Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Review: Shooting Wide Open

A few weekends ago my girlfriend and I took a photoventure into the lovely Catskill Mountains in New York, just on the westside of New Paltz. This area is loaded with steep hills, breathtaking cliffs, fantastic scenic overlooks and a vast array of state parks and private nature preserves. It was a fantastic November day and a balmy 58 degrees. The roads, parks and overlooks were full to the brim with people and lacked any open parking. What started out as a great adventure soon took a turn for the worse.

I did not notice at first, but while photographing a rock wall and roadway at a scenic overlook, my Nikon D5100 had a slight malfunction. Later in the day as we basked in the rays next to a blazing and warm fire pit at a local whiskey distillery, Coppersea, I encountered the same issue. I recognized that at that the previous photo stop I had a difficult time focusing during a photo. I was at a total loss. I could not get my auto focus to engage and found myself destined to a day and perceivably a lot longer shooting in manual focus. Prematurely that night, I purchased a couple of used lenses from KEH Camera and naturally after they arrived, I realized that I had unknowingly changed my AE/AF lock function button and had turned my cameras autofocus connection off. I did not need either of the two lenses I ordered but what the hell, new gear is fun, so I kept them.

Overall, my experience with KEH was fantastic, but that is not what this blog is about. One of the lenses I purchased was the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM. This lens model is a fast lens with a wide aperture designed for the DX Format Nikon systems, but is available for other mounts like Canon and Sony. The aperture ranges from f/1.4-16 and features Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor specifically designed for APS-C Crop Sensor cameras like the Nikon DX series.

For this blog, I wanted to test the capabilities of the lens, so I put together a project challenge and went to town. I selected a few “household items” to shoot in the same conditions for consistency to really see how this lens was performing. Because the lighting is not perfect in my apartment, I decided to change the rules I initially set for my challenge and I shot everything wide open at f1.4, as well as utilized the same tripod orientation and lighting arrangement. I metered in center weighted format, so my shutter speed changed from subject to subject due to color and each subjects reflective characteristics, but otherwise I was shooting at 200 ISO with a LED ring light and overhead kitchen light as the main light source.

The Challenge Images:

The subjects selected for this project were random items we have in our apartment. I selected these based randomness and color differentiation. Wide open at f/1.4, the Sigma 30 mm is a great lens that produces crisp and clear in-focus images. While I was working in a smaller area, you cannot fully notice the bokeh effect, but it is present in the background. The colors of the subjects came out clean and the detail is quite clear. At f/1.4, the lens is a bit soft but still manages to produce fantastic image quality. Noticeable in the photos is a slight vignette that goes away around f/2, in addition to sharper, less soft images. This is illustrated in the additional images produced by this lens at the end of the blog.

Photos from previous photoventures:

Post-production of images using this lens has also been a great experience. Despite the slight vignette at the corners and the mild softness shooting wide open, the post-production process is generally very minimal. I have found that with correct adjustments and proper utilization of the light meter, capturing the shot needed within the first three exposures is incredibly easy to do and consistent. The aperture capabilities while wide open have allowed me to shoot in low light situations indoors, as well as outside in overcast conditions and extract detail in the editing process. Weather and lighting permitting, I will be doing this challenge again to display the lens capabilities at all full stop increments and I expect to have similar results.

Up to this point in time, I am pleased with this lens and have enjoyed shooting with it. Because it was used, my lens came with exterior imperfections in the form of minor flaking of the finish. The rating for this from KEH was BN for bargain. With that in mind, the lens was still $135, which is considerably more than the Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5 in excellent condition I simultaneously scooped up, but does show its bargain grading with HSM functionality being slow to focus from time to time. An additional pricing factor that fascinates me is that a brand new, more comparable Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is around $200 brand new. In lieu of a new lens, I was able to pick this up for a fair price and I am completely stoked for the decision. It is a fantastic piece of gear for my bag and allows me to take photographs at a completely different caliber than what I was doing before. My closest lens in comparison is my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 manual focus lens, however the Sigma performs above and beyond, even with a BN rating.

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