Cats make the ultimate pets. They're self cleaning, and if you left them a can-opener, they'd find a way to survive an extended absence, I'm sure. Every so often, devotees of these splendid creatures cram together, usually in the smallest and cheapest convention room that can be found, to show off their felines, have them adjudicated, and above all, discuss among themselves all the ins and outs of breeding exotic varieties.
Yesterday, Kathy and I went to a show in Halifax, NS, and found it to be true to form - especially the cramped and stuffy part. I love the cats, but I also go to these events to practice my photography. This time, I was armed with something quite different - on the way into Halifax, I bought a Sigma 50mm f1.4 Auto Focus Prime (not Zoom) lens, to at least try it out, on their 15 Day return policy. Mounted on my Canon EOS 5D Mk-1, this makes up the best camera - lens combination I've ever used, and it shows! In the past, I've done cat shows with one of my old manual fast primes, with good results, but the Sigma is super fast, and I'm beginning to see the advantage of having Auto Focus on a high end lens, especially where some motion is involved - the camera can truly follow the movement and retain sharp focus a lot better than I can manually.
In purchasing a lens of this type, I had a less expensive option, being Canon's own EF 50mm f1.4, and I actually have 15 days to decide. But while in the store, it seemed to me that in this case, the more expensive, heavier and much larger Sigma is the better choice. I know, there are people out there who still think that Sigma cannot possibly make a good lens, but by doing a direct comparison in the store, I could see right of the bat that the Canon had a lot more light fall-off in the corners, which was visible even on the old 5D's small and crappy rear display. The Sigma did not show anywhere near this amount of vignetting, so base on this alone, I made the Sigma my first choice to try out.
Shooting the cat show, I was amazed at how well this lens performed, and when I got home to my computer, even more amazed at the image quality. I used the lens at f2 all through the show - I felt this would be about right for close-ups to get the cat's whole face, and not just the tips of their noses in sharp focus. The lighting at the judges stations was adequate for me to have the camera set to ISO 800, and I was getting shutter speeds between 1/100 and 1/250 - plenty fast to stop action and avoid motion blur. I was not using RAW this time either - just "Medium Fine JPEG", and again, the image quality simply floored me! Other than cropping in GIMP, these are un-edited JPEGs - it's as if this lens was blowing a whole new spirit into my camera, as I usually shoot with RAW, and make adjustments to give photos a nice "pop"... totally unnecessary with this lens.
On the way home, at sunset, I tried a few scenic pics with the lens wide open (at f1.4) just to see if there is any sharpness at such a wide aperture, as reviewers all claim this lens is capable of. See for yourself:
Again, very impressive - I actually prefer the JPEGs straight from camera, which is something I've never seen before with any other lens I've used. Is it a keeper? The only other choice is Canon's own 50mm f1.4, which is highly regarded, and less expensive, but I don't think it is quite the lens that the Sigma is.