Lens Review: Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro

I apologize for the lateness on this. I swear I hit the publish button yesterday afternoon. Live by scheduled posts, die by scheduled posts, I suppose.

positive:
* Low price compared to Minolta/Sony options.
* Good handling and feel.
* True 1:1 macro reproduction.
* Good out of focus backgrounds.
* Can use multiple filter sizes.
* Useful focus limiter.
negative:
* Noisy AF gear train.
* Screw in (as opposed to bayonet) lens hood.
* 1:1 reproduction is at about half an inch of focusing distance – not useful for moving subjects.
comment:
The Sigma 50mm macro is the shortest focal length of Sigma’s four dedicated Macro lenses, and is a good all-around lens useful for more than just blowing up stamps.

* BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL

The lens has a plastic housing, but it doesn’t feel flimsy. The focusing ring has a nice knurled rubber grip and turns smoothly. It also has a wide throw for easy adjustments. However, the AF geartrain is very noisy. This, I believe is what makes the lens feel “plasticky” – it’s not a metallic gear noise like a beercan or early Minolta lenses, it’s a plasticky gear noise that feels ratchety. A smoother geartrain would make this lens feel like butter, and is pretty much the lone complaint I can lodge against it as far as build quality.

The lens hood is a metal screw-in affair, and given the deep recession of the front element, probably protects the lens well from flare. It also acts as a step-up ring – with 72mm threads on the end, you can use the same filters on your larger 72mm lenses on this one as well. It also lets you use larger lens caps – ergo, no taking off the lens hood if you have a 72mm cap hanging around. Some people will like this, others don’t.

* FOCUSING PERFORMANCE

Given the wide range of focus and the criticality of focusing in Macro work, autofocus is probably not what you’re looking for in a Macro lens. In regular light and in general shooting conditions, the AF on this lens works well, given that just past five feet is the infinity point. To keep the hunting down in general use, you can use the included focus limiter switch to halve the range of the autofocus, which is useful and also works for the other half of the range as well.

Manual focusing works well thanks to the decent ring. The rubber grip is very… grippy and the large range of focus makes focusing a breeze. The hard part… is actually telling what’s in focus. The 5D’s viewfinder isn’t exactly manual friendly, so you might find yourself using an angle finder for Macro work.

* IMAGE QUALITY

Therein lies the rub… the sharpness of this lens is superb. Most likely due to the optical design, I’m amazed at just… the absolute sharpness of the lens. The lack of distortion combines to create excellent building blocks for close-up pictures.

The colors… aren’t as good as the sharpness. It tends to have that very neutral color I get from Sigma lenses. Minolta lenses tend to add a nice cast that I (and others) seem to like, but nowadays we’re generally able to do whatever we want with color in the computer. The lens has a circular aperture as well, and the blurred backgrounds st f/2.8 are very good.

This lens probably isn’t as good as the Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro. However, considering the used market’s crazy prices, I would be nuts to turn down a new in box for $150. This is a very capable performer and is a good substitute for the “real Minolta” if you can’t get one or won’t break the bank.

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