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.

Join the conversation! 36 Comments

  1. I purchased this lens (on ebay, 35% cashback via M$ live search) about a month ago in preparation to shoot a friend’s wedding. I have a Nikon D40x, and this lens is the only “normal” lens available that is AF-S compatible (auto-focus motor in-lens, which the D40/x/60 requires, for you Canon folk). A 30mm on a cropped-sensor camera is equivalent to a 50mm on a full-sensor camera, giving you approximately 1:1 magnification.

    So far, I am fairly happy with my lens. Other sites have discussed issues with this lens auto-focus being slightly off, either too long or too short by a little bit, but mine is pretty much spot on. If my focus is off, it was my fault. But note that this may not always be the case. I would agree with Ron that it’s not the sharpest lens out there, but this may also be me and how I’m using the lens. See here, my wife from a recent trip to San Francisco.

    Not specific to this lens, but rather fixed-focal length lenses at f/1.4, the bokeh I get from this lens is great. I’ve really enjoyed having a lens that lets me dramatically add bokeh to a shot. See here, a lady my wife and I CouchSurfed with in Petaluma.

    (If you want to see more samples, I have not really taken this lens off since I bought it, so most every picture on my Flickr account for the last month should be with my Sigma 30mm f/1.4.)

    I’m very happy with this lens overall, especially as the first additional lens I’ve purchased for my D40x kit.

  2. I purchased this lens (on ebay, 35% cashback via M$ live search) about a month ago in preparation to shoot a friend’s wedding. I have a Nikon D40x, and this lens is the only “normal” lens available that is AF-S compatible (auto-focus motor in-lens, which the D40/x/60 requires, for you Canon folk). A 30mm on a cropped-sensor camera is equivalent to a 50mm on a full-sensor camera, giving you approximately 1:1 magnification.

    So far, I am fairly happy with my lens. Other sites have discussed issues with this lens auto-focus being slightly off, either too long or too short by a little bit, but mine is pretty much spot on. If my focus is off, it was my fault. But note that this may not always be the case. I would agree with Ron that it’s not the sharpest lens out there, but this may also be me and how I’m using the lens. See here, my wife from a recent trip to San Francisco.

    Not specific to this lens, but rather fixed-focal length lenses at f/1.4, the bokeh I get from this lens is great. I’ve really enjoyed having a lens that lets me dramatically add bokeh to a shot. See here, a lady my wife and I CouchSurfed with in Petaluma.

    (If you want to see more samples, I have not really taken this lens off since I bought it, so most every picture on my Flickr account for the last month should be with my Sigma 30mm f/1.4.)

    I’m very happy with this lens overall, especially as the first additional lens I’ve purchased for my D40x kit.

  3. Sigma’s tricky I guess. We can all really get spoiled by L glass, but sometimes we don’t make “Scott Bourne” cash off of our gear and a compromise has to be made. Currently I’m struggling (as a hobbiest/PT event photog.) between getting a Sigma 150 f2.8 Macro (have read great reviews) and either of the two Canon’s that sandwich it. Weight, Cost, Quality, (presteige) – it’s a strugle to be sure. Rentals are hardly an option in my neighbourhood with limited availability and a near to prohibitive cost.

    1 plus for any Sigma lens – in Canada you get a 10 YEAR Warranty.

  4. Sigma’s tricky I guess. We can all really get spoiled by L glass, but sometimes we don’t make “Scott Bourne” cash off of our gear and a compromise has to be made. Currently I’m struggling (as a hobbiest/PT event photog.) between getting a Sigma 150 f2.8 Macro (have read great reviews) and either of the two Canon’s that sandwich it. Weight, Cost, Quality, (presteige) – it’s a strugle to be sure. Rentals are hardly an option in my neighbourhood with limited availability and a near to prohibitive cost.

    1 plus for any Sigma lens – in Canada you get a 10 YEAR Warranty.

  5. I got this lens last December and I love it. For shooting indoors without flash it is an absolute God-send. It lets me get shots I just can’t get without it. My favourite one is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbusschots/2647239370/

    Bart.

  6. I got this lens last December and I love it. For shooting indoors without flash it is an absolute God-send. It lets me get shots I just can’t get without it. My favourite one is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbusschots/2647239370/

    Bart.

  7. Ron, I had the same need for a trip to Thailand with my D80. I thought about the sigma 30mm f1,4 and then looked at the sigma 20mm f1,8. I ended up getting the Sigma 20mm. It is a pretty big lens esp.with the lens hood. I really like this lens for travel, it is a little longer than a 28mm, a little like a hybrid of a 35mm and 28mm. I found that this is a great focal length and the lens can focus pretty close to the subject. It is even better on the D300 because the improved ISO makes up for it being a little slower than the 1,4.

  8. Ron, I had the same need for a trip to Thailand with my D80. I thought about the sigma 30mm f1,4 and then looked at the sigma 20mm f1,8. I ended up getting the Sigma 20mm. It is a pretty big lens esp.with the lens hood. I really like this lens for travel, it is a little longer than a 28mm, a little like a hybrid of a 35mm and 28mm. I found that this is a great focal length and the lens can focus pretty close to the subject. It is even better on the D300 because the improved ISO makes up for it being a little slower than the 1,4.

  9. I purchased this lens after I incorrectly purchased a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF that is manual focus only with my D40x. I have been very happy with this lens with one exception.

    I find that I have to use exposure compensation and reduce the brightness by at least a stop for all photos, otherwise the highlights are always blown out. I am new to dSLRs so this may be a problem on my end, but whenever I put this lens on I automatically drop the exposure down. I do not have to do this with my (only) other lens, the Nikon 18-200 f/3.5 AF-S G Zoom.

    Mike

  10. I purchased this lens after I incorrectly purchased a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF that is manual focus only with my D40x. I have been very happy with this lens with one exception.

    I find that I have to use exposure compensation and reduce the brightness by at least a stop for all photos, otherwise the highlights are always blown out. I am new to dSLRs so this may be a problem on my end, but whenever I put this lens on I automatically drop the exposure down. I do not have to do this with my (only) other lens, the Nikon 18-200 f/3.5 AF-S G Zoom.

    Mike

  11. This is a very fortuitous review for me because I was choosing between precisely the two lenses you mention for my new 40D. I picked the Sigma 30mm because, like you, it was not as long as the Canon 50mm and I did not need to back out of the room to take a picture. I wanted a ‘general purpose’ lens to take pictures of people (and fish) and the Sigma works well for that, for me at least.

  12. This is a very fortuitous review for me because I was choosing between precisely the two lenses you mention for my new 40D. I picked the Sigma 30mm because, like you, it was not as long as the Canon 50mm and I did not need to back out of the room to take a picture. I wanted a ‘general purpose’ lens to take pictures of people (and fish) and the Sigma works well for that, for me at least.

  13. Ron,

    Thank you for posting this. I like this approach to a review especially because I’m one of those people who gets way to hung up on charts and graphs and sometimes forgets to just use the lens before judging it.

    Also, this is the second time one of you has referenced using a “third party” lens and I think that’s great. For those of us who aren’t getting paid to take pictures its good to get perspective on what is available and possibly more cost effective at times.

    Thanks,
    Wes

  14. I’ve had this lens in mind for a long time, and I’m still not convinced. In my mind, it’s this vs. the Canon 28mm f/1.8 USM… I’m delaying the buy (and subsequent beatdown from the GF) while I’m deciding if faster focus and slightly higher IQ vs 2/3 stop more light. I love Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 USM for shooting shows, and this could be a sweet sweet prime.

  15. I’ve had this lens in mind for a long time, and I’m still not convinced. In my mind, it’s this vs. the Canon 28mm f/1.8 USM… I’m delaying the buy (and subsequent beatdown from the GF) while I’m deciding if faster focus and slightly higher IQ vs 2/3 stop more light. I love Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 USM for shooting shows, and this could be a sweet sweet prime.

  16. I bought this lens last year and I have had the same experience, the photos are sharp enough and having an f1.4 lens is great for night shooting but I find the images come out looking bland and a bit too ‘normal’. On a cropped sensor 30mm looks too much like the scene the eye can see so there’s nothing overly interesting about the shots, they just don’t ‘sing’. I have in mind a project to make good use of f1.4 at 30mm but something in the back of my mind tells me to use my 18-50mm f2.8 and a Speedlite.

  17. I bought this lens last year and I have had the same experience, the photos are sharp enough and having an f1.4 lens is great for night shooting but I find the images come out looking bland and a bit too ‘normal’. On a cropped sensor 30mm looks too much like the scene the eye can see so there’s nothing overly interesting about the shots, they just don’t ‘sing’. I have in mind a project to make good use of f1.4 at 30mm but something in the back of my mind tells me to use my 18-50mm f2.8 and a Speedlite.

  18. I’m trying to decide between this lens and an older manual focus 35mm f/2 for my D40x. I have the 50mm/1.8, as well as a 28 and a 35 (both f/2.8) but I want something wider with the speed for indoor family shots. I can’t decide if I care about the AF enough to spend 4x the price of the MF lens. Thanks for the review!

  19. I’m actually a little surprised that you went with a 30mm. On several TWIP episodes you complained about the need for wide angle (usually picking on the Canon Point-N-Shoots) and how the problem exactly as you described it here (back to the wall) takes place when you don’t have a wide enough lens.

    I don’t have a substitute suggestion, it was just an observation.

  20. I’m actually a little surprised that you went with a 30mm. On several TWIP episodes you complained about the need for wide angle (usually picking on the Canon Point-N-Shoots) and how the problem exactly as you described it here (back to the wall) takes place when you don’t have a wide enough lens.

    I don’t have a substitute suggestion, it was just an observation.

  21. @JayMonster – The 30mm is in addition to the 17-85 and 10-22 I always carry – I wanted something both fast and wide. But I also wanted something that wasn’t too big since I’m unlikely to take it with me if it’s too large. Most of the ultra-fast AND ultra-wide lenses out there are also getting fairly big… It’s always a tradeoff!

  22. @JayMonster – The 30mm is in addition to the 17-85 and 10-22 I always carry – I wanted something both fast and wide. But I also wanted something that wasn’t too big since I’m unlikely to take it with me if it’s too large. Most of the ultra-fast AND ultra-wide lenses out there are also getting fairly big… It’s always a tradeoff!

  23. I have had this lens for just over a year. It’s on my camera pretty much whenever I’m in the house, and much of the time elsewhere. The wide aperture and effective focal length of 48mm make it a top lens for natural looking, flashless indoor family shots and quick portraits with awesome bokeh. Bright clean colors.

    I too noticed it’s autofocus to be slower than Canons 50 f/1.4, but it is still very fast and hasn’t been a problem for me. Focus was however faster and more accurate than the Canon 50 f/1.8.

    A friend let me use his Canon 28mm f/1.8 for a couple days, it’s really nice but I found myself wanting to just take of the 28mm and get back to my 30 f/1.4

    I think the front focus/back focus thing is mostly user error. At f/1.4 your depth of field is so narrow, any movement between focus lock and shutter release can make things “soft”. (technique can shorten that time and get you better results)

    Overall, it’s a great lens for lots of things, but for low-light people shots this thing is like magic. Love this lens.

  24. I have had this lens for just over a year. It’s on my camera pretty much whenever I’m in the house, and much of the time elsewhere. The wide aperture and effective focal length of 48mm make it a top lens for natural looking, flashless indoor family shots and quick portraits with awesome bokeh. Bright clean colors.

    I too noticed it’s autofocus to be slower than Canons 50 f/1.4, but it is still very fast and hasn’t been a problem for me. Focus was however faster and more accurate than the Canon 50 f/1.8.

    A friend let me use his Canon 28mm f/1.8 for a couple days, it’s really nice but I found myself wanting to just take of the 28mm and get back to my 30 f/1.4

    I think the front focus/back focus thing is mostly user error. At f/1.4 your depth of field is so narrow, any movement between focus lock and shutter release can make things “soft”. (technique can shorten that time and get you better results)

    Overall, it’s a great lens for lots of things, but for low-light people shots this thing is like magic. Love this lens.

  25. BTW Ron, not trying to tell you anything about “technique” just speaking in general terms. : )

  26. I bought this lens used for my Nikon D40, and used it for a few months. I found it a bit too large physically for my taste and sold it on.

    @Pat if the 35mm is manual you’ll have to go all manual — it won’t meter on the D40X. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s an extra step.

  27. I bought this lens used for my Nikon D40, and used it for a few months. I found it a bit too large physically for my taste and sold it on.

    @Pat if the 35mm is manual you’ll have to go all manual — it won’t meter on the D40X. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s an extra step.

  28. Ron,
    Well done dude! And for the record…It’s good to see more TWiP’ers participating in the TWiP blog conversations.

  29. Ron,
    Well done dude! And for the record…It’s good to see more TWiP’ers participating in the TWiP blog conversations.

  30. I have this lens right next to me on my 20D, it’s my standard “inside” lens. Good lens, AF speed is a little slow, but other then that I’m pretty happy.

  31. I love this lens. For the price you get a deal. Sure it take a while to focus…that’s why I always select manually the focus area on my d40, but you get what you paid for. Excellent first addition if you are stuck with the usual @#&$ 18-55mm that comes with the camera itself. And also two things already mentioned by others (I think), number one D40 doesn’t have autofocus for the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4, and number two with a crop factor of 1.5 on the d40 and most nikon dslrs well the 30mm gives us the perspective of a 50mm. So there. Thanks and hopefully someone will find this useful.

  32. I love this lens. For the price you get a deal. Sure it take a while to focus…that’s why I always select manually the focus area on my d40, but you get what you paid for. Excellent first addition if you are stuck with the usual @#&$ 18-55mm that comes with the camera itself. And also two things already mentioned by others (I think), number one D40 doesn’t have autofocus for the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4, and number two with a crop factor of 1.5 on the d40 and most nikon dslrs well the 30mm gives us the perspective of a 50mm. So there. Thanks and hopefully someone will find this useful.

  33. >>>>>>>
    I think the front focus/back focus thing is mostly user error. At f/1.4 your depth of field is so narrow, any movement between focus lock and shutter release can make things “soft”. (technique can shorten that time and get you better results)
    <<<<<<<

    I recently purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 to go with Olympus, and AF appears to be front-focus from noticeably @ f1.4 to mildly @ f2.8, while MF appears to be just fine. Tested on a tripod to minimize movement between focus lock and shutter release, but no success. Brought the lens back to the store for help, and now both the lens and the camera are on their way to Sigma service center for lens calibration. Guy at the store told me that I am not the only one having AF problems with this particular lens, and that the AF issue usually goes away after calibration, so I have my fingers crossed.

  34. >>>>>>>
    I think the front focus/back focus thing is mostly user error. At f/1.4 your depth of field is so narrow, any movement between focus lock and shutter release can make things “soft”. (technique can shorten that time and get you better results)
    <<<<<<<

    I recently purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 to go with Olympus, and AF appears to be front-focus from noticeably @ f1.4 to mildly @ f2.8, while MF appears to be just fine. Tested on a tripod to minimize movement between focus lock and shutter release, but no success. Brought the lens back to the store for help, and now both the lens and the camera are on their way to Sigma service center for lens calibration. Guy at the store told me that I am not the only one having AF problems with this particular lens, and that the AF issue usually goes away after calibration, so I have my fingers crossed.

  35. I have this lens too, with my 450D. I got it off of Ebay and it had a noticeable front focusing issue. I sent it, along with my camera to Sigma, and they fixed it in a week. Works perfectly for me now!! :)

  36. I have this lens too, with my 450D. I got it off of Ebay and it had a noticeable front focusing issue. I sent it, along with my camera to Sigma, and they fixed it in a week. Works perfectly for me now!! :)

Comments are closed.

Category

Reviews

Tags

,