Nikon has started making APS-C mirrorless cameras a few years back, and they are definitely worth considering. Their image quality is decent, the autofocus isn’t half bad, and they undoubtedly have their fans. But they lacked a decent selection of dedicated glass. That is finally changing.
Third-Party Saves the Day
I’ve used the Z fc for a few weeks before it was officially announced, and I seriously enjoy shooting with it. There was only one major flaw I saw that still hasn’t been fixed by Nikon. The APS-C dedicated lenses are still just available as basic zooms with tiny apertures. Sure, they are sharp and pretty fast to focus, but if you want to use a prime or anything brighter than f/3.5 you have to grab something among the full frame oriented S line of glass from Nikon which is a brilliant line of glass, but a bit too big and pricey for the average APS-C hobbyist. That is where Sigma comes in with its Contemporary line.
These three lenses aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. They have been on the market for the Sony E mount, as well as the Canon EOS M mount and MFT for years. Recently, they were even released for the Fujifilm X mount as well. And now we can finally enjoy the same glass on the Nikon Z mount. So, why would you buy any of these? And what benefits would they bring you over the Nikon native lenses?
Yeah, they are plastic on the outside. Sigma calls the material TSC, which stands for Thermally Stable Composite. This polycarbonate promises many benefits of metal without the added weight and cost. I haven’t had any issues with it, apart from the fact that you just look at the body of the lens in the wrong way and it scratches. Nothing major or clearly visible, just something to consider if you ever plan to sell the lens further.
There is a rubber gasket around the mounts indicating the lenses are weather-resistant, which would fit well since the Z fc as well as the Z 50 claim to be resistant to rain and dust. In the end, the lenses feel solid, well-built, and worth the money.
Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
The widest and the largest of the bunch, but still nothing obnoxiously large nor heavy considering the f/1.4 aperture. The lens weighs a mere 420 grams and its length is 94 millimeters. The current APS-C sensors on the Nikon Z cameras offer a maximum resolution of a little over 20 megapixels, so the bar for sharpness is not particularly high for these lenses. However, the lens does deliver and keeps the image nicely detailed through the frame. Even the edges aren’t too bad, apart from one issue. The vignette is definitely there, but it’s nothing unfixable. It is most apparent when you shoot wide open. Stopping the aperture down makes the vignetting basically disappear.
Contrast is pleasing, as well as the out-of-focus areas. Chromatic aberrations aren’t too obvious, but they are present. Especially when the lens is aimed directly into a strong source of light with a significant contrast in the corners. Nothing hard to fix and I don’t think there were any lens profiles available to use at the time of me using the lens, so Lightroom might have not really known the lens yet.
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
The middle of the bunch, both in terms of focal length as well as size and weight. Coming in at 285 grams and 75 millimeters, it is compact and easy to carry every day as your main lens. The focal length is lovely to use, as it is neither too wide nor too narrow. The f/1.4 aperture can give you a decent separation as long as you are not too far from your subject.
This was probably my favorite lens of the three due to being a decent combination of low weight, nice size, universal focal length, and autofocus speed. I can imagine using this lens for general street photography or just as a travel lens for a vacation.
Optically, it behaved very similarly to the aforementioned 16mm down to the same vignetting characteristics. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing shameful either, considering the rather friendly price tag.
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
A perfect focal length for a shy street photographer with lovely bokeh with a not-too-disappointing autofocus speed and truly compact dimensions. 295 grams and 70 millimetres. The width would be the smallest of the bunch if it wasn’t for the massive Nikon Z mount widening all of the lenses at the back to actually fit the bodies. The ledge at the end of each of the lenses looks a bit comical, but you barely notice it once the lens is mounted.
I truly enjoyed using this one. My favorite lens of all time is the Fujifilm XF 56 mm f/1.2 — the old version as well as the new WR one. And this Sigma does deliver. It renders the image nicely. The files are sharp and with great contrast, even in direct sunlight. Chromatic aberrations were nicely controlled but, just like the two lenses mentioned above, not eradicated.
All three of the lenses feature a nine-bladed rounded aperture, which delivers a pleasing bokeh. The next similarity is in the autofocus drive. That is provided using a stepping motor which is fairly silent and fast. It wasn’t the best in tracking subjects moving fast towards the camera, but it could have very much been the AF system in the camera and not the lens. One is not pulling the other down.
Not Bad, Not Expensive
If I was a Nikon Z 50, Z fc, or a Z 30 user, I would most definitely consider getting multiple of these for my work. The lenses offer decent image quality with manageable aberrations at a reasonable price. The build quality is definitely lacking behind the metal Nikon alternatives like the brilliant 35mm f/1.8 or the 50mm f/1.8, but the cost, the brighter aperture, and the size are worth the material downgrade. I’m curious as to whether Nikon is actually planning on releasing their own versions of decent DX-oriented glass or if they just plan on counting on either third-party makers doing it for them or hobbyists spending extra money on lenses they never really fully utilize. Are you considering any of these for your Nikon mirrorless?
Nice, thanks for the review. As a Z50 user, I've decided to bite the bullet and get the full frame glass - 35mm and 50mm f/1.8. I love them. Pricey - yes. Bulky - yes. But the quality is awesome.
If only Sigma was making 24mm or 85/100-ish. That would be tempting.
Thanks for the comment!
I've currently got a just released Sigma 23mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary for E mount to test out. I'm pretty sure it's just a matter of time before they release it with a Z mount as well.
A year ago I'd have been excited. A have a Z50, and like to shoot birds, so APS-C has been great for me. But the Z50s 20mp no longer looks very exciting next to Fuji and Canon's higher APS-C resolutions Nikon's obvious production problems also contribute to the feeling that the Z50/30/fc is the end of the road for Nikon DX. I'm not inclined to invest in more Z-mount DX lenses at this point.
I see your point. I myself use a Fujifilm X-T5 as my main camera. The resolution is not the reason though it's just a nice bonus. I believe 20 megapixels is more than enough for many people.
As a Sony user I went Sigma for the 150-600mm in the Canon mount using it's adapter before Sony brought out it's 200-600mm. Images are one thing but communications between lens and camera getting metadata into the images correctly is another thing to look for. When using a 1X or 2X teleconverter added on millimeter info and lens info would not be correct, the nice thing was that the combo even being above f/8 AF worked great even above f/13, at the time AF was a problem for both Nikon/Canon because combo being above f/8 AF did not work. Another issue is your photos, yes look great, but the true test of a lens is not in the lab with focus on a chart but looking at the far off stars is the true test! Fast glass is great for compact DOF and great bokeh during day or night shots But fast glass attracts astrophotography. Things like commas, mustache on the horizon and star elongations in corners can best be seen in captures of far off stars. I learned that lesson when getting the much talked up Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM | Art 018 tank of a lens in '20 even sending back thinking I just had a bad lens. Had to use at f/4 most times f/5.6 due to comma of stars and elongation of stars, image at f/4, only seen at say 100-200% zoom but always saw on review of capture on camera also it would not focus on the sand/shells at foot of camera wide open. These are things reviewers never think of because they are day or night city shooters. But a lens focused sharply on the stars (the best lens focus) wide open these problems can be seen before capture just at a magnification of 5 checking corners etc. but not looking at a chart of dots just feet away or on a computer screen. Photographers (most) will look at the low cost (reviews say Cheaper) but you get what you pay for. Second image using Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 great lens even doing stars. Third The best from '15 on the Sony E 10-18mm (15-27mm) but even at 12mm in full frame. When a new super wide lens comes out many take the hook, like me. But to test the faster the glass the faster the shutter speed needed for star capture. 4th is a lunar eclipse using the Sony 200-600 at 600mm so as to get stars sharp around to show yes a real capture for anyone can paste a moon, f/6.3, 900mm (600mm APS-C mode), .5s, 5-15-22 from in my front yard - fast SS needed to prevent ghosting it moves and so do stars!
Thank you for the comment, Edwin. I haven't really shot a lot of astro photography so I haven't even considered it when reviewing these lenses. I'd probably consider a larger sensor with a better signal to noise ratio than any current APS-C camera for that.
Were there any LoCA issues with the lenses?
It would also be good to get details on the corner sharpness as compared to some full frame lenses on a crop sensor body since used full frame lenses are always an option as well.
So far these are impossible to determine from the sample images.
There is a bit of LoCA in the out of focus areas but it is not too obvious. You can see it here on the crop of the 16mm sample image.
The other two images are corner crops of the 30mm and the 56mm lenses. The sharpness seems adequate enough for the sensor resolution and the lenses costs.
Hello Ondřej - Lucky you to live in Prague! Please post some more pictures of my favourite city.
--- but even better, come back with some ideas of places for photo-walks in Prague that aren't the 20-or-so "Classic Instagram View" places where you jostle for room with the world's photographers. Poor Prague is being overrun with cameras; why even 6am on the Charles bridge in February is getting to be crowded now!
I rate Dejvická Metro Station, and the Dalej and the adjoining Prokop Valleys in the southwestern part of Prague as visual treasures - but I'm just a visitor who likes walking cities with a smaller sensor format camera and lightweight unobtrusive lenses. Any ideas?
On topic, despite your anxieties about the construction materials, my Sigma lenses are lasting very well and deliver great IQ for the price and weight; I have used the lightweight Sigma19mm and 60mm primes for long enough to know. Despite having no formal "weather sealing" - the prime design means little air movement conpared to zooms and collapsing lens designs, so my lenses have kept dust and fungus free despite some very challenging world places to which they have been taken.
Best Wishes - Paul C
PS - yes, I agree - the Z-mount is just too big for DX lenses, but it is also too big for FF/35mm as well - surely this tells us that Nikon is eyeing up the launch of a medium format camera for landscape photographers as the Z-standard will cover a medium format (44 mm by 33 mm) sensor .
Hello Paul! Thank you for the comment. I live here so there is going to be more and more each time I have a new camera or a lens to review.
I used to hate the touristy center exactly for those reasons. It is overloaded with people, fake weed shops and many businesses seem to be designed to solely squeeze as much money from tourists as possible. Locals barely even live in Old Town. It's all AirBnBs now. But nowadays I have decided not to let that fact ruin my experience of the city. Prague is beautiful once you look past the influencers and tiktokers. I walk from Malostranská to Náměstí Republiky via Charles Bridge and all the other postcard-looking spots almost every day and I enjoy it regardless of the crowds.
The bigger problem I see is the insane amount of cars running through here or parked in otherwise beautiful areas. There is not a single old town narrow alley that does not have most of its space occupied by someone's car... The same goes for Malá Strana.
Wasn't there an April Fools joke regarding a medium-format Nikon camera being announced?