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Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DG HSM "A"

Review Date: Oct 15, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Size, speed, out of focus renderings, weight
More CA than I would like, but still acceptable

A few years ago I owned the DG (non-ART) version of this lens. I loved it on a D7000, as I could use the camera's AF fine-tuning to produce wonderful shots. However, when I moved primarily to FX and only had a D5100 for vacations, I wasn't as happy. Front-focusing issues plagued the lens and my shots, and I couldn't make the adjustments on the smaller camera. I ended up selling both the lens and camera.

When the ART version hit the market, I was very excited - until I saw the retail price. I couldn't justify the cost of the lens for what was essentially a travel camera (D5300). I began looking for one in the used market - and finally found one for a decent price.

Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was the excellent build. I liked the finish much more than the older version. I also noticed that it balanced really well when attached to a D5300. It's quite a bit smaller and lighter (and MUCH less expensive) than the Sigma 35 1.4, so it would be perfect for travel - if it produced good photos.

At first glance, the photos seemed great. Sharp in the center, but softening a bit on the outer edges. I noticed the CA in high contrast shots, but that was expected, as my first version produced the same. I decided to do some pixel peeping, and noticed that there was a slight front-focusing issue with the lens. I suspected this might be the case, so I bought the Sigma USB dock. The program interface was simple to use, and after only two attempts, I managed to eliminate the focusing issue. The "Dirty Thirty" was back! I immediately sold my Nikon 35 1.8 lens and have been enjoying the Sigma ever since.

My conclusion is that if you can stay away from the outermost focusing points, this is a very capable lens that is a lot of fun to shoot. I would definitely recommend that you have the post-processing software to remove the CA (if you're picky about that).

Nikon D5300

Review Date: Jun 19, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $525.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Size, low-light performance, built-in WiFi capabilities
None yet

I picked up this camera because I wanted a lightweight, travel camera that would be more versatile than a point-and-shoot. I also liked the fact that it had built-in WiFi and GPS capabilities. At the time, it was the only DSLR that included both without the need for an external dongle. The camera came with the 18-140 kit lens - which turned out to be a very capable lens in its own right.

I've found the camera to be a lot of fun. It's took a while to get used to the menus, but once I learned how to add my most frequently used items to the "My Menu" screen, making adjustments on the fly has become much easier. The rotating screen is a big hit with those who shoot DSLR video, but I'm not one of them. However, I do like the fact that I can close the screen before I put the camera back into my bag - which eliminates the chance of scratches during transport.

The D5300 is comfortable in my hands, and the AE-L/AF-L button is positioned perfectly for thumb use as a focusing mechanism. Assigning that button to focusing duty was a snap. Other buttons, such as the zoom in/out buttons are placed in relatively intuitive positions, albeit they are a bit small. With lenses the size of the 18-140 or the Tamron 17-50 (both with 67mm filters), the camera balances nicely in my hands. Larger lenses can be used, but the nice balance will be diminished and the camera will be a bit front-heavy.

As for performance, the camera produces excellent images. The auto white balance is very accurate, and the in-camera distortion control works quite well with ultrawide lenses such as my Sigma 10-20. Focusing speed with AF-S lenses depends on the individual lens motor, but even with my old Tamron 17-50, I am pleased with the results. Low-light focusing is usually not a problem except in instances of VERY low lighting.

Battery life is excellent - unless you are using the WiFi or GPS functions. Using these will turn the camera into a battery eating machine. The good news is that the batteries are really small so you can drop several into your camera bag without weighing it down. I keep two extras in my BlackRapid RS-4 camera strap for times when I am without my bag.

I like the Retouch Menu, although I don't use many of the items in it. I do use the "Trim" (crop) function quite a bit. It's a handy tool to have when you want to crop a photo before sending it via WiFi to your phone for sharing with others. I've added the "Trim" function to the "My Menu" list for ease of access.

My only two gripes about the camera are the previously-mentioned small buttons on the back of the camera, and the 24MP file size. The smaller buttons are unavoidable due to the large rear LCD screen. But the large files produced by the camera really slow down my photo transfer/processing time. A 16MP file would have been perfect for this camera.

I really enjoy shooting with this camera. Coupled with a quality lens, it is truly one of Nikon's outstanding offerings.

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]

Review Date: Jun 14, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $200.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharpness, weight
Focusing speed isn't extremely fast, but it hasn't been a problem.

I've owned several copies of this lens. Initially, I used it on a Nikon D40 as a lightweight travel lens. I moved on to a D200, D300, and D7000. It performed best on the D7000. However, I moved to a full frame camera (D700) and sold my last copy. Recently, I sold the D700 in favor of a Df, and picked up a D5300 as a travel camera because both bodies could share batteries and SD cards.

My D5300 came with the 18-140 kit lens which is a very decent lens in its own right, but is definitely lacking in low-light performance - as well as with subject separation. I decided to check into another (3rd) copy of the Tamron. In the past, I'd found the lens to work better with bodies with AF fine tuning, so I kept my expectations low. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lens produced stunning images, even wide open. The colors are rich and vibrant, and the contrast is excellent. The internal motor won't bring subjects into focus as quickly as the AF-S Nikon, but it's fast enough for my purposes. I've found it to offer 95% of the performance of the Nikon 17-55 at less than half the weight, so I sold it. I also sold my 24-70 2.8 in favor of the Tamron 28-75 - which produced practically identical shots.

I guess I can say that I am now a dedicated Tamron fan. I own both the 17-50 and 28-75, as well as a 24-135 (perfect inexpensive FX walkaround lens), the 17-35 2.8-4.0 (practically as good as the Nikon 17-35 2.8), and the 90mm 2.8 macro (simply amazing). I've got less than $1000 invested in these five lenses. I sold my Nikon 17-55, 24-70, 17-35, 14-24, and 105VR...and pocketed the $3500 difference without losing much in the way of image quality. I'm an advanced amateur, and no longer shoot paid gigs on a regular basis, but I wouldn't hesitate to take my humble kit out on a wedding shoot.

Tamron 24-135MM F/3.5-5.6 AD Aspherical (IF) Macro

Review Date: Dec 28, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $100.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: SHARP!!! Excellent focal range. VERY good build. Inexpensive
Slight CA in high contrast shooting.

I needed a walkaround zoom for my D700, but I simply refused to pay $1000+ for the 24-120 f/4 simply to take vacation shots. I've also owned a couple different copies of the 28-105, which was a good lens as well. But after reading the reviews of this lens, and subsequently finding one, I took a chance.

I'm glad I did, and I've been nothing but impressed with the performance of this lens. It's sharp across the frame, with the exception of the corners. The colors are vibrant and nicely saturated. The distortion isn't as bad as I expected (but not as good as the Nikon 28-105). It's also an older lens that doesn't have VR, or VC, or OS, or whatever Tamron calls their vibration control mechanism. However, I've found that I can shoot at 135mm wide open and still get great shots. I believe the nice heft of the lens strikes a wonderful balance on the D700, and I'm able to hold the camera steady.

It just feels good in my hands. I've tried several lenses that fell in the same general focal range:

*28-105 (twice)
*24-120VR (the older version)
*24-85 AF-S

None of these lenses combine the sharpness, focal range, build quality, and balance that the Tamron provides. And while I haven't directly compared it to the 24-120/4, I'm satisfied to the point that the Nikon lens simply doesn't interest me. And I've still got a few bucks left in my pocket.

***EDIT (5/20/2016)
I've picked up a Df and found that this lens partners with it quite well. The excellent low-light performance of the camera allows me to ramp up the shutter speed, thus eliminating most camera shake. For such a relatively inexpensive lens, it certainly delivers quality photos. I'm still as excited about it today as I was 4+ years ago.