Gear of the Year 2019 – Carey’s choice: Sigma 45mm F2.8

06 Dec
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Sigma’s 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary lens is, in many ways, not a great lens for pixel-peepers. It exhibits some fringing, it isn’t particularly sharp, and it has a pretty pedestrian maximum aperture. But I really enjoy it anyway, and it’s served as a reminder that any given lens doesn’t have to be perfect to be fun.

I first got to shoot around with the 45mm F2.8 Contemporary on a trip to Japan for the release of Sigma’s fp, their staggering 35mm F1.2 Art, and the newly designed 14-24mm F2.8 Art. No surprise, the little 45 mil was easily overshadowed by its headline-grabbing brethren. But during my time on that trip, it was glued to the a7R III I was using while traveling from one locale to another. The biggest reason for that is that the lens itself is so small.

Sigma fp | ISO 160 | 1/100 sec | F4

Small gear is unobtrusive and far less intimidating for subjects, and this definitely has an impact on the way I take pictures: namely, I take more pictures of people when I’m working with less intimidating gear. I also just tend to take pictures more often, as I’ll always have a smaller camera and lens combo slung over my shoulder, whereas larger gear is more likely to be tucked away in a bag when I’m not actively using it.

We’ve touched a bit on the Sigma 45mm’s image quality at the outset out of this article, but I’d like to backpedal a bit. The biggest ‘issue’ with it is uncorrected spherical aberration, essentially trading-off some sharpness for more attractive bokeh: a deliberate decision on Sigma’s part. And I have to admit that there’s something about its rendering that I find appealing. I also appreciate its very close minimum focus distance, which helps you get shallower depth-of-field than you might expect with an F2.8 aperture, though images get a bit hazy if you’re focusing very close with the aperture wide-open.

Sony a7R III | ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F2.8
Taken with a pre-production lens

And then there’s the build quality. The 45mm Contemporary is not weather-sealed, which is a big disappointment; especially considering how well it pairs with Sigma’s fp, which is very well-sealed throughout. But the lens still has a premium feel, with its all-metal build. The focus ring is so perfectly damped that I fiddle with it all the time even though I’m exclusively an autofocus kinda guy, and the aperture ring has just the right amount of clickiness to it. Autofocus is very fast, and works well with the DFD technology in Panasonic’s S1-series of cameras.

There is room in the market for less ‘serious’ tools that are still excellent in actual use

I think my main grumble concerns the price. It’s currently still hovering around its launch price of $ 559 USD, which is unequivocally a lot of coin for a slow, non-weather-sealed prime lens that has, perhaps, a bit more optical ‘character’ than people may expect nowadays.

Sigma fp | ISO 100 | 1/125 | F8

On the other hand, I’m pleased that Sigma is making it. It’s a company with a portfolio chock-full of glass that was created with size and weight considerations taking a back seat to optical excellence. There is room in the market for smaller, lighter, less ‘serious’ photographic tools that are nonetheless engaging in actual use. That’s the type of tool the Sigma 45mm F2.8 is, and I hope it’s not the last lens of its type we see from Sigma.

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