With the release of Sigma's new USB dock and Optimization Pro Software many of you are probably asking yourselves why this $60 lens dock is so important. Well, if you haven't bought into Sigma's new lineup of contemporary, sport or art lenses, then it isn't. However, that means you are really missing out on some of the sharpest, highest quality lenses that Sigma has ever produced. Even bigger than that--you are missing out on some of the best lenses currently available. Check out our impressions of the 35mm f1.4 and the 18-35mm f1.8 to see for yourself.
Sigma lenses have undergone some serious changes lately. Sigma has redefined their focus (pun intended) to supply their users with consistently great lens quality. They are on a mission to perfect the image output of their lenses so much that they surpass the proprietary lenses sold by major manufacturers. They want their consumers to be able to make personal, finite adjustments in their lenses to best fit the photographer's own needs--on their own schedule and at their own convenience. That is, by no means, an easy task.
Criticism over Sigma's release of their new software and dock stems mostly from two concerns: that Sigma is being lazy by handing over lens adjustments to the consumer and that consumers will likely screw up their lenses by making these adjustments on their own. My response to the first concern is simple. Those that choose to purchase the USB dock are interested in the convenience factor of being able to make micro adjustments to their lenses without the hassle and inconvenience of sending their lenses back to the manufacturer. If you are a professional photographer, you don't have the luxury of losing the use of a lens for any amount of time. Using your equipment to create imagery is how you make money. I applaud Sigma for allowing the consumer to adjust their lenses to their own liking and to allow them to do it in the convenience of their own homes/studios and to do it on their own time frame. I also seriously doubt this will allow Sigma to become a lazy manufacturer and produce products that are sub-standard since the consumer can now make the adjustments on their own. Sigma's successful rebirth depends on their ability to produce high quality lenses that are sustainable for long periods of time. The lenses we have reviewed to this point are proving that image quality and build quality are among Sigma's highest priorities.
The second criticism is that consumers will royally mess up their gear. Well, it's hard to deny the reality of this concern. Whether intentional or unintentional, we as consumers tend to screw stuff up. That's why I thought a tutorial on how to use the software a dock would be helpful.
So how easy is it to use the dock and software? If you can put a USB drive into your computer, twist a lens onto a mount and download a piece of software then you will have no trouble with Sigma's Optimization Pro Software and USB dock. It's really just as easy as that. Here's the link to the software just in case you don't feel like searching the web for it.
Immediately after downloading the software and attaching a lens to the dock, a message pops up if there is a firmware update for the lens. You can choose whether or not to update it. It also allows you to read more information about the update if you want. The next three screenshots show the progression of updating the firmware.
What lens adjustments can I make with the software? The screenshot below shows the micro adjustments that can be made on the 17-70mm f2.8-4 lens. This lens has relatively simple adjustments. At various focal lengths small changes can be made to bring the focus closer or further from the original in focus point. That means you can make the adjustment to one end of the zoom, but not the other. Autofocus and optical image stabilization adjustments can also be made. Pretty cool. The 120-30mm f2.8 lens has even more opportunities to adjust settings. That lens allows you to have two custom settings that can be recalled by the moving of a switch on the lens. This lens' software also has a focus limiter setting, an AF speed adjustment and an OS adjustment setting.
The biggest thing to remember while adjusting the settings of your lenses is to hit the "rewrite" button. If you don't, your changes won't be saved. But don't be worried about making changes and then disliking the results. You can always reset your lenses to the default setting with a stroke of a key.
So, is the USB dock and software worth the cost and time investment of learning to adjust my own lenses? I think so (even if only for the firmware updates), but this software and dock is not for everyone. If you are content with your lenses the way they were shipped, don't feel the need to update your lenses' firmware or would prefer to ship your lenses back to the manufacturer for updates then save your $60. But if you like to have complete control of your equipment and don't have time for your lenses to be out of commission then the Sigma dock is a great use of your money.
The Optimization Pro software is available for both Mac and PC users. The dock mounts are currently available for Canon, Nikon and Sigma. Also, the dock is compatible with their new Contemporary, Sport and Art lenses unless they are designated as DN lenses. The dock sells for $60 and the software can be downloaded for free.