I've been fantasizing about owning a macro lens for quite a while. I think I'm definitely drawn to close-up photography, and I've had quite the love affair with my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens over the past 2 years, but the 1.5ft minimum focusing distance has definitely been noticed at times. For a long time I had the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on my wishlist, as it seemed the most highly recommended. I was even able to borrow one at one point to play with, which was much fun. But with a $500 price tag, it was going to be tough to fit into the budget. I also wondered about the 100mm focal length-- especially with my cropped-sensor camera, would that be too narrow for everyday (mostly indoor) use? How often would I really swap out the lens for macro shooting? I'm still a bit squeamish about switching lenses, paranoid about dirtying up my sensor too much.
Then someone on flickr pointed me to the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG macro lens as a possible (cheaper) alternative. Looking through sample pictures taken with it, and reading reviews, I was blown away by how consistently good they were (hard to find when researching photo equipment... or most anything, really). One potential downside to choosing a 3rd party lens is that quality control is supposed to be looser, so you have a higher chance of getting a bad lens. But, it seemed if you got a good one the quality was comparable to Canon's lens, and I had to admit I liked the idea of a 50mm focal length better (perhaps not as good for shooting insects close up, but I'm willing to sacrifice that for having an overall more versatile lens). And, it's almost half the price of the Canon lens. I made a note to keep this lens in mind for whenever I might be seriously shopping.
Christmas came around, and my dad offered me a nice cash gift to help pay for a lens. I decided to go for the Sigma. I've had it for a few weeks now, and I have to say... love at first sight.
The photos are beautiful. Sharp (and with delicious bokeh), gorgeous colors, at least to my eyes. Photos tend to come out slightly brighter than with other lenses, and I'm not sure if that's just random or attributed to the lens itself. The auto-focus is VERY fast. I was surprised-- even without the limitor switch on it seems to focus almost instantly. I've only had a handful of instances where it kept searching and couldn't find anything to focus on, and that tended to be when I was trying to focus on my all-black cat in lower light. So that's been a very pleasant surprise. I've been using manual focus for macro shots, and it's been surprisingly easy (especially since I discovered I could hold the shutter button halfway and then turn the focus ring so that the focus points in the viewfinder blink red when that part of the view comes into focus, providing me with nice feedback till I start to trust my eyes a bit more).
FYI- The picture of D sleeping was edited in Lightroom (colors), and I think I did some very light tweaking to the rose shot and the one of D sucking his thumb. The others are SOOC.
This lens has not left my camera since I got it, and I fear my trusted and beloved "nifty fifty" will get much less use now. Which makes me a little sad. I would almost consider selling it, but it's such an inexpensive lens to buy new I doubt I could get much for it. And, I've also grown a bit of a sentimental attachment to it (silly, I know, but true) so don't think I'd be able to part with it anyway. But that's been the one single potential down-side I've experienced so far with the Sigma lens. I am a very happy camper. =)
PS- Just so it's clear, I'm simply reviewing a lens I've come to love. I have not received any sort of compensation for writing this, nor do I expect to. Just sharing info.