Technical, scientific and artistic.
A dream combination for astrophotography.

Jack Fusco

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 30s, with softening filter

Years ago, standing under a truly dark sky for the first time, I remember a feeling of vastness washing over me. Looking out, toward the horizon, and then tilting my head back so I could look straight up. It felt like an overwhelming number of stars.

Since that moment, I’ve strived to capture that feeling in an image. I want to look at my photos and be reminded of the way I felt first standing under that endless sea of stars. While I’ve used and loved many different focal lengths, my favorite way of recreating this feeling is with an ultra-wide field of view. Even when I took my very first photos of the night sky, I wanted to capture as much of the sky as possible.

A lot has changed since I took those first images overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I’m much more aware of how to approach a location to help tell a story with my images. The process of choosing my gear is much more deliberate as well. So, when it came to picking a location, I knew I wanted to pay homage to those first night sky images I took over ten years ago. I studied weather forecasts leading up to my shooting window near the New Moon and picked a location much further south than where I first started. Nestled in the middle of the Florida Keys, a group of islands with an uninhibited view of the east/southeast horizon was waiting. This would be perfect for capturing the Milky Way as it rose and moved throughout the sky.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 13s, with softening filter

I was both nervous and excited to head out with the SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art. I often feel like the ideas I have are waiting for the perfect moment, where the right gear and the conditions in the sky align. I’ve also realized that the work I connect with most comes from moments in the field where I can allow myself to fully experience my surroundings. Astrophotography, while both technical and scientific, still needs to pull from art as well. We can admire the technical ability of a piece of equipment and learn from the science depicted in a scene, but it’s most often the artistic quality that forms our connection.

With all of this in mind, I always make sure I’m completely familiar and comfortable with my gear before heading out. From a technical standpoint, the SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art offers a number of features that stand out, which I would soon put to good use in the field.

  • World’s first 14mm lens with a F1.4 aperture* – The ultra-wide focal length and the ultra-fast F1.4 aperture is a dream combination for astrophotography.

*As an interchangeable lens for mirrorless cameras and SLR cameras excluding fisheye lenses (as of June 2023 by SIGMA)

  • Manual Focus Lock switch – A feature I wish every lens had. Once my focus is manually set, engaging this switch will keep it there. This is super helpful for focusing to infinity early in the evening and having the peace of mind that you’ll nail focus the entire night.

* The images without photograph data have been created with lenses other than SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art

  • Lens Heater Retainer – This helps keep lens warmers securely in place without interfering with usage of the lens. One less thing to worry about in challenging conditions.
  • Rear soft filter holder and filter slot in the cover-type front cap – Soft filter is helpful for evenly adding a glow to brighter stars in your image.The rear filter that helps prevent distortion can be easily stored in the cover-type front cap.

These are all important elements on the technical side that I need to be comfortable with so I can focus entirely on capturing my images. Because I had just two nights of clear, moonless skies, I wanted to travel as light as possible. I decided on using an L-Mount version of the lens to pair with the SIGMA fp L camera. The 61-megapixel sensor would be a true test of the capability and quality of this lens.

With any new lens, my first images provide a quick back-of-camera sample to review the quality of the extreme corners. In astrophotography, we ask quite a lot of our equipment. Detail from darkness, and perfection from optics. I adjusted the aperture to F1.4 and then, using the live view, I slowly adjusted the focus ring to change the stars from small bokeh spots to tiny, pinpoint dots of light. Once the focus was dialed in, I flipped the manual focus lock switch on the side of the lens. The peace of mind from this feature can only truly be known after you’ve spent a full night shooting a time-lapse and minutes from the end you suddenly can’t remember if you rechecked focus. It’s the astrophotography equivalent of leaving the house and wondering if the stove or iron was left on.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 91s, with softening filter

With my focus and aperture set, I took a 13-second exposure and anxiously waited to inspect the image. The stars at the center were sharp, as expected. The corner sharpness blew me away and far surpassed any of my expectations. The whole frame was bright, and the entire sky of stars was tack sharp.

This is the exact type of quality that I’ve come to expect from the SIGMA Art line, but it doesn’t make the fact that I was seeing it on the world’s first 14mm F1.4 lens any less impressive. It’s the level of quality that provides peace of mind so I don’t have to worry once I’m in the field, fully allowing me to focus on capturing my vision.

With my test images out of the way, I took a moment to just look up at the stars and take it all in before moving on. After all, that’s what brings me to these locations in the first place. After a few breaths, I began to set up for my first composition of the night and considered the different techniques that I would be utilizing. 

I started with a few single exposure images that would capture both the sky and foreground all at once. Being able to shoot this way with an aperture of F1.4, as opposed to F1.8 or F2.8, means collecting enough light to have detail in the foreground as well as an incredible amount of detail in the sky. My excitement levels continued to grow as I watched the Milky Way slowly climb over the horizon.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 13s, with softening filter

In addition to the stars shining brightly, there was also an unreal amount of colorful airglow. Airglow occurs in the upper atmosphere and is more easily seen from locations free of light pollution. Being able to see that much airglow is not always common. It definitely made the trip to these Bortle Class 2/3* skies feel well worth the effort.

  • *Bortle scale…A scale to measure the night sky’s brightness. There are nine levels, and the smaller the number, the darker the sky and more suitable for astronomical observation.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 150s, with softening filter

After my single exposure images were taken, I began to experiment with a few other methods. My personal preference has always been to capture all my images at the same time in order to best reflect the scene how it was as I stood there. One of these methods involves taking multiple consecutive exposures and then stacking those images during post-processing to reduce noise. Pairing this method with the fast maximum aperture allows for even more detail to be pulled from dark areas of the sky and foreground. That’s always a challenge when photographing in these areas without ambient light. You’re completely relying on our gear to pick up enough of the scarce available light, often starlight or airglow, to be able to see more than just a silhouette.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 105s, with softening filter

Once the Milky Way was high enough over the horizon, I mounted a star tracker to my tripod. The simplest explanation of this device is that it will slowly rotate to the left to help compensate for the rotation of the Earth and allow for longer exposures. Normally, we’re limited to exposures somewhere in the 10 to 30 second range, but these devices allow exposures up to several minutes. That extended exposure time with a lens like the SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art can result in breathtaking amounts of detail from the night sky. After my first exposure of around 45 seconds with my SIGMA fp L and 14mm mounted to the star tracker, I was blown away. I kept reviewing different areas of the image to see all of the detail in the galactic core of the Milky Way and the colorful bands of airglow across the entire frame.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 13s, with softening filter

Because these star tracker devices require a bit of careful balancing and alignment while being set up, I found the attached tripod socket to be incredibly useful. Being able to mount the lens and camera closer to its center of gravity ensured it stayed perfectly in place once mounted.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 30s, with softening filter

After taking a few other images with the star tracker, I packed up my gear and started off to my next location. There were a few passing clouds, but I was determined to make the most of my time. Before I arrived, I scouted potential locations using Google Maps and dropped pins where I thought a good image would be possible. One by one, I photographed them and continued on, trying to make it to as many places as time would allow.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 60s, with softening filter

It was a bit more than halfway through the night when I had a moment of realization. I had almost completely forgotten I was shooting with a brand-new lens. When I took those first test images, I was super focused on closely evaluating how the lens would perform and how to get the best out of it. As I continued shooting, I was so quickly impressed and convinced by the lens quality that my attention shifted more towards the creative side. I was paying extra attention to the small details of a location to find the best composition. And just as importantly, I was looking up and enjoying the beautiful dark skies that I was photographing.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, SIGMA fp L, ISO 3200, F1.4, 30s, with softening filter

The rest of the night continued similarly. Arriving at a new location, excitedly checking the back of the camera, and immediately thinking about the next shot. One of my favorite moments of the night came after most of the clouds passed and the wind died down completely. The shallow water had virtually turned into a mirror and was reflecting the night sky. I used a smaller tripod to place the camera just above the water to capture what felt like an incredibly unique scene. 

Seeing and capturing the stars over the perfectly still ocean brought me back to those first nights capturing the Milky Way. That same feeling of awe and wonder as I looked out in admiration of the beauty above me. I could hardly wait to see the images.

Art is best when it makes us feel something. One of the highest compliments I can pay a lens is that once it’s on my camera, I don’t have to think about it. No worries about limitations or shortcomings, it just allows me to stay in the moment. If I’m lucky, that translates into the images I take with it. It didn’t take long, but I’m completely convinced the SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is a very special lens. I think it’s a lens that any astrophotographer, myself included, will be thrilled to have as part of their kit.

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