I've been waiting impatiently for this lens to arrive in the market. I've always liked shooting with the 50mm focal length but on occasions when I was able to photograph with a 58mm or even a 60 macro I almost always felt like I was getting closer to the sweet spot for my photography. I own a fast 85mm but it feels like a compromise to me. My portrait work feels better at longer focal lengths like 100 to 135mms. But my casual, walking around looking for found objects and casual people photography always felt like it needed to be shorter than the 85. I've been looking for the "Goldilocks" focal length that I was sure lived somewhere between 50mm and 85mm for a long time.
I mentioned 60mm lenses but the ones I found were always macro lenses like the Leica 60 Elmarit-Makro or the Nikon 60mm f2.8 Micro lens. Both of them had very long focusing helicoids and hunted like mad badgers. Both were also optimized for close-up work and were less convincing at longer focus distances. What I've been looking for is a lens that handles like a 50mm in terms of focusing speed, size, weight and speed but has more reach and the ability to isolate objects to a greater degree than a 50mm.
Last Fall Sigma announced three new additions to their line of L-mount lenses which cover full frame sensors. The lenses were: A 24mm f3.5, a 35mm f2.0 and a 65mm f2.0. The specs on the 65mm looked most promising. It's a thoroughly modern optical design that uses three different specialty glass elements. The overall design uses 12 elements in 9 groups, which represents a fairly complex and sophisticated design for a long, normal lens. And the other specs indicate that this lens is constructed completely out of metal; all the way down to the lens hood.
Knowing how uncertain the product channels are these days I decided that I'd pre-order a copy. I did so at both B&H Photo and at my local dealer, Precision Camera. My sales associate at Precision texted me about four hours ahead of B&H's notice. I cancelled the B&H order and headed up to PC the next morning to grab the lens. That was yesterday.
I had so many good intentions to get out of the neighborhood with a camera and this lens this morning and really put it through its paces but too many things came up. I'm the family I.T. director and there were network issues today. Still not totally resolved but there are workarounds in place that ensure basic productivity for all three of us here. There was a car issue that needed to be taken care of. Who knew that Toyota would launch a third recall for defective airbags in one model. It's the kid's car but he was engulfed in a work project and didn't have the bandwidth to mess with getting a car to service. That also fell to me.
By four o'clock I was hellbent on getting out to get more fresh air (got tons this morning at swim practice) and to see if the lens was as good as I thought it might be. It was.
The lens is solidly made and features a grippy, metal knurled focusing ring and the same for the aperture setting ring. The aperture can be set on a tactilely luxurious, external ring or you can set the ring to the "A" setting and use a camera dial to control the aperture. The lens hood has the same design aesthetic as the 45mm f2.8 lens's hood. It's solid metal with a knurled finish that matches well with the focusing ring and the aperture ring. While the lens comes with a standard "pinch to remove" lens cap it also comes with a solid metal lens cap that is held on by magnets embedded under a felt ring. It's so lux.
While the 65mm f2.0. isn't tiny and certainly isn't a pancake lens, neither is it like the newest generations of gargantuan 50mm lenses with enormous front elements and 82mm filter rings. The lens is about 1/2 the volume and weight of the 50mm S-Pro lens for the Lumix L-mount cameras. It feels just the way a long normal lens should feel, if you grew up in the days of film lenses and use those as a referent.
While f2.0 isn't a super fast f-stop it's more than enough for current, full frame cameras which seem to handle ISOs like 3200 and 6400 effortlessly. I've been veering away from my tired, old dogma of using the cameras at their base ISOs for highest quality and have started setting my ISO to Auto and letting my cameras head north; toward photon fulfillment. The S1 is happiest at 6400 and below. The S1R likes to settle in at 3200 and below, while the Sigma fp is perfectly happy all the way up to ISO 12,800. It all seems like magic to me. But I'm happy to take advantage of it. Especially if I'm working in black and white.
My first tests with the new lens were to see just how well it performed at f2.0 and I'm happy to report that it's nicely sharp wide open. Stopping down to f5.6 improves the performance incrementally but it's already so good wide open that the improvements are modest. This means I can use the widest apertures with impunity instead of dancing around with sloppy edges, and trying to valiantly get to f4.0 or slower.
I used the lens to shoot about 200 images this afternoon. It was cold, bright and crisp outside in the late afternoon and I was happy to be mobile and moving. I should probably give the long suffering keyboard a rest and just let you browse the final images.
I used the Sigma 65mm f2.0 DN DG lens on a Lumix/Panasonic S1R and it seemed like a great match when considering the overall look and integrity of the package. It also represented a perfectly balanced mix. The camera felt absolutely neutral and comfortable in my hands. My only issue so far was that the lens and camera had trouble focusing through a couple of dirty, glass windows but I switched to manual and had the focus nailed quickly. The manual ring, while fly by wire is very well damped and has a nice, predictable feel to it. In fact, it didn't just make manual focusing proficient or easy, it made manual focusing fun.
I shot all the images presented below as fine Jpegs. Knowing I'd only be presenting this work on the web I chose to shoot in the medium size setting of just under 24 megapixels.
I found the lens a delight from two points of view. First, I liked the focal length and framing. Secondly, I loved the whole idea of a reasonably fast, perfectly sized and masterfully built lens on the front of my camera. I can't imagine even a Leica lens exceeding the build quality on display here.
I am smitten which will probably signal the death knell for this whole blog enterprise since I can imagine that I'll never want to use anything else ever again and you will become bored in a five or six months after I write hundreds and hundreds of paeans to the 65mm lens's magnificence. A wonderful addition to any L-mount kit. And, for those lucky Sony A7x owners--- it's also available in e mount.
A bargain at $699. (USD)
Click to go big.