The just-released Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DGDN is the newest member of the L-Mount Alliance. It joins their 35mm and 65mm DGDN compact prime lenses and the older 45mm DGDN (previously reviewed here). Besides the new Sigma 24mm, I happen to own the Leica Elmar-M 24mm f/3.8 ASPH lens and both the Leica SL (601) and Leica CL bodies (both 24MP). I thought I’d share my first impressions of the new Sigma 24mm and a few sample images taken with the SL (601), which will be presented as SOOC JPEGs. The only processing was reducing the size of the images for web viewing.
Admittedly this is an unfair fight. Can we really compare a $2500 German-made Leica to a $549 Handcrafted Japanese Sigma lens? Why yes we can! Their maximum apertures are almost identical and both are full-frame lenses constructed entirely of metal and glass. They both utilize aspheric lens components. The DGDN Sigmas are designed from the ground-up for mirrorless full-frame sensors. Leica M is the original mirrorless platform, so I’d say they are quite comparable. Build quality in both lenses is top-notch.
Traditionally, the Leica rangefinder user was limited by frame lines spanning the 28-90mm range. 28mm is a natural wide-angle view, without too much exaggeration. Noticeably wider than 35mm. Perfect for reportage, landscapes, etc. But what if we want more? Enter the EVF Leica.
Suddenly that moderate and sensible wide-angle 28mm frame line limitation is irrelevant. EVF-equipped cameras offer an SLR-like WYSIWYG experience. Wanna go nuts? Slap on an 18mm or 21mm. No problem. If you want to shoot wide, but not too wide, 24mm may be your goldilocks wide-angle. That being said, ultra-wide-angle lenses can still be a challenge to use effectively. Even a moderate wide-angle lens is more difficult to use than a 35mm or 50mm. One has to compose far more deliberately. Take a look at the following two images. Do you think they make good use of the 24mm lens?
The Sigma’s stepping motor is fast, with close-focusing down to 10.8cm. Keep in mind that Sigma is referring to the distance from the film-plane (sensor) to the subject, not from the front of the lens. You would have to remove the lens hood to photograph that closely. The manual-focus Leica Elmar-M 24mm is limited to 70cm, as are most rangefinder lenses. Through the EVF, manual-focus lenses do benefit greatly from the option of focus-peaking, and with the Leica SL, the option to zoom to 100% at the click of a button. I was truly astonished by just how close the Sigma was able to focus on this license plate:
The following images show the practical benefit of a close-focusing lens and the warmer tones produced by the Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DGDN. It is a great advantage never having to be conscious of close-focus limitations. Almost any composition you can imagine is within the capabilities of this little Sigma prime.
The Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DGDN is perfectly balanced and compact when attached to the Leica SL. Manual focus is available (by wire) with the knurled ring in front of the aperture ring. There is an A setting on the aperture ring (see below) which allows for full control from the camera body. For manual use, one can simply dial in the preferred aperture in 1/3 stop increments. The latter technique provides visible feedback of the f-stop chosen whether the camera is on or off.
The metal tulip-style hood clicks on solidly and Sigma includes both a standard plastic pinch-type lens cap and their new magnetic cap. When paired with the 45mm DGDN lens (below), together they tip the scales at only 439g. (less than a pound) and share a 55mm filter thread. Very convenient.
Image Quality and Lens Coatings
Both the Leica 24mm and Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DGDN lenses are modern optical designs with excellent IQ. Full stop. One subtle way they differ is in their proprietary lens coatings. This is something to keep in mind when building a lens collection, as it affects image color/continuity. My test images were of normal everyday subjects in harsh winter sunlight with fixed daylight white balance. No AWB. Fixed ISO 50. There was quite a bit of difference between the two lenses, with the Sigma producing a decidedly warmer image. See below:
Bokeh, or is it bokay?
Many of my test shots were done at f/8, the sweet spot for any lens. Obviously, if you’re the type of person who shoots everything wide-open, neither of these relatively slow wide-angle lenses may be your cup of Earl Grey. But you could. I saw little improvement in sharpness over the apertures tested. The following images were captured handheld and wide-open at their respective apertures. How about the character of the out-of-focus areas of the images?
Both the Leica and Sigma 24mm lenses are designed to cover the full 24x36mm image format, but they can also be used on APS-C Leica CL/TL cameras. The 24mm lens yields a 36mm equivalent FOV on an APS-C sensor. Corner-sharpness would be wasted on such a setup, but this particular combination is perfect for street use. With AF, one can quickly grab images with just one hand. This is of exceptional value for the clandestine street shooter. With a retail price of just $549, the little Sigma 24 compares very favorably to Leicas 23mm Summicron-T at $2195 USD and is usable on both FF and cropped sensor cameras.
Leica CL with Sigma 24mm DG DN (36mm equivalent FOV)
As a raving fan of the Sigma 45mm DGDN lens, confirmation bias may be present here. But these compact Sigma primes are fast, effective, and just plain fun to use. They have virtually no close-focus limitation. Point and shoot. Done. They are solidly made and weather-resistant and the image quality is outstanding. If you can live with f/3.5, you won’t be disappointed with the Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DG DN!