on July 6, 2008
This is one of the most controversial lenses ever, it seems. why all the fuss over this little guy? Simple, it cleverly exploits a hole in nikon's product lineup as a wide aperture (f/1.4) prime lens with HSM (hypersonic motor) at a price point just above nikon's older, slower 35/2 prime.
Therefore nikon purists hate it with a passion, while 3rd party aficionados tend to have a more open mind.
First off, if you're looking for something razor sharp at f/1.4 try zeiss or get over it. it's no fillet chef wide open, but that's not the point. the point is that you CAN use it at 1.4, which means it can shoot in light a 2.8 would be challenged by. also you can stop it down a few clicks and still be at 2.8, or shoot at f/2 or 2.2 and not be completely wide open.
Second, while i'm sure there are sample variations out there, don't be put off by doomsayers on internet forums. opinions of actual users are one thing, but i dont know how people who have never used the lens can qualify it whatsoever.
(but if you do order this lens, make sure its from a vendor with a good return policy. check for front focus issues when you get it; if you have a problem, sigma will recalibrate the lens. saves them money in the QC department, but at least they have good customer service.)
for the record, i own three sigma lenses, all EX series, all bought online, and they all worked perfectly fine from day one.
There are two categories of folks who will be looking at this lens: d40/d40x/d60 users and everybody else.
for a d40/60 kinda person who wants to take no-flash, low light pics, there are no other options in this focal length and aperture class with an internal motor. period. you'd have to go to the micro-nikkor 60mm or 105VR to get an AF-S prime. sigma is coming out with a 50/1.4 HSM, but the 30's "normal" perspective is better suited for DX camera sensors with their 1.5 crop.
nikon d80/200/300/700 owners can use any of nikon's (or sigma's) primes with full AF capability. unless you absolutely need f/1.4, the nikon 35/2 is cheaper and probably sharper. it doesn't have an internal motor, though, so for low-light action shots, the sigma is better suited for that application. but if you just need something inobtrusive for street shooting, candids, or a lower-profile lens, and arent worried about max aperture or AF speed, go for the 35/2.
okay, how about some pros and cons:
--not a small lens but lightweight.
--low profile and normal perspective perfect for street/doc and candids.
-- 1.4 maximum aperture makes this perfect for extreme low-light shooting.
-- shallow dof at wide apertures results in creamy bokeh (out of focus elements)
--HSM ensures fast AF; will work on D-series cameras without internal motors.
-- takes 67mm filters.
--sharp in the center at all apertures.
--using fixed focal length lens forces you to focus on composition.
-- EX build is better than sigma's bottom-barrel lenses, plus EX lenses have add'l 3-year warranty.
--makes a good low-light solution for folks with slow variable-aperture kit lenses (i.e., 18-55, 18-70, 18-135, 18-200)
--1.4 aperture gives extremely narrow depth of field. this makes this lens extremely tricky when shooting wide open, as shallow depth of field can be mistaken for focus issues.
-- focal range is not as versatile as a zoom
-- how much are you really gonna shoot at 1.4?
--IQ not as impressive as cheaper nikkor 50/1.8
--soft corners at almost all apertures (this matters less than you might think in low-light situations)
--some known QC issues (which may be somewhat exaggerated)
--more expensive than nikon 50/1.8, 50/1.4, and 35/2 primes.
overall: recommended for d40/d60 users, low-light/available-light fanatics, street/doc shooters, people who will stay with DX for a while. not recommended for nikon nazis, or folks who may eventually migrate to FX.
in practical use, this lens is probably more essential on an entry-level or mid level DSLR than a d300, d700, or D3. those cameras' improved high ISO performance means you can often stop down a 2.8 lens to f/4 in low light, lessening the need for a 1.4 aperture. on a d/40/50/60/80/200, however, you can keep the noise down in low light situations by shooting at wide apertures and not going above ISO 800.
also, this is a DC lens, meaning that it is designed for DX sensors. FX-curious folks should probably get the nikkor 35/2 instead.
while the 30/1.4 lens sees a lot of low-light use, its normal perspective and wide max aperture make it versatile in many conditions. i've stopped it down to f/8-f/11 and found it takes good landscape shots too. you never know when you might run into a situation where 1.4 is needed. it's a good one to have in the bag, just in case.