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Sigma is a Japanese, family run company that specializes in producing lenses and other accessories compatible with other brand systems. They also produce their own compact cameras and DSLR, but that is not our point of interest right now. The thing about Sigma is that they offer more affordable alternatives to the pro lenses made by the camera manufacturers, and usually the quality is very close. Some even argue that a few prime lenses are even better. Our focus is on zooms however in this series of articles. Obviously, cutting down prices means cutting down on something, so differences in areas like built quality and speed should be expected, but overall, here is the largest independent Japanese lens manufacturer who is capable of offering amazing optical performance at sometimes half the price of an “original” lens. Our three Sigma zoom lens picks.
12-24mm f4.5-5.6 AF II DG HSM
Read what other photographers are saying about the Sigma 12-24mm here.
This is a lens that kind of has its own class. You see, when you talk about an ultra wide angle lens designed for full-frame, one millimeter makes a significant difference and two is a whole different game. This is possibly the widest zoom lens available for full frame SLRs. It has the same focal length Canon and Nikon use for making wide angle lenses designed for APS-C cameras. By the way, it works great on those as well. Some nicknamed it Popeye because of its 122 degree field of view. The built quality is very good, and although you won’t get the same feeling you get from a Nikon 14-24mm 2.8G, it still feels very professional and reliable. The optical construction is made of 16 elements in 12 groups.
It is not a constant aperture zoom , so when shooting in less bright conditions, make sure to use a tripod or a camera with good ISO capabilities. Optical performance is generally very good , with some minor flaws on the corners. Distortion is very well controlled, given the extremely wide angle. Coma is also well corrected and astigmatism is quite low. There are four low dispersion elements that allow for optimal color rendition.
I really appreciate the compact size and reduced weight. Shooting all day with this lens will not make you feel like you’ve to the gym all day pumping iron. For that, its very good optical performance and the unbeatable price, I highly recommend it.
24-70mm f2.8 IF EX DG HSM
Read what other photographers are saying about the Sigma 24-70mm here.
It will not outperform a Canon 24-70 f2.8L, but it is very well built, very capable optically and costs half the price! It is pretty massive, but that should be expected in this class. The filter size is 82mm and it has been used by Sigma for many years on different lenses. Inside, it is made of 14 elements in 12 groups and special low dispersion coatings are a given.
Performance wise, it isn’t on the same page as its competitors. It is superb from f4 through to minimum aperture, but wide open at f2.8, sharpness is pretty much isolated in the center. The color rendition is good and the distortion is well controlled, however not the same can be said for chromatic aberration, which leaves a bit to be desired.
The HSM focusing is quite fast, and although not the most silent, it is a pleasure to work with. The focusing ring is also very smooth but the zooming ring is a bit on the heavy side, or maybe it just needs some adjusting to. Overall, this is a pro specification lens, that isn’t as big and heavy as its competitors. The quality is there , not at the same level as Canon, Nikon and Sony, but not light years away either. The price tag is probably what makes this lens a very, very attractive option and therefore I highly recommend it for anyone on a tighter budget.
70-200mm f2.8 OS HSM
Read what other photographers are saying about the Sigma 70-200mm here.
A company that produces lenses tends to be judged by its telezooms. I have no idea why that is, but it’s true. This is Sigma’s response to the already legendary Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS and the amazing Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII. Is it a worthy match? Not really. Is it a good lens anyway? It is a fantastic telezoom for 90% of all people photography. At 1,430g it’s lighter too! The optical construction is made of 22 elements in 17 groups and the filter size is ( surprisingly for a Sigma ) 77mm. They finally came to terms with the rest of the world and deiced to stabilize their wonderful instrument, thus including the OS ( Optical Stabilization) which is indeed very effective, but it’s no tripod ( none are).It also tends to slightly lag occasionally.
The performance is a bit of a mix. In the center , it doesn’t fail to deliver top quality , at all focal ranges, even at 2.8. In the corners, well, that’s a different story. It is significantly softer on the edges after 135mm, but then you have to ask yourself how many photos will you be taking at that focal length or higher with the need for absolute detail in all corners?
The focusing is very fast, although it’s no Nikon. Accuracy is pretty good, but results may differ depending on camera model. Keep in mind, no third party lens, regardless of model or brand, is 100% guaranteed to be fully compatible with your camera. In some cases, a bit of tweaking could be necessary if your camera allows it.
Color rendition is good, as is contrast. The overall feel is that of a high class lens and the results are very impressive , yet not entirely top quality. For this price however, you get the specifications and most of the quality you find the lenses that cost a lot more money , so , once again, in a situation of limited resources, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. Like I said, it will do a fantastic job in most cases and if you are a good photographer you will know how to use it at its best. If you’re not, not even the best glass in the world will help you anyway. But that’s another story.
All three of these Sigmas are prime examples of Japanese optical quality and it’s hard not to consider them considering the price tags.