Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sigma 19mm autofocus comparison

The Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN is perhaps a strange lens. In terms of specifications, it is quite close to the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, except that it is slower, and less compact. So, why would anyone be interested in it?

Lately, it sells at a reasonable price, and besides, it features the normal internal focus system, while the Lumix G 20mm has an old style focus mechanism which moves all the lens elements, being slow and noisy.

I have found that the Sigma 19mm lens is slightly less sharp than the Lumix 20mm lens, at similar apertures. This is consistent with other people's findings.

With still images

What about the autofocus performance, then? Is it faster, as one could guess? Here is a comparison where I put both lenses on the Panasonic GH2, and focused down to around 0.3m:

The Sigma 19mm lens spends 0.28s focusing down to close to the minimum focus distance, while the Lumix 20mm lens needs 0.64s. So the Sigma lens is indeed faster, as we had expected in advance.

During video recording

Another important aspect is continuous autofocus during video. This is still the achilles' heel of the Micro Four Thirds system, and not even the most recent cameras do this well.

To test it, I mounted the Panasonic GH2 with the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 lens to a wooden plank, and next to it, mounted the Panasonic GF3 camera with the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 lens. I used Manfrotto Superclamps to mount the cameras, just like when I tested the rolling shutter properties of the GH2 and GH3. I set both lenses to f/2.8 for similar depth of focus properties.

Of course, the 19mm lens has a wider field of view. But on the other hand, the GH2 has the multi aspect sensor, oversized sensor property, which gives relatively wider field of view in video compared with the non-multi aspect sensor GF3 camera. So the field of view is probably quite similar for the two cameras.

Here are the two video footages, combined to one clip. To see the focus performance, it is best to view this in 1080p, click on the youtube icon to access this possibility.

The results are not completely consistent, but I think the Sigma 19mm lens and GF3 combo keeps the focus better during the video. One could speculate that the GH2 probably has the better image processing technology, and hence, should have the advantage in terms of handling continuous autofocus. Despite the handicap of being combined with the basic GF3, the Sigma lens performs better.

It would have been better to mount the lenses to the same camera, of course, but I don't have two of the same camera model. Also, I would normally have used the newer GH3 camera, but my camera is sent back for repair. I hope I get it back soon, and that I don't have to wait for three months, like I had to when sending back the Lumix G 14-42mm lens for misaligned aperture diaphragm blades.


What this shows, is that the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN lens is better for video use, as long as you can live with the f/2.8 aperture. While it is not as sharp as the Lumix G 20mm lens, it is still very sharp, and certainly more than sharp enough for video use. The autofocus is also less audible.

Even if the Sigma 19mm lens is larger, it is still quite non-obtrusive, with a matte black finish.

The Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens is a classic Micro Four Thirds lens, praised for the very good sharpness. However, people also find it annoying for the slow and noisy autofocus performance. People have also reported that the focus mechanism can be clogged with dust, due to the moving front elements. The Sigma lens has no moving lens elements on the outside (only internally), and is probably more solid in that way.

Given the low price the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN sells at, it can be considered a good value for money, and an interesting alternative to the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7.

I haven't tested the "brother" lens, the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN in the same way, but I would guess that it, too, performs well in terms of autofocus speed.

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