincushion distortion. While this is mostly fixable in post-processing, it’s not entirely removable, which could be a problem for some photographers.
That being said, the lens is largely free from any other major issues. Chromatic aberration, unlike the 30mm, are pretty much non-existent, and the same is true with vignetting.
Flare control is among the best I’ve seen from a more budget lens, allowing you to photograph backlit subjects and pretty much directly into sunlight without major issues.
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Overall Optical Performance
Overall, I’m incredibly impressed with the optical performance of the Sigma 56mm F1.4. Stopping down just a bit provides unbelievable and unmatched sharpness.
In fact, due to the great corner sharpness, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens for something like telephoto landscape panoramas.
For portraiture, bokeh looks exceptional as you’d expect from a telephoto lens with a bright aperture. The bubbles are creamy and the sense of subject isolation is excellent.
Overall, with the exception of distortion, any optical flaws are very well controlled, and I was especially impressed with the flare control.
Autofocus is also fantastic, surpassing even some OEM Sony lenses in performance. It’s quick and largely reliable, and play’s extremely well with AF-C (subject tracking) along with EyeAF.
Unlike its wider counterparts, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 didn’t seem to struggle with hunting issues as much when it came to low light situations. It was even fairly reliable when photographing harshly backlit subjects.
Additionally, the AF motor is very quiet, making this a decent lens for video. That being said, however, it does not include any form of optical image stabilization.
While this may be a dealbreaker to some, I didn’t find it to be an issue whatsoever as I primarily shoot stills. Adding OSS would have made the lens bigger and also cost more, so it’s a worthy trade off.
Overall, I’m very happy with the autofocus performance. Video shooters may want to look elsewhere if they own a body without stabilization (like my a6000), but for stills photography, the lack of OSS shouldn’t be a determining factor.
Manual focus fans will be happy to know that, despite being focus-by-wire, the (giant) focusing ring feels accurate and pleasant to use.
There’s no focus scale or distance engravings but it’s fairly easy to grab accurate focus due to Sony’s excellent MF assists such as the focus magnifier & peaking.
My only gripe, again, would be the lack of AF/MF switch but, as I said before, I can see the reason why it wasn’t included. Quite happy with the manual focus experience overall.
My Final Thoughts
While I do believe this lens is the best in its class, there are a few alternatives I’d like to present. The first would be the Sony E 50mm F1.8. It won’t be nearly as sharp and the build quality is a little flimsy, but it offers stabilization.
Second would be the Kamlan 50mm F1.1. It’s a rather weird, huge and unique portrait lens that has garnered the reputation of being “the bokeh beast”. It’s entirely manual focus, but is extremely well built and produces excellent, bokehlicious imagery.
Finally, if you want incredible performance but are looking for something wider, consider the other two lenses in the trio: the Sigma 16mm F1.4 or, my favorite, the Sigma 30mm F1.4.
Value for Money
Just like the other two lenses, the Sigma 56mm F1.4 punches above its class in terms of optical performance.
Sharpness is quite literally the best out of any Sony APS-C lens ever made, autofocus is quick and reliable, and the build quality is excellent.
The lens renders incredible bokeh that makes for great subject isolation and bokeh when shooting portraits.
It is, however, a bit on the expensive side. I personally think it’s a classic case of, “you get what you pay for”, however. If you’re looking for the absolute best portrait lens for Sony a6000 cameras, this is the way to go. As a bonus, it’s also pretty small.
If you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, I’ll include purchase links below. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the lens. 🙂
This lens earned a spot on one of my best lens lists.
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