Sunday, October 19, 2008
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Review
I've had a chance to use the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM on and off for a while now. It's been a nice lens to use.
The only lens Nikon made that was close was the 28mm f/1.4D, which was discontinued a few years ago. Used, it now goes for more than it's original high price (over $2k). I have never used the NIkkor but by all accounts it's optically better, built out of metal not plastic [Update: The Sigma does have a mostly metal construction, however it is not as sturdy and solid feeling as the Nikkors of this level] and has full 35mm coverage. It's also much larger, heavier and you could buy 3 to 4 of these sigmas for the price of the Nikkor... if you can find one. I'm sure Nikon wasn't selling a lot of the Nikkors, and with a lens like this in the market, they would sell even less of them.
The Sigma handles well. It's a nice size and weight. It feels great on my D200. A tad large on the D40 pictured here.
Side Note: This is one of the few sub $1k primes you can buy that will auto focus on the D40 [Update: D40x and D60 as well] as it has "HSM" Sigma's brand of electronic in lens focus.
The biggest problem with this Sigma (and is true for a lot of this brands products) is sample variance. You never know exactly what you'll get when you buy a Sigma lens. This particular sample didn't have the AF issues with the D200 that plagued early versions. It did however have the squeaky focus when pointing down or up. No manufacturer is perfect. Every lens made is slightly different to it's brother or sister. However Sigma seems to suffer from this in a more negative way than other manufacturers.
This leads nicely into the failure of the lens pictured above. The lens in the picture above died shortly after this picture was taken. After returning it to it's owner, I recommended they get the squeaking in the focus ring fixed under warranty. They dropped it off with Sigma Canada. After several weeks of waiting, they declared the lens as non-reparable and gave my friend a brand new one. At least their Customer Service is good.
Wide open it's not the sharpest lens I've used. However it's acceptable considering the price. The sharpness degrades sharply near the extreme edges though and doesn't really improve stopped down. The filter size of 62mm is an odd size and you'll find yourself either buying a step up ring or buying new filters. I did not pay particular attention to light falloff as it's not usually a concern for me and rather like it when I do notice it, however it does have some at and near f/1.4.
The included lens hood (not pictured) proved very good. It's made out of a sturdy plastic and locks in better than a lot of Nikon Hoods. It's my preferred method of protection instead of overpriced and detrimental "protective" filters.
Even if Nikon releases an update to their 28mm f/1.4D, it will probably remain expensive, large and heavy. True the Nikkor will also be better quality, but you get what you pay for. The Sigmas focal range on 1.5x cropped digital and overall price/performance make this a lens one I recommend for available light shooting. It also makes a great general purpose prime for walking around.
+ focal length ("normal FOV on 1.5x crop")
+ well balanced on most bodies
+ great available light lens
- Not FF/FX
- quality/sample variance
- sharpness wide open
- slightly heavy on the D40
- edge detail
I ended up buying this lens as a gift for Lauras Birthday. Check out Lauras stream for photos taken with this lens.
For myself, I've owned a 35mm f/1.4 AI Nikkor for some time now. I purchased it used on eBay in fair condition. The Nikkor is sharper than this lens. However, nailing focus at f/1.4 with the stock focusing screen on the D200 is really really hard. Mostly for this reason, I don't use that lens often.