Optical Antithesis


A review of the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN lens for m4/3

 

 

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 shown mounted to an Oympus OMD EM1 mk 1 which is one of the larger m4/3 cameras.

 

I’ve said many times on this blog that my favourite focal length is 35mm (35mm equivalent) which give a diagonal angle of view of 63.4º To me it is a relaxing normal view, I find 50mm a bit too tight and 28mm a bit too “loose”. So when I migrated from so-called full frame to micro four thirds in 2010 one of the first lenses I bought was the Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f2.8 pancake lens. Actually at the time there were only three lenses in the system the 17mm, a 14-42mm kit lens and the 40-150 telephoto kit zoom and I ended up getting them all.

 

Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f2.8 shown on an EP5. The lens was the first prime introduced for the Olympus’ m4/3 system.

 

The 17mm was equivalent to 34mm in in full frame terms and has a diagonal angle of view of 65º, so close enough as not to make any real difference. It wasn’t a well received lens despite being what initial advocates of the micro four thirds said they wanted – pancake lenses. It’s slow maximum aperture of f2.8, slow and noisey auto focus combined with less than stellar optical performance put many people off and they went for the much more expensive Panasonic 20mm f1.7 which had the virtues of being optically better, and having a faster maximum aperture. It still wasn’t great in the AF department though. But hey these were the early days of mirrorless technology and AF systems were not very quick and accurate then. But anyways I got the Olympus in a kit with my Olympus EP2 and I actually loved it. I could slip it mounted to the EP2 in my pocket which made it a great stealth camera combination and I used it to shoot my TransPerth-Transhumance project. I still use the lens today, mainly on my EP5. The area where I felt it was absolutely hopeless was video. The AF was too slow, too noisy (think angry wasp stuck in a jar) and I wanted a bit more subject isolation than the f2.8 aperture could give.

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 compared to the Olympus 17mm f2.8, 25mm f.1.8 and the 45mm f1.9.

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 is a physically large lens. Here it is shown with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 and 75-300 f4-6.3 zoom lenses.

 

So fast forward a few years and I’m shooting more and more video and I decide to get myself a better 17mm lens. In the intervening years Olympus had produced the very favourably received 17mm f1.8 and the eye-wateringly expensive f1.2 version. Panasonic had also come to the party with their Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 lens. In fact I went to my local (if you can call 110Km away local) camera dealer to buy this lens and it was always out of stock which made me want it even more. But in the end I went for an outlier in the form of the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN lens. The reasons being that f1.4 is faster than f1.9, it was cheaper than the f1.2 and the difference between f1.2 and f1.4 is slight, and my dealer had it in stock. So what makes it and outlier? Well to put it bluntly it’s bloody huge. It has a 67mm ⌀ filter thread which compares to 37mm for the Olympus 17mm f2.8. It is bigger than the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 and the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f2.8-4 while being only a little shorter than the Olympus 75-300mm f4.8-6.7. The 16mm focal length equates to 32mm on full frame with a diagonal angle of view 68.1º so is a bit wider, but when used with the Panasonic G85 for 4K video this isn’t much of a problem as the camera crops in slightly. So how come this lens is so lardy I hear you all ask. Well this lens wasn’t designed for micro four thirds, it was initially designed for the Sony 6000 series cameras with an APS sized sensor where it equates to being a 24mm in full frame terms. To get a wide angle lens that’s fast and a good optical performance means lots of glass and glass is heavy, and this lens is large and heavy for APS format cameras. To get some additional return on their investment Sigma decided to offer the lens in micro four thirds mount hence it seeming a funny focal length and being bigger than necessary.

 


Vital Statistics

Olympus 17mm f2.8

Sigma 16mm f1.4

Diagonal angle of view 65º 68.1º
Optical construction 6 elements in 4 groups 16 elements in 13 groups
Diaphragm 5 rounded blades 9 rounded blades
Minimum aperture f2.8 F1.4
Maximum aperture F22 F16
Minimum focusing distance 20cm 25cm
maximum magnification ratio 0.11x 0.07X
Filter diameter 37mm 67mm
Dimensions 57mm x 22mm (H) 72.2mm x 92.3mm (H)
Weight 71g 405g
Internal focusing No Yes

 

 

In the hand the Sigma 16mm feels very dense and substantial. The lens body is made out of what Sigma calls a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) which is substantially stronger than conventional polycarbonates while having similar thermal expansion properties to aluminium. The lens mount is made of chromium plated brass which should ensure a long life. The Sigma 16mm is advertised as being dust and splash proof but on closer reading of Sigma’s spec sheet there is only one seal and that is at the lens mount. The lens comes with a bayonet mount petal lens hood which has a ribbed grip to make attaching and detaching easier. While it is good that the lens comes with a hood it’s not the best implementation and feels quite insubstantial and can be fiddly to attach as it can foul and not lock home. There is a ribbed rubber focus ring of the fly by wire type – it feels smooth and easy to use. There are no other controls or switches which means if you want to switch between AF and manual focus you will have to use the camera controls for that.

 

 

The Sigma 16mm has an optical construction of 16 elements in 13 groups with 3 FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass elements, which offers performance equivalent to fluorite which exhibits less chromatic aberration than those utilising a traditional flint glass. There are 2 SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements which also help to minimise chromatic aberration and 2 ASPH moulded glass aspherical elements which work to reduce optical aberrations. According to Sigma’s website the ASPH elements are polished with a tolerance of under 10 nanometers or 0.000001 millimetres which according to Sigma reduces onion ring bokeh.


Performance

100 % crops showing lens performance wide open and then at the best performing aperture.

 

In terms of autofocus the stepping motor is fast and accurate and very smooth when shooting video. I tested the lens on the OMD EM1 mk ii which has on sensor phase detect AF and on the Panasonic G85 which uses DFD technology – a variant of contrast detect auto focus that requires the lens to provide a profile to the camera to ensure fast and accurate AF. The Sigma does not have such a profile as these are limited at present to only Panasonic’s own lenses. Despite that there were no problems and I could detect no discernible difference between the Olympus and the Panasonic. The only downside in the AF department is that I can’t use the Pro Capture Low setting which gives up to 18 fps with auto exposure and AF tracking. This is no fault of Sigma’s as the option is only available with Olympus lenses.

 

 

Optically – well straight from the get go the Sigma is impressively sharp wide open corner to corner. The performance improves slightly (and it is only visible on my 4K screen at 300%) as you stop down. Diffraction sets in at f16 and this does soften the image. In terms of chromatic aberration, well wide open in high contrast situations it is apparent albeit slight and it is easy to correct in post. The lens is reasonably resistant to flare – but if you have a specular light source in the frame you will experience some veiled flare and ghosting. If you turn off the built in lens profile you can observe a slight barrel distortion, but switch on the profile and it is not visible. The bokeh balls this lens produces are more or less round when shooting wide open even at the edges of the frame and the transitions are nice and smooth. There is some onion ring bokeh which is the result of using moulded aspherical lens.Vignetting is not a problem and is very slight in the region of 1/2 stop.

 

Chromatic aberration is quite apparent on this lens. It is also quite prone to flare even when using the included lens hood.

 


Verdict

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Being designed to have an image circle much larger than micro four thirds requires means that you are using the best performing part of the lens and this really shows. Just for giggles I compared the Sigma with my old Olympus. The Olympus is noticeably soft in the corners at all apertures and just average in the centre. It suffers badly from chromatic aberration. Vignetting is very apparent, in excess of 1 stop in the corners with the lens profile switched on and getting on for 2 stops when switched off. Physically, optically and figuratively the Sigma stands head and shoulders above the little Olympus. The only area where the Olympus wins out is its small size and that is why I’ll continue to use it when I want something small and compact. For every other occasion I’m reaching for the Sigma. The knock on effect is that I’m seriously wondering about replacing my Olympus 45mm f1.8 with the Sigma 56mm f1.4.

New Book

The cover of “Australia’s Best 100 Walks” to which I was a contributor.

 

As a fledgling photographer many years ago I used to look at copies of National Geographic and daydream about one day being a one of their photographers. Many years later that still hasn’t happened, but I have managed Australian Geographic. I happy to announce the launch of Australia’s Best 100 Walks published by Australian Geographic for which I was a contributing photographer, writer and researcher. It is available fro good bookshops such as Boffins Books for a smidge under $40 AUD.

 

Bathurst Lighthouse on Rottnest Island, Western Australia. One of my photos from the book Australia’s Best 100 Walks.

Temporal Concepts

Holy Trinity York in Western Australia

 

Time – it is a difficult concept to get to grips with. When I was a kid time used to go so slowly. When I grew up and started working time at work went so slowly and my days off went so quickly. Now as a I edge towards sixty time just seems to keep on accelerating. Time isn’t a constant. Then we have the phenomena of how people interpret time within societal and cultural associations. This was brought home to me the other day when talking with someone about what they considered an old building and they were stating that Holy Trinity York was a very old, historical building that needs preserving.

 

Holy Trinity Bosham, West Sussex, England.

 

Here in Western Australia Holy Trinity Church in York is considered an old historic building. The Anglican Church was was established in York in 1831, and the building work on the current building began in the 1850’s. So I guess if were being generous then that’s 189 years.  In terms of white colonial Australia that is old but in the big scheme of things it’s just a drop in a bucket. I spent my formative years in Chichester, West Sussex. Down the road is the little town of Bosham and it has a Holy Trinity Church as well. The differentiation is the first church in Bosham was mentioned in an account written by the Venerable Bede about Bishop Wilfrid’s visit in 681 AD – that’s 1339 years ago. The earliest parts of the current building were built in the 11th Century under the patronage of Godwin, Earl of Wessex who was one of England’s richest and most powerful of men. You may have heard of his son Harold Godwinson, better known as the King Harold who was poked in the eye by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (apparently his last words were “Oi William! Be careful with that thing or you’ll have somebody’s eye out.”). Indeed there is an illustration of the church in the opening scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry with the accompanying text ‘Ubi Harold dux Anglorum et sui milites equitant ad Bosham. Ecclesia.’ Translated, this reads ‘Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his retinue ride to Bosham. The church.’ The church has historical associations with another king – King Cnut. Yep he’s the one that tried to turn back the sea as a demonstration to his courtiers of how insignificant his power was. Well it is believed that one of his daughters is buried in the church – local tradition has it she drowned in the nearby millstream aged 8. That’s a lot of history and it was all recorded. The big thing was that when I first saw these buildings they new and fresh to me. It was only as I became more familiar with them did I start to have any inkling of their historical significance.

 

A marker for the gravesite of one of King Canute’s daughters.

 

Does something that has been around longer become more valuable than something newer? Does the cultural and societal significance of something increase as it ages? Well I suppose the fact that the church in Bosham has parts of it that have physically been there for a thousand years makes it kind of special. Then add the fact that it is associated with key figures and events in history that makes it somewhat unique. Then stir into the mix the fact that it is still a central part of the community and then you have something really important. It is not just a dead building, a mausoleum to a bygone age, it is something that has come to help define a community over a long period of time and will continue to do so well into the future.

Photography and film/video are art forms that deal in part in capturing and expressing time in a way that other art forms have trouble articulating. You can speed it up, slow it down. You can show the effect of change. You can preserve things and memories. Over the last 150-200 years humans have come to see photos as an adjunct to their memories. I have photos and videos of some of my dogs playing, they’ve been dead a long time yet I find them very comforting and my memories of them somehow seem more real, more valid. Photos can, of course, also evoke sad/negative emotions and memories. A photograph can also be just proof of existence – either the subject or the photographer actually existed. For instance without these photos many of you wouldn’t be aware of these two churches having being built.

 

My great great grandmother with her dog

 

This is all getting a bit too metaphysical so lets change tack. If we stop and consider the two photos of the churches they were taken 29 years apart. Things have changed enormously photographically speaking between those photos. The photo of the church in Bosham was taken at the height of the film era using what was then already rather dated equipment – an Olympus OM4 with an Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm lens shooting Kodak Kodachrome 200 ASA reversal film. The photo of the church in York was taken well into the digital era on a Canon 6d with Canon 24-70mm lens. So not only are the photos snap shots in time of two churches, but they are all snapshots in terms of photographic equipment and trends. But I know that all said and done how they were captured will matter to very few people in the future. What will matter is that they were captured at all. I have a photo of a relative taken back in the 1880’s. I have no way of knowing what was used to make the photo nor whether it was considered cutting edge at the time. I just know that this woman and her dog existed at some point in time and she is one of my family and that is what makes it so important. I don’t know who she is other than my great great grand mother as there is no one left in my family who remembers who she was. But the important thing is that she existed and we can see that she liked dogs – a trait that still runs in our family. The important thing is that someone decided that wanted a photo of her and her dog as a keepsake and consecutive generations have kept it.

Time. It is a difficult concept to consider or explain but maybe we shouldn’t try. Maybe we should just mark its passing with photos and videos and leave them as gifts for those in the future to make sense of. 

Arboreal Brassieres

It’s always a voyage of discovery walking along the River Avon.

 

Trees with bras besides the Avon Walk Trail in York.

 

Trees with bras besides the Avon Walk Trail in York.

 

Over the next few weeks posts will be a little sporadic as I am having much needed surgery on my back. Please bear with me and I’ll try and post new content as and when I can.

New Victoria Dam

The ubiquitous New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.

Over the last few days my FaceBook feed has been seeing some seriously tasty bird photos from one of the groups that I belong to. The photos all come from one area  – New Victoria Dam which is 30Km east of Perth on the Darling Range in Korung National Park. So when the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) announced she was competing in a croquet competition at a location just 20 minutes drive away I immediately volunteered myself as driver.

 

 

 

 

There are two starting points to the walk and which you choose will largely depend upon when you visit. If you visit outside of office hours Monday to Friday or anytime at the weekend then y ou have to use the upper carpark as your start point as the access road is shut. During office hours you can drive down to the lower carpark keeping in mind that if stay till after 5pm then you won’t be able to drive out. I started at the upper carpark which only adds 800m each way to the walk. The walk consists of a 7Km round trip down past the New Victoria Dam to the Old Victoria dam wall and the garden and picnic area. There used to be a path through the trees at the edge of the road but it has become quite overgrown and indistinct so you are best walking along the access road. As you walk down the road on your left is the  gravesite of Francis Weston who died in 1876 aged two days, his parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley. When you get to the lower carpark walk through it and then follow the trail markers. After walking through the forest you come to New Victoria Dam. Walk down the steps and at the bottom turn right onto the road and walk down to the remains of the Old Victoria Dam.

 

The gravesite of Francis Westson who died in 1876 aged two days. His parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley.

 

The steps down to the New Victoria Dam.

 

The original dam was built in 1891 and pumped water via pipelines to Kings Park and a reservoir there on Mount Eliza. The dam became the first permanent water source for Perth and was operated by the private City of Perth Waterworks Company. As the water catchment area took in agricultural land and timber settlements there were fears that it would be polluted by raw sewage and excrement from livestock. Between 1895 and 1900 typhoid broke out in Perth and 425 people died. The water was tested and found to be contaminated so the government took control and made changes to prevent re-occurrence. By 1988 the concrete structure was beginning to degrade to such an extent it could no longer be repaired so in 1990 work on the new dam commenced and because of the use of roller compacted concrete it was completed by the following year. It can hold 9.5 million kilo-litres and is used to supply drinking water to Kalamunda and Lesmurdie. 

 

The wall of the old Victoria dam and the garden beside it.

 

In the lee of the old dam there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and one-sided bottlebrush or claw flower have been planted and the thick vegetation along the creek line provides dense cover for a number of bird species. On this trip I used the picnic gazebo as an impromptu bird hide and spent a couple of hours watching the various birds feed and drink. I saw  red-eared firetails, mistletoe birds, splendid fairy wrens, western spinebills, new holland honeyeaters, white faced herons and rosellas. The dam spillway feeds water to the pond and creek that provides a year round water supply which means that the birds are always active all here. If you are there at dawn or dusk then kangaroos can be seen feeding on the grass. It is a great little spot and doesn’t require too much effort to get there.

 

Red-eared Firetail (Stagonopleura oculata), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.

 

White Faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.

Anastasis

190206-Albany-0248-Edit.jpg by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Male Musk duck (Biziura labata) at Lake Seppings, Albany, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3, ISO 1600 with +0.7 stops exposure compensation

 

Anastasis –  from Ancient Greek ἀνάστασις (anástasis, “resurrection”).

A funny name for a blog post about Lake Seppings in Albany, Western Australia, but it does describe what happened.

 

20191228-Albany-0257-Edit.jpg by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicillatus, Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure 1/1000, f10, ISO 200.

 

Way back in the Nyittiny (creation times) the spirit Djrat walked on the earth and created south coast of Western Australia and as he walked he left a footprint which filled with water and created a freshwater lake 1.1 Km long and 400m wide. The Minang group of the Nyoongar called this place Tjuirtgellong or “place of the long necked turtle” which was an important food source for them in the summer months. The lake was surrounded by a variety of vegetation. Fringing the lake are bullrushes, sedges, and reeds reeds. Further back were Western Australian peppermint trees, spearwoods, paperbarks, native willows, wattles, banksias and melaleuca. All this provided habitat  for over 100 different bird species including Australian white ibis, yellow-billed spoonbil,  white-faced heron, blue-billed duck, musk duck, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, Australian pelican, Eurasian coot, spotless crake, masked lapwing, dusky moorhen, purple swamphen and buff-banded rail. 

 

Purple swamp hen by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Purple swamp hen, Porphyrio porphyrio, Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 2000.

 

20191228-Albany-0277-Edit.jpg by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Jewel spiders (Austracantha minax) are often called Christmas spiders as they are commonly found during December and January. Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/250 sec, f8, ISO 320.

 

All was fine and dandy until 1790 when the British explorer George Vancouver arrived. While he was mapping King George Sound he didn’t see any Minang but saw plenty of evidence that they were around and he later wrote that he found a ‘native village; fresh food remains near a well-constructed hut; a kangaroo that had apparently been killed with a blow to the head; a fish weir across what is now called the Kalgan River; and what appeared to be systematic firing of the land.’ (R. Appleyard. ‘ Vancouver’s Discovery and Exploration of King George’s Sound’ in Early Days, Journal and Proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1986, pp.86-97). That was the start of colonial settlement. As far as the lake is concerned well initially the settlers tried to do the right thing and in 1887 the Albany Municipal Council applied to the state government for permission to make the Lake and some of its surrounding bushland a botanical park. This lasted up until 1900 when it became a rubbish dump for the city of Albany. This sad state continued until 1972 when it was decided by the department of fisheries and fauna to turn the lake into a water fowl reserve.  Very quickly the community got on board with initially a bird-walk being established by the Apex club of Albany in 1980. By 2004 a walk around the lake had been completed and the lake was given protected status. In 2018 there was a ‘community planting’ of some 22,000 trees and understory plants to provide a ‘biodiversity corridor’ and habitat for endangered wildlife such as the western ring tailed possum.

 

Brush Bronzeing, by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brush Bronzeing, Phaps elegans, Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f5.7 at ISO 2500.

 

Every time we go to Albany I always visit Lake Seppings. I love walking around the edge of the lake and observing all the wildlife. I see it in many ways as a beacon of hope. The local community came together and have made a serious and worthwhile attempt to restore the lake to what it once was it still has a long way to go before it reaches its former status but it is a very good start. For the Nyoongar I hope that the recent claim for compensation for the loss of their traditional lands succeeds and can bring them some way of moving forward.

 

Red-winged Fairy-wren by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-winged Fairy-wren, Malarus elegans, Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000, f7.1 at ISO 1000 with -1 stop exposure compensation.

 

New Holland Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
New Holland Honeyeater, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae subsp. longirostris, Lake Seppings, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3at ISO 800.

 

Yoondoordo

Yoondoordo by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus) is known to the Nyoongar people of the south west of Western Australia as yoondoordo. Oyster Bay, Lower King, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk 2 with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/2000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 400.

 

I’ve got to say of the bird types raptors, or birds of prey, are my favourite. The way they hover above the landscape looking for prey or ride the thermals brings a quickening to my heart. Probably a corny thing to say but I really enthralled by their power and majesty –  they are the epitome of an apex predator. It’s not just the large raptors like wedge tailed eagles that do this but the smaller species such as falcons and kites as well. I’m lucky that where I live I often see birds of prey hunting and I’ve shared some  photos on the blog of collared sparrowhawks, nankeen kestrels, and brown goshawks over the years.

 

Yoondoordo by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Look at the talons on that! Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus), Oyster Bay, Lower King, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk 2 with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 400.

 

When we started making plans to spend Christmas in Albany I was excited because it would mean that I’d be able to photograph Eastern Ospreys at a nest site near where we staying. So when we set out I made sure I had the necessary kit to take advantage of the opportunity. I spent a very happy Christmas Day filming these wonderful animals.