Sigma USB dock review (part 1)


We try to keep our reviews concise. Therefore it is not often that we have to spread a review over more than one page. But this time we couldn't avoid it. The Sigma USB dock is an innovative concept for maintenance and customizing your for lenses. The USB dock and the accompanying Sigma Optimization Pro software allow you to update the firmware of every Sigma Art, Contemporary or Sports lens yourself. In addition you can fine-tune the autofocus, in case you want to correct any front-focus or back-focus. Moreover, on the "Sports" lenses you can customize the AF speed, the focus limiter, and the OS function to your own preference. As an introduction to our USB dock review in part 2, which will be posted in a few weeks, we will start with describing here what you can do with the Sigma USB-dock. That will also buy us some time to try it out and test it in real-life.

Sigma USBdock test
The Sigma USB dock looks like the cap that you use to cover the lens mount with, when it's not attached to the camera. But it features an USB cable that connects the Sigma USB dock with your computer. Similar to lens-caps, the USB-docks are available for different mounts: Nikon, Canon and Sigma. As of right now, the Sigma USB dock only functions with a limited amount of Sigma lenses, since it has been developed for the 3 new production lines for Sigma lenses (Art, Contemporary, Sports), except the DN lenses for compact-cameras. The Sigma Optimization Pro software will identify each lens through its unique serial-number.

Sigma Optimization Pro download & manual

Before you can use the USB dock, you will have to download and install the accompanying software: "Sigma Optimization Pro" download. Sigma Optimization Pro is the software you use to tweak your lenses at your own judgment on your computer. Above, you can watch the video of Sigma Benelux on Youtube, where I am interviewed about my experiences with the USB dock and its software. Sigma USB dock offers the following:

1. Lens firmware update
2. Lens customization: Optical Stabilization
3. Lens customization: Focus Limiter Settings
4. Lens customization: AF Speed
5. Lens customization: Focus Setting

Sigma USB dock download

The installation guides itself and went flawless. On the page where you can download Sigma Optimization Pro, you will find the minimal system requirements and instructions for installing the software on Windows or IOS/ Macintosh. For the curious amongst us; it is only useful to install the software if you own a Sigma USB dock, otherwise you won't get past the welcoming-screen. We tested the current version (v1.0.0) of the Sigma USB dock. After you connect your USB dock with your computer and started up Sigma Optimization Pro you can find the manual as a pdf file under the 'Help' button.

Using the USB dock (1): Firmware update through internet

After you've installed the Sigma Optimization Pro software, you connect the lens to the USB dock. Next you connect the USB dock to the computer with the USB cable. If you're connected to the internet, Sigma Optimization Pro starts to check if there are any updates available for the type of lens you've connected to your computer. If so, it will give you the option to install the newest firmware of your lens. New firmware enhances the performance of your lens. I can image that this option also could make other things possible, for example to realize compatibility with future cameras; when a new camera comes on the market, you can adjust the lens with a new firmware update. As of right now, you will still have to send your lens to the importer for these kinds of adjustments. You'll have to miss your lens for a while. And of course you don't want that. The Sigma USB dock makes that part of the past.
Indeed, when we connected the Sigma 120-300mm S to the USB dock we were asked if we wanted the latest firmware update. Yes, we did. And installing it was as easy as pie.
Sigma usb dock firmware update

Using the USB dock (2): Adjust Optical Stabilization

At first we thought this option to be a little bit far-fetched. Personally I never have felt the need to fine-tune the optical stabilization. I'm already satisfied when I have access to two types of optical stabilization: standard and panning. Sigma Optimization offers 3 options for optical stabilization: Standard (default), Moderate View Mode and Dynamic View Mode. I couldn't exactly make out the differences between those, using the manual's description. We're going to figure out what these differences are and if we can notice those in reality miniOSsettings

Using the USB dock (3): Focus Limiter Settings

When using a wide-angle lens, cameras focus super-fast from infinite to the shortest focal length. A telephoto lens with a long focal length focuses much slower. A large part of the focus range is used to focus the shortest distance to a couple of meters distance. For example, a 300 m telephoto lens uses 70% of the focus range to focus till 10 meter and just 30% to focus between 10 meter and infinity. For that reason many telephoto lenses feature a focus limiter, which limits the focus range to a set distance of a couple of meters. The AF motor thus has to travel a shorter distance and therefore decreases focus time. Sigma Optimizer Pro offers the possibility to adjust the focus limit to your own preference with Sigma A, C or S lenses with a focus limiter switch. Currently only the newest Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 features this. You can adjust as well the shortest as the longest distance. When you use your lens in reality, you will switch the focus limiter on or off. miniFocusLimiter

Using the USB dock (4): AF preferences

You've the choice out of 3 AF-speeds: Standard (default), Motor's drive priority and Focus accuracy priority. When speed is of the utmost importance Motor's drive priority is your best choice. It is a big nuisance for sports or nature photographers if the AF hunts a little to achieve optimal focus just at the supreme moment. You just want to shoot! At the Focus accuracy priority setting the priority lies with exact focus. The Standard setting is somewhere between these two. miniFocusandCustom

Using the USB dock (5): Focus settings fine-tuning


Many SLR cameras don't have the focus unit and the sensor in the same place. So it can happen that when you use a certain lens, the camera thinks based on the AF-sensor that the focus is correct, but in reality the camera has focused right in front of the object (front focus) or right behind the object (back focus). On some modern SLR cameras you can fine-tune the autofocus by importing a correction factor for every single lens. This reduces front-focus and back-focus. But, this solution isn't perfect. It's impossible to correct based on the distance you want to focus on. You can't import multiple correction factors for multiple focal lengths for telephoto lenses.
The Sigma USB dock allows you to fine-tune the autofocus for 4 different distances for each individual lens. In addition you can do this for 4 different focal lengths with telephoto lenses, as illustrated by the image above. Many photographers probably won't use this feature, because they are satisfied with the way their camera focuses. But those who are in pursuit of the ultimate focus at every focal length and distance can enjoy themselves with the USB dock.

Part 2 with our real-life experiences of the Sigma USB dock will follow soon. You can read about the experiences with the USB dock of one of our readers at the English review of the Sigma 17-70mm Contemporary review.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.


Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Why is it necessary to optimize your lens? Should that not be done by the manufacturer himself? A lens ought to be good when you buy it new?
When a lens is not functioning alright you can always ask for a better one, can't you?

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Unfortunately, you are wrong Wouter. Not about lenses (or cameras) that ought to be good when you buy them new, of course. That should be the case.

First of all, the Sigma Optimizer software offers customisation settings which you can set...

Unfortunately, you are wrong Wouter. Not about lenses (or cameras) that ought to be good when you buy them new, of course. That should be the case.

First of all, the Sigma Optimizer software offers customisation settings which you can set according to your own taste. For example, you can define your own focus limit distances and tune the AF speed for sports lenses. Also you cadjust manual focus override according to your own taste. That has nothing to do with a good or a bad copy.

For SLR camera's you can buy a perfect lens, which works perfecttly well with one camera (conclusion: Lens and camera A are good) but not with another camera. (let's call it camera B).
With camera B it shows front- and / or backfocus, which can vary by focal length and by focusinf distance. And you "know" camera B is good as well, since you tested it earlier with other lenses. Adjusting the lens only, or one of the camera's alone, will not solve such AF problem. You sometimes need to tune a good lens for a good camera for the best performance.

Is it necessary to optimize a lens? It depends on how critical the photograher is. Some people strive for the perfect exposure, others don't bother a little bit out of focus.

This is a problem which is asociated with the AF sesnor of SLR camera's, which are not located at the sensor itself. Mirrorless camera's - or when you use liveview with an SLR camera - don't show that problem. By the way. it is very likely you will notice this pheneomen only with lenses with a very short depth of field (telephoto lenses and fast: < F2/8).
All high-end SLR camera's offer an AF micro adjustment (camera producers assume that the cheaper SLR's will not be used with these expensive lenses). This micro-adjustment is not to correct bad lenses, but to optimize the combination of a good camera and a good lens. The Sigma adjustment software is a perfect solution for every owner of a DSLR camera that doesn't offer micro-AF adjustment. Ans it offers much better precision and more options than in-camera AF micro-adjustment in the more expensive camera's.



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