Shooting Pinhole-Style Photographs with the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN

Photographers today are often looking for lightweight equipment that still performs at a professional level. Everyone wants image quality and performance, just without the size and weight. The just released Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens walks the line beautifully between build quality and light weight, and impresses with a small lens with big performance.

The lens itself weighs in at 9.3 oz. which makes this feel like an even smaller lens than it is. Sigma designed this lens to compete with much bigger and more expensive lenses while staying small, light, and fast. A super-fast f1.4 aperture and a minimum focus distance of around eleven inches, this lens checks all the boxes for versatility and price. Sigma even used aspherical elements in the construction of this lens, ensuring image quality we have come to expect from the Sigma Art series. No other lens on the market has this combination of features at this price point, making it an attractive option for all levels of photographers.

Did I mention that this lens is $339.00?

The new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens is setting the standard for image wquality, speed, and price for mirrorless camera lenses.
The new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens is trying to set a new standard for image quality, speed, and price for mirrorless camera lenses.

Sigma added a new stepping AF motor that enables this lens to focus quickly and silently, even in video mode, and can keep up with Sony’s new phase detection AF.  Sony’s phase detection AF system for their mirrorless cameras has just received a speed upgrade on the last couple of a-series bodies. If you have seen Sony’s latest camera release, the Sony a6300, you may notice that this lens could be a perfect match for the new camera.

The new Sony a6300 uses 425 phase detection autofocus points, and will be the camera to beat for the speediest AF in the mirrorless camera world. The a6300 had not yet been released into the wild while I had this lens, so I needed another camera body to try it out on. The DC designation on this Sigma lens means that it is specifically optimized and designed for an APS-C sized sensor. I decided to blatantly disregard this fact and decided to try it out on my full-frame camera, the Sony A7II.

The Sony A7II mirrorless camera.
The Sony A7II mirrorless camera.
The Sony a6300 mirrorless camera.
The Sony a6300 mirrorless camera.

The problem with shooting a  DC lens(crop-sensor optimized) on a full-frame body is that the image will have a dark vignette around the edge of the frame. Although photographers usually do not want to see a dark black vignette wasting precious resolution in their image, I really liked the way the image looked when shot on a full frame sensor precisely because the lens could not project light on to the entire sensor. Plus, 24 mega-pixels is more than enough for this application anyway.

The difference in surface area between a 35mm full frame sensor and a crop sensor.
The difference in surface area between a 35mm full frame sensor and a crop sensor. Notice how the image circle of the lens does not cover the whole full-frame sensor.

If you are not familiar with the difference between a crop sensor and a full frame sensor, this is a good example of the difference, above. The Sigma DC lens projects light onto the full-frame sensor that does not cover the entire surface area. That creates what is called a “vignette” around the image. Although there are many different reasons that your image could contain a slight vignette, if a lens can’t project a large enough image circle to cover the entire film or sensor, there will be the dark unexposed corners- the dreaded vignette.

Sigma 30mm 1.4-20
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens mounted on a full frame Sony A7II.

This lens actual has an equivalent field of view of about 45mm when mounted on an APS-C camera, which crops in the image past the vignette created by the smaller image circle. Below is the same image as above, but shown with the crop factor that occurs when captured with an APS-C sensor. You can see the way the camera “crops” into the image and causes the magnification, when compared to the image above. Thus, the name “crop” sensor.

Same shot with APS-C crop mode on, meaning the camera will only capture on a crop sensor area of the sensor.
Same shot as above, but with APS-C crop mode on. This reduced the resolution of the A7II and only captured the center of the image circle.

That dark vignette got me thinking about my pinhole camera. Most pinhole-style cameras have limited control over exposure and, at best, a plastic lens (here is my pinhole camera, that I love). What most people seem to love about pinhole cameras is the unpredictability and imperfections of the images. Click here to see some pinhole camera shots, and you will notice the impressionistic, almost dream-like feel to a lot of pinhole camera-style images. That got me thinking about how I could process my digital files to look like my beloved pinhole photos taken on film.

Recently, the popular plug-in editing software called the Nik Collection has been made available for free to everyone by Google, the owner of the software. Thanks to the Big Googs, what used to be a $500 software collection has now become a free suite of powerful editing tools, ranging from color correction, film-emulation presets, color editing, noise reduction and more. You can download it for free here. These programs are plug-ins, meaning they need to be used in conjunction with another software like Photoshop or Lightroom, but are designed to make certain editing functions easier and faster to do.

The same shot as above processed with a PInhole Camera preset from Nik Silver Efx Pro.
The same shot as above processed with a PInhole Camera preset from Nik Silver Efx Pro.

When I started playing around in Silver Efex Pro, the Nik software designed for black and white processing, I came across a “Pinhole Camera” preset and I had a feeling that the photographs I was taking with the  Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC would be perfect for this effect. Utilizing the existing vignette that I already had from the lens/sensor combination, I wanted to see how  Silver Efex Pro handled the files, and to my surprise, I really liked the processing right off the bat. Silver Efex Pro did a great job with B&W conversion, the grain that is added looked very film-like, and the emulation of pinhole images was very good.

The look is lo-fi, with a bunch of contrast and grain, and a punch of brightness towards the center of the frame. There is also a gradual increase in the vignetting toward the edges of the frame, which give you have the look of a pinhole style image. I like the abstract look of these images and how the mundane surroundings can take on much more visual interest. Nik Silver Efex Pro won’t replace shooting pinhole photographs with film, but I definitely think that these images capture the feel of the style very well.

Sigma 30mm 1.4-2

Sigma 30mm 1.4-15

Sigma 30mm 1.4

Sigma 30mm 1.4-14

Sigma 30mm 1.4_

Sigma 30mm 1.4_-11

Sigma 30mm 1.4-10

Sigma 30mm 1.4-5

Sometimes, just trying new things gets the creativity flowing. We all need to prevent boredom and complacency to ensure that we are always learning and trying new things and progressing in our personal photography. Digital post-processing has made it so easy to get almost any look you want, and the Nik Collection has made it even easier to discover new looks for your images. In my experience, you have to keep fresh eyes to continue to make more images that you are happy with, and sometimes all it takes to change your perspective is a new lens or a new post-processing look. Don’t forget to have fun with your images, and experiment sometimes. Photography should be fun, otherwise, what’s the point?

Whether or not pinhole photography is your cup of tea, be sure that this lens performed in every way that I expected. This lens is fast, sharp, light-weight, and with such a low price tag, may be one of the best lens buys of the year so far. This lens is perfect for a beginner photographer looking for a walk around lens, all the way up to the seasoned pro that just wants a light-weight prime lens to leave on their camera. Highly recommended.

You can order the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens here!

Right now, it is Used Equipment Month at Midwest Photo, where we are giving bonuses for trade-ins and having huge sales on used equipment every week! Stop in, call, or send us an email to see what is hot right now in Used Equipment!

Check out this video from our friend Zack Arias for more on the subject of sensor size.

TJ Hansen

Photographer at MPEX.com

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