Review: the Sigma 16mm f1.4 DC DN C

After my review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.2 PRO, a few people suggested a lower priced yet seemingly competent alternative – the Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens. A dear friend, Amir, who recently obtained a Sigma 16mm was kind enough to loan it to me for review purposes. So is this really a budget-friendly option to the 17mm F1.2 PRO from Olympus, and does the Sigma lens perform well enough under the standard Robin Wong lens torture tests?

Some quick disclaimers; neither Ming Thein nor I are associated with Sigma Malaysia. This is an independent review and my approach is always based on user experience and may be subjective. The Sigma 16mm F1.4 was used on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for all the sample images shown in this article. All images were shot in RAW and post-processed using Capture One Pro, with minor adjustments. You may view the images from this article in higher resolution on an online Google Photo album here.

F1.4, 1/40, ISO320

F1.4, 1/25, ISO500

F1.4, 1/2, ISO200

The Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens was originally designed to fit the Sony APS-C E-Mount but has since been adapted to a Micro Four Thirds mount. That explains why it is slightly larger and heavier than the Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO lens. The Sigma 16mm lens has a filter size of 67mm and weighs about 405g.

Sigma has been highly praised for their newer line of lenses available to both DSLR and mirrorless system camps and built a reputation for delivering high performing optics at reasonable price points. The Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens construction consists of 16 elements in 13 groups, including 3 FLD, 2 SLD and 2 aspherical elements. The lens also features a non-rotating front element which is good news for filter users, and a respectable minimum focusing distance of 25cm (with magnification of 0.1x). Also worth noting that the Sigma 16mm is sealed from water splash and dust.

For a full specification list, check out the official product page here.

The 32mm equivalent focal length is an odd one to work with – it’s in the middle of the more traditional 28mm and 35mm focal lengths. Being wider than 35mm allowed me to use the Sigma 16mm lens as a general wide angle lens in my test shooting sessions. What should I do with a wide angle lens with a F1.4 aperture? Take it for a stroll at night on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and shoot the dimly lit scenes of the urban landscape. After all, a F1.4 lens allows more flexibility in low light conditions.

F2.8, 1 second, ISO200

F1.4 (left) vs F2.8 (right), crop from previous image

F1.4, 1/8, ISO200

The Sigma 16mm F1.4 performed favorably well under dim street lights. Autofocus (when used on the E-M1 Mark II) was snappy and reliable, I found no issues locking focus even in extremely dark situations. It was a joy to have a F1.4 lens, coupled with the capable Olympus 5-Axis Image Stabilization – I could get away with hand-held shots at ISO200 most of the time. This is the largest benefit of shooting with Micro Four Thirds: I can get away with perfectly sharp images at 16mm with a 1 sec shutter speed at ISO200. With a few fast prime lenses, there really is no excuse why Micro Four Thirds shooters can’t shoot in the dark.

As I inspected the images from this short session at night, I found the wide open images to be uncomfortably soft. They were not unusably soft, just not as sharp as I was expecting. I then decided to do a side by side comparison by stopping down the images to F2.8 to see the difference. As shown in the center crop of a building image above, the F2.8 crop displays significantly more detail, contrast and higher clarity than F1.4. Bear in mind that the F1.4 image was shot at 1/5sec shutter speed, while the F2.8 image was taken at 1 second shutter speed, both hand-held. Since there was a chance that the image stabilization was not optimized for the Sigma lens (after all, it is a third party lens), I conducted a more thorough test on sharpness at different aperture values in a daylight situation.

F1.4, 1/250, ISO200

F1.4 (left), F1.8 (center), F2.8 (right) Bokeh Comparison

F1.4, 1/640, ISO200

Crop from previous image

Under better light, it’s clear that even wide open, the Sigma 16mm does produce decently sharp images, but nothing to write home about. At best, the sharpness is close to what the usual kit lenses from Olympus and Panasonic can do. Notably, Olympus and Panasonic prime lenses perform considerably better wide open and rarely require stopping down.

The bokeh rendered by the Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens is fantastic. When you can get close enough to your subject, shooting at wide apertures allows a good amount of shallow depth of field. The background just melts into creaminess and I really like what Sigma is doing with the out of focus areas of the images. This is no “feathered bokeh” but to be completely honest I can’t tell you what feathered bokeh is. All I can say is, I know good bokeh when I see it and the Sigma 16mm produces buttery smooth and pleasing looking bokeh.

F4, 1/2500, ISO200

F1.4 (left) vs F4 (right) Click for larger view, crop from previous image

F4, 1/3200, ISO200

F1.4 (left) vs F4 (right), corner crops from previous image

F5.6, 1/15, ISO200

To achieve optimum lens performance, you need to stop down to at least F2.8, or even F4. The difference between shooting at F1.4 and F4 is huge, as shown in the building crops above. I am not expecting the Sigma to be super sharp at F1.4, but I was also hoping it could deliver a bit more punch, because lets face it, if I am buying a F1.4 lens, I don’t want to be shooting it at F4 all the time.

Chromatic aberration was quite well controlled to my surprise. Honestly I have seen worse purple fringing on Panasonic lenses (even on some of the high end ones). This could be due to automatic correction profile. Chromatic aberration is more prominent at high contrast areas especially shooting wide open (though still perfectly tolerable), but as the lens is stopped down the chromatic aberration slowly diminishes.

Again, thanks to modern software, there is no trace of barrel distortion, and straight lines appear perfectly straight in my shots. I do not mind if the optics are not perfectly corrected, as long as I don’t see any ugly curvature.

F4.5, 1/50, ISO200

F2.8, 1/100, ISO200

From top left, then clockwise: F1.4, F1.8, F2.8, F4 – Bokeh comparison

Minimum focusing distance, the nearest

F5. 1/100, ISO200

I was actually quite satisfied with the close up shooting capability of the Sigma 16mm lens. While this is no macro lens, it does go really close – the above samples of shooting the Green Arrow Lego mini-figure was actually at the minimum focusing distance. At such short distances, the lens delivers crisp and highly detailed results.

The Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens does a great job combating flare. Certainly I have seen worse flare control in some Panasonic and Olympus lenses. I shot directly against the sun, bright spot-lights and all kinds of backlight situation and I almost never encountered any flare or ghosting problems.

Does the Sigma lens feel a little too big and heavy to use? This is a tricky question to answer – for a Micro Four Thirds lens, the Sigma 16mm F1.4 is larger than most of the prime lenses available for the system, even larger than the Olympus PRO primes which already received many complaints for being too big. Having used the lens on the E-M1 Mark II for a couple of days now, I honestly never felt that the lens was uncomfortable in my hands or was too large at any time. I felt the size and weight was well balanced when used with E-M1 Mark II. However, I cannot say the same if you attach the Sigma lens on a smaller Olympus body, say the E-M10 series, or PEN cameras.

I had my doubts about the AF performance being as good as the native Olympus and Panasonic lenses. The older Sigma lenses for Micro Four Thirds have had slower and more hesitant AF, but the new Sigma 16mm F1.4 performed flawlessly on the E-M1 Mark II. Focusing was just as quick and reliable as any other native lens I have used before.

F16, 1/3200, ISO200

F3.5, 1/30, ISO200

F1.4, 1/50, ISO200

On the whole, I do think that the Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens is a good match for certain Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds bodies – as long as you remember the less than stellar optical performance at F1.4. While the lens is a little soft wide open, when stopped down it is just as good as any of the higher grade lenses from native Olympus and Panasonic offerings. The Sigma renders excellent bokeh and does a great job shooting close up. Chromatic aberration, distortion and flare are all well controlled (perhaps with some software correction help). Autofocus works well with the OM-Ds and there really is not much to complain about the lens. Considering the much lower price point against the Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO, the only compromise is the lackluster performance when wide open.

I will be using the Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens for a few more shutter therapy sessions, so you can expect more sample images soon.

If you own the Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens for Micro Four Thirds, I would love to hear your thoughts. Do share your experience!

The Sigma 16mm F1.4 Dc Dn Contemporary Lens is available from B&H
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Is available from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2018 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Richard Gilsig says:

    Thanks for another excellent review and super sharp or not your images are always excellent. Any thoughts on how the PanaLeica 15mm f1.7 would stack up against the Sigma or Oly?

  2. Excellent review as allways but I have to disagree in some parts. I do have a Zuiko 17mm f1.8 which performs better than the reviews of this lens. I would say the Zuiko 17mm f1.8 is the most underated lens on the internet of the Olympus lenses. But my unit it is very sharp, and a good performer even wide open. Recently I bought the Sigma 16mm f1.4, just for GAS, and to try out the f1.4 performance. My Sigma at f1.4 it is sharper than the Zuiko at f1.8, at the moment you stop a little the lens is superb, at f1.8 for example the sharpness of the Sigma increases a lot, having its sweet spot at f2.8. The only drawback of the Sigma is the performance on the corners, it is not as good as in the center. But If I had to chose between the Zuiko and the Sigma I have no doubt I would go with the Sigma. The main advantage of the Zuiko is its small size. Best regards.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Stopping down the Sigma 16mm F1.4 may produce sharper results than the Olympus 17mm F1.8, but I disagree on the Sigma wide open being sharper than the Olympus wide open. I was partially hesitant to describe the wide open performance of the Sigma sharp, in fact, it was good but not anywhere near what any of the Olympus M.Zuiko lenses can do at wide open. The difference is obvious. I worked for Olympus and I have handled no less than two dozens of different 17mm F1.8 samples.

  3. Irvin Gomez says:

    I ‘standardized’ on a 62mm filter size for my tiny Olympus lens collection (25mm 1.8, 45mm 1.8, 75mm 1.8 and 12-40 2.8), so when considering a lens like this, I factor in the cost of buying mere filters – not only in money, but more physical space on my bag, more things to keep track of, etc.

    In the end, at least for me, a lens like this is more expensive than it appears and not worth the investment.

  4. Thanks Robin! I have a few questions. How does this lens compare to Olympus 17mm f1.8 (since some are saying this is soft quite open too)? And is the autofocus during video also as good as Olympus in general given that this is a Sigma lens?

    • Robin Wong says:

      The 17mm F1.8 is sharper shooting at wide open, but when both lenses are being stopped down, the Sigma 16mm F1.4 could be a little sharper, just a little. I did not shoot any video when I was using the Sigma 16mm though!

  5. Robin – Great photos as always. I believe you that the lens is not ‘too big’, but I wish your request from several years ago for more pancake prime lenses would have come true instead. Yay 1st comment!

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