Sigma first ventured into the mirrorless space with the release of two lenses for Sony E-Mount and Micro 4/3 in January of 2012 with the 19mm f/2.8 and 30mm f/2.8 EX DN lenses. Around a year later, they released updated versions of these lenses with a new body style, and perhaps minor changes to coatings, though officially no optical changes were made. Today, I’m going to take a look at the newer version of the 30mm lens: The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art for Sony E-mount. This lens is relatively small, incredibly inexpensive, and provides a normal focal length with a field of view equivalent to a 45mm lens on a full frame camera. It also may be one of the better bargains in photography today.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting.
Build Quality and Handling
The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art ditched the matte finish black plastic exterior of the earlier version of the lens and has received a new body that is available in either black or silver. The version reviewed here is the silver version. The lens is constructed of a combination of high-grade plastics with a metal clad barrel and a metal mount. The bottom half of the lens barrel is covered in a thin metal (likely aluminum) and finished in a matte silver paint (along with an inset glossy ‘A’ for the ‘Art’ series of lenses). The top half of the lens is the extremely shiny metal clad focus ring. Having a perfectly smooth focus ring is a bit odd, but it works just fine. The fine silver finish of the focus ring looks beautiful in person, but is also exceptionally prone to showing fingerprints and it also seems to scratch rather easily (though the scratches sort of blend in a bit since the scratch is the same color as the finish. As a result, the lens normally doesn’t look as clean as it does when wiped down or when you first pull it out of the box.
Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art with Hood
The front of the lens has the engraved focal length, aperture, filter size, etc, though unlike most lenses, this information isn’t filled in with white, but rather kept as a black relief. Overall, the lens feels tightly assembled, but falls short of feeling robust. You can tell there are a few corners cut to keep the cost down. Most noticeable is the fact that the focusing group for all of the Sigma DN lenses is a free-floating group controlled by electromagnets. As such, when the lens doesn’t have power, the focus group will rattle around inside. This doesn’t seem to cause any issues at all, but it doesn’t sound reassuring.
The lens is small and the included reversible lens hood doesn’t add much to the size, ensuring that the 30mm will handle well on essentially any camera. One thing to note with this lens (and all the Sigma DN lenses) is that boot up takes a bit longer when these lenses are attached, depending on the camera. There’s an added 1-2 second delay upon turning on the camera before the lens is ready to go when shooting with the NEX-6. However, this delay is all but gone when the lens is mounted on the new A6000.
The 30mm f/2.8 DN Art features a focus mechanism that is generally very quiet, but not totally silent. If you are focusing in a quiet room, you can hear a soft buzz when the focus motor is activated. Autofocus accuracy is pretty good, hitting the target dead on in the majority of situations, though I did have a few times where there was some slight backfocus. I’m not sure whether to blame the lens or the camera for that, though. The speed of autofocus is a bit of a letdown. It’s not particularly slow, but it certainly isn’t fast either, taking between a quarter and a half second to lock focus in most situations.
With the retail price of the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 coming in at $199 (though currently on sale at the time of this review for $169), you’d be forgiven with not having particularly high hopes for the lens optically. However, the Sigma 30 shatters those expectations with a very, very strong showing. Right from maximum aperture, the 30mm f/2.8 produces very sharp images over the vast majority of the image frame, with only a bit of light softening at the edges. Stopping down to f/4 brings those edges and corners into very good territory, producing images with outstanding cross frame sharpness.
Marienkirche, Columbus, OH – Sony NEX-6, Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art @ f/5.6
The level of resolution is on par with optics in the $1000 price range, rather than $200. It’s great to see that the low price is more a function of the modest maximum aperture, since Sigma did not skimp on the optics. There will be no issues with using the 30mm for images where high levels of detail are required, at any aperture. Click on the image to the right, the press the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view a large version, which will give you an idea of the detail this lens can produce.
While not the fastest standard lens around, the f/2.8 aperture present in the Sigma 30mm is capable of blurring the background a fair bit, and for the most part, it does so in a pleasing manner. The bokeh of the Sigma 30mm is not the smoothest of any lens I’ve seen, but it also isn’t problematic. Specular highlights are mostly evenly lit and non-distracting, though some slight bright outlining can be seen in the right circumstances. If I had to describe the overall character, I’d say it’s a bit ‘chunky’. That is an odd term to use for describing bokeh, but it’s the best I can muster. Still, it lends a unique look to the images and I generally like the way things look in this department. However, those who prefer a smooth silky look will be a bit disappointed.
Contrast, Color and Chromatic Aberration
The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art features a strong contrast profile that is fairly rare among cheaper lenses. There is some bite to the images. Some of this is attributable to the high image sharpness, but the overall contrast of the images is quite high as well. This contrast actually is reminiscent of the typical Zeiss drawing style, though the Sigma differs a bit from Zeiss in how colors are rendered.
While the contrast profile reminds me of Zeiss lenses, the Sigma does render colors a bit more on the warm side, which I generally like. The color output is warm but evenly saturated. RAW files will need a bit of a saturation boost, but the color response is very good when pushed in that regard.
The Sigma 30mm controls chromatic aberration quite well. There is some lateral CA visible on the edges in the right circumstances, but nothing overly field relevant. Longitudinal CA is quite well controlled. Overall, a good showing here.
Flare, Distortion and Vignetting
The 30mm f/2.8 performs fairly well against bright light, maintaining relatively strong contrast when a bright light source is in or out of the frame. The lens also controls flare ghosting well. While it is possible to see flare artifacts in the right circumstances, it is not a common occurrence and things are well controlled here.
The Sigma 30mm has a small amount of barrel distortion that is generally unobjectionable in real world use. Lightroom has a profile for this lens to correct the distortion if you are shooting an image that has a lot of straight lines where the distortion may be noticeable. Likewise, the vignetting characteristics are noticeable, but not severe. Wide open there is a touch of corner darkening visible that is essentially gone by f/4.
- Extremely sharp lens even at maximum aperture. Stopping down yields good edge-to-edge sharpness.
- Excellent contrast and good color gives images a lot of pop
- Good control of lens aberrations like CA, distortion, flare and vignetting
- New metal clad design looks good and feels nice in the hand
- Small and lightweight
- Extremely affordable
- Autofocus is a little pokey
- Build quality, while decent, could be a little better
- Prone to fingerprints and light scratches
The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 is one of the very best bargains in the photographic industry. It’s a very inexpensive lens ($199 retail, on sale at the time of this writing at $169), but packs serious imaging capabilities. The lens is small, light and puts out images with very high levels of detail right from f/2.8. Stopped down a bit yields excellent cross-frame sharpness and high contrast photos. While there are a few small things like a bit of barrel distortion and a not-so-fast autofocus system, overall, it’s hard to get a better lens for the price. Frankly, in many ways, it’s hard to get a better lens for three to four times its price. Sure, it’s not the fastest normal focal length lens in the world, but if you are OK with an f/2.8 aperture, it’s worth your money to get this lens. A simply top-notch effort from Sigma.