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Jan 18

Review: Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN

Sigma has been around for over 50 years, and they’ve been primarily known as a third-party manufacturer of SLR lenses, though they’ve also made their own SLR cameras and some high end compact cameras as well. Over the past decade, they’ve started to make some very high-end glass. Recently, they dipped their toes into the mirrorless market with the release of two lenses for Micro 4/3 and Sony NEX. These lenses, the 19mm f/2.8 and the 30mm f/2.8, are compact primes with moderate apertures and they are extremely reasonably priced. Both lenses retail for $199 regularly, though some recent sales have seen $149 price points and even both lenses for $199 for a short while. Here I take a look at the 19mm f/2.8 on Micro 4/3. Can Sigma produce a low cost gem for Micro 4/3?

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN with hood

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN with hood

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.

Around the Lens

The Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN is a sort of an odd-ball focal length on Micro 4/3. It is rather obvious to me that the choices of 19mm and 30mm for Sigma’s first mirrorless lenses were based around the APS-C sensor of the NEX system. These lenses were then simply modified to work on Micro 4/3. With the 19mm, the lens produces an angle of view equivalent to a 38mm lens on full frame: just a hair wider than the outstanding Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake.

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN

If you are comparing the lens to the 20mm, I don’t think they fill the same need. Despite being only 1mm apart in focal length, they feel somewhat different in use to me. The 19mm feels more like a typical 35mm lens to me than a ‘normal.’ Plus, the 20mm is significantly more expensive. You, of course, get a full extra stop and a half of aperture and even smaller size for your trouble.

The Sigma 19mm f/2.8 is a relatively compact lens, though a bit larger than you’d expect given the focal length and aperture. It’s a well built lens, with high quality plastics and a metal mount, all with very tight tolerances. Despite its budget price, Sigma includes both an outstanding lens hood (which reverses extremely close to the lens body to keep the package small), and a very nice lens case. Olympus should take note here and realize that you shouldn’t gouge your customers for essential accessories.

The only thing that keeps the Sigma from feeling truly high quality in the build department is the fact that the focusing group in the lens is ‘loose’, such that when the lens isn’t powered up by the camera, you can hear and feel it rattle around inside the lens.

Autofocus and Handling

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN

When you mount the Sigma 19mm f/2.8, there’s something about it that feels right. Despite its slow aperture for a prime, and its relatively odd focal length, there’s something that just made me want to shoot with it. It feels right at home on most any Micro 4/3 body. It’s small enough and light enough to be extremely unobtrusive, while also being large enough to actually balance the camera body a bit. The broad plastic manual focus ring is well damped and feels great to use.

However, your first impression when you power up the camera may be one of confusion. For some reason, the lens takes a strangely long time to ‘boot up.’ After flipping on the camera switch, it takes approximately 3-4 seconds before the lens readies the focusing group and tells the camera it’s ready to go. After this odd little delay, however, it’s nothing but responsive. Autofocus is fast and accurate, locking swiftly on to your subject in any lighting condition. One very nice feature about the Sigma 19mm is its very close focusing capability. The lens can focus to 7.8 inches. While certainly not close enough for macro use due to the wide angle, it is definitely close enough for most any type of general shooting.

Next: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

9 comments

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  1. Wolfgang Lonien

    Wow. Love those black & whites from Columbus, and also “Looking”. The lens doesn’t seem to be “biting” sharp – which is good for portraits. Reminds me a bit of older lenses for film cameras, like my OM Zuikos. A job very well done from Sigma, and your images are great. Thanks for the report and review.

  2. Barry

    Nice report, but you said nothing about video capabilities. I have the lens and agree with your comparisons with the Pany 20mm (which I dumped over a year ago), but the latter focuses slowly and is almost useless for video. Many of us shoot both stills and video; I use a couple of OM-Ds for stills and have a couple of GH2s for video. I usually carry at least one of each. Regardless of the price, I think that this is a good lens, but one of the major reasons is its almost silent and fast focusing, advantageous for stills, essential for video. Even if it were the same price as the 20mm, I’d get this one.

    1. Jordan Steele

      You are correct! I am not a videographer, I’m a stills photographer, so I almost never use the video features of my camera. I will likely do a few quick test videos over the next day or so and put in a little blurb.

    2. hrgfr

      to be frank AF in video is irrelevant for most serious users . there are no lenses that give seamless AF for video hence why for most MF is their choice

  3. Franck

    I’m thinking to buy this lens to fit on a GX1.
    With my Sony NEX 7 , I do have the 30mm .. great lens !
    thank you Sigma
    Thanks for your review

  4. Eric Lee Smith

    I bought this lens about 20 hours before your review came out and it is a relief to me that you like it. I read other reviews and decided that it was worth the risk to buy it, especially as it was on sale on Amazon for less than $150. I always enjoyed the 35mm focal length on my Nikon back in the film days, it was my normal lens. I’m hoping that this lens will take a similar place on my OM-D.

    1. Wolfgang Lonien

      Eric – the guys from Pen & Tell also like it pretty much. It’s in German, but maybe you could use a translator for this: http://pen-and-tell.blogspot.com/2012/12/winterimpressionen-sigma-19-mm-f28-ex-dn.html

  5. Christos

    Thanks for this review … I have been searching for a review that is conclusive about the lens quality, and I believe yours is the one. Nicely complemented with photos that show the capabilities of the 19mm. Up to now I have been disappointed since reviews pointed out how good the lens was, only for the horrible pictures accompanying the reviews to make things confusing. So many thanks again for your work. Now I am considering it for my shooting since it is mainly urban landscape (and a little portrait)

    The only question now is how much of the image quality is the sigma 19mm and how much the OMD? I wonder how steep the IQ deterioration will be on my G2…

  6. subroto mukerji

    Great review ! I was afraid that the lens may display awful flare and ghosting, like the 60mm (Kurt Munger’s review), but my fears are now allayed. It seems to be excellent value for money apart from being a good performer in its own right. I am now going to see where I can buy this lens; India isn’t all that sold on Sigma lenses I don’t think.
    Thanks for a very cogent and useful review, Mr Steele.

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