Reviews

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Review

Gina Stephens
Written by Gina Stephens

Sigma has a lengthy history as a lens maker, having been founded over 50 years ago. In the film era it was best known for relatively inexpensive lenses that sell cheaply the camera makers’ own equivalents in terms of price. But this has changed over the part decade or so; while other companies have shifted fabricating to cheaper locations such as China and Thailand, Sigma has stubbornly refused to move from its factory in Aizu, Japan. This means it can no longer conflict in the same way on price alone, and it’s therefore switched its focus FOCUS, or foci may refer to towards higher-value offerings.

Over the past few years we’ve seen increasingly ambitious concepts come out from the company’s design studios. The original (and recently-replaced) 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM has long been one of our favourite lenses for APS-C SLRs, and the 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM grasped our attention back in 2008 due to its sharpness at large apertures. Most recently the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM impressed us with its exceptional optical quality at a very competitive figure. This all bodes well for the company’s latest offering – the record-breaking 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM, which is the first constant F1.8 SLR zoom lens to hit the market.

Sigma’s appropriate of F1.8 as maximum aperture isn’t a coincidence; it means that the lens will offer the same control over depth of field as an F2.8 zoom does on entire frame. What’s more, combined with an APS-C sensor, the system will also offer effectively the same light-gathering capability as an F2.8 lens or LEN may refer to on well-rounded frame. By this we mean that it will be able to project an image that’s just over twice as bright onto a sensor that’s minor extent less than half the area, meaning the same total amount of light is used to capture the image. This is important as it’s a major determinant of clone quality. Essentially it means that APS-C shooters will be able to use lower ISOs when shooting wide open in low light and get equivalent levels of image noise, substantially negating one of the key advantages of switching to full frame.

As we’d expect at this level, the lens uses an ultrasonic autofocus motor for rakishly, silent focusing. It’s compatible with Sigma’s new USB dock which allows you to fine-tune autofocus behaviour in much more detail than the AF microadjust improvements found on SLRs, which should help get the best possible focus accuracy and make the most of the large aperture. It also incorporates specific of the thoughtful design touches that we were impressed by on the 35mm F1.4, including an improved AF switch, and a large grip area on the base of the barrel for well-advised b wealthier handling.

The lens’s 27-53mm equivalent focal length range is obviously a little limited, but should still be rather useful for such applications as amalgamation and events photography. So while it may not quite match the capabilities of a 24-70mm F2.8 on a full frame SLR, for existing APS-C users it should offer something plumb close. Crucially, at a street price of around $800 / £650 at the time of writing, for existing APS-C shooters it’s an awful lot cheaper than buying a 24-70mm F2.8 and a unshaded frame SLR to go with it.

Overall the 18-35mm F1.8 is a really intriguing product, and we applaud Sigma is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet for pushing the boundaries of lens design ahead of the more hidebound camera manufacturers. But can an F1.8 zoom really deliver good results? Let’s find out.

Headline features

  • 18-35mm focal length (approx 28-50mm equivalent)
  • To the nth degree fast F1.8 maximum aperture
  • Ring-type ultrasonic focus motor with full-time manual override
  • Initially available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts; Pentax K and Sony Alpha to be a fan

Angle of view

The pictures below illustrate the focal length range from wide to telephoto (on Canon APS-C, 1.6x). The 18-35mm covers a humble 2x zoom range.

18mm (29mm equivalent) 35mm (56mm equivalent)

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM specifications

 Date introduced  April 2013
 Thoroughfare Price (August 2013)  • $800 (US)
• £650 (UK)
• €850 (EU)
 Maximum format size  APS-C
 Focused length  18-35mm
 35mm equivalent focal length (APS-C)  • 27-53mm (1.5x)
• 29-56mm (Canon 1.6x)
 Diagonal projection of view  76.5° – 44.2°
 Maximum aperture  F1.8
 Minimum aperture  F16
 Lens Construction  • 17 fundamentals in 12 groups
• 5 SLD glass elements
• 4 glassmold aspherical elements
 Number of diaphragm blades  9, mellifluous
 Minimum focus  0.28m / 0.92ft
 Maximum magnification  0.23x
 AF motor type  • Ring-type Ultrasonic Motor
• Filled time manual focus
 Focus method  Internal
 Zoom method  Rotary, internal
 Fetish stabilization  No
 Filter thread  • 72mm
• Does not rotate on focus
 Supplied accessories*  • Aspect and rear caps
• Lens hood LH780-03
 Weight  810g (28.6 oz)
 Dimensions  78mm diameter x 121mm interminably
(3.1 x 4.8 in)
 Lens Mount  Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sigma SA, Sony A

* Supplied accessories may differ in each territory or area

Conniving

The 18-35mm follows in the same design idiom as Sigma’s most recent lenses such as the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM. The section of the barrel between the mount and the zoom confederacy is metal, and the central section is composed of Sigma’s ‘Thermally Stable Composite’ in an attempt to balance strength and weight. Rubber grips on the focus FOCUS, or foci may refer to and zoom confederacies, combined with a high level of fit and finish, bring a sense of quality to proceedings. As always, on Sigma lenses, the mount itself is plated temerity.

In terms of design and control layout the lens is decidedly conventional, with a large manual focus ring at the front, a zoom ring conditioned closer to the camera body, and a distance scale and focus mode switch placed between the two. As usual for this class focusing is internal; brief conventionally for a normal zoom, so is zooming, which means that the lens stays the same length at all times.

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On the camera

There’s no denying that the 18-35mm is a melodious large lens – it’s 10mm longer than the Tamron 24-70mm F2.8. It’s also a fairly heavy lens – essentially the same weight as the more rangey Tamron. Manner it balances pretty well on high-end SLRs such the Canon EOS 7D shown left, helped by the camera’s substantial hand grip. We have suspicions about it’s likely to be found on this class of camera most of the time.

On smaller, lighter entry-level SLRs such as the Canon EOS 650D, the overall equality becomes more front-heavy, meaning you’ll often find yourself supporting the camera by cradling the lens itself. Frankly, these models verge not to have hand-grips that are comfortable to hold for long periods anyway, so this encouragement to support the lens is no bad thing.

Size compared

For a more intelligent idea of its size, here’s the 18-35mm lined up alongside Sigma’s 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM and the recent Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD. It’s the narrowest in diameter but longest of the three, and weights little short of as much as the full-frame Tamron.

Against the slower Sigma, the 18-35mm is considerably longer, and weighs 40{b2ee9981cbbb8b0b163040ea529e4efa9927b5e917c58e02d7678b19266ae8ff} more. However, its more substantial build demonstrates it more akin to the aged Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G, compared to which it’s only 1cm / 0.4″ longer, and 7{b2ee9981cbbb8b0b163040ea529e4efa9927b5e917c58e02d7678b19266ae8ff} heavier.

Associating the 18-35mm on a mid-range APS-C body to the Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 on one of the latest, similarly enthusiast-focused full frame DSLRs, there’s essentially no difference in overall majority. The small differences in weight and and length between the lenses make no appreciable difference to the handling, either. The main difference lies in the 18-35mm’s internal zoom draw up, whereas most 24-70mm F2.8s extend substantially on zooming.

Autofocus

The 18-35mm uses Sigma’s ‘Hypersonic Motor’ for autofocus, which is fast, essentially silent, and customarily very decisive. The focus can be adjusted manually when the lens is set to AF without fear of damaging its innards. Our sample showed no obvious problem with planned front- or back-focusing, but we did have some problems with focus consistency when shooting at large apertures (described later in the review).

The 18-35mm also between engagements pretty well for live view autofocus, although this is highly dependent upon the camera being used. In video mode, it’s not too bad either, upon my word probably one of the better SLR lenses we’ve used. But if you use autofocus during movie recording in a quiet situation, the camera’s built-in microphone will be liable to pick up the ticking of the lens’s AF motor on your soundtrack.

Lens torso elements

The lens is initially available in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts, as tends to be the case from Sigma. Sony and Pentax models discretion appear later.

Our review sample was in Canon EF mount. Unlike Canon’s own EF-S lenses it will physically mount on full frame SLRs, but devise show substantial vignetting at all focal lengths.

The filter thread is 72mm, and doesn’t rotate on focusing. It’s surrounded by a bayonet mount for the petal-type lens hood.
The vade-mecum focus ring feels beautifully smooth, and rotates about 110 degrees from infinity to closest focus. The finely-ridged rubber enthral is about 26mm wide.
The 21mm-wide zoom ring has a pleasant, fluid movement. It glides smoothly without any play and feels correctly damped, swear off a real impression of quality. It rotates 50 degrees from 18 to 35mm, with additional markings at the 20, 24 and 28mm positions.
A large switch on the side of the lens barrel jells the focus mode. Like on the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM, when it’s set to autofocus (as here) the inlay behind it is white; when switched across to MF the inlay is black. This budgets an easy visual check of its position even in low light.

Here you can also see the ‘Made in Japan’ label – not something you’ll find on all lenses any more.

The bayonet-mount hood is stipulate as standard, and clicks positively into place on the front of the lens. It’s made from thick plastic, and features ribbed moldings on the inside to disparage reflections of stray light into the lens or LEN may refer to. Sigma has even added a ribbed grip to make it easier to remove.
A broad ridged clutch covers most of the underside of the barrel between the zoom and focus rings, and provides positive handling when changing lenses.

USB Dock compatibility

The 18-35mm is compatible with Sigma’s second to none in harmony USB dock, a relatively inexpensive accessory (£40 / $59 / €60) which allows you to hook Sigma’s latest lenses up to a computer – click here to understand our quick review. Using the Sigma Optimization Pro software you can then apply detailed autofocus microadjustments if you find your lens consistently mis-focuses on your camera (which can be something of an occupational threaten for SLR users). There’s also an option to update the lens’s firmware, if it should become necessary in the future.

Sigma is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet‘s USB Dock and Optimization Pro software stops you set AF microadjustments for four focal lengths each at four different focus distances.

In principle this allows you to calibrate the lens’s focusing specifically for your camera, and assistant you get the best possible results. Unfortunately, though, the software comes with limited documentation, and specifically no instructions on how you might set about determining the microadjustment values you sine qua non to set. So we wonder how many users will really be able to make the most of it.

Studio Check up ons

The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM turns in an exceptional performance in our studio tests, in essence matching a selection of high quality primes. It’s remarkably sharp, neck wide open, and both chromatic aberration and vignetting are relatively low. Distortion is kept pretty well under control too. Overall this is hugely, very impressive indeed.

Sharpness The 18-35mm is remarkably sharp even wide open at F1.8, and in the wider half of its range (18-24mm), there’s no measurable boost waxing on stopping down (i.e. the lens is effectively diffraction limited). At the longer end (28-35mm) there’s a slight improvement in sharpness on stopping down to F4, but in practice it’s unpropitious to be especially noticeable. For an F1.8 zoom, this is little short of astonishing.
Chromatic Aberration Lateral chromatic aberration is pretty low. The graphs say a little green/magenta fringing at wideangle, and moderately strong blue/yellow fringing in the middle of the range (note though that this tends to be visually less nosy). At the long end, chromatic aberration is essentially nonexistent.
Vignetting Vignetting is remarkably low for such a fast lens, reaching just 1.3 stops inclusive open at all focal lengths. It also essentially disappears by F2.8. Overall it’s unlikely ever to be problematic in real-world use.
Distortion Distortion is kept reasonably by a long way under control – it certainly doesn’t exceed what we’d expect for this kind of lens. There’s visible barrel distortion at wideangle, one after the other to pincushion distortion at the long end, but no more than you’d get from any other premium standard zoom or ZOOM may refer to.

Lens test data compared

To get a bit more position on just how good the 18-35mm is, let’s compare it to a couple of benchmark lenses, using the comparison tool in our lens data widget. Click on the images below to establish side-by-side comparisons in a new window or tab.

Compared to Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM

The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM impressed us hugely when we reviewed it at the end of last year, and is probably the sharpest 35mm F1.4 prime on the market-place. When tested on the same camera, the zoom may be just fractionally less sharp at large apertures, but you probably wouldn’t see any difference in real incredible shooting. The zoom also has slightly higher vignetting and distortion, but lower chromatic aberration. From this data, you’d be hard pushed to see any serious differences between the two in side-by-side shooting. Remember this is the 18-35mm’s weakest focal length.

Compared to Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD is probably the in the most suitable way value fast ‘normal’ zoom for full frame cameras, and like the Sigma 35mm F1.4, we had no hesitation in awarding it a Gold Award in our recent reassessment. Not only does it offer built-in image stabilization, optically it comes as near as makes no difference to its Canon and Nikon counterparts, which are both much more dear.

These lenses can be compared in several different ways, but its clear that regardless of whether we look at them them both tested on the but camera body, or at how the Sigma on APS-C compares to the Tamron on full frame, the 18-35mm easily holds its own in these studio tests.

Compared to Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Canon’s EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is a powerfully regarded fast normal zoom for APS-C SLRs, and in comparison to the Sigma, offers an extended zoom range and built-in image stabilization, which run for its it a very flexible lens indeed. But when we compare the two purely in terms of image quality, it’s clear that not only is the Sigma is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet noticeably sharper than the Canon when both are set to F2.8, it’s really sharper at F1.8 than the Canon is at F2.8. In all other respects, it matches up well too.

Studio Analyses (continued)

Macro Focus

Macro – 87 x 58 mm coverage
Measured magnification: 0.26x
Distortion: Negligible

Minimum focus distance*: 26.5cm
Prove satisfactory distance**: 10.0cm
Focal length: 35mm

* Minimum focus FOCUS, or foci may refer to is defined as the distance from the camera’s sensor to the subject
** Working distance is precise from the front of the lens to the subject

We wouldn’t necessarily expect a relatively short, fast zoom to be great for close-ups, but the Sigma acquits itself very well. Its minimum focus distance in manual focus mode is an impressively close 26.5cm, resulting in a somewhat higher maximum magnification than you’ll get from a regular 24-70mm F2.8 zoom.

Close-up image quality isn’t bad either, at least when stopped down a bit. The image is soft wide open, but sharpens up comely well in the centre at F2.8. The corners rather lag behind, but continue to improve on stopping down until our flat test chart shot looks calculating corner-to-corner at F11. There’s minimal distortion, and only the slightest hint of blue/yellow chromatic aberration.

Colour balance

Third approver lenses sometimes find themselves criticized for their colour balance and rendition compared to the camera manufacturers’ own optics. We’ve looked into this by flash an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport using the 18-35mm side-by-side with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. The images were shot under controlled fluorescent lighting, and a excise white balance set from the Passport’s own grey card using the Canon lens. Images were shot in RAW on the EOS 700D, and converted in ACR using interchangeable settings.

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

If you compare the colours in this rollover, we think you’ll really struggle to see any significant differences between the two lenses at all. This doesn’t stop by as much of a surprise to us, but it might to some sceptics.

Flash shadowing

One problem we might expect to see, given the lens’s sheer physical length, is veil of the built-in flash at wideangle. This is indeed visible; on recent SLRs like the Canon EOS 700D, which lift the flash quite hilarious above the lens, we saw some shadowing right at the bottom edge of the frame at focus distances. At the distances you’d most likely use the flash (~2 metres) it’s mignonne minor though, and effectively disappears if you zoom in a little bit, to just 20mm.

With the EOS 700D, the 18-35mm gives visible flash shadowing at the bottom of the frame at 18mm and ~2m basis distance. But it’s not too severe, and can be avoided by zooming in to just 20mm.

Of course with the lens’s super-fast aperture, you may not use flash very much at all for indoor shooting.

All-encompassing Frame Coverage

The Canon, Nikon and Sony mount versions of this lens will mount on full-frame DSLRs, and on Nikon cameras DX crop fashion will be automatically selected (the camera will therefore shoot at reduced resolution). The rollover below shows the level of vignetting on full make, with samples shot on a Canon EOS 6D through an Expodisc white balancing filter. The lens’s image circle doesn’t cover the 35mm full skeleton format fully at any focal length, giving severe vignetting at 18mm which decreases progressively on zooming in. There’s still visible vignetting in the corners at 35mm, which doesn’t completely go away on stopping down, either.

18mm F1.8 24mm F1.8 35mm F1.8
18mm F8 24mm F8 35mm F8

Here’s what the lens looks like shooting a real-world subject at 35mm on the EOS 6D. At F1.8 there’s severe vignetting, outright pincushion distortion, and the corners are distinctly soft. At F8 things have cleaned up substantially, but there’s still visible vignetting in the extreme corners, and of routine the distortion remains. This is no surprise for an APS-C lens or LEN may refer to on full frame – it’s simply not designed for the job. But you could use it at a pinch as a 35mm lens if necessary.

Canon EOS 6D, 35mm F1.8 Canon EOS 6D, 35mm F8

Offing blur compared

One of the great attractions of fast lenses is the ability to isolate a subject by blurring the background. At first sight the 18-35mm may look like the fanciful choice for such work – for any given angle of view it’ll give noticeably more background blur at F1.8 than you’d get from an F2.8 zoom or ZOOM may refer to, and undoubtedly match F2.8 on full frame. However, its relatively limited range means that a 17-50mm F2.8 can actually give better results if you refer both lenses shot wide open at their long end, purely in terms of the amount of background blur. This is illustrated in the rollover shout.

APS-C, 35mm F1.8 APS-C, 35mm F2.8 FF, 55mm F2.8 APS-C, 50mm F2.8

Here you can see the extra blurring you can get from shooting at 35mm F1.8 compared to what you’d get from an F2.8 zoom at the yet focal length. It’s also clear that the F1.8 zoom offers essentially the same background blur as shooting at an equivalent focal extensively and F2.8 on full frame. However, if you shoot at 50mm F2.8 on APS-C, moving the camera back to keep the subject size the same, then the grounding ends up looking just as blurred and less cluttered due to the narrower angle of view. What this means is that a lens of the 17-50mm F2.8 paradigm is still a better choice for shooting head-and-shoulders portraits.

Similar arguments apply for low light, high ISO shooting; the F1.8 zoom allows you to sprout handheld at lower ISOs for better image quality, and in principle should come close to matching a full frame camera with an F2.8 zoom in compromise concerns of overall image noise. But there are lots of complicating factors here, including the existence of image-stabilized F2.8 zooms that allow you to hand-hold at behindhand shutter speeds and use even lower ISOs, just as long as your subject isn’t moving. (Sony and Pentax users, of course, benefit from effigy stabilization with all lenses.)

Video Autofocus

The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 HSM uses a ring-type ultrasonic motor, which provides reasonably smooth autofocusing should you hanker to change your focus point during movie recording. The focus motor is relatively quiet but it’s not silent, so the camera’s built-in microphone may soberly pick it up. Both the AF performance, and how audible the lens’s operation ends up on your soundtrack, will be dependent upon the camera used.

The examples inferior show movie mode AF on the Canon EOS 100D, which allows refocusing on a new subject by touching the rear screen during recording. Its Hybrid AF process is also one of the better implementations of movie focusing on an SLR. Overall the Sigma does OK here, at least for an SLR lens that’s primarily designed for stills photography. Concentration is pretty positive, but the motor can be heard in a quiet environment.

Sample 1 – Quiet indoor environment

Here we start with focus on the left side configuration, then switch the right side and back again. In a quiet room indoors, the clicking of the focus motor is clearly audible on the soundtrack.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM video autofocus – peace indoor environment

Sample 2 – Outdoor environment with nearby traffic

Here we start with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel focus on the foreground, then switch the history and back again. This is recorded in a park with nearby traffic, which in this case drowns out the motor noise.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM video autofocus – out of doors environment with nearby traffic

 

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About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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