I’ve been looking for a compliment to my Sony a7ii recently, but my search started not with the camera, but at what lenses had become available in the past year or two. I’ve actually been too busy taking photos recently to pay much attention to what has been released. I went through every option from getting a 2nd a7 of some sort, to having a whole other Fujifilm system on the sidelines.
However, as much as I don’t love using the Sony a7 cameras, I have to admit that they are light/small and image quality really is incredible. The a7ii works very well for the interior photography that I’m doing day-in-day-out. I know that Sigma have recently started releasing their excellent Art series of lenses in native E-mount for the full-frame a7 series. I’ve been using Canon versions with the MC-11 adapter, and that’s all well and good if you already own lenses you want to adapt, but there is nothing like having native lenses. What I didn’t realise was that they have also released a set of f/1.4 E-mount for the APS-C market, and at incredibly competitive prices.
These three lenses consist of a 16mm f/1.4 (equivalent to 24mm – one of my favourite focal lengths for interiors) a 30mm f/1.4 (45mm) and a 56mm f/1.4 (85mm). The 30mm is available at an extremely reasonable £299 and the newer 16mm and 56mm lenses are a little more, but still only £399.
They can be purchased as a set of 3 for a bit less, and Sigma UK are currently offering a deal where you get a specially designed free lens case to keep the trio in. The case can also be purchased separately for £26.99 if you already own all three lenses. Details here.
This, combined with an APS-C bodied Sony camera would give me a good range of options all for just under £1100 – a real bargain if you compare the equivalent f/1.4 lenses for the a7. Buying the Sony f/1.4 50mm lens would set you back an eye-watering £1449! Although you can get the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art now in native E-mount for around £570, but the APS-C versions still represent excellent value even when compared to this.
Back to cameras, some research brought me to the a6500, but other than in-body stabilisation and some extra video features, the a6300 is basically the same camera and available 2nd hand for considerably cheaper. I’m a huge fan of IBIS, but didn’t want to put down a large amount of money on a body if things didn’t work out. My local branch of Wilkinson Cameras just happened to have an a6300 in stock 2nd hand and I managed to pick it up at a bargain price!
The main advantage of sticking with Sony is that with a 2nd Sony body, the battery is interchangeable between them, and the (albeit overly complicated) menu system that took ages to learn is the same, so I’d be able to just pick it up and shoot. Finally, I’d also be able to use my FE-mount lenses on the APS-C body, and in crop mode be able to use the APS-C E-mount lenses on the a7ii if I really needed to.
I’ve been using the Sigma Foveon cameras and their Sigma Global Vision (SGV) lenses for some time now and know the people at Sigma UK well. A quick word and they were very kind enough to lend me all three f/1.4 lenses for a month, alongside a new case that they have just released specifically to hold those three lenses.
To be clear, Sigma never asked me to write anything nice about the lenses, the only request was that I mention the new case they were releasing to compliment the three lenses!
The newly released case sat neatly into my backpack as I was walking around and kept the lenses safe and secure, providing a simple transport option as I walked around the streets. The case is padded, although there isn’t a huge amount of padding to the case, but when placed into another bag it is enough to prevent them being damaged and rattling around. Perhaps the only addition I would have liked would be a couple of loops on either end to allow me to attach a strap and carry the case around over my shoulder should I not want to carry around my backpack. Having said that, without more padding it would have meant being careful not to knock it too much, so perhaps that is why they didn’t do that.
I was off to Budapest for the Christmas markets, so wondered if these three prime lenses, along with their dedicated case, would work well as a set for travel photography. Typically we’re advised that for travel we should have a versatile zoom lens, and in many ways that makes a lot of sense. The small form factor and light weight of these three primes though meant I would still have a compact set of kit, but at the same time shoot without the compromises typical of a zoom lens, both in terms of image quality and meaning I’m able to shoot with a very shallow depth of field.
I know from past experience that the latest SGV lenses are optically superb so was pretty sure I didn’t have to worry about that side of things, and I wasn’t wrong. These three lenses fall under the “Contemporary” banner rather than the highest end “Art” series that the full-frame equivalents do, but even wide open at f/1.4 each lens is super sharp. Being f/1.4, the 16mm can still produce some really nice blurred background with a smooth and pleasing bokeh.
Focussing is quick on all three lenses and locks on well with the a6300 body, all focussing features work as they do with any native Sony lens. The manual focus ring is super smooth, well damped, and feels high end.
King of the bokeh, unsurprisingly, was the 56mm, the latest lens to be released in the line-up. I have to admit that I’m more of a wide-angle person and wasn’t sure how much I’d use the 56mm, but I totally fell in love with it! Although difficult to achieve critical focus at f/1.4, not because of the camera or lens just simply because the depth of field is so shallow. Get it right and images are sharp as you’ll ever need at the point of focus and fade away to the creamiest of backgrounds. Simply delightful! I ended up shooting everything from close up details to the architecture of Budapest with this lens and it turned out to easily be my favourite of the three, despite my preconceptions that I’d be using the 16mm most.
I found the 56mm was also excellent for getting slight closer landscape / cityscape shots, producing very pleasing images and a nice amount of compression pulling components of the landscape together.
The 30mm still holds it own when it comes to producing images with a shallow depth of field and a lovely drop off.
Being able to shoot at f/1.4 on these lenses also meant at night that I didn’t have to push the ISO way up to get a nice stable image.
The lenses have now been returned to Sigma, I can only say the best compliment is that I will be purchasing the 16mm, which I was pretty sure I would be, but also the 56mm that I unexpectedly fell in love with. In the past I’ve never got along with 85mm f/1.4 lenses due to their weight, but the 56mm DC means it comes in a significantly more portable form. Why am I not getting the 30mm? Simply because I have a 50mm for the a7 that already fits that gap, but if you don’t then the 30mm is probably the best all-rounder, and I would definitely consider it in future to complete the lineup!
In conclusion I can absolutely say that that I’d have no problem dropping the traditional travel zoom and taking this stunning trio of lenses with me when I travel again. Perhaps the only downside was changing lenses, but I tended to decide what lens I would use for a while and make my images to that lens, only swapping if something really warranted it. That small compromise is definitely worth being able to shoot at f/1.4 and produce images that wouldn’t be possible with the typical travel zoom.
Below is a gallery of images taken with the three Sigma f/1.4 DC lenses.