A while back – before my latest trip to Europe – I bought a new lens: The Sigma 30mm F1.4 HSM. I twittered about it at the time and several people asked me for a review of the thing and so here, finally, is me getting around to doing that.
As with Scott’s lens reviews I’m not going to give you any measurebatory MTF charts or anything – you can find those online if you look around a little bit – I just wanted to give a few general impressions about the thing from the perspective of using it in real-world conditions.
I bought the lens because my wonderful Canon 50mm f1.4 is really a pretty long lens when it’s stuck on the front of a crop-sensor camera like my 40D. The low-light capabilities of the 50mm are awesome but very often you’ll find yourself unable to get the shot you want because the room’s just too small – you can’t back up far enough without running into a wall.
So it seemed to make sense to find something a bit wider. After reading many reviews I decided that the Sigma 30mm was a good compromise between all the usual factors, and so I bit the bullet and spent the $400 or so to have it shipped to me before I headed off on vacation.
So how did it do? General impressions first:
Size is good – a little bit larger than the Canon but not all that much. Size is reasonably important to me for a lens like this since I’m primarily a travel shooter and really want to keep size and weight down. Build quality feels decent. Definitely not plastic-y.
Focusing speed is reasonable, but definitely slower than with the Canon 50mm f1.4. On the Canon the image will really ‘snap’ into focus but with the sigma it’s a big more leisurely – probably about 1/2 as fast, which is noticeable. Not a huge deal since I’m not expecting to be shooting a whole lot of action-photos with the thing but I’m certainly spoiled by the Canon.
In terms of practical use, once I was in the real world, it was… okay. I’m liking it, but not really loving it. Image quality is good – maybe not quite as sharp as the 50mm at wide open but nothing to complain about for what I was shooting – and focusing seemed to be accurate. So I think most of my ambivalence really just has to do with the focal length. It still feels a bit too long for me much of the time. I generally pulled it out to try and get some fairly wide interior shots but usually I’d just go back to one of my slower-but-wider lenses and figure out some way to stabilize the camera body instead. Of the 50 or so ‘favorite’ photos that I posted online from the trip, 2 of them came from the 30mm (here and here).
As with all lenses, one’s shooting style usually ends up being the determining factor for what one should buy. And I definitely need to try it in a few more situations before I decide whether or not I’m going to keep it. Unfortunately I haven’t seen a whole lot of good alternatives for a lens that is wider but reasonably equivalent in speed so I may just stick with it for now.