Recently I had the opportunity to spend a work day with the new SIGMA Cinema Zooms (18-35, 24-35, 50-100) and two of their primes (35/85). Based on Sigma’s market leading ART series of stills lenses, they have been converted for professional video use with witness marks (both sides), de-clicked aperture rings in T stops and standard cinema toothing for manual or remote control of zoom, aperture, and focus (only the latter on the primes), with a standard front element size of 95mm.
Before I get any further into detail, I’m going to tell you how this story ends: these are EXCEPTIONAL lenses that are likely to become the industry standard below lenses costing up to 20x as much. I absolutely did not want to give them back and they are going to be extremely disrupting in the crowded sub $10k and sub $5k cinema glass market.
A quick note about the “tests”: I wanted to recreate where I’d use these lenses -feature documentary, commercials, and drama. I set up a couple of standard interview shots and we did a small improv scene, as well as a brief trip to the Pier. As much as possible I shot each lens as wide open as possible – if they are sharp there, then it can only get better. These were pre-production models. I shot with the only native EF mount to hand, a C300, no sound.
The original Sigma 18-35 F1.8 has been a core lens for Super35/APS-C video use since its release. It’s sharp and fast. The cinema version is the same (rated at T2), but with enhanced mechanics. Its simply gorgeous to shoot with. We’ve wanted this lens for a long time.
The 50-100 is outstanding. I can’t rave about the focus feel of the pre-production model I had enough. If you’re an operator who occasionally likes to get their hands dirty pulling your own focus you are going to adore this lens. The bokeh is very pleasing, and it’s as sharp as the 18-35.
The 24-35 serves as the standard wide to portrait on FF sensors. Would be perfect for FF 4-8k on a pro gimbal. As I only had a Super35mm sensor handy I didn’t have a chance to really test it.
And then the primes. In my personal kit, I mainly shoot standard speed Zeiss CPs. I was very interested to see how they compared.
The Sigma is quite a bit smaller, against a lens already regarded as very small in the cinema world. The CPs have been the baseline on pro jobs since their introduction in 2009 and retail for @$4k – the super speed version that is the direct comparison is almost $5k. If the Sigmas are even a small amount under that (prime pricing unavailable at time of writing) then they will be very popular. The 85 particularly is one I know I will own to replace its CP counterpart (and you can probably guess what will happen then).
Overall all the lenses feel great in the hand.
They’re solid pieces of engineering. In that regard they are not lenses for running and gunning with a very small rig (although I tried!). With no IS they are not built for handheld work (unless your sensor has movement compensation instead).
They were most at home on a nice large tripod or a decent shoulder rig.
In terms of visual quality and color, the images they produce match perfectly (as you can see in the ‘scene’ at the bottom of this review). From the zooms to the primes, or between zooms there’s no issue as to whether they will cut. They’re seamless, which again puts them far ahead of other recent entrants to the lower cost cinema lens market. The micro-contrast I saw was excellent – they give people’s faces that ‘lift’ you’re always looking for. Bokeh was pleasing, especially on the 85 and 50-100 (no shock). My only negative is that I’d like a 135mm in the range, and breathing on the 50-100 can be very noticeable.
There has to be a tradeoff somewhere for that fast speed.
They also seemed pretty much parfocal, admittedly over their very short ranges.
My favorite lenses to self-operate are the Angenieux Optimo Rouge pair of matched short zooms, and the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90. These are lenses that cost well north of $20k and are very heavy. In the brief time I spent with them these Sigma zooms, that will sell for @$4k, they will run them very close, if not actually match/beat them in some areas. There are certainly other brands in this price bracket that should be extremely concerned!
The highest praise I can give a lens is that it makes you want to be more creative. These passed that test easily. Can’t wait to use them again.
NB: The soon to be released Sigma Cinema Prime lineup is 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm & 85mm, all T1.5, all covering FF sensors. I drooled typing that.