A look into the Sigma Art lens series and New Glory Craft Brewery, a standout beer maker from Sacramento.
The Sacramento craft beer scene has changed drastically in the last two years. Micro and Nano breweries seem to be popping up inside every industrial zoned complex around town, releasing every known combination of the four basic elements under the sun to deliver innovative and fresh IPAs to the delight of the beer snobs and newbies alike. This year (2018) has seen some shuffling of the hands, some brewmasters and beer crafters seem to be working together on collaborations or outright jumping shop and working for new breweries altogether just to change Sacramento's craft playing field. These smaller breweries have had to be creative, forward thinking and provide the highest quality of beer in every measurable way in order to try to compete with the big guys. Its not strange in Sacramento these days to see rotating handles from local Nano brewries right alongside Budweiser and Coors. But unlike your dad's favorite mass-produced beer staples of yesterday, these underdogs must produce well rounded beers that outperform the titans at every turn. One such local beer maker is New Glory Craft Brewery here in Sacramento, CA.
Similarly in recent years, a camera and lens manufacturer known as SIGMA, which used to be considered an underdog itself in the world of high end professional photography, sought to change their image (pun intended) and undertook a major rebranding and manufacturing shift. You can find their webpage the describes this new goal vision here https://www.sigma-global.com/en/lenses/. They brought in some new ideas and talent and shot for the moon, hoping not only to compete with the major brands but to out perform their equipment in almost every measurable way. the Sigma Art lenses have become known for their razor sharp images, beautiful bokeh and background, and surprising affordability when compared to their rivals Canon and Nikon. The same case cant be made for craft beer, if you want to drink quality you'll have to pay for it. But in a world of "you get what you pay for" the Sigma Art line seems to do just the opposite by delivering exceptional quality without the price hefty price tag.
Joining me again is fellow beer snob and aficionado Jordan Shippy. His tasting expertise was outlined in our previous adventure through San Francisco titled "Beer, Camera Stuff and San Francisco." We are frequent patrons of New Glory and enjoy their many can releases throughout the year. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with whats on tap and upcoming can releases, and If you find yourself poking around Sacramento you should stop in for a brew. We are often surprised by their can releases and the ever-growing selection of beer and felt that it was only fitting to use them for this article. Each beer is broken down in a similar fashion to the San Francisco article. We will score the hops, malt, brew quality and drinkability, and discuss our thoughts on the beer and provide our own tasting notes and descriptions of the experience. The beer will then get an overall score. Each beer was paired with a lens, and each pairing was created to highlight similarities between the two. Images below were taken with Canon L 135 f2.
Down to Business
Sigma 35mm 1.4 and Ubahdank West Coast IPA
Brewer’s Notes: “This IPA will smack you in the face with its dank aromas and flavors. Its super sticky hop character is supported by a subtle, bready-like foundation of Northern American and German malts. Mosaic hops provide an array of citrus and tropical fruit, aromas reminiscent of grapefruit, orange, melon, papaya, tangerine, and passion fruit. Uncharacteristically smooth bitterness leaves this beer insanely drinkable and will keep you coming back for more.”
Hop Profile – 8, seems mostly mosaic
Malt Profile – 9
Brew Quality – 9.5
Drinkability – 9.5 very drinkable 24/7
Overall Impression – Very drinkable ipa. Leaves you wanting more bitter bite, almost too smooth, but still very good. Not an overwhelmingly aromatic beer but this goes along with the smoothness and easy drinking ipa that this beer is. More aroma and hop bite could improve the taste without taking away from the drinkability. This beer successfully accomplishes the tough task of being a flavorful but very drinkable ipa, but almost to a fault. The malts are near the back end where they should be with a really solid ipa, the German malt adds a nice touch to the aftertaste and malt profile of the beer. Overall, this is a solid beer and we can respect the artistic intent on the brewers’ end and what they envisioned for a final product. This ipa is great for newbies and experts alike and is a must-try for any beer enthusiast.
Overall Score - 9
The 35mm 1.4 was Sigma's first product released in the Art Series and they sure did land quite a big hit. This 35mm has all of the low light capability that you'd expect form a 1.: quick focus, shallow but forgiving depth of field, very sharp. It has the added bonus that it was designed to shoot architecture and was built with the right optics in just the right way to reduce distortion as much as possible. This 35mm hits all of the right spots with its superb sharpness and color / contrast rendering and I am confident to use it for indoor sessions or weddings with no hesitation that it will deliver outstanding results (as much as a 35mm can). Similar to Ubahdank, it is a staple and one of the first, it is a lens that sets the bar pretty high and established Sigma as a reputable alternative to bi name manufacturers fr those who demand absolute quality.
Sigma Art 50mm 1.4 and Loud Mouth Double Dry Hopped Edition
Brewer’s Notes: “American IPA brewed with double the amount of a dank, tropical fruit hop blend and fermented with our expressive ale yeast. Packaged in its purest form, unfined and unfiltered. For optimum experience, store cold and drink fresh.”
Hop Profile – 6.5
Malt Profile – 8.5
Brew Quality – 8.5
Drinkability – 10
Overall Impression – For a double dry hopped ipa more aroma is expected, this beer is closer to the original Loud Mouth ipa as far as smell and taste than we would prefer. The unfiltered aspect makes this beer very drinkable and helps it go down “super smooth.” Malt is very balanced with the hops, malt does its job very well. In an ipa you’re not looking for the malt to shine through, you want the malt to step back and let the hops take center stage. The malt acts like the bones of the brew. The dank hops help the transition from foretaste to aftertaste as the beer flavors move from hoppy to malty with hints of mosaic peeking out from the back. Did we say its smooth? Unbelievably drinkable. These North Easy Hazys are known for drinkability, and this one fits the bill, but we agree that the unfiltered quality makes this double dr- hoppedipa a bit too tame. Overall, despite what sounds like a negative review, we cant think of an occasion where you wouldn’t want to drink this beer, its just great for all purposes and events year round.
Overall Score - 8
The Sigma 50mm 1.4 is a lens of great significance, Sigma set their sights high and tried to create a 50mm that could compete with the Zeiss Odus. Zeiss is the German glass brand known to camera experts for its world-class glass quality. Well, as far as sharpness goes, this lens is an absolute razor. Its also fairly large, like the Odus. The Canon 50mm 1.4 is a little less than half the size, but the difference in quality is immense. 50mm lenses are known for their middle of the road focal length, making them great for a wide variety of shooting environments. Its not quite the manual-everything, unfriendly beast that they set out to make, but in some ways that’s a good thing. This lens, with its autofocus and wide automatic aperture adjustment make it more palatable and user friendly for even the novice shooter, and after a short time handling this lens in any environment you too can shoot images that are delicious and satisfying to the eyeballs.
Sigma Art 85mm 1.4 and Flippin' Good Pancake Brown Ale
Brewer’s Notes: “Imperial brown ale, brewed with maple sugar and conditioned on bourbon vanilla beans and other natural flavors.”
Hop Profile – non existent, the IBUs must be close to 0.
Malt Balance – 9.5
Brew Quality - 9
Drinkability – 7.5
Overall Impression – Not perfect, but very well done. Delivers on the description provided on the label. Thick, slightly cloudy, probably not filtered. Aroma presents lots of maple sugar with a hint of vanilla. Richer than most browns, very present malt but gives room for the maple and vanilla flavors to come through. Provides a rich malt flavor, maple in the middle, with a malty finish. Despite being an imperial brown ale at 9.7%, the malt flavor and apparent heaviness are still lighter than what you would expect from a normal stout or porter, adding to its summer time drinkability. Great for evening gatherings or nights under the stars.
Overall Score: 8.5
Similar to New Glory’s Flippin Good, this Sigma Art 85mm 1.4 is a heavy hitter. And yes, this lens is very heavy. And big. And Long. Sigma has had a decent 85mm for quite a while, and at less than half the price of the big Canon 1.2 it was an amazing bargain. This new Art Series 85mm packs a bit more punch when compared to its little bother. They focus speed is improved and the sharpness was turned up to 10. Edge to edge, you cant find any complaints in image quality, bokeh quality and color rendering. Simply stunning. This lens not only exceeds the benchmark set by the big Canon 85mm L, it surprisingly exceeds its rival in most aspects. The Canon L does open up to 1.2, and its hard to argue with that creamy buttery-ness and added low light performance, but this makes the lens big and cumbersome and not as usable as you’d hope. F/1.2 is also not the most forgiving aperture for depth of field. This Sigma Art 85mm 1.4 packs the heavy punch you’d expect from a world class portrait lens but is surprisingly much more usable and versatile.
So Whats the Difference?
Often its hard to visualize the differences between focal lengths so I put together this comparison below. Its easy to put a beer in your mouth, swish it around and tell what its about but thats not recommended with a camera lens. Each of the 3 images directly below were taken with a stationary camera and the settings were unchanged across the images. On the left we see the shot from the 85mm lens, the middle is the 50mm, ad the right is the 35mm. Its important to pay attention not only to the apparent zoom of each image but also the background. The 85 is nice and tight with a subject that is highly separated from the background. The appeal of an 85 is this subject isolation, and what makes this 85mm Art so fantastic is its sharpness while rendering a buttery smooth bokeh and background. This difference in background detail is apparent when comparing the 85mm to he 35mm on the far right.
Another difference between the lenses is the way they render strait lines. Obviously a wider lens will have a harder time with capturing true strait lines, but such is the nature of the wider field of view. Though the 35mm is surprisingly strait, the 50mm does show a small bit of warp but the 85mm is strait as an arrow. The effects were exaggerated for the visualizations by shooting at each camera's closest focal distance. The 85 seems far back, but you generally don't use the 85mm lens for closeups and you'd be better off using a macro lens if you wanted better 1:1 rendering when shooting with lenses over 50mm in focal length.
All 3 of the Sigma Art lenses reviewed here take a big swing at the mainstream brands. Even to this day, with the 35mm 1.4 being almost 15 years old now, it’s still one of the sharpest 35 primes out there even after the big brands have released updated gear to try to take back the title. Sigma’s focus on overall image quality and usability has made it a reputable lens maker over the last decade as they have slowly but surely released lenses directly comparable to every big-name brand lens deemed a must-have by the pros. In a similar way, New Glory has made an almost unfathomable number of new recipes with almost every single one of them being a big seller both at the taproom and in stores. They have become a name that craft beer drinkers recognize for fantastic brewing quality and ingenuity in the Sacramento beer scene. We have sampled breweries throughout the region and time and time again we come back to New Glory, and we are never disappointed.