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Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Review

by Bob Atkins, October 2010 (updated February 2011)


The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM lens is designed to be the crop sensor equivalent of a full frame fast normal prime such as a 50/1.4. It has the same angle of view as a 45mm lens with a 1.5x sensor (Nikon, Sony, Pentax), a 48mm lens with a 1.6x crop sensor (Canon) and a 51mm lens with a 1.7x sensor (Sigma), As such it is the only fast normal prime made specifically for the crop sensor camera (DC is Sigma’s designation for lenses which only cover the area of APS-C crop sensors). There are of course fast full frame 28mm and 35mm lenses, which can be used, but they tend to be much more expensive than the Sigma 30mm f/1.4.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the lens available in all the mounts for the various camera brands. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM Specifications

Lens Construction 7 Elements in 7 Groups
Angle of View 45°
Number of Diaphragm Blades 8
Mininum Aperture f16
Minimum Focusing Distance 40 cm / 15.7 in
Filter Size (mm) 62
Maximum Magnifications 1:10.4
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
76.6 × 59 mm/3.0 × 2.3 in
Weight 430g / 15.2oz.

Included with the lens are a lens hood and soft carrying case.

Focusing

The Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM uses Sigma’s Hypersonic motor, essentially the same technology as the Canon USM and Nikon Silent Wave motors. It provides a fast and quiet focusing action. The lens has a focusing scale from 0.4m to infinity (and 1.5ft to infinity) but there are no depth of field markings, which is a shame.

The lens has full time manual focusing, meaning that the manual focus ring can be used to “tweak” focus after AF without having to switch to the manual focusing mode. The manual focusing action is fairly smooth and well damped with no detectable “play”.

Autofocusing accuracy was hard to judge because I only had the lens in the Sigma lens mount, and with the SD15 DSLR I had on loan there were some focus issues. The lens/camera system sometimes seemed to be backfocusing (i.e. focusing at a point slightly further away than the subject). When testing the lens for sharpness I actually used manual focusing to optimize the image. Since I did not have a Canon mount lens to test I couldn’t try it with my Canon EOS bodies, which are known to have no focusing issues. Whether the focus issue was related to the camera, the lens or both I don’t know. I can say that there have been some focus issues raised with regards to this lens on a number of Internet forums—but on the other hand there are also users who report no focus problems at all.

I really noticed the focus issue when doing shots of a test target at f/1.4. I’d previously used the lens for some “normal” shooting. Most of that was done at smaller apertures and I hadn’t immediately noticed any focus issues. However, looking more closely at field shots taken at f/1.4, the focus issue was sometimes (but not always) there too.

Maximum magnification is only around 0.1x (1/10th life size), so the 30/1.4 isn’t a lens you’d want to use for closeups without an extension tube.

Image Quality

Note that all test images were shot using a Sigma SD15 DSLR, which uses a Foveon sensor. This sensor has 14MP, but those 14 million data points consist of only 4.6 million pixel locations at which red, green and blue values are obtained. Consequently the spatial resolution of the sensor is somewhat limited and, despite the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, probably corresponds to something like the spatial resolution that you’d see from an 8MP conventional (Bayer matrix) sensor.

For the test chart images, I used manual focusing with this lens in conjunction with a Sigma SD15 body. Manual focus gave significantly better results, especially at wide apertures where depth of field is quite small. I assume a properly calibrated lens and body should be capable of matching (or even bettering) the manual focus images.

I was fairly impressed with the center image sharpness wide open when the lens optimally focused. Contrast was good and even towards the edges of the image the quality held up well. A small amount of chromatic aberration could be seen, but it’s certainly not excessive. A small amount of barrel distortion was observed.

As would be expected, resolution improves as the lens is stopped down. The change in the center sharpness is small and resolution probably peaks around f/4. The corners noticeably improve on stopping down and continued improvement is seen as the lens is stopped down through f/8.

It is possible that with a high resolution sensor (e.g. the 18MP sensor found in the current EOS 60D and 7D) more difference would be observed between wide open and stopped down performance.

Vignetting

All fast primes vignette (show darker image corners) when shot wide open, but the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 was quite good in this respect. On the Sigma 1.7x sensor I measured only about 1 stop of falloff in the corners of the image with the lens at f/1.4. This dropped to about 2/3 stop at f/2.0 and 1/3 stop at f/2.8.

Overall I’d rate this as reasonable performance for a fast prime lens.

Conclusion

The Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM is capable of yielding impressive results, as long as focusing is accurate. Center sharpness was good even wide open and vignetting was well controlled. Distortion was low and chromatic aberration, though present, was again well controlled. Compared with similar fast full frame lenses, such as the Canon EF 35/1.4L, the price is very reasonable, and is only around $100 more than slower lenses like the Canon EF 35/2.0. If you are looking for a lens with a “normal” angle of view and need something fast for low light work then you should certainly consider the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM.

The lens is certainly capable of yielding excellent images. If the focus issue is of concern to you I suggest purchasing from a store with a good return policy so that the lens could be exchanged if a problem was found.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the lens available in all the mounts for the various camera brands. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

More

Image Samples

Sigma SD15, Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM @ f/2.8. 1/400s at ISO 100. Using a “normal” lens gives a view similar to that you would see with your eye without the apparent distortions which sometimes can result when using a wideangle or telephoto lens.
Sigma SD15, Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM @ f/5.6. 1/640s at ISO 100. Shot with -1 stop exposure compensation
Sigma SD15, Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM @ f/1.4. 1/2500s at ISO 100. The small insert shows a 100% crop. This image was taken to illustrate the effect that a wide aperture can have on blurring background detail. It also shows, via the 100% crop insert, that in this case focus on the subject seems pretty good

Text and photos © 2011 Bob Atkins.

Article revised February 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Aron Husink , February 18, 2011; 01:59 P.M.

why don't you compare it with canon ef 28mm f/1.8? 35mm f/2 is non-usm cheply build lens..not a good comparison match..

Dave Luttmann , March 07, 2011; 11:14 A.M.

How does the 30mm f1.4 on a crop, compare to a 50 f1.4 on a FF as it pertains to bokeh, and shallow DOF?

Rafi Epand , March 13, 2011; 02:04 P.M.

I have been using this Lens for almost 3 years… first on my D70S and now on my D300. I love the Lens. I have never had a focus issue. Why did it take so long to review it?

BTW: I also bought the Sigma 17-50 F/2.8 a few months ago, another lens of great value. Delayed reviews on new products do a disservice to the photo community.


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