Monday, 26 February 2018

Sigma 60mm DN f2.8 Micro Four Thirds lens - Initial Review

Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN 'Art' lens in silver
My micro four thirds lens arsenal has been growing steadily over the last year - and I now have a total of four lenses for the E-M1. One is from Olympus - the 12-50mm EZ kit lens, two are from Panasonic (the 25mm f1.7 and the 45-200mm f4/5.6), while the final lens, and the subject of this post, is the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN 'Art' lens.

What's missing? Not much really if I'm honest. I'm not really a macro shooter, so the 'faux' macro setting on the Oly 12-50mm is all I need (and is surprisingly good). Eventually I would like a slightly wider reach for landscapes - probably the Olympus 9-18mm f4/5.6 (yes, the 7-14mm f2.8 Pro would be lovely, but I am being realistic budget-wise). But that will have to come much further down the track. At the moment, the 12mm end of the 12-50mm will have to suffice.

But this post isn't about my 'wish' list - it's about a lens I already own. A lens I purchased very cheaply about 6 months ago on a whim. And a lens that, until very recently, I hadn't even mounted on the camera!

I say I purchased it on a 'whim', and to a certain extent that's true. It was almost literally too cheap to pass up, and the fact that I haven't even touched it in the six months since buying it might prove that I didn't really need the lens to begin with? Yet at the same time, it was also a considered purchase, given that one of the lenses missing in my kit was a fast(ish) portrait lens. In fact, when I shot a wedding last year with my Canon 40D, one of the deciding factors for not using my E-M1 was that I didn't have a dedicated portrait lens. The purchase of the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN 'Art' lens has fixed that.

Tea Ceremony. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN. f2.8 @ 1/500th, ISO 400
I don't do a lot of portraiture or shoot weddings anymore (except for friends) - so investing in a dedicated, fast portrait lens is a bit of a luxury. The 'classic' lens that most Olympus users think of for portraiture on a budget is the outstanding 45mm f1.8 - a lens I've owned when I had the E-M5 MkII. It's called a 'must-have' for micro four thirds users, and having owned one I can see why. It's small, light, sharp and relatively fast at f1.8 - and can be had for very little money, even brand new. But it's a lens I also eventually ended up selling when I had the E-M5 kit, because I just never used it. I felt guilty owning it, because it was almost too good to just have sitting around in my bag not being used.

But then I get back to the dilemma of not having a portrait lens for those occasions when I do want to shoot a wedding or an event that would suit the portrait length. For me, the Sigma 60mm perfectly fills in that gap.

Calligraphy. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Sigma 60mm DN. f2.8 @ 1/2000th, ISO 400
First of all it's cheap. Cheaper even than the Olympus 45mm f1.8. And it's light - only 190 grams (although that's slightly heavier than the 45mm f1.8 at only 116 grams). The design of the lens comes in two colours - black or silver - and falls into the either love it or hate it category. It's covered in polished metal and doesn't have any ribbed or patterned surfaces for your fingers to grip onto. Some users have even suggested using a rubber band placed around the lens to give it at least some form of minimal grip.

Chinese New Year. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Sigma 60mm lens. f2.8 @ 1/2500th, ISO 400
I didn't really know what to expect when I attached it to the E-M1, because it really is unlike any other lens design I've ever used before. Mine is the silver version of the lens (I would have preferred black but the guy I purchased it from had the silver) and just looks like a tube of metal stuck to the front of the camera. I'm still trying to make my mind up whether I'm in the love it or hate it camp aesthetically. Part of me thinks it looks quite minimalist cool, and part of me thinks it's just plain odd. Practically speaking, however, I think it works just fine and I didn't have a problem with gripping the lens and using it all afternoon.

Tai Chi. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Sigma 60mm DN 'Art' lens. f2.8 @ 1/1250th, ISO 400
It is, after all, a prime lens - so there's no zooming required from the barrel. It is also an autofocus lens, so it focuses - um, automatically. The whole barrel does rotate smoothly (presumably for manual focusing), and fits snuggly in my hand in both portrait and landscape orientations. It focuses quickly, silently and accurately on the E-M1, so there's really nothing to complain about in terms of operation.

Just a side note however: when the lens is not attached to the camera it has a very audible 'rattle'. This is the case with all the Sigma DN lenses (the 19mm, 30mm and 60mm) and is due, apparently, to some floating lens elements? It's rather disconcerting, but disappears completely once the lens is attached to the camera and is in use.

Fan Dance. Olympus OM-D E-M1 and 60mm Sigma DN lens. f2.8 @ 1/1250th, ISO 400
All of the images from this post were taken with the Sigma 60mm DN 'Art' lens at f2.8 - it's widest aperture, and all are tack sharp. Wide open this lens is a fantastic performer and can be used at f2.8 without any concerns over sharpness. Many will argue that f2.8 isn't actually that 'fast', especially when you factor in the smaller sensor size. The effective depth of field is equivalent to f5.6 on a full frame sensor, and about f4 with APS-C.

Of course sensor size is only part of the depth-of-field equation. Just look at the earlier Chinese New Year image to see the bokeh that you can achieve with this lens at f2.8 when you have decent subject to background separation. Would I prefer the lens to be f1.8 or faster? Of course. But f2.8 at 60mm (120mm equivalent for full frame) is a lot faster than any other lens I've got in that focal range, and the extra depth of field gained from the micro four thirds sensor helps with the excellent sharpness you can achieve at f2.8.

Fan Dance 2. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Sigma 60mm DN lens. f2.8 @ 1/1000th, ISO 400
The photos in this post were taken at the Chinese New Year Celebrations held at the Polytech where I work. It was the ideal event to use the short telephoto for candid portraits, and it performed flawlessly. Using face-detection autofocus the images were tack sharp every time, and the lens locked on quickly, quietly and precisely. Colours from the lens are true to life and edit beautifully in Lightroom. In the Tea Ceremony photo there was some obvious chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around the white cups, but these cleaned up nicely in post. None of the other images exhibited this, so I don't think it's a flaw in the lens as such - but it will be something to watch out for in areas of strong highlight contrast.

If you come across this lens and are considering getting a mid-telephoto prime for your micro four thirds system, I would say 'go for it'. Yes, the design may be a little 'funky', and the f2.8 aperture might not be the fastest kid on the block, but the IQ and sharpness from this lens is fantastic, all for an insanely cheap price. Sigma have been making some amazing lenses over the last few years, and this just happens to be one of them.

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