The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a lens that is very popular with crop camera shooters looking for a “normal” prime, and for good reason. I’ve had one since the summer of 2008, and have been using it extensively ever since (my Aperture library displays nearly 7,000 images shot at 30mm and f/1.4 alone!). Let’s take an in-depth look at this “normal” lens for the APS-C shooter.
Build Quality & Handling
This lens is one of the better built crop camera lenses out there. It’s built like a tank as it should be, indicated by Sigma’s top-of-the-line EX designation. There are no creaks, wobbles, or anything you might expect of Canon EF-S lenses. The finish is classic Sigma matte, which is rather”grippier” than the plastic/metal norm from Canon and Nikon. The focus ring has a good amount of play for acquiring accurate focus, but is a little stiff. The same can be said for the otherwise easily located and prominent AF/M switch. The mount is metal, and it takes a rather odd filter size of 62mm. I’ve dropped this lens (attached to camera) to the ground several times, yet it has exhibited no problems since. It is a bit big, bulky, and heavy for my tastes, but pairs nicely with a semi-pro body. Nonetheless, it’s smaller than just about every zoom on the market, and gives you a relatively compact package to walk around with. It also includes a padded case and a hood to keep it protected. Among all it’s peers, I’d say this one has the best build quality of the bunch.
Image Quality and Performance
Image quality depends on your particular copy. I’ve seen plenty of reports and examples of how sharp this lens is wide open. But I haven’t had the same experience with my copy. Perhaps it is due to the infamous quality control (or lack thereof) of Sigma lenses. However, I can’t say I’d prefer any of its peers over this one. The shallow depth of field, and ability to shoot in low light, is simply unparalleled. One problem I’ve had is that of missing focus – but after taking it to Sigma for calibration, that problem seems to have lessened. Although when you’re shooting wide open, you’re always treading a slippery slope with razor thin depth-of-field.
Despite IQ concerns, this lens rarely lets me down in the field. Even in low light, AF is rarely a problem, especially when using the center point. The minimum focusing distance is nothing to write home about at 40cm, as I find myself often having to back up a little bit, or change my focus point in order to get as close as I want. Colors are quite nice. And flare is rarely a problem. The lens is sharp when stopping down, but who really buys this lens to stop it down? Overall, image quality can be excellent, as long as you don’t get a bad copy. And even with my slightly soft copy, I’m still rather happy with it, as long as I’m not viewing the images 100%.
One of the biggest questions you may face, if you are in the market for such a lens, is to get this or one of the competition, such as the Canon 28mm f/1.8, Nikon 35mm f/1.8, or Canon 35mm f/2. It’s a tough question which depends on several things. First, do you need f/1.4? If so, get the Sigma. Do you plan to upgrade to a full frame camera in the future? Get one of the Canons. Are you an enthusiast Nikon shooter who wants a small, light, sharp, inexpensive package? Get the Nikon! At the end of the day, although I haven’t been entirely happy with the image quality of this lens, I don’t regret my decision. There is nothing else on the market at this price that gives me f/1.4, and for me that’s the whole purpose of the lens.
It’s especially useful in low light social situations, portraits, and I’ve even begun using it as a simple solution for general travel photography. There’s nothing like a good separation of foreground and background to make an image pop, and this lens does it well. Given that it has more or less lived on my camera for the past three years, I’d say it was well worth it, regardless of the fact that I may be upgrading to full frame soon. At nearly $500, it’s not cheap, but if you’re a prime lens kind of shooter, then it’s worth every penny.
A few other good reviews from around the photo-net:
The Digital Picture – “Photographers wasted little time in making this lens one of their favorites. Adding a relatively low price point, fast HSM autofocusing, small size and good build quality to the fast aperture puts the 30 f/1.4 in its own class.”
Photozone – “Sigma AF 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM may perform pretty good in absolute terms but for a fix-focal the lens disappoints a little. The center performance is exceptionally high but the borders are not all that impressive.”
Learning DSLR Video – “If I am shooting at 1.4 I could really care less if the corners are soft, I am mostly interested with sharpness in the center.” Be sure to watch Dave Dugdale’s video he made, reviewing the lens.
Thom Hogan – “The first thing you notice with this lens is its bulk and weight. At about 2.5″ long and 3″ in diameter and weighing in at almost a pound, this is a lens that is relatively small, but feels dense and heavy for its size.”
Ken Rockwell – “No other maker makes anything identical to a 30mm f/1.4 for under $1,000. If you need f/1.4 in a lens of this focal range for under a thousand dollars, this is it.”
Biofos – “There’s a lot of truth in ‘the simpler the better’ and I’m sure this is why this lens is so good at its job. And it is very good indeed.”
Fred Miranda – hundreds of reviews with varying opinions!
And since it seems that the Canon 28 f/1.8 is the one most often compared to the Sigma, here are a few comparative reviews:
Focal Plane – “Being the “aperture junkie” that I am, I find it hard to ignore the Sigma’s 2/3-stop advantage.”
Light Rules – ‘The Canon at f1.8 (wide open) renders a hazy look, and stopping down even only 2/3 a stop helps tremendously. The Sigma at f1.4 (wide open) does not have any haze to it, is sharper at f1.4 than the Canon is at f1.8, and contrast is very high on the Sigma, though stopping down of course helps too.”
Flickr Group – “First of all, it is not worth it to spend so much time in taking a decision; both lenses are very good and you can have acceptable results with either lens. The best way to find out which lens is better for you is to try out both lenses as I did.”
These shots can hopefully give you a better idea of what the lens can do in real life conditions. Click the image for the full size.