Hardware review Sigma 85mm f1.4

Low Light - Hand held fire light

For today, I am happy to bring to you the latest hardware gear review – from none other than the folks at Sigma, with their 85mm f1.4 lens.  Let’s just jump right in:

1.  Focal Length – I’ve talked at length on the blog before about fixed focal length versus variable length zooms.  Their differences, both pros and cons of each are duly noted, and for the most part, I think we can skip the formalities of the technical explanations.  It’s an 85mm lens.  This means you are not going to be able to zoom with the lens, rather with your feet.  It also means that you will gain pros in IQ (See #8 below).  Normally I am shooting with either a 10-22 for wide angle landscapes or a 70-200 for portrait work, so this took a bit of adjusting.

When I did shoot portrait work, I kept on having to step further back to bring more of the subjects face into the scene, and with landscapes, I found myself rotating into portrait position (vertical) and instead of trying to get everything in one shot, rather capturing several shots, with the acceptance that I would have to stitch together in post production.

It’s not perfect for either, but a good compromise in focal length to try and meet the needs of both ends as much as possible.  If I had to choose my favorite focal length, it probably would not be an 85mm, but there are very subjective reasons for that, which probably aren’t as relevant here, so I will defer that for another post.  The focal length is what it is.  You either like the length or you do not.  I was middle of the road on it – sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t.

In the end, I think the focal length was fine for most purposes.  Even

2.  F-Stop Range – This is the reason I want this lens.  Stopping all the way open to an f1.4 gives you amazing results from two key perspectives:

  • Depth of Field – When you shoot with a low depth of field, the subject is very easily separated from the background.  This also brings up the subject of bokeh quality, and here I was quite impressed as I didn’t see any evidence of jagged lines or aperture opening sizes, which is often characteristic of cheaper lens builds.
  • Low Light photography – Low light photography to me means shooting at or near dusk, or in an incandescent environment where you don’t want to introduce flash.  You don’t want to be a part of the scene.  The photographer wants to blend into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible.  Lenses with low f-stop ranges allow you to do this, and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is no exception!

3.  Noise – The motor on this lens is as quiet as one would expect for current technology – whisper!  I never heard anything that would cause a distraction, and at this point I am actually considering upgrading the Sigma Macro for this reason – the quieter the operation, the easier it is to concentrate on what you are shooting!

4.  Size/weight – About what would would expect for this focal length and aperture.  Remember, the lower the aperture (f1.4) the beefier a lens will have to be, because elements will need to be thicker in order to have any sort of stability.  It made for near perfect balance in conjunction with the 40D.  On a larger camera like the 5D or 1Ds Mark IV, I could see where you might not have as much a balance, but for my purposes, it works!

5.  Build – Patented and as expected, the water resistant housing, and non-slip grip that is now almost a trademark feature of Sigma was present so no surprises there.  I always enjoy shooting with Sigma gear because the heft of it just feels solid in my hands.

6.  OS/IS/VR – There is no built in motion correction here, which is what I collectively use to refer to the proprietary features of Sigma, Canon’s and Nikon’s camera shake correction technologies.  ALthough I should probably share that OS = Optical Stabilization (Sigma), IS = Image Stabilization (Canon), and VR = Vibration Reduction (Nikon).  Since this lens doesn’t have this motion correction feature, there’s really not much to discuss here.

The one note I would have is that when shooting with this lens, the benefit is primarily in that you can shoot at f1.4 which lets in a lot of light.  To that end, the need for motion correction is probably not as needed, except for the most exceeding low light scenarios, but you’ll see in a minute, that’d have to be pretty darn low!

7.  Cost – For the benefit of shooting at f1.4, the price of admission is hefty indeed.  B&H Photo prices it out at $969.  Since this is a new lens in their lineup, you likely will not find it for much less than this, as there is no aftermarket yet to speak of.

8.  Image Quality – Here, as always, I like to let the images speak for themselves.  I’ve tried to include a few samples that demonstrate both the depth of field capabilities and the low light performance.  Keep in mind – every image here was shot hand held!

Shallow DOF on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Shallow DOF #2 on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Selective Focus on the 85mm

Low Light - Handheld Sunset

Low Light - Hand held fire light

Fishing with shallow DOF

*Editor Note*  This review was done back in 2011, but still holds today after another rental session with this lens.  My review still stands!

Hardware Review: Sigma 30mm f1.4

USA Pro Bicycling Race

For quite some time now I’ve been reviewing various lenses from the Sigma line, most notably (based on continued traffic to the posts) the 18-250mm and the 50-500.  Other glass from Sigma that has passed through the blog includes the 85mm, the 8-16, 70-200, 4.5mm fisheye, much more.  Use the search function on the upper right with keyword “Sigma” for a complete listing!

One of the latest lenses that they folks at Sigma have been gracious enough to let me borrow for an extended period of time is their 30mm f1.4 lens.  You read that right: f1.4!  Much like the “nifty fifty” because after the crop sensor is factored in, it’s really close the an equivalent of a 50mm on a full frame sensor (30*1.6 = 48)!

I’ll take the usual tack and look at Focal Length, F-Stop Range, Noise, Size/Weight, Build, and Cost, and Image Quality separately. So, let’s get started!

Focal Length

At 30mm fixed, this is another lens where zooming is not an option so you have to zoom with your feet!  This means walking around to get either closer to or far enough away from your subject to get the composition you need.  This could be construed as a disadvantage for those that prefer to dial their lens rather than shuffle their feet, but since I need all the exercise I can get, I am going to call this a positive!  Another positive is due to its relative focal length (48mm) after crop sensor size is factored in.    The rationale here is that it’s a pretty close approximation to what the human eye sees naturally.  So, it’s very much a WYSIWYG approach to composition (what you see is what you get)!

One of the advantages of this is that because it’s a fixed focal length, optical quality is pretty tack sharp all the way through, and even through various f-stop levels.  Overall, the focal length is definitely a positive- even for those used to zooming or adjustable focal length lenses.  It’s quite a treat to get into shooting with a lens like this!

F-Stop Range

The bane of a photographer’s existence is having a scene present itself to you where the light is fading, and you have no tripod or way to stabilize your gear.  The counter to this has been to invest in what’s becoming commonly known as “fast glass”.  The idea is that you can capture a scene at a wider f-stop ratio to let in more light in a shorter amount of time.  The downside to shooting wide open like this is that your depth of field will suffer unless you are focused to infinity. This does limit creative possibilities if you are hand-holding, but the advantage is that you can shoot in lower light.

At f1.4, this lens is designed to let in an amazing amount of light when shot wide open.  I was able to take some decently sharp pictures in near darkness with nothing but sidewalk lights and an indoor light around my house.  Another shot I was able to get included an underpass that was in near darkness and I could make out details in the underpass (see sample shots further on)  This feature alone (in my opinion) makes a lens worth considering if the budget is there.


As is the case with most modern lenses, the noise that comes from running the auto focus is becoming much more tolerable.  Older lenses have had noisier motors (like my Sigma 70mm Macro- very loud when focusing).  Because this is a newer lens, and also due to its prime lens design, the lens is very quiet when it does focus in (the focusing ring never has far to go)  Another pro for the 30mm!


The Sigma 30mm has the size of a kit lens. It’s very compact which makes for easy inclusion in a camera bag.  When you have multiple lenses and need to decide whether a lens goes with you or stays home, this is one to take with you simply because it takes up such a small amount of space.  As for the weight of the camera, it’s surprisingly well-balanced on the Canon 40D, providing for a nice fit and comfortable shooting environment.


The signature brushed dark metal of the Sigma line is present here and I’ve always been a fan of how these lenses are built and how they feel in your hands.  Exuding professionalism, and a solid graphite brushed metal coating make this a definite pro.


At B&H, the build cost is the same for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and all other mounts at $489.  You may be able to save a couple bucks here and there by shopping for sales and discounted or used equipment sites, but based off the retail price, the ballpark is around $500 for this lens.  While $500 is a substantial dent to most wallets, I would have to say that this is worth the money.  I’ve had this lens on loan from Sigma for the last 2 months, and it’s not left my camera through several photo walks, two assignments, and of course all of the testing.

Image Quality

Now for the fun part: the image testing!  Now in the interests of full disclosure, I cannot share some of the images here on the blog because of client releases and such (although I will say that I was comfortable with photo delivery to clients using this lens, so that should be an indication of image quality).  Here are some shots from when I was shooting in other various conditions:

USA Pro Bicycling Race

The Golden Light

Perspective View of the 30mm

Low Light

Close Up

Very Low Light

So, there you have it – various examples of the lens shooting under normal, close up, and low light conditions.  In most I’ve just done simple post production work for sharpening, so there are straight out of camera (sooc).  In the low light shots, I did include some noise reduction to handle the grain, and you can see it cleaned up fairly nicely.  Overall, a great lens – thanks to the folks at Sigma for the extended use for testing.  I’ll be sad to see it go!

A Pro Level P&S?


I need some help!  Recently I had the idea of creating a Pro P&S camera review corner as an interesting addition to the blog.  To that end, I am compiling a short list of P&S cameras that would be useful material here for the reading audience to have.  However, since most of my experience thus far has been with SLR gear, I could use some help in ensuring my final selections are both useful and of interest to the audience here.  So – I need your help!

You see, it’s a given that there are limitations to the “point and shoot” grade of cameras.  You simply don’t have the same degree of flexibility – no changing out lenses, a smaller sensor, more inherent noise, etc., etc. etc.  Yet, when you take an SLR, there’s a lot more gear involved, even if you “go light”.  At a minimum, you’re likely to have a camera body, a lens, a flash, and a tripod.  So, which do you do?  Thankfully, with the advancement of the “P&S” grade cameras, the differences between SLR’s and the “P&S” category has narrowed substantially.

So, the question becomes:  which P&S is a good alternative for the SLR when you just want to take something and go, yet still have the malleability to capture the kind of images you want?  Now, if you ask ten different photographers this same question, you will likely get ten different sets of cameras in varying degrees of priorities.  That being said, a short list of high-end P&S cameras is always helpful to consider.  Here’s the short list I picked:

CanonPowershot S95, Powershot G12
Nikon:  Coolpix P7000
Sigma: DP1x

There were some others I considered including a few from Panasonic, Sony, and Olympus, but in looking at the specs of those, all had an interchangeable lens feature, which makes them more SLR-like than most P&S counterparts, so I removed them from consideration.  Here’s the criteria I am using to consider cameras for inclusion in a P&S review section:

1.  True point and shoot design (no interchangeable lenses)

2.  Cost should be less than the entry level SLR for that vendor

3.  Raw or sRaw capacity is probably going to be a requirement…most high end P&S cameras I’ve seen have this feature.

These are of course, just subjective takes on which P&S cameras stand head and shoulders above the rest, and the criteria to classify ones for inclusion as “true P&S cameras”.  As they come through the doors, I’ll share thoughts and feedback with you, but for the time being, I’d also like to hear what others think of these selections.

Can a P&S really stand toe to toe with an SLR?  Is it even worth looking at?  What about the cameras themselves?  Are there others that you wish were included?  Do you own any of these?  What have your own thoughts and experiences been?  Sound off in the comments, and I’ll see what I can to do add others to this roster for upcoming review!  In the meantime, happy shooting, and we’ll be back tomorrow!