Threading a needle with a grapefruit.

Started Oct 6, 2017 | User reviews thread
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Richard Murdey
Richard Murdey Veteran Member • Posts: 3,009
Threading a needle with a grapefruit.

The Sigma 30/1.4 DC EX HSM on my Nikon D3300.

The Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC EX was one of the first prime lenses that would autofocus on low-end Nikon dSLRs, which, since the D40, have no built-in AF motor. As such it was quite a big deal when it was first released. In 2017 though there are many viable alternatives in the 28-35 mm focal length with which to combine a standard field of view with functioning autofocus. In my opinion, however, the best route to a standard field of view is to get a 50 mm lens and an FX dSLR to use it on. There is nothing on DX that comes close to the performance, value, and convenience of a Nikon 50/1.8G on FX.

That said, the practical options for a standard lens on DX cameras with no AF motor are, as of 2017, this 30/1.4 EX, the newer 30/1.4 ART, the Nikon 35/1.8 DX, the 35/1.8G and the 28/1.8G. The heavy and expensive f/1.4 primes will not be considered. The two G lenses are FX and a good choice if you can dual--purpose them on an FX camera also, but are pricey investments just to use on DX. The 30/1.4 ART is also quite expensive. That leaves the 30/1.4 EX and the 35/1.8 DX as the budget options. The Nikon (new) and 30/1.4 EX (used) are about $200.

The problem is the Nikon 35/1.8 DX is a tool lens. It will deliver sharp images at wide apertures unavailable to the kit 18-55 zoom but it is not a “nice” lens viewed from the quality of the rendering or overall optical performance. And for me at least, the satisfaction of using a standard lens is in large part wrapped up in the look which can be obtained with a traditional 50 mm lens. If I can’t get exactly that airy, relaxed bokeh with a 35 mm lens cropped on DX, I’ll take a reasonable substitute, quirks an all, over the 35/1.8 DX’s jittery rendering and hard-edged bokeh.

So is the old Sigma 30/1.4 EX deliver something worth the $200 it currently seems to fetch?

For starters, it’s a well-built, relatively heavy lens (430g), with quick autofocus, a windowed focus scale indicator, and a decent if slightly stiff manual focus experience. The oldest versions were finished in a textured coating, mine is the newer variant with the smooth satin finish, which is much nicer. The lens front balances on a D3xxx/D5xxx dSLR, but presents no significant ergonomic issues. The autofocus motion has a strong kick to it, and far more audible chatter than modern Nikon primes. It’s probably not ideal for video. It is a front focusing design, but only the inner tube moves - the 62 mm filter ring is fixed the outer body.

The lens must be sent back to Sigma to obtain a firmware upgrade if you want to use it with any Nikon camera from the D5300 onwards. The autofocus won’t work properly otherwise. Sigma upgraded my lens, for free, in under a week. I have no complaints.

The lens design is a simple 7 element 7 group affair, with a very large front element. A brute force approach to obtaining the ultrafast aperture on such a wide focal length. The results are far from stellar: It’s only really sharp in the middle of the frame, there is a lot of barrel distortion, moderate vignetting, a ton of coma, and fair bit of axial and some lateral chromatic aberration too.

So, a total loss right? Well, not really, no. The barrel distortion is the only thing about the lens performance which practically limits the photos I take with it, relative to the 50/1.8G on FX. Everything else I have control of through the aperture setting. Don’t want it? Ok, stop down. Bring it on? Ok, wide open. In terms of the look I can get from it, over the full range of apertures, I am satisfied. I actually re-bought the lens again recently, having sold it when I first went to FX.


For casual picture taking, the real world performance is fine.

The backgrounds are smooth wide open...

... and not terrible stopped down. (The 35/1.8DX would show much crisper bokeh rings.)

Lateral and axial CA are visible in the uncorrected output even here stopped down to f/4. I deliberately unchecked the automatic CA removal when converting this NEF data.

The bokeh and rendering tend to be soft and cloudy, though with surprisingly good contrast and color retention. Flare and ghosting are fairly well controlled, but there is a lot of coma. It is not a precise lens, and not for precise work. It is an evocative one however, with a unique and to my mind interesting flavor. It excels with central subjects framed by out of focus backgrounds. Ideal as a casual pick-up lens, for people shots, or for just going out and having fun with the bokeh.

There's a flickr group dedicated to this lens. Check it out.

 Richard Murdey's gear list:Richard Murdey's gear list
Nikon D750 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/21 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/25 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/50 +13 more
Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM
Prime lens • Canon EF-S, Four Thirds, Nikon F (DX), Pentax KAF, Sigma SA Bayonet, Sony/Minolta Alpha
Announced: Feb 14, 2005
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Nikon D3300 Nikon D40 Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM
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