Possibly The Best Zoom Lens For Your DSLR
Sigma recently released an APS-C lens that rivals nearly all other zoom lenses I’ve seen in its range, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art. I haven’t tried it myself but I’m dying to try it on my Canon EOS 7D to see how it performs given the rave reviews.
UPDATE March 1st, 2014: I bought it today and love it already. I’ll my post review shortly
What’s remarkable about this lens is its extremely large and constant maximum aperture. That small f/1.8 value is fantastic as it means a lot of light gets into the lens AND it continues to do so even as you zoom in.
Most high-end constant aperture lenses are usually expensive and max out at f/2.8 or f/4. To have one that’s relatively affordable and has a constant max aperture of f/1.8 is literally unheard of. The suggested retail is $1160 but the promotional price is $800. At that price, it’s groundbreaking to say the least and it’s a game changer for those without a full-frame sensor camera.
The key thing to understand with this lens is that it’s not for full-frame cameras. The most popular and comparable option for full-frame shooters is a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Since full-frame cameras have inherently shallower depth of field and better performance at higher ISO, having a f/1.8 constant aperture zoom creates a true equivalent for those of us with cropped-sensor cameras. As noted in some early reviews, full-frame shooters still benefit from a slightly broader focal length zoom range with 24-70mm vs. Sigma’s 28.8-56mm equivalent, but this really levels the playing field and does so affordably. I say affordable given Canon’s version of the 24-70mm f/2.8 is a whopping $2300 while Nikon’s “only” at $1900.
CameraStuffReview summarizes this point well a bit more technically:
A picture taken with a 35mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor, shot at f/2.8 and ISO 200, provides – in terms of depth of field and bokeh – a similar image as shot with the Sigma 18-35mm Art on a APS-C sensor camera with the same shutter speed, f/1.8 and ISO 100. Due to the difference in ISO is also full-frame relationship between cameras, and APS-C cameras wiped away a large part of the difference in signal-to-noise.
Here’s a summary of the important technical details:
- Aperture Range: f/1.8-16
- Designed for APS-C-Sized Sensors
- 35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 28.8-56mm
- Hyper Sonic AF Motor
- Internal Focusing and Zoom Design
- Four Aspherical & 5 SLD Glass Elements
- 9 Rounded aperture blades for smooth bokeh
- Super Multi-Layer Coating
- Minimum focusing distance of 28cm (12cm in front of lens)
- Compatible with Sigma USB Dock for firmware upgrades and focus adjustments
Internal focusing and zoom means the lens doesn’t move in-and-out when you zoom or focus and the front element won’t rotate at all. This is ideal in that it’s more robust, won’t trap sand/dust/dirt and a filter or matt-box attached to the lens won’t rotate on you unexpectedly.
One might think such a lens would be quite soft but early reviews attest to its sharpness and the lens measuring scientists at DxOMark have proof in the numbers. This is a real winner for Sigma and it’s earned my respect for what they can produce.
This comparison table by DxOMark says it all given it’s now the best performing APS-C zoom in their entire database of lenses. It sits above the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and even my beloved all-white Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM! That’s amazing.
What it does not have is optical stabilization (OS). This is a little less important at wide angles and fast apertures but it would have been an amazing edition. That said, it would probably push the price above $1000 so it may have been a wise choice by Sigma to keep it priced for the general market. I would suspect a second generation of this lens may have stabilization.
The other obvious negative is it’s size and weight which are inevitable given the specs. It comes in at a hefty 1.78 lb (811g). The zoom range is a bit limiting (28.8 to 56mm equivalent) but it could still easily replace a couple primes you’d otherwise buy and have to carry around and switch out on-the-go.
Mounts and Availability
The Canon mount version is available now but on back order (understandably) and other mounts are coming soon it seems. Below are links to the lens pages on B&H for each of the available mounts. You can be notified when it will be available.
Myself, I’d order one now but I’m still thinking of going full-frame in a year or two so I’m hesitating. It’s so damn tempting however. If I had to repurchase my gear tomorrow, a Canon EOS 70D and this lens would be a killer combination for just $2000. Perhaps I’ll get this and hold off on a full-frame for a while!
The 9 rounded aperture blades appear to create pleasing and smooth areas in the out-of-focus areas we lovingly call bokeh. Here’s a video testing it out from f/1.8 to f/16 in a number of conditions:
It’s also reportedly very good at holding focus while you manually zoom in and out but not perfect as you can see here:
Here’s some early reviews…
UPDATE March 1st, 2014: Like I said above, I’ll post my own review shortly