Friday, August 11, 2006

Sigma Sees The Light While Nikon and Canon Sleep

Sigma's new 50-150mm f/2.8 DC lens is a welcome addition to the third party lens party. Sorry, I couldn't resist the play on words. Seriously, there are a few niche lenses that are still VERY much missing from the lens catalogs of both Nikon and Canon,at least for those shooting cropped-sensored d-slrs as their bread and butter cameras. I use the word niche lenses simply in reference to Thom Hogan's use of the same words,in the context of missing lenses. Hogan's points come in his cogent analysis of the newly-announced Nikon D80, the hybrid D50-D200 offspring slated to ship in September,2006. You can read his comments here in his piece entitled Nikon D80 Commentary by Thom Hogan.
Anyway, in my book, the DX lens campaign from Nikon has been somewhat incomplete. There's a 12-24 DX and a 17-55 Dx but there's absolutely NOTHING truly new and previously heretofore unavailable from Nikon in the way of sports/event lenses for the DX format in the focal length range from 55mm to 180mm in prime lenses. And the zooms? Pretty much stalled out at the "old" focal length ranges in the professional and advanced amateur price ranges,with things like 70-200 and dog-slow 70-300 (soon to be with VR, but also a 300mm top end speed of only f/5.6),no 400mm f/5.6 or 400mm f/4.5 prime in the Nikkor family,and in general a lens lineup with DX wide-angle coverage addressed, but some major problem areas still smoldering in the normal-to-tele and tele-zoom categories for the Dx-sensored bodies Nikon sells.

Oh,there's a brand new 105mm f/2.8 VR macro lens from Nikon this year, sure, but a 105mm lens for sports/event use ought to be f/2,at least to be called 'fast',and better yet f/1.8. So,the new 105mm f/2.8 macro isn;t a real,fast telephoto prime lens, and thus Nikon is still continuing without ANY FAST tele-prime lens that gives normal-to-telephoto angles of view all the way from 50mm to 85 to 105 to 135 to 180mm prime focal lengths.Nothing normal has AF-S focusing in Nikon primes, until you get to the true exotics like the 300mm f/2.8-VR-G and 200mm f/2 VR-G models. I'm one of MANY users who's disappointed in what the 1.5x FOV factor has done to the Nikon lens catalogue. All Nikon has done is to address 1.5x's chief failing,which is what a 1.5x FOV factor does to wide-angle lenses. Nikon came out with the 10.5 fisheye,and the 12-24 DX and the 17-55 DX lenses. And so now, are we supposed to feel that the 1.5x FOV limitation found in ALL Nikon D-SLR bodies is somehow solved,and that the old-school lens catalogue offers a complete set of solutions for all Nikon users? I think not. Both Nikon, and Canon, have not squarely addressed the problems that DX-sized sensors cause when trying to press pre-digital lens focal lengths and zoom ranges into the same service for events today.

Not that the 105mm AF-S VR-G Nikkor doesn't sound like a sweet lens--but it's large,outsized for a 105mm 2.8 you might say,as large as many zoom lenses,and it's heavy for a 105mm of only f/2.8 aperture. On the other hand, it is the second Nikkor to use Nikon's new Nano Crystal tenchnology in its antireflective lens coatings, and it has a pretty nice imaging characteristic from the few dozen frames from it that I've looked at carefully. If you're _in the market_ for a 90-105mm macro lens, then yes,by all means, I'd give this lens a look, but if you've got that area covered as I do, $899 is a lot of scratch that could be pointed at something else. For those without ANY Nikkor prime lenses, and there are many people like that, the 105 VR Nikkor might actually make a lot of sense as a first-step into prime lenses. A short-telephoto macro lens is a solid,long-term investment,and this new 105 VR really does look like a big advancement over the lens it replaces (at about $175 additional dollars). I think this lens is aimed at being more of a generalist lens than any previous Micro-Nikkor. I have no need for a macro lens in this category,and there are a number of very good alternatives to this lens,and the price is somewhat high, but the lens is a very new,very modern design,and has some nice touches that some people will like.

No, Sigma's actually on the ball with the 50-150mm f/2.8 lens concept.I'm solidly behind the idea of a 50-150mm tele-zoom,and am planning to get one as soon as I get some first-hand reports on it. Just from the focal length range, I can tell you it will be a blessing, a real blessing, to have the 50-70mm range along with 85,105,135,and 150 mm settings in one fast, f/2.8 aperture zoom lens. My Nikkor 50-135 f/3.5 manual focus zoom lens has gone missing, and THAT was a REALLY handy lens to have on a 1.5x Nikon body,and so the additional aperture, autofocusing, a low-dispersion glass and more-modern optical design have me salivating over a 50-150 that's about the same physical size as the old 50-135 Nikkor. Sigma's recent efforts, with the 15-30 EX and 10-20 EX wide zooms have proved than they have the lens designing expertise,and the vision, to flesh out the choices for discerning customers, who want high quality lens designs that don't cost a small fortune. Often times too, the lens designs from the third party makers address real,significant "gaps" in lens design and focal length, or "price point problems". For example, many want the 500mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor, but few can afford it. Many more people can afford the 500mm f/4.5 HSM Sigma,which is several thousand dollars less costly,and also smaller and lighter. Similarly, the 100-300 f/4 constant aperture Sigma EX HSM lens, the 180 f/3.5 EX macro, and the 150mm f/2.8 EX macro, as well as the 300-800mm Sigma EX zoom. Yeah....300-800mm,in one big zoom. Nikon ain't got that. Neither does Canon. Neither camera maker makes a 500mm f/4.5 either. Neither camera maker manufactures a 150mm f/2.8 macro lens either, but Sigma makes a 150mm f/2.8 macro lens. AND SIGMA MAKES a 70mm f/2.8 macro lens, to replicate the former 105mm angle of view in a macro-focusing lens. Nikon has a 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor, while Sigma,and Tamron both offer nice 180mm macro lenses. And in the 10-20mm zoom range, Nikon has no offering either. It goes on and on. Sigma and Tamron can both make $449-$409 17-50mm lenses or 18-50mm lenses with f/2.8 constant apertures,and ULTRA-small profiles; meanwhile Nikon re-hashes the 28-70 with the monstrous 17-55 DX lens. Sigma and Tamron are competing with 18-50 and 17-50 2.8 lenses with very,very SMALL profiles.

I am REALLY glad to see that Sigma sees the wisdom of a DC or Digital Camera-optimized type of zoom lens designed for 1.5x and 1.6x customers, who constitute the bulk of d-slr shooters anyway. I know Nikon's got a new G-series 105mm VR prime with AF-S focusing and all for $899, but I really cannot see paying that much money for yet another 105mm lens when I own three 105's,a Tamron 90 macro,a Sigma 180 macro, a 60 Micro and two 55 micro's, and a Canon 100mm EF macro. I don't need another 105mm VR lens... I'm much more interested in a lens that would give me a 50mm,an 85,a 105,135,and a 150,all at f/2.8. I've been trial shooting my 75-150 f/3.5 Series E Nikon lens on my 20D recently; the 20D has a roughly 1.6x FOV factor, and even outdoors shooting family photos, the 75mm bottom end is a huge problem at distances under 30 feet. 75mm is just simply TOO NARROW an angle of view on a 1.6x body. Widening the angle of view SIGNIFICANTLY,by dipping down to 50mm will make the Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 a VERY versatile tele-zoom on 1.5 and 1.6x cameras. Frankly, there is NO substitute for that 50mm angle of view many times.

Here's some URL's on the new 70mm f/2.8 Sigma macro and Sigma's newly-announced 50-150mm f/2.8 constant-aperture zoom lens. I think it's amusing to see Sigma launch a 70mm macro lens in this 1.5x digital age.
Sigma's 70mm macro URL
Sigma's newly-announced 50-150mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM lens, only 5.2 inches long, 780 grams (27.5 ounces),with four SLD glass elements,which are touted as giving good chromatic aberration reduction. This lens has full time manual focusing override,which is very helpful for sports and events; anything less than full-time manual focus override is clearly far from state of the art in the year 2006 when it comes to sports/event lenses.

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