What is the cheapest, reasonably light and compact minimal excuses digital path to a pleasing 50mm-ish focal length lens and camera experience?
I may be alone, but this is a constant question for me. Why?
Film is to blame. Little makes me happier than running around with a simple SLR and 50mm prime. They are relatively compact and affordable while capable of fantastic images. As an added bonus they usually feel good in hand are easy on the eyes.
My current favorites:
Contax 137 MA Quartz/Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.7
So on and so forth (all film camera reviews here).
DSLRs are not the best stand-ins. They tend to be considerably more expensive, larger, and heavier than their film predecessors. My favorite DSLR lens/camera combo was the Pentax K-1 and the Sigma DG EX 50mm f/1.4.
But that set up would strain the wrist or neck that carried it for any amount of time. Additionally, the set up was a bit dear to carry around also.
Crop DSLRs are great (D3300, K-3, K-70, and so on)…
…but like their full-frame counterparts, they can be a bit large and heavy for everyday use.
MFT mirrorless is a fine choice, but I no longer consider them seriously now that APS-C mirrorless cameras have dropped in size and price. Though I have tried. Link to my last attempt here. Personal preference.
Mirrorless full-frame came close with the A7III or A7II and Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8. They performed together spectacularly.
But what did this combination in was the pure precious-ness of the bodies themselves. While inexpensive for what they are (modern full-frame cameras) they are far too costly for me to consider them a reasonable alternative to knock around film bodies that cost me as little as $50. The same goes for Nikon, Panasonic, and Canon (which I tried and really liked) mirrorless full-frame.
So what of the mirrorless crop cameras then?
Canon and Nikon mirrorless crop cameras do not have a lot of great, bright normal equivalent prime AF lens options. But with Canon, Sigma has recently come to the rescue with these same three lenses.
The NX300 and 30mm f/2 set up performs well…
…and I can work around the lack of a viewfinder but slower focus and it being an orphan mount are a problem.
Film-ish digital cameras would seem to be Fuji’s domain all day. They have the control layout, look, and lenses down for certain.
Any Fuji body with the 50mm-ish equivalent 35mm f/1.4 is capable of great images as well.
So close. But while newer Fuji bodies sport competitive AF speeds and feature sets those that exist at my end of the value curve (X-T100 and X-E2) lack a bit when compared to the digital brand I am most accustomed to, Sony. That Fuji pixie dust is intoxicating and I was caught up. In isolation that would have been fine, but left me wanting AF speed-wise when shooting them back to back with the A7 twins. Add to that the ability to share lenses across both sensor sizes and a return to Sony seemed inevitable.
Not really though.
Competent, affordable bodies are not a problem for Sony. Ergonomics and battery life put aside I will put the geriatric, in digital terms, a6000 up against near any modern camera AF speed and accuracy wise and it will more often than not clean their clocks. And they can be had for little more than $200 used nowadays.
As I have mentioned before the problem with Sony APS-C options is their prime lens choices. Or lack thereof. 50mm-ish equivalent 30mm-35mm choices were either expensive, large, or poor IQ or AF performers. This is the main reason I have bought and sold more a6000s than I care to admit to.
What changed? Sigma happened.
I was a bit late to the party but in recent years while I was focused on full-frame options Sigma single-handedly saw fit to address the Sony no decent, affordable prime lens vacuum with not one, but three lenses. I put a toe in with the 16mm f/1.4 I purchased to use for video, along with the tilty flippy screen a6100 but was so impressed after it punched well above weight for stills.
More, please. An a6100’s video and tilty/flippy screen specs are not needed for a daily driver where affordability is key so I picked up yet another used a6000 (silver this time) to pair with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. Their combined price is less than many lenses or cameras alone. While the 16mm is hardly what anyone would call large the 30mm manages to be even smaller. Combined they are not only light and compact, and easy on the pocket but also easier on the eyes than I expected.
In my universe, this is the lens the a6000 has been waiting for. The decent optical performer (and now discontinued) Sigma Art 30mm f/2.8 that came before it…
(Shot below playing paparazzi for my better half as she was being interviewed by a local news team.)
…was not a good performer when it came to AF speed. This is a no-no on a camera with before its time AF speed and accuracy capabilities like the a6000. I am now happy to report that the Sigma Contemporary 30mm f/1.4 keeps up with the a6000 all day.
Is the a6000/30mm combination perfect? No. So let us get that out of the way first.
- Battery life.
- Carry extras or cough up the loot for the a6600 with the larger battery.
- Once you have had as many a6000s as I have had you learn to leverage the fn menu, programmable buttons, and memory presets and keeps it pushing. This has become a non-issue for me.
- No IBIS.
- The film or Fujifilm cameras before it did not have this either. A good tradeoff for a small, affordable solution. Or you could purchase an a6500 or a6600.
- Less than $600 camera and lens combined.
- These APS-C Sigma lenses put out full-frame like performance in my opinion. Unlike other crop solutions I have used I do not feel anything is lacking IQ wise.
- Small and Light
- At this bright of an aperture at f/1.4, I do not know of a smaller and lighter lens.
- A perfect digital chuck in the bag alternative to the film cameras I typically carry with me.
- AF Speed and Accuracy
- I recently went on about the AF performance of the a6100. Well, it started here. The a6000 still has few peers AF wise. Add in the price point and I cannot think of any other cameras that can keep up.
These Sigma lenses single-handedly make Sony APS-C cameras a viable stills system for me.
So looks like there is one more Sigma to go. Here is an ongoing gallery and a few early sample shots below.
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