Sigma has a USB dock for its newer lenses that allows you to update the lens's firmware and customize some of the lens's core functions like autofocus and optical stabilization. Here's how the USB dock works and what you can do with it.
With their newer lines of lenses, Sigma has introduced a USB dock system. With a typically opaque product name–USB Dock UD-01–it’s a small accessory that attaches to the mount end of newer Sigma lenses and lets you perform various software and firmware-based tweaks.
It’s used in tandem with a dedicated desktop app, Sigma Optimization Pro. The app works on Windows and Mac.
Here’s a rundown of how the USB dock works and what you can do with it in combination with Sigma lenses.
The USB dock acts as an interface between the computer and your lens. You simply attach the dock to the end of the lens, using the same kind of mounting method you’re used to for attaching the lens to a camera. There’s a USB cable that goes into your computer. And then you fire up the Sigma Optimization Pro app.
First of all, it’s worth pointing out that the lens dock isn’t required to use the new Sigma lenses that are in their Art, Contemporary, or Sports lines. The lenses will work just fine if you attach them to your camera and start shooting. But if you want to tweak the lenses, customize their settings, or update their firmware, you’ll need the dock. Some Sigma lenses are sold bundled with the dock; with others it’s an optional extra with an MSRP of $59.
Nikon F-mount, Canon EF-mount, Pentax K-mount, Sigma SA-mount, and Sony A-mount.
And it only works with Sigma lenses–you can’t use it with Nikon or Canon glass, for instance.
When Sigma first launched the dock system I was a bit skeptical of the need to update a lens’s firmware. After all, the vast majority of lenses don’t have this option and yet manage to work just fine. It’s normal to update digital cameras, but lenses? Not so much.
But after seeing what Sigma has been doing with it in the time since, I’ve changed my tune. It turns out that the ability to update the lens firmware after the lens has already been launched can be very useful indeed. And it also makes sense. Unlike Nikon and Canon, who have access to the secret sauce of their own cameras and even ones they plan to release in the future, Sigma has to respond to what the camera manufacturers put out. (Yes, I know there are Sigma cameras in the wild, but their numbers are dwarfed by Canon and Nikon.)
It means that Sigma can make improvements to the software that improve performance. The types of things that can be corrected include overexposure problems with specific camera combinations and improving autofocus accuracy. It can also be used to address performance issues with newly released cameras. And one recent example grabbed my attention–a firmware update for the 150-600mm lenses that sped up the autofocusing system by up to 50 percent. That’s a big improvement, especially if you’re shooting sports or wildlife.
Alongside the firmware update section is the customization menu. It’s here that you can set your preferences in focusing behavior and vibration reduction mode.
Not every feature is available with every lens. With lenses that don’t have vibration reduction, for instance, tweaking that option with the dock obviously isn’t an option. The screenshots I’m showing here are when using a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport.
If you find that your lens is back focusing or front focusing, you can tweak the setting. This focus calibration is applied in the lens itself and is separate from calibrating in the camera.
With a zoom lens like the 150-600mm you’re given the option to fine tune at specific focal lengths. It’s not a magic solution–you’ll still need some way to measure the focusing error–but it’s a handy way to correct focusing issues without needing to apply it for every specific camera-lens combination.
If you want to control the manual focus override sensitivity–or turn it off completely–you also have that option.
The 150-600mm Sports includes two customization settings, C1 and C2. You can use these to set your own combination of settings that are then quickly available. The aspects you’re able to customize are the speed of the autofocus, focus limiting (e.g.,. to prevent the AF from hunting at close range if you only need to use it for subjects at a distance), and the type of optical stabilization setting.
To save the settings, the data needs to be written to the lens’s own built-in memory. That’s going to overwrite the firmware. So it’s very important that the process isn’t interrupted by disconnecting the dock or closing the app. As is typical with many other devices, if the firmware writing is interrupted it can brick your device and turn it into a large and very expensive paperweight.
You can find the dock’s instruction manual here [PDF].
The in-app guidance is pretty bare and doesn’t explain well (or, sometimes, at all) what each setting does. Unfortunately, the online version just repeats what you see in the app, so it’s not much more use when it comes to setting the options. Your best bet is to refer to the instruction manual for your lens if you want to know the difference between things like Dynamic View Mode and Moderate View Mode.
The first time I fired the app up I got a green light in the top right that said connected but didn’t have any options. It turns out that I didn’t have the dock properly mounted. You have to make sure it clicks noticeable in place. I was initially confused by the screen that looks like this:
That extra security precaution is deliberate–if the lens became disconnected while updating the firmware you can brick the camera. So it tight, secure grip is a good thing.
If the dock isn’t registering on your computer, three things worth trying:
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