Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM A Lens Review
Sigma rebuilt it... they had the technology.
Sigma has been a player in the camera world for decades, but it's recently made a new name for itself through its “Art” lenses. Offerings like the groundbreaking 18-35mm f/1.8 and Zeiss-challenging 50mm f/1.4 have turned heads thanks to their exceptional build quality, superior performance, and shockingly reasonable prices.
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art (MSRP $499) isn’t quite on par with the best Art-series glass, but it’s nevertheless an excellent sub-$500 option for shooters who need a "normal" prime lens that produces sharp images and creamy bokeh. Designed for crop-sensor cameras like Canon’s Rebel lineup and Nikon’s DX cameras, this is an ideal choice for someone who wants an all-purpose lens that’ll get the most out of their sensor without breaking the bank.
If you had previous experience with the older, non-Art version of this lens, know this: The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art is a ground-up redesign. It includes more lens elements, more aperture blades, a closer focusing distance, and superior build quality. It also arrives at double the price, but lenses are one category where you generally do get what you pay for.
Who's It For?
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens is what's known as a fast normal prime lens. It’s “fast” because its unusually wide maximum aperture of f/1.4 lets in lots of light, which lets you use faster shutter speeds in dim lighting. It’s "normal" because the focal length (on a crop-sensor camera) closely approximates the field of view that your eyes normally take in. And it's a "prime" because it offers only one focal length. That means you need to "zoom with your feet," as the saying goes.
Lucky for you, the one focal length you get is a very useful one, good for a wide variety of subjects. It's perfect for party shots, street photography, reportage, and even some landscapes. It's also workable as a portrait lens in a pinch, especially since its fast f/1.4 max aperture can effectively separate your subject from the background, making faces pop.
It's not a specialist by any means, but it’s useful in just about any scenario, making it an excellent investment for novice photographers who are still figuring out what they like to shoot. And the image quality? It easily outstrips anything you'd get from your average kit zoom lens.
Which kit lens it's replacing will depend on your system. Like most Sigma lenses this can be used on multiple mounts. In this case it's designed to fit Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Sigma DSLRs. It's a "DC" lens, however, so it'll only really cover the APS-C image circle. You can mount it on full-frame Canon and Nikon bodies, but the results will have heavy vignetting.
Look and Feel
As we mentioned in the intro, this is actually Sigma’s second attempt at a 30mm f/1.4 lens. Lately, the company has been redesigning many of its older lenses, bringing them up to snuff. The upgrades include improved optical designs, much better build quality, and new autofocus systems. That last point is particularly important for the 30mm f/1.4, since the older version suffered from well-publicized focusing issues.
The result is an largely metal lens that feels much nicer than similar primes, which are usually made primarily of plastic. For an APS-C prime, it's actually quite hefty, but it's not overbearing and the weight can actually help steady your hand when shooting freehand.
The focus ring offers extremely smooth action, and the focus mode switch on the side of the lens body has a rigid, satisfying snappiness. Everything about this lens oozes quality—rare for a lens designed for ostensibly “entry-level” APS-C cameras.
None of this matters as much as the image quality you can get out of the lens, but it's a nice bonus, especially at this price point. The only thing we feel that’s missing here is an aperture ring—something only Fujifilm and (less frequently) Panasonic offer these days. Weather-sealing would also be a plus, but there are very, very few APS-C DSLRs that would actually be sealed, as well.
In our labs, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art proved itself to be an able performer, though not without its share of flaws. Most of those issues crop up at or near the widest aperture setting; from f/2.8 to f/8, it absolutely excels.
We put the lens through its paces twice, one copy on the Canon 7D Mark II and another on the Nikon D5500. While the Nikon version benefitted from the D5500's higher-res sensor, the results were very similar on the whole. Both versions exhibited minor barrel distortion and chromatic aberration (color fringing in high-contrast scenes).
Both versions also struggled with sharpness wide-open at f/1.4, at least compared to the best primes on the market. Though the lens is sharp-ish in the center, the midway and corner regions are slightly soft at the widest apertures. It's certainly a better result than the older 30mm f/1.4 model, but still far short of what the best fast normal lenses can do.
Stopping down to f/2.8, however, changes everything. The corners improve to "good" status, but the center becomes truly outstanding. While you'll probably find yourself wanting to shoot at f/1.4 more often than f/2.8—mmm, bokeh—it's still a stellar result for a sub-$500 lens.
In our real-world shooting, we found that the 30mm f/1.4 Art opened up a number of creative opportunities. Its normal perspective and reasonably minimum focus distance (just under one foot) make it an extremely flexible tool. The close-focus capability gives you beautifully blurred backgrounds at f/1.4, and paired with sharp center performance, that means you can take high-quality snapshot portraits. (Just watch out for perspective distortion on your subjects' faces.)
Below you can see sample photos taken with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art mounted on a Canon 7D Mark II and a Nikon D5500. Click the link below each photo to download the full-resolution image.
The 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art is another solid entry in Sigma's prestige lens line—not the finest glass the company has to offer, but a marked improvement over the older (if cheaper) 30mm f/1.4. Users looking for an all-purpose prime lens that'll excel in low light and provide creamy-smooth bokeh could certainly do a lot worse. At the very least, this lens surpasses most sub-$500 lenses, particularly at f/2.8 and beyond.
Compared to the similar Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX, the Sigma is more than twice as expensive, but it also provides far better build quality, a more naturalistic focal length, and shallower depth of field. Canon doesn't really offer a comparable lens; the closest match in the Pentax system is the legendary FA Limited 31mm f/1.8, which isn't as fast and carries an eye-popping $1,000-plus price tag.
In the field, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art was a valuable asset in lots of different shooting situations. Its 45mm effective focal length (48mm on Canon APS-C cameras) isn’t perfect for any one kind of photography (except maybe street shooting), but it’s the utility infielder of the camera world. That’s valuable, especially for beginners who want better image quality than they can get from a cheap zoom but don't want to carry a whole arsenal of lenses.
Photographers who need something more specialized—for architecture, portraits, sports, or wildlife—may want to invest their dollars elsewhere, but this Sigma is an excellent value otherwise.
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