Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Lens Review
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens has a bit of a cult following (especially for Disney photography), with many people contending that it outperforms its Canon and Nikon counterparts. It has been so popular that Sigma re-released the lens as part of its new “Art” line in 2013. I haven’t owned the “Art” version (nor do I intend to), so this review concerns the original version and all sample photos in it were taken by me with this version, which is now available at a discount. Early reports on the Art version suggest that it’s a tad sharper than the original version.
While a lot of people drink the Kool-Aid for the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (or “Dirty Thirty” as its fans call it), nearly as many people have dismissed the lens, citing its quality control issues as making it not worth the hassle. While quality control is a real issue with this lens (making it a very poor candidate for purchase on the resale market since it’ll be difficult to return a copy you buy there), its performance is so spectacular that it absolutely is worth the “hassle.”
The big issue with this lens is focusing–that it front or back focuses. If the copy of this lens you get has a problem with that, it should be easy to spot, as whatever you focused on won’t be in focus, and something in front of or behind it will be instead. It’s important to do several test shots with this lens as soon as it arrives; if there’s a problem with it, any authorized retailer will exchange it.
I haven’t had problems with either copy of the lens I’ve had, but the reports of this problem are widespread enough that I know it is a real problem. Difficult to say how prevalent (as those who have problems are more likely to speak up than those who don’t), but it wouldn’t surprise me if 5-10% of the copies of this lens have an issue.
This lens is exclusively for crop sensor cameras, so if you shoot full frame, you’re out of luck. I actually loved this lens so much in my that I purchased a second copy after my first was dropped and busted! Here’s why…
Assuming you do end up with a copy of this lens that doesn’t have a focus issue, you will find yourself with an absolutely fantastic lens. This lens is sharp wide open, and incredibly sharp between f/2.8 and f/10. No lens is going to be tack sharp at f/1.4, and this lens is no exception, but it’s still very sharp–sharp enough that most of my non-landscape shots with this lens have been taken wide open.
As for auto-focus, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 performs like a champ. It has a built-in Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM), so it can auto-focus with even entry level Nikon DSLRs, and the auto-focus is fast, quiet and, accurate. It grabs focus quickly and holds it in a death grip like a genetically modified giant anaconda constricting a medium-size elephant. Or something like that. The only time I’ve had an issue with this lens’ focus is in dimly-lit or low contrast situations where every lens has issues.
In addition to sharpness and auto-focus, the lens has great contrast and color rendition straight out of camera, and the bokeh is fantastic (more on the bokeh below in the comparisons to other lenses). I’m not the kind of guy who spends his days shooting charts in labs at various apertures to test Chromatic Aberration and that sort of junk (I’m one of those photographers who gets out there and…actually photographs things), and I’ve never noticed an issue with any halos, artificats, or miscellaneous “stuff” in my shots. This review focuses on “real world” results, as I think they are more important than how equipment performs when manipulated in a lab. I don’t know many photographers (besides reviewers) who spend their days photographing charts in labs.
Now that it’s settled that this lens performs well, let’s look at who this lens would suit best. Most of you reading this are probably Disney photographers (if you’re not, bear with me for a couple sentences). This lens is a beast for dark rides. The big reason for this is its focal length. While the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 seem to be universally adored by all, they are an awkward focal length for dark rides given the distance of the guest to the show scene. In most situations, those 50mm lenses will be too tight for a scenic shot and too loose for a close-up of details. You’re in no man’s land with those lenses. In terms of both focal length and performance, it’s also an amazing lens for night parades, such as Main Street Electrical Parade, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, and the Boo To You Parade.
Actually, I think this sentiment could be extended to non-Disney situations; the 50mm lens was designed in the film era, and it’s a natural focal length to what your eye would see on film or on a full frame camera. I love using it on my Nikon D600 (read my review), but I rarely used it on crop cameras, so I sold off my Sigma 30mm f/1.4 when I made the full leap to full frame. (The 50mm lenses are great for full frame shooters, so if you shoot full frame and didn’t stop reading after the last sentence of the first paragraph, you’re in luck, because the 50mm is a great and cheap option for you!)
The lenses to which the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is more appropriately compared are the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and the Canon 35mm f/2 lens. In both cases, the Sigma is faster and wider. This makes it better in low light situations and for shallow depth of field, and for capturing wider scenic shots. The other big difference, and this is sort of an intangible, is the quality of the bokeh the Sigma lens produces. It’s often described as “buttery” or “creamy.” I’m not so sure what butter or cream has to do with photography, but as the great (fake) Nicholas Cage says, “that’s high praise!”
Assuming that these adjectives are slang for smooth bokeh, I agree. The bokeh this lens produces is smooth and creates clear separation from the subject and the background without distracting artifacts or hard edges. The smooth or fuzzy out of focus areas that the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 produces are generally considered to be “good” bokeh amongst professional photographers. Some photographers do prefer bokeh with hard edges, but the clear consensus is that buttery bokeh=good. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 produces better bokeh wide open than any of the Nikon or Canon lenses discussed in this article.
The differences between the Nikon and Canon 35mm lenses and the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 might seem insignificant, but I think they’re pretty important. If you disagree and are set on either of these 35mm lenses or a 50mm prime, I highly recommend making less of a mistake and going for the 35mm. My ultimate recommendation is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, which I think is the better long-term. This is especially true while the original, discontinued Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is available for less money. Once it sells out and only the $500 Sigma 30mm f/1.4 “Art” Lens is available, it might be more difficult to justify the added cost.
For a prime lens, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is surprisingly versatile. In addition to dark rides and shallow depth of field shooting, it’s also good for landscapes. Since its focal length is that of normal human vision, it’s easy to photograph a lot of scenes that you see with this lens. For me, that means this lens works well for normal landscape shots when I don’t want to use a wide angle lens. I especially like it for this purpose at night, because at apertures of around f/16, it produces some dynamite starbursts. Starbursts so strong that it almost looks like you might be using a star filter (although not quite that over the top).
Finally, build quality on this lens is excellent. It’s built like a tank and feels substantial in your hands. Definitely better build quality than the Nikon and Canon counterparts. It also includes a nice carrying case. I’ve never used mine, but if you like carrying cases, I guess it’s a nice bonus…
Overall, this lens has always ranked very highly for me (it was the second lens I ever owned after a Nikon 18-200mm!), and it’s the first prime I’d recommend crop sensor shooters add to their bag. Whether you should get this before upgrading your walk-around lens (my recommendation there would be the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8) or before adding an ultra wide angle lens (like the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8) is a personal decision. I’m inclined to recommend upgrading/adding the other two lenses first, but that’s just me. For a prime lens, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is surprisingly versatile, especially for Disney photographers who can use it for landscapes, dark rides, creative shallow depth of field stuff, and even portraits. All of these uses plus incredible performance give it tremendous upside. The only real downside to this lens is the issues with quality control, but most photographers won’t encounter those. Even if you do end up having that problem and have to exchange your first copy, it will be well worth the hassle to acquire an excellent lens at an amazing price now that it has been discontinued!
If you do want to purchase this lens—or anything else from Amazon—please use the Amazon links in this post (link to the Amazon.com home page). Not only does Amazon offer great customer service, fast shipping, and low prices, but using the links here help support this site at no cost to you and help us continue to provide you with great content.
If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Photography Buying Guide: Way More Than You Ever Needed to Know…
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide
If you use this lens, what do you think of it? Are you considering adding it to your camera bag? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!
I have to tell you – I purchased this lens shortly after reading this review. I also finally read a guide to using my camera (a humble Nikon D3100) and went in to using this lens with better knowledge of aperture and shutter speed. We headed to the parks the same weekend, and I have never been more impressed & satisfied with photos that we’ve taken – my husband and I were actually having a hard time sharing the camera, we enjoyed playing with this lens so much. It is everything we have EVER wanted from a lens, and I would have never taken a chance on it (being such an amateur photographer) without your review and photographic evidence to persuade me. Thank you!!
I am hoping you can help me with an issue I am having with my new sigma. I purchased the original lens like you suggested for my Nikon d3200. The issue I am having is trying to get the camera to focus with the new lens. example- when looking at the horizon trying to take a picture it just searches and searches. I can try this about five to six times and it might lock in or might not. I also did the Siemens star focus chart. Did about 9 shots on the view finder and only 4 pictures were clear. Also attempted to use the lcd screen to take a picture and the lens would never lock on.
Is this a bad lens or do I have a something else wrong with my 3200 (settings). The kit lens show no issue.
When it does take a picture it is far superior to the kit lens.
We are leaving for WDW in three days and I need to quickly make a final decision as to which lens to take. I have a Canon SL-1 and plan on taking my 18-135mm for the occasional shot where i need to zoom (will stay in my bag most of the time). My question is should I go with the new Sigma 30mm 1.4 Art or the the Canon 24mm 2.8 prime (pancake) as my walk around lens? I have two little kiddos that I am most interested in capturing during the trip as well as the typical disney scenery. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
If I buy the signma 30mm F1.4 lens for my crop sensor Canon 60D, can I buy a .45x wide angle adapter and attach to the sigma 30mm to give it a even wider look?
Man, I really appreciate all your tips and tricks on the Disney photography. I’m about to buy one of these lenses myself. How do you seem to never have people in the background of your shots though? Is that clever editing or lucky timing?
I love reading the reviews on here, as I am thinking about buying another DSLR. With that being said, I am looking at the Nikon D7000 and Nikon D7100. Yes, the 7100 is a newer model, but is it really that big of a deal to pay $300 more for it than the 7000? Is it worth just buying the body alone without the kit lenses so I could put that money towards another lens, specifically this one, or just pay the $400 more for the kit lenses? Is the Amazon price now ($350) as low as it was a year ago?
30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM refurbished for $219. I have the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.4 but tempted to pick up this Sigma at that price just based on your review. For dark rides who cares if the corners are sharp.
Hi Tom (and Sarah)… I have the Canon T2i – 550D which is my first DSLR = I love it. It came with two lenses.. the 18-55 kit lens and a EFS 55-250. I like the larger lens but do not like the smaller 18-55 as it doesn’t really give off any Bokah and the pictures are not as good as the 55-250. So I am looking for either another 18-55 lens or a prime lens. I have about $300 to spend. I mostly photo the kids at school, on holiday, at Disney etc. Could you recommend some to look at please?
Thanks a million
I was able to find this for the canon mount on sale for $339, not too bad. But now I’m torn and could use your opinion.
Should I get:
Sigma 30mm f/1.4
or wait and get the
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
Not sure if the versatility of the 18-35mm is worth the extra price premium over the 30mm. The 2 choices would probably be used for the same situations, Dark rides and parades. I already have the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 that I use as my walk around. Tough decisions when looking to upgrade.
Until I have a chance to use the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 myself (which should be soon), I can’t really comment. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is such an incredible lens that I doubt a zoom, especially a first of its kind zoom, is going to be able to touch it in terms of bokeh and sharpness.
Thanks for the response, awesome that you will get to try out the 18-35mm soon. Hopefully you’ll post a review of it! I’m leaning towards the 30mm now just because the 18-35 will not replace anything in my kit and will be to bulky to add with everything else I already carry. The 30mm will fit quite nicely in my set up.
Tom- great info, your site is a goldmine!
Here’s my dilemma: recent d5100 purchase, with 18-55mm lens.
Which would you purchase next:
1) Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 (without VC) for $450 (here in Canada)
2) Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (old version, not ART) for $430
If you get the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, you’ll want to sell your kit lens. That’s probably what I would do, unless you really want to take dark ride photos, in which case you should add the Sigma to your bag and keep your kit lens.
I purchased this lens as well for our DisneyLand/World Coast to Coast trip last August. I agree that it’s a great dark ride lens, but my pictures didn’t turn out quite as good. I blame the operator though and not the lens. 🙂
Also, thanks Tom for letting me know about the quality control issue. I purchased the lens on ebay, and thankfully my lens doesn’t suffer from the problem you described. I guess I got lucky.
I am absolutely blown away by the clarity and quality of these night shots. This is an area in photography that I really struggle with. This looks like one amazing lens.
Hey Tom! I purchased this lens after reading about it in an earlier post on the Disney Tourist Blog. I wanted to finally upgrade to a dSLR and while doing research I read up on your photography reviews and tips. They were very helpful! Thanks!
After some debating I settled on the new and fairly untested Sony a58 for my camera body. I’m sure its not everyone’s cup of tea but I love it! It shipped with a standard 18-55mm and I purchased a 70-300mm zoom to accompany it. Finally, after debating whether to spend more money, I bought the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for my Sony. I am so glad I did!! Thank you so much for the recommendation! Its such a great and versatile lens. Its basically the only lens I use in the parks now. And if it wasn’t for your blog I probably would never have known about it. Thanks again!!
Glad you like the lens! Tough to argue with that in-body stabilization Sony has, or its sensors. For me, the lens line-up isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean Sony is bad by any means!
Oh, I totally agree. Nikon and Canon are much better when it comes to lenses but all things considered Sony had the features I wanted. My last camera was from the Sony NEX line so I was already comfortable with the Sony layout. But like you said the stabilization is great and the auto focus is fast. I’m a fast and dirty kind of photographer, taking all my shots on the run with minimal set up. Therefore I think the Sony works better with my particular shooting style, but it is not for everyone. And with that blazing fast Sigma 30mm I can take shots very quickly. Thanks again Tom!! 🙂
Man…..You Nikon guys have all the luck. This lens is at a steep discount on Nikon but still full price on Canon. Bummer. Looks like a great lens.
It looks like the Canon is completely gone in a lot of places…
Great review. This is the next upgrade I’m looking to make. I just wish I could find the Canon version that cheap. Would make for a great Father’s Day Gift!
It’s been that low before from Buydig for the Canon mount. Perhaps it might go down to that price again!
Thanks, I have my eye on it now. Hopefully it drops again before they are completely out of stock.
I’d watch closely. The lens has been discontinued, so once stores are out of their current inventory, it’s gone for good and you’ll have to pay the $500 for the Art version (which likely won’t be discounted anytime soon).
I have the Canon version of this lens on a T2i and love it. So much so that I bought a second copy after my first disappeared out of my luggage last summer. (I thought it was worthwhile at ~$400, at under $300 the proposition is even better.)
You talked about the focal length problem with a 50mm lens on dark rides. One other area I’d point out: character meals at Disney. With a 50mm focal length it’s awfully hard to get enough distance in most restaurants to get the subjects in frame.
I’m still new enough to SLR photography that I only have 3 lenses (kit, 30mm Sigma, and 70-200/f4L). I chose the Sigma instead of something like a 17-50 f/2.8 and I haven’t regretted the decision. It rarely leaves the camera.
Glad you mentioned character meals–they’re another great example! Portraits in the Disney parks, generally, seem to be a lot more cramped. You’re taking photos in lines, or just simply don’t have the space to move far back from your subject because a lot of other tourists are around. For this reason, I think the Sigma 30 1.4 is a great portrait lens at Disney!