Reviews

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Hands-on Review

Currently the amount of options for consumers looking to buy a 50mm equivalent lens for Sony E is astounding.

Critics have long skewered Sony for making more camera bodies than camera lenses, but third-party partners like Carl Zeiss and Sigma have stepped up to the plate recently with a number of great prime offerings. Sony itself hasn’t been slacking in this particular area; with the number of 50mm equivalent primes the company has introduced, you might be forgiven for thinking that Sony shooters are only interested in a single focal length.

Right now not only are there official lenses like the Sony 35mm f/1.8 E and Carl Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens for APS-C, but there are also full-frame options like the Sony 35mm f/1.4 GCarl Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2, and Carl Zeiss Distagon T FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA that would work equally well on a crop sensor camera.

Then you have macro options in the same focal length such as the Sony DT 30mm f/2.8 Macro SAM and Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro

Regarding third party lenses, Samyang just recently announced that they’ll make autofocus primes for Sony FE, which means hopefully that they’ll soon be introducing some more APS-C versions too.

Which brings us to the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary, a solidly built standard prime that costs around US$350 dollars. We had our hands on it for around a week, and tested it out before our upcoming Battle of the Bokeh, where we’ll pit it against the the Sony 35mm f/1.8 E and Mitakon 35mm f/0.95.

https://youtu.be/NBB3B5pUCs8

Design

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 on the left, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the right
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 on the left, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the right

Sigma’s new lenses feel incredible across the mounts, and the 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary is no different. While it isn’t as statuesque and refined as the Art series lenses, the rubber is high quality, and there’s some metal used when necessary.

In terms of looks, the minimalist exterior of the 30mm f/1.4 definitely is appealing and matches well with the Sony A6300 – which is the main APS-C Sony camera to use with this lens – and many of the MFT bodies on the market today.

The focusing ring is adequately large and smooth, but the lens is focused by wire, which we’ll discuss in the focusing section.

The lid is Sigma’s latest, which is thick and secure, but the release is a bit uneven, sticky, and stiff. Since it uses a very common 52mm filter thread, you can always get a better lid and filters for a decent price.

Lastly, after seeing Sony go for the quality over practicality route for their latest lenses, it’s a pleasure to see that Sigma are continuing to make small, light lenses. This is quite compact, and weighs only 265g (9.35oz).

While compact, the Sigma is still almost twice as long as the Sony
While compact, the Sigma is still almost twice as long as the Sony

Sharpness

Sigma have gained an excellent reputation for the quality of their lenses, and this only reaffirms customer confidence in their products. Edge to edge sharpness was excellent in general, and wide-open the 30mm f/1.4 was very useable. Chromatic aberration and fringing were well controlled, and even in the far corners the quality was good. Contrast is a bit lower even in the middle, but we wouldn’t have any qualms shooting with this lens at f/1.4 – which is the whole point.

Once you stop down to f/2.0, the corners and centre are excellent, and extremely sharp. At f/2.8 it’s pretty much indistinguishable until f/8, where the lens seems to peak. From f/11 onwards we see some diffraction begin to soften the image and contrast, but it’s far from being a problem.

Bokeh

Sony A6300 @ 1/4000, f/1.7
Sony A6300 @ 1/4000, f/1.7

You can refer to our most recent Battle of the Bokeh video for a bokeh comparison, but we found the bokeh of the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 to be decent, with relatively clean and pleasing depth-of-field areas. The out-of-focus areas aren’t distracting at all, and are gently separated from the subject. However, the fact that there isn’t clear separation from the subject is also an issue, as the images tend to look a little flat and two-dimensional.

The bokeh in general isn’t exciting, and when the subject isn’t very close to the camera, the background details can be distracting.

Considering the equivalent focal length is 45mm for APS-C and 60mm for MFT, Micro Four Thirds users can expect creamier backgrounds, since we shot these test samples on APS-C.

A6300 @ 1/2000, f/1.4
A6300 @ 1/2000, f/1.4

If you want to buy a 50mm equivalent lens for APS-C for portraits, we might actually considering passing on this for something else. When you compare images from the Sigma to ones from the 35mm f/2.0 Loxia Biogon from Carl Zeiss for example, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 looks extremely pedestrian side-by-side, although at US$1,400 the Zeiss isn’t for everyone. It’s worth noting that the Loxia is built for Sony FE in case a Sony A6300 or A6300 users wants to eventually upgrade, but if you are dedicated to APS-C the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens will provide sensational bokeh for US$600.

Just be warned that not all primes are made equally, and while the Sigma won’t produce poor portraits, it won’t produce magic out of nothing either.

Autofocus

A6300 @ 1/80, f/3.2
A6300 @ 1/80, f/3.2

The autofocus is one of the slowest in its class, and was significantly worse than the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS, which is its closest competitor in price for the E-mount. While it isn’t a speed demon, it performs adequately for most subjects in bright light, and the focal length itself isn’t especially suited for action photography.

It can focus at a minimum distance of 11.8 inches, which makes it well-rounded but not exactly superb for close-up product or food photography, and it hunts dramatically at close subjects. In fact, it’s also very inaccurate at short distances, and has a tendency to settle on a blurry shot after a brief period of time.

While normally for close-up photography we would recommend manual focus, the focus-by-wire construction for the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is extremely poor, and very unresponsive. It would budge only a tiny bit when we attempted precise movements, and overshoots when we aimed to focus quickly. Even though the focus ring itself is smooth and large, the execution of the manual focusing is frustrating.

Conclusion

A6300 @ 1/3200, f/1.4
A6300 @ 1/3200, f/1.4

For around US$340 dollars, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary is very decent – but in terms of both value and quality it can’t compete with Nikon or Canon’s own nifty fifties. The problem for Sony E users is that there isn’t too much variety on the low-end, and users have to choose between Sigma and the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS. Both are rather uninspiring, although at the high-end Zeiss and Sony itself have E-mount users well covered.

The Loxia is incredible, but expensive, while the Sony works fast and has optical stablisation, but is pricier and less impressive than the Sigma.

But if your expectations are balanced, and you aren’t expecting something of the same quality of Sigma’s Art lenses or the Zeiss Loxia, US$340 can get you a very capable lens that will produce very sharp and clean images.

Wide-open this was one of better of the 50mm equivalent lenses we’ve tested for Sony E, and corner performance wasn’t shabby either. The autofocus does let us down a little, but don’t let that discourage potential buyers who are looking for their first prime. This is fast enough to produce images with lots of bokeh for portraits or products, although serious bokeh whores will have to shell out for the Loxia to get their fix.

Overall, we’d be happy to recommend this lens, if only because Sony E shooters don’t have a ton of options. It’s built well, is sharp and contrasty, good wide-open, light, compact, and well-priced. It’s perfect for beginners looking for their first prime, but not so great for people looking to shoot video, since the manual focus is so poor. If you are a more intermediate shooter who a 50mm for portraits, this might let you down with its flat image profile, and you should ultimately plan to save for the US$600 Carl Zeiss Touit Planar f/1.8, which is more distinctive.

A6300 @ 1/6400, f/1.4
A6300 @ 1/6400, f/1.4