Saturday, 10 October 2009

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Review

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is what i describe as a boon or bane for photographers who wanted fast glass for low light shooting. The 46mm on full frame equivalent field of view is usefull for normal portraits, landscapes and architecture especially on low light, you will really appreciate the features of a fast lens.
This 30mm f/1.4 is what i call a vampire lens and a wild-horse. A vampire since it only makes sense if you shoot it at dim light ( it would be useless to use an f/1.4 lens on a broad daylight and stop it down to f8...) and a wild-horse because of its focusing issues. That i'll describe later.

The lens is snub-looking at about 60mm in length and weighs around 400 grams. I say its rather heavy for a lens this size but can be discrete enough when mounted on an average sized DSLR.

Since it is labeled as f/1.4, even for a DX glass (cropped sensor), the elements are quite large hence the weight.

It takes 62mm filters which is mounted on the stationary part of the barrel and during focusing the inner barrel moves in and out although very minimal. But if you decide to put in filters, there might be a chance that the filter might obstruct the movement of the barrel.

The hood that doesn't feel secured when you snap it in place. I don't use it.

It features Sigma's HSM (HyperSonicMotor). The focusing speed is average but the lens may tend to jerk in and out before locking focus. It makes weird noises on the D80.

The problem with this particular Sigma is that the focus is so horrible that you end up having blurred and out of focus pictures 50% all the time. It tends to front focus meaning it focuses a few feet shorter to its intended subject.
Even if your focus confirmation on your viewfinder says ok, it's actually not. You need to reconfirm it visually and re focus if necessary.

Most mortals who haven't tried shooting 1.4 lenses might be disappointed when they try one since the field of view is very narrow at 1.4 and that only a very small part of the image is sharp while the rest is just bokeh.

That's normal. And when this sigma accurately focuses on a subject, it produces very sharp pictures at f1.4.
That is if you can have it focusing properly.

For close subjects such as night portraits, no problems with focusing. For far away subjects such as landscapes, unbelievably horrible.

But the bokeh produced by this lens is beautiful, smooth and creamy looking.

Here are some sample shots:

at f/1.4

at f/1.6

at f/1.8

at f/2

at f/2.8

From apertures f/1.4 to f/1.8 there is a slight veiling and bit of lower contrast. Nothing that can't be fixed during post processing. The image starts to improve at f/2 and by f/2.8 it is incredibly sharp.

But take it into consideration that the above test subject has a curvature and that affects the out of focus areas. Shooting at f/1.4 is difficult to understand and getting consistent results is greatly affected by position and distance.

On low light this lens is a joy to use, especially when you couple it with slow sync flash and a steady hand. It takes in so much light that you get perfectly exposed subject and a decently lit backgrounds.
That is if you can get it to focus properly.

Dimly lit interiors are no sweat! When normal lenses struggle to give you a decent shutter speed, this one just works.
That is if you can get it to focus properly.

It sucks big time on mid range DSLR's but on cameras such as the D300, there is a feature called AF Fine Tuning, where you can fine tune a lens and store the data on the camera. The camera automatically remembers the setting every time you load the lens.

I calibrated the 30mm at +16 setting on the D300.

Lo and behold! It works like magic! Now the lens has 95 percent accuracy! I get more sharper results even when shot wide open.

So what if you dont have a D300? Better get the cheaper AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 at almost half the price and much lighter in weight.

They don't differ that much as long as sharpness is concerned at f/1.8. They both have excellent contrast and colors. Only the Nikkor has accurate focusing much of the time. And the Sigma can go to 1.4 when needed.

I would get the Nikon if i could.

Here are some sample shots of the Sigma

1/2 sec f/2.8 ISO 200 hand-held D80 No AF Fine Tune

1/20 sec f/2.8 ISO 500 hand-held D300 AF Fine Tune

1/8 sec f/2.8 ISO 500 hand-held D300 AF Fine Tune

1/15 sec f/2.8 ISO 800 hand-held D300 AF Fine Tune


This is a lame offering by Sigma. Its got excellent optics but very bad camera-to-lens communication. It screws up Nikons excellent focusing system big time.
And the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX just killed it.

R.I.P Sigma 3omm.