Sigma has three f/1.4 maximum aperture prime lenses in its Contemporary (or C) family for smaller format mirrorless cameras. It started with the 30mm f/1.4 DC DN C in 2016 to be joined a year later by the 16mm f/1.4 DC DN C, the fastest lens of this focal length for Sony E-mount APS-C format cameras. In 2018 we saw the 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C, a fast medium telephoto suitable for a broad subject range especially people photography.
Lens mount availability has evolved over the several years these three optics have been available. In 2022, the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C was made available in the Fujifilm X-Mount fitting, joining Canon EF-M, L-Mount, Micro Four Thirds and Sony E-mount fittings. We’ve updated this review after testing with the Fujifilm X-S10. In April 2023, the lens also became available for Nikon Z mount, so another update has been made after testing with the Nikon Z30.
With the E-mount and APS-C mount versions being equivalent to 84mm (90mm on Canon) and the Micro Four Thirds version offering 112mm coverage, the 56mm focal length will appeal to mirrorless users after a fast mid-telephoto lens that’s well suited to a variety of applications such as portraiture, reportage, travel and low-light at a sensible price. For our insights into the best lenses for portrait work, click here, and for low light shooting click here.
Announced in February 2023, the latest news on this trio of Contemporary lenses is that Sigma will have them available in Nikon Z mount so suitable for models including the Z 50 and Z fc. No release date has been confirmed at this time, but read our full story here.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C Features
Without having to create an image circle large enough to cover a 35mm full frame sensor, the lens is relatively small and light, especially when you consider that it has an f/1.4 maximum aperture. It’s the smallest of the three DC DN lenses Sigma has made and is noticeably more compact than the company’s 16mm f/1.4 DC DN C. The optical construction is made up of 10 elements in 6 groups, and to ensure it offers high-performance at an affordable price point, one special low dispersion (SLD) glass element and two aspherical elements are used to curtail optical aberrations. To help reduce flare, Sigma’s Super Multi-Layer coatings are also applied to the front element.
There obviously isn’t much point having an f/1.4 aperture if it renders unattractive hexagonal bokeh, so Sigma has sensibly employed nine rounded aperture blades. These are clearly visible when you peer down the barrel and help to ensure that when the lens is stopped down to its widest aperture settings, the out-of-focus areas show attractive circular specular highlights and smooth transitions.
The lens doesn’t offer any form of optical stabilisation and is electronically controlled throughout. There is no aperture ring and the focus ring is a fly-by-wire electronic affair, just like Sigma’s other DC DN primes. To make focusing fast and smooth, the lens features a stepping motor that goes about its business quickly and quietly. Added to all this, the autofocus is fully compatible with Sony’s Fast Hybrid AF system and excellent AF tracking and Eye AF modes.
Other noteworthy features include its 50cm minimum focusing distance and the acceptance of filters and adapters via a 55mm filter thread at the front. It’s at this point I should also point out the lens employs internal focusing, so should you use an ND grad or polarising filter with it, you will not have to worry about the front turning or extending when focusing.
The lens weighs a mere 280g on the scales. As part of the boxed contents you get front and rear caps and a plastic hood (LH582-01) that can be reversed when it’s not being used.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C Build & Handling
The lens has the same clean black aesthetic that we’ve come to expect from Sigma ever since the company announced its ‘Global Vision’ series, which is the collective name for their Art, Sport and Contemporary lenses. The lens designation and minimum focus distance are both printed on the barrel and the only other marking of note is the silver circle with the letter C inside it that tells us it’s part of Sigma’s Contemporary range. Just to recap, the ethos of Sigma’s Contemporary lenses is to offer high performance whilst keeping them as compact and lightweight as possible.
First impressions of the lens out of the box were that it’s smaller than I’d expected, feeling reassuringly solid and well constructed in the hand. The brass metal mount comes with a rubber sealing around its perimeter that compresses against the camera mount to form an effective seal against dust and moisture, while the ribbed focusing ring on the barrel is easy to locate with your left hand when your eye is held to the viewfinder.
My experience of manually focusing the lens was very positive, made all the better by the incredibly smooth motion of the focus ring and the magnified view offered by the Sony A6500 I was testing it with. I found extremely precise shifts in focus easy to perform, with a slow turn of the ring shifting focus ever so slightly. To jump from the minimum focusing distance to infinity takes about four or five sharp twists of the focus ring.
With no AF/MF switch on the barrel, you’re required to select focus mode via the camera. Autofocus is brisk and signs of hunting were few and far between. Only on a few occasions in low-light did the lens show signs of hunting back and forth before it acquired focus on a close subject. Just as Sigma claims, the stepping motor is very quiet indeed, however if you hold the lens to your ear as the lens autofocuses you’ll be able to make out a very high frequency whir. This was picked up by the internal microphone on the Sony A6500 when recording video, but could only be heard when filing in silence and when there wasn’t any ambient noise to cancel it out.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C Image Quality
To get a good impression of how the lens performs on an APS-C mirrorless camera, it was predominantly used with Sony’s A6500 – a compact combination that was easy to slip into a jacket pocket and pull and out and use inconspicuously.
Shooting wide open at f/1.4 produces satisfying results, with sharply defined subjects standing out against smooth blurred backgrounds. The aesthetic of out-of-focus specular highlights at wide apertures is pleasing too, with nicely rendered circular highlights in the centre of the frame. Cats-eye bokeh was observed towards the edge at f/1.4, but this is less pronounced when you stop down. Centre sharpness is good at f/1.4, but stopping down and using it between f/2 and f/4 does yield sharper results. Corner sharpness also gradually improves as the aperture is closed to f/5.6.
With in-camera optical corrections switched off, vignetting is noticeable, with corners appearing approximately 1.2EV darker than the centre at f/1.4. I found the aesthetic of this corner shading to be complimentary to portraiture and centrally framed subjects. Vignetting becomes less obvious at f/2.8 and is barely noticeable at f/4.
For a fixed lens that’s equivalent to 84mm on an APS-C camera, I was surprised to find that it exhibits strong pincushion distortion when lens corrections are turned off. This wasn’t a major concern however as the built-in lens profile that was applied to a majority of my shots turned out to be highly effective at ensuring straight lines were kept straight.
Chromatic aberrations were also traced along high-contrast edges at f/1.4 when in-camera corrections were turned off. Some mild traces of purple and green fringes of colour were still obvious in shots where the built-in lens profile was applied, so you may find yourself applying some additional manual correction, just as I did.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C Resolution, shading and curvilinear distortion
A study of our Image Engineering Tests reveals the lens is sharper in the centre than at the edge throughout the aperture range. Centre sharpness (shown by the solid red line) improves considerably by stopping it down from its maximum aperture to f/2 and peaks between f/2.8 and f/4. Corner sharpness (shown by the dotted red line) doesn’t reach the same level as centre sharpness, but does steadily improve from f/1.4 to f/5.6. For the best edge-to-edge sharpness it should be used around f/5.6-f/6.3. Diffraction has the affect of softening images at f/16.
The caveat of using a lens wide open is the vignetting it can introduce at the edge, but in some cases, such as for portraiture, it can be quite appealing. Our tests reveal the corners of images appear darker than the centre by approximately 1.2EV. Corner shading becomes less obvious when it’s stopped down, with edges measuring around 0.7EV darker than the centre at f/2 and becoming almost completely absent by f/4.
With all lens corrections switched off, the lens exhibits obvious pincushion-type curvature of lines towards the edge of the frame – more than we’d expect for a mid telephoto zoom that’s equivalent to 84mm on an APS-C mirrorless camera like the Sony A6500 we tested it with. If you’re shooting subjects with straight lines near the corners and want distortion-free images straight out of the camera, you’ll want to double-check the built-in lens profile is applied.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C in X-Mount – Richard Sibley
We originally reviewed the Sony E mount version of this lens back in 2019, where it left us impressed with its overall sharpness and image quality, particularly for its competitive price. With the Fujifilm X mount version being optically identical and only the lens mount being physically different, I can report the same outcome.
With a roughly 85mm equivalent field of view, the 56mm lens hits a prime spot for portraits, especially given its f/1.4 aperture. At £379, it’s cheaper than Fujifilm’s XF 50mm f/2 R WR, and less than half the price of the much-loved XF 56mm f/1.2 R.
Cosmetically, this lens is from the same stable as the Sigma 16mm f/1.4. Again, it lacks optical stabilisation, which is expected given the price and maximum aperture. But it should be of more note given the longer focal length. Interestingly, this is physically the shortest of the three Sigma f/1.4 primes, which meant it benefited the least from the greater balance and handling offered by the SLR style body of the X-S10.
I found the focusing, when paired with the Fujifilm X-S10, allowed me to take full advantage of face and eye autofocus. Images had a lovely contrast with good skin tones, especially when paired with the Pro Neg Standard and Pro Neg Hi Film Simulations. I would recommend the combination as an affordable starting point to anyone starting out taking portraits.
Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN C for Nikon Z Mount
Three of Sigma’s contemporary prime lenses were announced as becoming available for the Nikon Z mount in April 2023, following on from options available for Fujifilm, Canon, Leica L and Micro Four Thirds. Amy Davies spent some time with each of the new lenses to find out how well they paired with Nikon Z.
As well as the 56mm f1.4 DC DN C for Z mount, we also get the 16mm F1.4 DC DN and the 30mm F1.4 DC DN for Z mount. These are designed mainly for use with Nikon’s APS-C models like the Nikon Z50, Nikon Z30 and Nikon Zfc.
It’s worth noting that none of these three optics has direct equivalents for Nikon APS-C models from Nikon itself. If you therefore want a prime lens at this focal length, then for now at least, Sigma is the only route available.
The 56mm f1.4 is the longest of the trio and gives you an equivalent focal length of 84mm, making it particularly ideal for portrait photography. If you’re a DX user, then the nearest you’ll get to this focal length from a proprietary prime lens is the Nikkor DX 24mm f/1.7 lens, or, you might instead use something like the Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR lens or the Nikkor Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR lens. Alternatively, you might consider mounting the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 S lens, which would give you an equivalent of 75mm on your APS-C camera, but will cost you a little bit more, and is quite a lot larger than the Sigma 56mm lens.
If you have a full-frame Nikon camera, such as the Nikon Z6 II, you can use the Sigma 56mm with it, with your camera automatically diverting to crop mode to give the same 84mm equivalent focal length. You might therefore consider it to be a better priced (and smaller) version of the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens for this type of camera.
We’ve been using the 56mm F1.4 with the Nikon Z30. It is the smallest of the Contemporary trio and balances pretty well with the Z30, though it’d also be an excellent match for the Z50 and the Zfc. It might feel a little small on a full-frame model, but the benefit of a lightweight option for your kit bag is potentially worth it.
One drawback of using this lens with Nikon DX cameras is the lack of optical stabilisation in the lens. You won’t get that from your Nikon DX body either, unlike with bodies from some other manufacturers like Fujifilm and Sony. At this focal length that can lead to issues with sharpness if you’re attempting to shoot at low ISOs / slow shutter speeds, so it’s worth remembering that when using the lens.
Other than that, using this lens is more or less the same as when using it with other mounts, such a with the other models used in the rest of the review. For portraits it’s a great choice, and you might also even consider it for other types of work, too. In an ideal world, you’d pick up all of Sigma’s contemporary trio and be set for just about any situation.
As we found with the other mounts, image quality is great with a high level of sharpness and pleasing bokeh in out of focus areas when used at the widest aperture of f/1.4. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this lens for Nikon DX users who want an excellent portrait lens, and I’d probably also say it’s worth full-frame users considering it too if they want something more affordable and lighter than Nikon’s closest equivalent. Amy Davies.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Verdict
With the 56mm f/1.4 DC DN C, Sigma has produced a very appealing compact prime lens for users of a host of camera brands: Fujifilm X, Canon EF-M, L-Mount, Micro Four Thirds and Sony E-mount, and with Nikon Z on the way. The nature of its size means that it doesn’t dwarf small mirrorless cameras and those who are after a fast prime that’s neither too heavy or too cumbersome will enjoy the handling and overall experience of using it.
Priced at $479/£379, this optic represents very good value for money, especially when you consider how well constructed it is and the quality of the results it delivers. It doesn’t provide optical image stabilisation and the focus mode can’t be set to manual via an AF/MF switch, but both of these exclusions aren’t unusual on a lens of its pedigree or price. Users won’t have any hesitation of using the lens wide open at f/1.4, with its impressive central sharpness, shallow depth of field and a fast fall-off making it very suitable for portraiture and other subjects where an attractive separation between subject and background is desired. For the price and size of the lens you can’t argue with its image quality.
All in all, this is welcome member of Sigma’s Contemporary lineup and is bound to capture the attention of many mirrorless users who’ve hungered for an impressive performing f/1.4 prime at relatively low cost. With this lens available in five (soon to be six) fittings, many photographers can benefit from this great lens.