The Sigma 30mm EX DC f/1.4 Prime Lens is one of the few lenses I’ve ever gotten excited about. The lens was announced way back at the last PMA show, and has since been lusted after by many because of its great features, manageable size and reasonable price. I managed to snap one up yesterday at Bic Camera in Tokyo, Japan, the very day it was released. I am comparing it against a classic Canon prime, the 35mm EF 2.0, one of the main lenses I use. This article is just a mini-review. I will do some more extensive tests and a bigger update in July after I return home.
View the samples - center crops and corner crops. The Sigma sweeps the board for sharpness and contrast at every aperture for the center crops. Its weakness is at the corners, where it less soft than the Canon 35mm but also more chromatic aberration (color fringing). The Sigma has a touch of softness at f/1.4, but stopped down by just one stop to f/2.0, it becomes extremely near its optimal sharpness. The Canon is soft at f/2.0 and f/2.8 but shows similar performance at f/4.0 to the Sigma at f/2.8. Overall, the Sigma is optically the better lens of two. I have also added some bokeh samples shot by the Sigma at f/1.4 and the Canon at f/2.0. It's a fairly subjective issue, so I leave readers to make their own minds up about it.
The Sigma lives up to its designation as an EX lens, a top of the line product. It feels solid and has a smooth action in its focus ring. Its finish is the typical Sigma peach finish found on other high end Sigma lenses and the tops of IBM Thinkpads. It definitely puts the Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 to shame and actually surpasses the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM as well. The Canon creaks a little if you squeeze (it’s squealing because it hurts), and has a looser focus ring. The Sigma has a wider focus ring than the Canon making it easier to grip and turn. Size and weight-wise, the advantage goes to Canon. The 35mm is a diminutive that travels well, whereas the Sigma is at least 30% larger and heavier. That been said, the Sigma is still a manageable size and travels almost as well.
The Sigma is a clear step up from the Canon. Although not quite internal focusing, the front lens element does not protrude past the filter thread, so if you were to put a filter on the lens, it would not move when the lens focuses. The Canon on the other hand, has a front element that does move back and forth out of the body during focus. The Sigma also has full time manual focusing, you can adjust focus manually regardless of the autofocus switch on the side of the lens. This is a feature that is only found in Canon’s more expensive USM equipped lenses. The Sigma also has HSM, a USM equivalent. The focus is fast and much quieter than the Canon, which has a traditional motor that is very buzzy in comparison. Focusing speed is similar for both lenses. Both lenses have focus distance scale windows.
This review almost reads like a Sigma press release, singing high praises to the newcomer. The truth of the matter is, the Sigma is a superb lens. It is better than the Canon EF 35mm f/2 and definitely satisfies my requirements for a prime lens in this range. However, one must not forget that the Canon is just over half the price of the Sigma and as always in the lens world, you get what you pay for. The Canon is still an excellent value for those looking to get into primes. It’s better than most zooms at that range and you get an extra stop of light over its Canon EF 28mm brother. If you own a Canon 35mm, do not hesitate to upgrade to the Sigma 30mm. The optical quality is better, you get an extra stop of light, you have a non protruding front element and you have full time manual focus. The only down side is the extra weight and size of the lens. The final important point worth mentioning is that 30mm does not equal 35mm. For my style of shooting, 35mm was always a bit too much and the slightly wider angle of the Sigma feels absolutely spot on for a general purpose prime. However, there will be those who feel that 30mm is too wide and so it may be worth buying or keeping the Canon 35mm instead. Those with extremely deep pockets would do well with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L, which is more than twice the price of the Sigma, but as most L’s, an excellent lens in all respects but price, size and weight. As for me, I have finally found my all purpose prime.
p.s. if you are wondering what I have been traveling with on holiday: Sigma 15mm fisheye f/2.8, Canon EF 35mm f/2 and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. I usually travel with a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L and a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 but I decided to try going without them for once. Not having zoom wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. The extra stops of light on the 35mm and 50mm definitely came in handy as well.