In recent times Sigma has been carving out a name for itself as being not only a producer of a wide range of lenses for various cameras, but also an innovator in outstanding optics and lens styling. Nobody makes the same kinds of lenses that Sigma does for the 35mm camera systems. You have the insanely wide 12-24mm wide angle zoom and the outstanding 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports lens at opposite ends of the spectrum, not to mention a healthy (and growing) bunch of fast aperture prime lenses in between, including the 35mm f/1.4, which is probably one of the best lenses ever made in that focal length.
Over on the periphery of their range of DSLR lenses they have also developed a small series of lenses for mirrorless cameras, including micro four thirds and Sony E-mount. These lenses have actually been around for a few years, in 19mm, 30mm and 60mm focal lengths, however, Sigma recently brought the look of them in line with its range of Art lenses and I have to say, they look very cool in black or silver.
I have received a review set of the silver ones for m43 mount and I will be covering all three of them in this article. As always, click on the images to see large versions.
The 19mm mounted on a PEN E-PM2
The 30mm mounted on the Olympus E-M1 (images taken using the 60mm in studio)
On The Outside
Let’s first assess the look of these guys. Unlike most other lenses that have grippy focus rings, the new DN range is smooth metal all the way around the lens barrel. The silver ones are quite shiny and they definitely catch the attention of photographer magpies with their stainless steel focus rings.
Even without rubberised or milled grippy surfaces, the focus ring moves very smoothly if you want to manually focus the lens. Despite being focus by wire they offer excellent tactile response when focused manually. The smooth surface can become a little grubby looking after use, but they clean up easily.
Included with each lens is a black plastic, bayonet lens hood (part no. LH520-03) and it’s the same hood for all three lenses. They are reversible, but honestly, they are so short as to hardly constitute a space problem in any camera bag.
All three lenses also share the same ø46mm lens cap, which Sigma have also updated to have the central and outer spring points. It makes putting them on and taking them off really simple, even with the hood in place. Also new are the rear lens caps which are chunkier and much better looking than the ones you get from Panasonic or Olympus.
Size wise, they are all quite diminutive. The longest is the 60mm and the shortest is the 30mm. Like typical micro four thirds lenses they weigh close to nothing. Holding all three of these in one hand you still think you’re being short-changed weight-wise somewhere, but in photography gear terms that’s a good thing.
Compared to the older EX versions the new ones have definitely taken a giant leap forward in terms of their looks. The older versions were kind of bland.
On The Inside
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the technical specs of these lenses because that information is easily available on the manufacturers websites as well as on most retailers pages. What I will tell you is that they are all fitted with Sigma’s new linear auto focus motor which removes the mechanical interface between the lens barrel and the elements completely.
The benefits of this motor are evident in the excellent AF speeds and also the silence, which makes them very useful for video shooting when using AF. However, it does come with one somewhat quirky side effect. When you remove the lenses from your camera, or if you have the camera switched off, you will notice that they all make a clunking sound when moved around. This is because the elements are literally floating in their rails inside. They’re not connected to anything mechanical, like gears. Once the camera is powered on the clunking goes away because the electrical interface between the motor and the elements kicks into gear (so to speak). It’s a little weird, but it works.
Other important aspects of the design to take note of are that they all share a 7-blade rounded aperture diaphragm which helps to improve the bokeh, a feature of each of these lenses that is quite a drawcard.
The 60mm features SLD (special low dispersion) glass elements to assist with correction of chromatic aberrations. The other two have multi-layer coatings. All of them feature aspheric elements to deal with coma. It’s good to know that the risk of falling into a coma while using these lenses has been reduced.
In The Field
As always, when I review a lens I look at results from practical applications, not lab tests. I do try to put the lens in demanding situations wherever possible and I almost always shoot them the way I would shoot them if I was using them on a proper assignment. I don’t particularly pay attention to minor things like distortion or CA (both of which are easily corrected in post production and which have hardly been a major problem in any new lens I have used over the past 5 years) or any of the things the things that make people in white lab coats gaze pensively into charts with lines plotted on them. I take pictures. Either a lens helps me make a better picture, in which case I take it with me wherever I go, or it throws an impediment my way, in which case it gets consigned to an instant listing on the local classified ads. The answers I seek are in the photos, not in charts. Do my images get better with the lens I am using or is the lens dragging my result down?
That said, I am happy to report below my findings with these three lenses, all used during the course of a few weeks in various assignments and personal projects.
Let’s start with the 19mm.
19mm f/2.8 DN Art
I must confess that I have had the older version of this lens in my possession for over a year and have used it intermittently on various cameras. It first came to me as a loan from an Olympus Ambassador colleague who thought I might like it. I did. Immediately. He never got it back!
The thing that drew me in with this lens was that it is sharp at f/2.8 and the bokeh was very attractive to me. There is almost a Leica-like softness to the out of focus areas when using this lens wide open. I haven’t seen this sort of gentle de-registering of sharpness in many lenses of this focal length. It's great for use as a PJ lens.
Being the sort of photographer who loves the 35mm angle of view (which incidentally is 54˚on a true 35mm lens and 59˚on this lens at infinity), I was almost instantly hooked. The problem I have with this lens is that I am more of a zoom guy and being the owner of one of the best zoom lenses ever made (Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, which I have taking to calling Mr. Slick), the Sigma only ever gets onto a camera when I feel that taking the zoom lens with me isn’t practical - which is virtually never. However, the little Sigma has got something going for it that Mr. Slick doesn’t. It has a $200 price tag.
I don’t believe you can buy a better lens for m43 for that kind of money. The closest Olympus prime is the 17mm f/1.8 which costs more than double. Granted, it does have a 1.8 aperture as opposed to a 2.8 on the Sigma, but hey… we’re talking $250 extra for that 1.3 stops of light.
Panasonic have their 20mm f/1.7 which seems to run at around $300 on major sites and while many people love that lens, it is really very slow on the AF front, so keep that in mind if you are drawing a comparison and need fast AF. The Sigma is a better option, in my opinion.
For people on a budget looking to get a nice prime lens for their micro four thirds mirrorless camera, this Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art is a steal. You won’t be disappointed.
Here are some shots I have taken with it.
Durban's beachfront (taken with the older version of the 19mm which has the same optics, different barrel).
- excellent image quality
- fantastic bokeh
- sharp wide open
- premium build quality
- fast focus
- suppresses flare very well
- comes with a hood
There are no cons for me with this lens.
30mm f/2.8 DN Art
The “normal” angle of view that one gets with a 50mm lens on the 135 system is around 46˚. According to Sigma’s tech specs in micro four thirds terms this 30mm lens is close enough to that view, coming in at 39.6˚. Looking through the viewfinder of a 50mm lens on 135 and a 30mm lens on m43, that 6˚difference is not much, so for all intents and purposes the Sigma will pass as a “normal” lens in that regard, with just a slightly more cramped view.
For some strange reason I don’t like that angle of view. Never have, so of the three Sigma DN lenses this one has seen the least amount of use from me. That said, there are many people who do like the “normal” angle of view and if you’re hankering for it the Sigma provides it at a ridiculously affordable $200.
The alternative 25mm f/1.8 from Olympus will cost you about double the money, albeit with that same faster 1.8 aperture than the Sigma. However, it’s nearest competitor is the soon to be available Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 which has a pre-order price tag of $250 at most online stores in the US. This means that the Sigma is going to be facing some stiff competition because Panasonic makes some very good lenses and this one is not only faster in aperture, its lighter too. I’d say that the big difference is going to come down to build quality and perhaps some optical qualities. My guess is that Panasonic’s new 25mm lens will probably not have the same premium metal finish that the Sigma does, but I might be wrong. If I ever get my hands on one I will be sure to let you know.
Here are some photos taken with the 30mm:
- great build quality
- nice and sharp
- small and light
- good bokeh
- fast focus
- comes with a hood
- personally doesn’t fit my style of photography (not wide enough to be "normal" for me)
60mm f/2.8 DN Art
I had heard about this lens from a couple of guys I know who use it regularly. Their comments were very complimentary, almost bordering on fanatical, especially when it came to sharpness. Another confession; this lens was the one I most wanted to review. After using it for a short while I have to say that my friends’ comments were entirely justified. This is a fantastic lens! And it only costs $200!
The 60mm (20.4˚) angle of view on m43 translates to a 120mm (20˚) angle of view on 135, so it is ideally suited for tight portraiture, or any other subject matter than falls into that frame of view. A quick search on Flickr will reveal many ways in which users are able to reflect their vision using this lens. Nikon users coming to micro four thirds would probably compare it with the 135mm f/2.0 DC Nikkor in terms of its framing ability.
I found the sharpness of this 60mm to be quite amazing, even at f/2.8. I’d go so far as to say that we’re approaching the sort of sharpness that you find on the Olympus 75mm f/1.8. I have no scientific way of proving this (remember what I said about the lab coat guys?), other than to take two images of the same subject at the same f/2.8 aperture and compare them. So I did this and here’s what I found:
This is taken with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 shot at f/2.8
And here's the same shot taken with the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 at f/2.8
I photographed the Peak Design Clutch on my product photography table (without flash so I could shoot with the f/2.8 aperture) using a tripod and an Olympus E-M1. I cropped the 60mm shot so that it looks more or less the same as the 75mm shot.
Everyone who knows my history with micro four thirds will know how highly I rate the Oly 75mm, so for me to consider a $200 lens from Sigma to be a peer must tell you something. Yes, the Oly opens up to f/1.8 which in low light gives it a significant advantage over the Sigma, so it’s the first lens I would reach for if I was going to photograph a concert or a conference speaker, but if I didn’t already have that Oly, you can rest assured that for a similar angle of view (20˚vs 16˚) I would definitely want this lens. It's also $900 vs $200. Don't get me wrong, I love the Oly, but $700 goes a long way out here.
Here are some photos from the 60mm Sigma.
The 60mm gives you a really vibrant palette of colours with excellent contrast.
I shot both of the above images directly into the rising sun and flare was nowhere to be seen.
Colour and separation are excellent with the 60mm.
Out of focus areas are very nicely rendered while the subject is sharp at max aperture.
- sharp as a tack, even at f/2.8
- excellent build quality
- lovely bokeh
- handles flare well
- comes with a hood
- fast focus
- closest focus distance is 50cm which for me is a little long for such a short focal length
- could be considered too sharp for portraits of wrinkled faces (ie, don’t photograph ladies over the age of 35 with this!)
These Sigma DN lenses are definitely must have items for micro four thirds users (I can’t speak for the Sony E-mount guys). You’re getting immense bang for the buck with them. All three of them will still cost you less than many of the better f/2.8 zoom lenses available from both Panasonic and Olympus, so if you’re on a tight budget and would like to dip your toes into the mirrorless world, this is as good a starting point as any. I would absolutely, definitely get the 60mm first, then the 19mm second. The 30mm is very good, but as I said, it’s not a focal length I work with much, so it probably wouldn’t see much use in my system. That may change as I get more involved in video, but for now it’s the least useful one for me.
I often put the 19mm on my Olympus PEN E-PM2 and go cycling with it along our promenade. It’s a great focal length for me.
Optically I can’t find much wrong with any of them. Nothing jumps out at me and shouts “Ah! I am a crap lens!” or “I have cooties on the inside!”. Sure, there are much better lenses available for m43, but you’d have a spend much more than this to get them. For most people these are a great value proposition and I would have no qualms putting down the money for all of them and being entirely satisfied.
If I did that (and I most certainly might) I would opt for the black ones as the silver tends to stick out a bit on my black cameras. I’ve been told these silver versions look like little camping mugs… oh dear!
Bottom line: just get them all. You will be happy.