I don’t get to do this very often, since most of the lenses I own and use are built so well that they don’t really wear out. Most of my lenses are Nikon’s Nikkor brand, and especially the older ones are build to last. The lens I am discussing today is not a Nikkor, though, but a Sigma 14mm f/3.5 of 1997 vintage. It was fairly well-built, but was “rode hard and put up wet” too many times, and finally just fell apart.
I bought this lens after a conclave of newspaper photographers in Enid, Oklahoma in the summer of 1997. One of them had an example of this lens which was, at the time, the only real wideangle lens for the digital cameras of the day. The sensors in those cameras were 16x20mm, even smaller than the APS-sized sensors of most popular digitals that followed, making the 14mm only modestly wide angled. Feeling that I would probably be going digital soon, I picked up one of these lenses and started shooting with it. Of course, at the time I was still using film, and a 14mm is an incredibly wide lens when shooting 35mm film. I found that I had to go out of my way to use it, and when I did, the results were a little odd for news and sports. I did make a few truly memorable images with it on film, including one of a severe thunderstorm with a lowering cloud base south of Ada in 1998.
In 2004, my photographer friend Michael and I took it with us on a hiking trip to southeastern Utah, where it acquired an ugly scratch on its huge front element. From then on, it require a bit of Photoshop skill to remove the grey fuzzy area the scratch produced in most of the images.
But the 14mm soldiered on for a while longer, until a couple of years ago its autofocus mechanism gave out, relegating it to being focused by hand.
Then this week I was searching for some other piece of gear when I saw it forlornly sitting in the back of the lens cabinet. I decided that since spring sports are done and it was going to be a light week, I’d put a few frames though it, just for kicks. When I picked it up, though, the aperture ring fell off in my hand, and I knew that the Sigma was dead.
Like I said, I don’t get to do this very often, so it is a fun little journey to take apart these complicated pieces of optics and gears and see how they are made. I got most of it disassembled, but stopped when the tip of one of my screwdrivers snapped off in a tiny screw in the bowels of the thing. Now my cranky old Sigma 14mm is a pile of odd souvenirs.