Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sigma 30mm F1.4 on Olympus E-5

I have recently purchased a new lens, and for the first time in my history I got a lens which is not from Olympus, but a third party lens maker for the Four Thirds standard, Sigma. I bought myself (a used unit, at an irresistible bargain) Sigma 30mm F1.4, and today was the day I took the lens out, mounted on my Olympus DSLR E-5, for a spin at my favourite street hunting spot, Pudu.

Please bear in mind this entry is not intended to be a review of any sort. This Sigma 30mm is a rather old lens, and many information on what this lens can or cannot do, and how it performs have been openly and abundantly discussed everywhere on photography forums and many useful review sites. I shall not add on to the already vast available information. Instead of worrying about the lens’ capabilities, I just brought the lens out and shoot. Like, really shoot, for my usual shutter therapy session. Lenses are not made to shoot test charts or for you to awe at its technical perfection. Lenses are made to work with your camera body to produce wonderful photography work!!! Now stop chimping and lets go out have some shutter action and fun.




All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Sigma 30mm F1.4


Breakfast: Hakka Noodles

Chinese New Year is coming

Cut and Stand

Smile in a market

Wiping cloth

Playing with fire

Local warmth


I have not used this lens extensive enough to give any useful comment, and to be honest this was my only time shooting with this lens, on a rather short morning session (less than two hours shooting time on the streets). Nonetheless, having used this lens so briefly, I can confirm many arguments and feedback from the online community are true indeed. Yes, the Sigma 30mm is very soft when it is being used wide open (at F1.4 to F2), and do not expect any Zuiko quality sharpness in any of my images displayed in this entry. Did the softness of the lens bother me? Coming from ever so sharp Zuiko lens history (that 50mm F2 macro can cut your eyes, I tell you), many people thought of the impossibility for me to live with anything less than Zuiko perfection. Yes, I was annoyed, and not too satisfied with the not so sharp images, but then there comes another question: why do ALL photographs have to be so sharp? Do we need to show so much detail in every single shot we produce? If you are shooting macro and want to reveal the tiniest details of the insect’s eye or the hair on its tiny legs, or that texture on the small flower petal, then yes, sharpness and fine resolution are of absolute priority. But I was on the street, even if you can capture the nose hair several meters away from the person, you can’t even see all those tiny details if you do not magnify the original image, and above that, you probably would not want too much details (skin imperfections, etc) in the first place.

No, it did not bother me that much when I shoot on the street with the 30mm lens. Oh the bokeh (background blur) when you shoot at wide open F1.4, is heavenly!! That itself is enough to make up for the absence of usual Olympus Zuiko absolute sharpness. The bokeh is so smooth and creamy, and pleasant to look at, allowing me to isolate my subjects in a crowded market place. I believe many people bought this lens, just because of the bokeh quality that it promises. And yes, as promised, this Sigma 30mm F1.4 successfully delivers the desired bokeh, with no disappointment I must add. Seriously, there really is not much choice out there, Olympus refusing to produce anything below F2 for their lenses; this Sigma is one of the only very rare choices out there for Olympus users to experience that creamy, dreamy bokeh.

Friendly holla

Satay sticks

Matching socks

Young worker

Walking difficulties

Deep fry

Kitchen helper

Morning ride


Not only that, the 30mm is a good range to work with (though I personally prefer the 25mm), not being too far on the tele-end, and wide enough to capture a little bit of the background if you need to. I am not claiming whichever lens to be the perfect focal length for street shooting; you have got to choose which focal length that best works for your own shooting style. I have always been very comfortable shooting with my Olympus Zuiko 50mm F2 macro on the streets, and I treasure the ability to go at 100mm (on 35mm format equivalent). Having a 30mm on hand now, it does complement my shooting style very well, opening to a new, wider perspective, yet not being too wide. I like my shots to be tight, I like my shots to be compact, I do not like too many negative space, and I NEED some working distance between myself and my subjects. 30mm to 50mm are just nice, anything too wide or too far to the tele end would have been obtrusive to my usual shooting needs.

Now comes my complains.

I do find the autofocus to be very unreliable, and I am not kidding. The autofocus is fast, it is actually faster than the Olympus 50mm F2. However, even on the viewfinder I can see that the focusing was not doing its job accordingly, and failed to lock focus accurately even after the “beep” confirmation. This does not happen very frequent (probably 2-3 times out of 25 shots), but frequent enough to get on my nerves. Because of this issue, I have become less confident with my shooting, and I needed to take quite a handful of shots of the same subjects, just in case I did not hit pin point focus accuracy the first time I fired the shot. There were at least three encounters, when I tried to focus, the lens did not respond at all, even after I press the shutter button halfway numerous times. I turned the camera on and off, a few times, and the problem went away. I am not sure if this was an isolated incident, or my copy was a bad one, but I have never experienced such issue with many lenses I have used in the past.


Joy of meeting a Street Photographer

Lounging

Morning chatter

Labels on bottles

To be burned

Bakery boy

Innocence.

Waiting

Flowers on the road

I may jump into conclusions about the focusing, and I have not checked the lens for any backfocusing issues. However, I am fairly confident it has no backfocusing (or frontfocusing) because I did get high rate of accurately hit focus images, as shown in this entry. They appear soft, of course, because most of them were shot wide open at F1.4. I may be jumping into conclusions too fast, hence do allow me to use the lens more, and explore its characteristics, and know how to fully go around with it. So far, I am enjoying it immensely, just for the bokeh it produced alone. I never knew I would love bokeh so much before this lens.

Anyone used this lens before? Do share your experience!!

14 comments:

  1. bokeh great, been thinking about getting the 30 or the 50mm for fast potraiture use. been all the forums warn of unreliable focusing issues and corner softness. so saving for an online purchase of the 50mm f2 macro instead.

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  2. Great images as always, Robin. And lovely bokeh indeed, still the sharpness is more than adequate.

    You know that I love the 50mm macro, but I was thinking of an autofocusing lens with a wider aperture as well lately, and there are only these two Sigmas (1.4/50 and 30), and the Panasonic Leica 1.4/25mm for the µ4/3rds as well as for the 4/3rds cameras. The Leica-branded ones would challenge the macro in sharpness, the Sigmas are much cheaper. So I'm contemplating.

    First, I'll get Mitchie the 1.8/45mm for her birthday in early February, then I'll see.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful images, and your experience with the new lens, mate!

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  3. Hey richard,
    50mm F2 is an excellent portrait lens. The bokeh is actually very good, but the working distance flexibility is a little restricted, at 100mm equivalent length. Nonetheless, I would still highly recommend the 50mm F2.

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  4. Hey Wolfgang,
    Thanks for the compliments !! It was my pleasure to share my experience and thoughts here, thats why I blog.

    I do think that Mitchie will love the 45mm F1.8 to bits, it is an extremely sharp lens, and very reasonably priced too. Small and lightweight, yet capable of producing bokeh that matches (some say surpasses) the ZD 50mm F2 macro.

    The pana-leica 25mm is a great lens, I have tried it. It is just too expensive and not within my reach, even after I had a used deal at very good offer.

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  5. Robin,

    I've had the Sigma 30mm for over two years, having purchased my copy brand new. I purchased it originally for use with my E-3, and then experimented with it on my E-300. I had the same focus accuracy issues you spoke of; the lens is a challenge to use with the Olympus focusing system, especially wide open with any Olympus camera from the E-3 forward.

    But in January I picked up a series of E-1 used bodies, until I had 3 (!). One was given to me. What I discovered about the 30mm is that it focuses best on the E-1 body (all of them, it seems). As a consequence I use the 30mm on the E-1 now more than any other body. The only time I've ever gotten more accurate focusing is with the E-P2 on manual using the VF-2.

    It's my theory that the 30mm autofocus software was developed with the E-1 and Sigma never went back and actually updated for more advanced E-system bodies, such as the E-3 and E-4xx/5xx series and beyond.

    Stick with the 30. It's an interesting lens to shoot with, especially at f/2 and faster.

    Here's a link to my hodgepodge 30mm collection: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wbeebe/tags/30mm/

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  6. Hello Bill,
    Thanks for sharing such useful information !!
    It does make sense when I read your explanation, and if Sigma 30mm was indeed designed and optimized for the E-1, of course things would have been very different when used on newer bodies.
    It is true that the 30mm has great potential, and is a very interesting lens. The challenge is there, and I intend to work around it to use the lens effectively.
    Ny the way, that is a set of great images you have there !! You do know how to use your 30mm very well.

    Thanks again for sharing the tips. Appreciate it.

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  7. Bill - I agree with Robin. Impressive set that you have there.

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  8. That is a stunning collection of random people photographs... Just as you would expect to see in a beautiful book with the title 'A day in the life of...'
    You have the eye. These pictures have the feeling of 'less is more', i.e. their charming simplicity says so much more than spectacular portrayals would.

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  9. Another great album with Bokeh-licious.

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  10. Thanks Nicolette !!
    You were being too kind, really. Nonetheless, you were right, I always prioritized simplicity when I shoot, and yes, those were the exact words I agree with "less is more".
    I am glad you could see that in my photos !!

    Kelvin,
    Thanks !! However, the Pana-Leica 25mm F1.4 (both 4/3 DSLR and the micro 4/3 versions) is a better lens, sharper and better in focusing.

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  11. Pana-Leica 25mm F1.4 super sharp, but super pricey and heavy lah!

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  12. Richard,
    but its worth it !!

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  13. Coming into this article almost a year later but thought I would throw in my observations. The first Sigma 30mm I got had bad front focusing and I had to sent it back to Sigma. The replacement worked perfectly on my E-520, although as you said in the article, this lens is not a mount and forget it type, you do have to pay attention because the focus can be hit or miss on Oly cameras. But over the years served me well on my E-520. Fast forward and my E-520 developed an issue a couple months back so I bought a used E-3. Not I get an ever so slight out of focus autofocus consistently. Bummer. But I can work around it I guess.

    But the other reason I am replying is to address your comment about how the Sigma sometimes simply doesn't focus at all (half press results in NO lens movement). Mine does that as well when the focus is kind of close it won't readjust. Rather than power cycling the camera, I found if I simply grabbed the focus ring and defocused badly, THEN the lens would do autofocus again. If you are still using the camera and lens and still have this issue, try that instead.

    Cheers,
    Patrick

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  14. I had the 50 macro (And I'll buy it again later) but for portrait & events I prefer the Sigma 30 1,4 and 50 1,4. I was not in love with 30mm for a lot of time. I began to love it in low light situation and now, I'm happy to have it. The sharpness is not always useful.

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