by Jack Howard
It’s official. Sigma has just announced the Digital Neo line of lenses for compact interchangeable lens cameras with a worldwide announcement launching as CES 2012 gets underway out in Las Vegas. The relatively small physical size of the 19mm F2.8 EX DN and 30mm F2.8 EX DN notwithstanding, this is is big news for us! You can read the full press release here.
As of now, photographers with Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras and Sony NEX-series cameras have the choice to couple a pair of sharp Sigma F2.8 primes to the go-everywhere cameras. These two prime lenses for Micro Four Thirds and Sony E-Mount cameras have been designed from the start for both still and video capture, which, of course, is what makes this camera category so exciting.
The telecentric optical design of these lenses is designed specifically for light transmission to digital sensors for edge to edge image quality, and there’s a new AF system designed for the DN lenses for both still and video capture. On Micro Four Thirds cameras with their 2x lens factor, the 19mm F2.8 EX DN translates to a 38mm F2.8, and the 30mm F2.8 EX DN translates to a 60mm F2.8. On Sony E-Mount NEX cameras with a 1.5x lens factor, the 19mm F2.8 equates to a 28.5mm and the 30mm F2.8 equates to a 45mm F2.8. These are two new serious lenses for a class of cameras that I think are great go-everywhere cameras.
Let’s be totally clear. These are not just DG or DC SLR lenses with new mounts for MILC cameras. These are the first two in our new Digital Neo DN line lenses for mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. These cameras pack a different feature set and offer a different user experience than DSLRs, including HD DSLRs. I personally have been a big fan of this camera class since I first met the original Olympus Pen EP-1 a few years back, and since then, I’ve shot tons and tons of family memories–both stills and videos–with the E-P1 and E-PL2. And I’m very excited about shooting with both these lenses and also about Sigma’s entrée as a lens maker for this rapidly expanding class of image-making devices.
The DN lenses are designed from the ground up specifically for Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compacts. All of these small cameras are designed to be agile bunch that switch effortlessly from capturing high-quality stills to high definition video; and even with a lens attached, most can usually fit into a small corner of a multipurpose bag–be it day or diaper bag, and all but the smallest of purses. And even when there’s a few accessories and some spare lenses about, the whole kit is a lot more compact than your average SLR plus comparable accessories!
I’m very excited about the launch of the DN lenses both for what it means for Sigma, and what that means for my personal photography. For Sigma, this launch represents a commitment to providing photographers with high-quality choices and options in an exciting new category. And for me and my personal family photography, it means I’ll soon be making memories with a super-sharp, fast-aperture 38mm and 60mm equivalent on my PEN cameras!
For comparison, the maximum F/stops on the typical kit lens shipping with this breed of camera will be around F/4 at 19mm and F/5.0 at 30mm. So, with the 19mm, that’s a full stop more light-gathering and background bokeh loveliness, and almost two full stops for the 30mm F2.8 EX DN compared to the 14-42 kits. That’s enough light to make a real difference in indoor and available light imaging in low light. (And remember, no amount of optical stabilization can stop subject movement–only camera jitters!)
There’s different, but related, gains to be realized for both still and video capture by having these faster apertures. First, of course, is noise: for stills, with or without sensor-shifting activated, you can stick to lower ISOs and gather more light. We’re talking the difference between a 1/30 and 1/10 second shutter speed for a window-light portrait with the 30mm F2.8 EX DN versus the kit at comparable focal length. Even if sensor-shifting keeps the frame sharp, 1/10 second is slow enough for subject blur to spoil the shot.
With HD video, of course, your maximum exposure time is limited by the frames per second rate. If there’s not enough light for an exposure, the camera must gain up the video, which adds noise, and softens the sharp edges. In midday, it might not seem like much of a difference, but when the light is low, it is very noticeable. Video from the fifth row of the auditorium where you daughter is performing a flute solo will look a lot cleaner and sharper when captured at F2.8 than F5.0 and beyond!
Since my daughter was born 21 months ago, I’ve shot over 100 Gigabytes of .AVI format HD video and about an equal gigabyte amount of RAW photos with my Olympus PEN cameras. And I, for one, am super-excited that I’ll soon have a pair of Sigma F2.8 EX DN primes in my pack for upcoming photo adventures with my family.
Got any questions about the DN lines of lenses from Sigma? Leave a comment below!
In addition to the two new DN lenses, we’ve also just announced the world’s first 1:1 180mm F2.8 Macro with Optical Stabilizer! (Read the full press release.) This promises to be an amazing macro lens for SLR shooter on both full-frame and crop-sensor cameras, and I cannot wait to chase down bugs and little critters with this telephoto macro. Check back in the coming months for hands on demos with all these great new lenses from Sigma!