Notes: Prime, Fast and Wide

Sigma's 20mm f1.4 Art Series lens is muse-worthy

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Prime and fast. As a photographer, these are the two most important words that describe the lenses I use. Prime, meaning one focal length—not a zoom lens. Fast, meaning a wide aperture to let in lots of light. Prime lenses not only deliver sharper and crisper images, they also force me to think more about where to position my camera in space to get a shot because there’s no help by zooming in to get closer to the subject. A good, fast lens means I can shoot exclusively with available light (no flash, I don’t like flashes) indoors and into the evening; fast lenses also add great depth to an image when wide open. My kit, backed by Nikon’s Df, typically consists of an 85mm, f1.4 portrait lens and a 35mm, f1.8 lightweight street shooter. After testing the 20mm f1.4 from Sigma’s Art series, however, I have new glass to love. And it’s wide.

Sigma is not typically thought of as a manufacturer on the same level as Nikon, Leica or Canon, but pros all over have consistently been raving about their Art Series lenses. I recently tested the 35mm, f1.4 and was really impressed. When offered the opportunity to test their new ultra-wide contender, I gladly accepted, and now I don’t want to give it back. The lens is heavy, but totally manageable during a day of shooting. That’s probably the only flaw I could find. The imagery is sharp, bokeh (shallow depth of field) dreamy and for such a wide angle lens the distortion is minimal.

Because pictures speak louder than words, check out some sample shots in the slideshow above, each of which unites my interests as a photographer and the functionality of the lens. At a recent dog show I was able to capture moments with the slightly exaggerated point of view that I imagine a dog might have. It worked wonders for that turtle, too. The strong geometry of a finish line’s perpendicular intersection with the surrounding landscape isn’t distorted with the wide field of view, the drama of architectural elements becomes more visible when our perspective broadens and looking over someone’s shoulder while they work seems like a natural point of view. Beyond the technical wonders of this lens, what I love are the new perspectives it affords.

The Sigma 20mm Art Series lens is available for $900 at Adorama or B&H.

Images by Josh Rubin