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I was trying to save some cash on a 50mm f/1.4 for my Nikon d7000. I see the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 costs almost $400 USD. I thought a 3rd-party lens would be cheaper so I checked out the equivalent Sigma and was shocked to find that it costs almost twice as much!

I've heard with camera lenses the saying goes that "you get what you pay for." So I was surprised by how expensive the Sigma was, because I thought Nikon glass was top-notch and third-party lenses were a way to sacrifice on quality and save some money.

What's going on here?

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Take a look at the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F/1.4 for another way to not save money with a third-party 50mm f/1.4 lens. :) –  mattdm Jan 16 '11 at 6:06
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7 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First off, the Sigma doesn't cost double - it may LIST as double, but it runs closer to $500 US.

Second, as others have spoken, you're paying for quality. You're also paying a combination of two other things - what the market will give and reputation. The bokeh on the Sigma is well known to be extremely smooth and it considered an excellent portrait lens. As an owner, this is very true to me.

Its typically considered a much better lens than its Canon equivalent and at least or slightly better than the Nikon counterpart.

It is also physically a rather large lens (front element is 77mm vs 58mm on the Nikon), well constructed, and is the EX series (their top of the line) of Sigma. Larger materials cost more to buy, more to engineer, more to transport, more to build - just MORE.

You're paying for things that cost - but you get an EXCELLENT piece of glass.

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My kit lens hasn't seen camera time since I got this lens actually. –  rfusca Jan 16 '11 at 3:05
    
That's good to know. I have changed my mind from the Nikon lens to the Sigma based on these answers and the images you posted in chat. (I thought you were using the nikon 50mm f/1.4 when you posted the images.) –  kacalapy Jan 16 '11 at 17:20
    
Ah, good! Well, I'm sure you won't be disappointed, its a great lens. –  rfusca Jan 16 '11 at 17:27
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The price reflect quality not brand, although brand name traditionally have the luxury of charging a premium, that premium is small in comparison to what they can charge for quality.

Sigma has been managing very well because they are doing exactly the right thing to get a lucrative portion of the market. What the did was enter the market with low quality optics which undercut the cost of brand-name lenses. This is obviously a good market-acquiring strategy to get volume. Think about how many makers of low-cost electronics you have vs the high-end ones, they work because saving money is often prioritized over quality.

What they then did is invest profits into high-quality optics which allowed them to produce some excellent lenses. These lenses carry a high profit margin by commanding a price proportional to its quality.

The bottom line is that good lenses are expensive, regardless of brand.

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Third-party lenses are not necessarily cheaper. They can even have better quality than the original lenses. In photography, third-party lens manufacturers aren't "a cheap alternative", but rather a direct competitor to the original manufacturer.

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I am not familiar with the Nikon naming convention, but at least from the links you provided it looks like the Sigma has a 9-blade diaphragm vs 7-blade in the Nikon. There are more elements in the Sigma as well. Also, the Sigma site explicitly mentions Aspherical elements and an ultrasonic motor which the Nikon lacks to mention. This can be the cause to the difference in the price.

EDIT: one more thing - the MTF chart of the Sigma definitely looks better than the Nikon's. This suggest a better optical quality overall which may justify the price difference.

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There are other examples too, the Sigma 50 f/2.8 macro costs (slightly) more than the Canon 50 f/2.5 macro, despite the Canon being a third of a stop faster!

The point is there's more to lenses than focal length, badge and aperture. Had you read a review of the Sigma 50 f/1.4 you would have learned that it's an all new modern design optimized for shooting wide open, with an oversized front element designed to minimize vignetting.

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This Sigma 50/1.4 costs ~600$ here in Russia. And it costs more because it is better.

It is better than Nikon 50/1.4. It is better then Sony 50/1.4. It would be silly for Sigma to release more expensive and worse lense.

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While most of Sigma/Tamron/Tokina's production is cheap(er) zooms, they are bo no means the only third party lens manufacturer out there. My personal favorite is Zeiss, who make lenses for pretty much every format under the sun, including a small line of 35mm SLR glass. The ZF (Nikon mount) 50mm f/1.4 lens runs $725 over at B&H, while you can pick up a brand new Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G for a touch over $400. That's quite a difference considering the Zeiss is a manual focus lens.

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