2013-07-09

Sigma 19mm and 30mm F2.8 EX DN E-Mount Lenses, Part 2

NEX-5N with Sigma 30mm and 19mm
Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: My how time flies.

The Long Version: Back in mid-February I wrote part 1 of this review with every intention of following up with part 2 in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes life intrudes into plans, such that your idea of reasonable evolves into not what you originally intended. It's good that I'm just now getting around to writing part 2, because it's allowed me more time to work with these lenses and the NEX 5N. The singular flaw with all camera reviews is that everyone is so eager to get their review out in front of the public before anyone else that the reviews wind up reading pretty much the same and pretty thin on meaty real-world use. I don't have that excuse this time for writing a thin, meatless review.

Behind the Counter, Key West Florida, Sigma 30mm, f/2.8, ISO 2000, 1/60s

Unless a camera manufacturer is grossly incompetent (and Sigma has skirted that particular edge more than once), gear performance, and especially a lens' optical performance, is pretty much the same across contemporary lenses; that is to say, of good to excellent optical performance, even in the face of 100% pixel peeping. Personally what I want to know about a lens is more mundane, such as how well will it work in the real world under varying conditions and how well it holds up under use. I have toted the Sigmas all over a good portion of Florida since purchasing them, and under my ham-handed amateur use they have worked flawlessly and held up quite splendidly.

Conch Train, Key West Florida, Sigma 19mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/800s

In part 1 of the review I talked about how, in spite of the fact the Sigma lenses lacked in-lens image stabilization, I purchased them anyway primarily because I'm so cheap and I refused to make any major (read: expensive) lens purchases for the NEX 5N. Fortunate was I to have chosen to purchases these specific lenses, simply because I didn't need in-lens image stabilization for how I use these lenses.

Under practical use the Sigma lenses shoot far above their discount cost to me. As an avowed amateur photographer I have neither a burning need nor an infinite amount of cash to purchase every top drawer lens that is offered in E-mount (such as the Zeiss Touit lenses). At $99/lens (and even double that price), the Sigma 19mm and 30mm are some of the best lenses you can purchase for your Sony NEX cameras. For photographers on a budget, a good deal of enjoyment comes from reducing the economic pressure by not tying up large sums of cash in eye-wateringly expensive camera equipment. Based on that metric the Sigma lenses are thus very, very enjoyable.

Ringer, Key West Florida, 30mm, f/3.2, ISO 100, 1/160s

An irrelevant issue that has cropped up on the various forums is the mechanical noises the lenses produce. The first noise comes from shaking the lenses, either accidentally or deliberately. Both lenses use an internal focusing element. When the NEX 5N is powered up, so is the lens, and the internal focusing elements are locked into place. Powered off the internal elements are allowed to float. I've given both a fair deliberate shake, and you can hear a soft 'thunk' as the elements hit the extremes of their travel. That noise means nothing. If all you can do is shake your camera in public to hear the lens make a noise, then perhaps you need to find another hobby.

Big Boat, Key West Florida, 30mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/60s

The second irrelevant issue is the noise produced by the aperture. During focusing the aperture blades will snap open to the aperture's widest opening, the lens will focus, then the aperture blades will snap back down for proper exposure. This has been described in various fora as "lens chatter." The Sigma's aren't the only lenses to exhibit this; for example you can spend over $500 for the µ4:3rds Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 and experience the exact same behavior. From a practical standpoint it means nothing to the overall operation of the lens. The noise is low enough that you have to be very close to the lens to hear it, let alone care about it.

Other than the two nit-noids just listed both lenses focus silently and very quickly, which is 99.9% of the time they're in use.

Better Than Sex, Key West Florida, 19mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/3200s

The strengths of the Sigma 19mm and 30mm far out weight their perceived weaknesses. Combined with the Sony NEX 5N they create a modest but quite enjoyable compact system, especially for travel. I spent a fair amount of time just carrying and using the 5N and the two Sigma lenses. If you can find the older versions of these lenses at the discount prices then by all means pick them up. Even the more current 'Artist' versions are reasonable, given that more metal is used in their construction, even at twice the price ($199) of the first generation. The Sigma lenses really strike a nice series of compromises between image quality (very good), use of materials, construction, and overall operation. For the budget photographer who's more interested in making photographs than making a status statement, you really can't go wrong purchasing the Sigma 19mm and 30mm for your NEX camera.

Picket Fence, Key West Florida, 30mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/80s
Bike Stop, Key West Florida, 30mm, f/5.6, ISO 250, 1/60s
Sunrise, Key West Florida, 30mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/800
Rent Me, Key West Florida, 19mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/80s
Rail Bridge, Bahia Honda, Florida, 30mm, f/6.3, ISO 100, 1/640s

Technical

All photographs taken hand-held with the Sony NEX 5N and post processed in LR 4.4 and the Nik Collection.

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