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La Grange, IL At Night With A Sigma 50mm f/1.4

Last week, I found myself in the Chicago area for a series of meetings with potential and existing customers. I was pretty excited about taking this trip to the Chicago area since it would give me the opportunity to finally meet in person a few good friends that I’ve come to have after years of relationship building over the phone. I had a series of very productive meetings, loved the time I spent with my friends and can’t wait to get back to the Windy City. Since I figured that I would get the opportunity at some point in time to get out on my own and sight see, I took the camera bag along for the ride. Coming along with me would be my trusty Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0 along with two rental lenses that I picked up at Borrowlenses.com the previous Saturday. I decided on the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lenses.

Why did I choose third-party manufactures this time around? Simple. I have been doing a lot of research on the internet over the last few months trying to find favorable reviews of third-party lens manufacturers as potential options to the usually more expensive Canon models. Obviously, Canon manufactured lenses will usually have the advantage since the manufacturer fabricates the lenses to work with their camera systems optimally. The third-party manufacturers then have to fabricate their own design on competitive models that don’t usually fit the bill as completely as the name brand manufacturers. The same concept goes for Nikon and others.

Tamron makes a great deal of lenses that use the Canon mount. They have a consumer grade line along with a pro line that usually has a few more bells and whistles to compete with the L series lineup of Canon’s while still coming in at a much reduced cost. I was fortunate to purchase an e-book a few months back on lighting and portraiture on a budget written by a working professional photographer. Besides being a great read with many pointers that I was able to walk away from and employ almost immediately, he went into detail on the gear he uses and his recommendations. The one thing that remained clear in his message was not to discard the third-party manufacturers and find yourself with brand name manufacturer blinders on when choosing your lenses.

Shooting with a Canon 5D, the author highly recommended the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 as a viable competitor to the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens that sells for three to four times the retail price. Armed with this information, I Googled the Tamron quite a bit to only keep stumbling on very favorable reviews by many reputable users. So, can that many people be wrong? I would have to check it out…

The other lens that I wanted to bring along was a fast prime lens, so I chose the 50mm range. Looking up reviews of the 50mm options in the third-party manufacturers, the Tamron 50mm lineup was given a thumbs up, but without resounding excitement. The Sigma, however, was highly praised as being as good if not better than the Canon alternative. I was able to rent the Canon 50mm f/1.4 from Gasser a few nights earlier, and although I was happy with the results, I noticed that the Canon produced a vignette effect wide open through f/1.8. The reviews of the Sigma all said that this problem didn’t exist with the f/1.4 model, so I took the leap of faith to rent it.

With this being my first prime lens experience, I found myself wishing that I could zoom in or out. Fortunately, prime lenses are the poor man’s zoom lens, since you just take a few steps forward or backward to “zoom” to the correct composition desired. I wouldn’t say that it’s as primitive as rubberbanding your cell phone to your head and calling it a hands-free device, but in the ballpark. I found the 50mm focal range to be just right as I walked around town trying it out. The focal range could let you come up real close on things if you walked close enough, while still giving you a tight wide-angle frame if you had something far enough away from you.

My first day in the Chicago area took me all the way up to Rosendale, WI to visit a good friend that I’ve been working with for almost 6 years. Although I am now in a different role at work, I will still be able to work closely with this gentleman and it was a great pleasure to finally meet him in person and share a meal. That area of Wisconsin was beautiful country and I wish I had brought the camera along. I figured it was only going to be business, so the camera stayed back at the hotel resting while I went on the crazy road trip free of any rest on the red-eye flight from San Francisco to Chicago. There sure are plenty of cows in Rosendale…

Once I got back to Chicago, I was able to get a few hours of rest before meeting up with the girls from one of our suppliers for dinner at the local Cheesecake Factory. Not only did I get to meet my favorite to girls in all the sugar industry in person for the first time, but they also invited two coworkers that made the evening completely awesome!! I had a great time that night with all four of them, even though I’m sure that they figured that I was “too quiet.” Truth be told, I wasn’t going to be able to get a word in edgewise, but I enjoyed all the commentary flying back and forth as conversations jumped from one topic to another.

Being on West Coast time, I was still rearing to go after dinner, even though most of them had to get back home. One of them did stay back and offered to take me into the quaint town of La Grange, IL that has a trendy shopping area. It was well past dusk, so I thought it would be the perfect time to break out the Sigma 50mm and see what it could do with such poor lighting. Not only was I impressed with its capability under low light, but I was amazed at the fast autofocus.

My Tokina is not the fastest focusing lens, so I automatically had associated third-party lens manufacturers with all having slow focusing motors. Boy, was I wrong…

The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is priced slightly higher than their competing Canon and Tamron models. The Sigma looks to retail slightly above the $500 mark, while the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is at about $400 and the Tamron equivalent is closer to the $300 range. Do you get much more for the added money on the Sigma? Compared to the Canon 50 f/1.4, I believe so. I didn’t experience the vignette effect on the Sigma while using it wide open. Not only that, I found that the lens shot wide open while still retaining very good sharpness through the image. Once you backed off to about f/1.8, the lens was so sharp that you’d probably cut yourself on an image of a razor!!

Most of the images that I am sharing tonight were all taken wide open. If I did stop down, I never went past f/2.8 due to the lack of lighting. One of the images featured below was of an alleyway that was almost pitch black that had paintings hung down the alley in a pattern. I was NOT expecting for that image to come out at all, especially since I was hand holding the camera. I opened the lens wide and shot hand-held to come up with a great image. Very impressive stuff!!

The strip had a nice assortment of boutique shops with restaurants that gave a quaint hometown feel. Although I found the area fairly light on foot traffic, I did take into consideration that it was a Monday night. I am sure that on weekends, that entire area is buzzing. They also had a series of handmade wooden clocks of wooden design that would be completely decorated in a different decor every half block or so. After passing a few, I decided to start photographing the few that I found interesting. Some of them had been vandalized, which was a real shame, but the majority of them remained untouched and still in working order.

So, I hope you enjoy a few images taken from La Grange, IL with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. Have a good night, all!!

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