In the world of photography, there are several different schools of thought when it comes to third party lenses. Some photographers love them, some photographers choose to only purchase lenses made by their camera manufacturer. Personally, I have never had a problem with third party lenses, and they make up about half of my current camera bag. So when I had the chance to try out the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM lens for APS-C cameras for about a month, I happily jumped on the opportunity to put it to good use!
Lens Features and Build
Right out of the box, it was evident that this lens is something special. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art Lens offers a focal range that makes it useful for a number of different genres of photography such as weddings, portraits, and family photography. As an added bonus, it offers a fast constant aperture (f/1.8) that’s practically unheard of in similar zoom lenses.
Sigma’s Art line has been getting a lot of buzz over the past couple of years for being high-quality lenses at an affordable price point, and this one certainly did not disappoint. Some third party lenses can have the tendency to feel plastic-y, but this lens is made of Thermally Composite Material, which both looks and feels sturdy and professional.
For size comparison: Left: the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 | Center: the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 | Right: the Canon 50mm f/1.8
This particular lens was physically larger than I expected based on other lenses in my bag, and it felt quite a bit heavier than I imagined as well. One weekend I took this lens to an RC air show, and several people commented to me that they wished they’d brought a telephoto lens like I had! It definitely isn’t a particularly small and compact lens. In terms of functionality, the zoom was heads above any other lens I own in terms of smoothness, and the auto-focus is fast and silent.
In order to test edge-to-edge sharpness of this lens, I used a tripod to photograph a brick wall at different focal lengths and apertures. Then I zoomed in and compared the top left-hand corner of each image to check for sharpness and vignetting.
Clockwise from upper left: 18mm at f/1.8; 18mm at f/16; 35mm at f/16; 35 mm at f/1.8. I cropped to include only the upper left-hand corner of each image to check for edge-to-edge sharpness.
When shooting wide open, some consumer lenses have a tendency towards vignetting and/or have a loss of sharpness towards the edge of the image that can be very frustrating as a photographer. In this case, I noticed no discernible difference in sharpness along the edge of the image whether I was shooting at f/1.8 or f/16, even when zooming in significantly on the image. I also didn’t notice any vignetting even when shooting at small apertures. In fact, any vignetting that you see on any of the images in this article was added in the post-processing phase.
I was really pleased with the performance of this lens, and had no issues with its edge-to-edge sharpness, vignetting, or lens creep, in the month that I tested it out.
In the Field: People Photography
I’m primarily a child and family portrait photographer, so those genres were the first places that I put the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 to the test. In terms of newborn photography, I typically shoot on location in the client’s home for newborn sessions. While I find this works very well for the comfort of both mom and baby, the one variable that can sometimes be difficult is the available natural light. In the case of photographing newborns in unpredictable lighting situations, having a zoom lens with such a fast aperture is a huge asset.
Next, I took the lens to the park with my kids, my nieces, and my nephew. Half of these kiddos were just about to move across the US, and so I wanted to be sure to take a few photos of them all together for our family. The Sigma 18-35mm stayed on my camera nearly the entire time we were at the park because it transitioned from a few semi-posed portraits to candid images of the kids playing together so seamlessly.
Though I typically prefer using a 50mm lens on the 60D for portraits (which is closer to 85mm when considering the crop factor), I was surprised at how useful the 18-35mm lens was for single-person portraits as well. The thing that I really loved about this lens was that with my kids, I often have to choose whether I want to photograph an event with a portrait bent, or a photojournalism one because sometimes there’s just not enough time to do both.
If we head to the fire station with the girls, I can capture portraits of them in the fire gear with my 50mm lens, or I can capture pullbacks of them with the trucks with my 24mm lens. I could have taken my zoom lens, but it doesn’t have the ability to shoot as wide open as I often prefer in portraits. The Sigma 18-35mm lens is the best of all worlds–it’s wide enough to shoot pullbacks with the firetrucks and offers the functionality to zoom in and shoot portraits with a beautiful smooth bokeh at the aperture that I prefer.
Overall, this is a really fantastic and functional lens for people photography. Whether you’re interested in portraits or weddings, this lens can handle nearly any people photography situation absolutely beautifully.
In the Field: Nature and Landscapes
Though my real passion is in people photography, there are lots of other genres of photography that I enjoy as a hobbyist. I figured that in reviewing this lens, it only made sense to put it through some of those paces as well.
Whether photographing wide landscapes or flower blooms up close, this lens didn’t disappoint. I should mention that this lens features a maximum aperture of f/16, which may or may not be sufficient for someone who specializes primarily in landscapes. For me, as someone who shoots people photography but occasionally wants to be able to photograph a beautiful sunset or landmark, a maximum aperture of f/16 is more than sufficient.
I did notice that even when shooting during the golden hour, this lens doesn’t tend towards large sun flares. Rather, it tends towards smaller sunbursts or small flares, which I find to be a benefit for both nature photography and for photographing people during the golden hour.
Lastly, I decided to use this lens to try out astrophotography. I’ve dabbled with photographing the moon before. But I haven’t had much success photographing stars because I just didn’t have the right lens that offered both a fairly wide angle and a fast aperture.
I was really pleased with the results of shooting the Sigma at 18mm, f/2.2, and 1600 ISO. Though I did notice some minor lens coma, it was far less noticeable than any other lens I’ve ever tried at similar settings. Again, astrophotography is not my specialty. However, it is something that I’ve enjoyed experimenting with on occasion, and it’s a bonus to me that a lens I’d primarily use for photographing people could also be used in this way as well!
This is a really fantastic lens. If I owned it, I’m certain that it would get a ton of use. I could absolutely envision it as being my “walking around” lens that is attached to my camera most of the time.
That said, the one thing that would prevent me from purchasing it is that at $799, it’s more than I typically like to spend for a lens that only works for APS-C cameras. My photography budget is definitely not unlimited, so I think long and hard before I make any new purchases. When I do make a purchase, I typically try to choose lenses and other equipment that will serve me now, while also being good investments as I look to the future. I love my Canon 60D, and it currently suits all of my photographic needs just fine. However, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I would never eventually upgrade to a full-frame camera. So I would be hesitant to invest this significantly in a lens that would not be able to transition with me.
All that said, this is where it is absolutely crucial that you consider your own approach to photography. Not every photographer in the world needs or wants a full-frame camera, and that is perfectly fine. If you are fairly certain that you don’t have plans to transition to full-frame in the near future, then I really cannot recommend this lens highly enough. It is well-made, high quality, and useful in so many different situations. Kudos to Sigma for producing a really extraordinary product with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens!