A Year with Sigma

In GEAR by David33 Comments


A year ago, on October 22, I posted about my transition to Nikon. It’s taken me that long to write something that gear-ish again. With my transition to Nikon began a relationship with Sigma that I’ve been waiting to elaborate on. Now, as I near the end of that year, seems a good time to talk about the lenses I’ve been using and what I think about them. For those of you who’ve been clamouring for this post for 11 months, thanks for your patience.

When Sigma knocked on my door I was no stranger to their lenses, having used their 24-70/2.8 EX and 70-200/2.8 EX for early professional work. The reasons I decided to use their lenses again were simple ones. First, it gave me a chance to get into the Nikon system – when you get a box filled with Nikon-mount lenses to use, it’s easier to afford the bodies. Second, and more importantly, was my desire to walk the talk on this Gear Is Good, Vision Is Better stuff I’ve been spouting for so long. The fact is, the vast majority of my readers are not professional photographers. They’re enthusiastic amateurs of all stripes and seasons and most of them can’t simply buy the very best Nikon or Canon glass. I wanted to make images I was proud of, with gear that’s generally less expensive. I wanted to remind my readers- and show them – that the best top-shelf gear wasn’t necessary for creating beautiful work.

 

Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG

For the last year, I’ve shot mostly with Sigma’s 15mm fisheye, 20/1.8EX, 24-70/2.8EX, 85/1.4EX, and 70-200/2.8EX – along side my own Nikon 300/2.8, 24mm PC-E, and 14-24/2.8, and Zeiss 50/1.4. Those were the lenses I used day-in and day-out, though there was a long hiatus while I was recovering from the accident and not making photographs.

What do I think of the lenses? If you’re tempted to skip to the end, here it is: I never once used the Sigma lens and thought, “Man, this photograph would be more beautiful, or more compelling, had I shot it with a more expensive Nikon lens.” Not once. For the most part my Sigma lenses performed really well, created beautiful images, and usually (though not always) for much less than the top-shelf Nikon or Canon equivalents. Beauty is in the photograph, not the gear. Lenses matter, but even today’s kit lenses are capable of creating beautiful photographs. I’m not a pixel-peeper, and never have been, so please don’t ask about the best apertures for edge-to-edge sharpness. I just don’t know. If I don’t notice the loss of sharpness, it doesn’t matter to me. And if the best thing people say about my work is, “Wow, it sure is sharp,” then I’ve failed and the lens is irrelevant.

 

Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG

Would I use these lenses for professional work? That kind of depends on what you mean by “professional.” By my definition, I did, and I would again. But remember, value is not in how inexpensive something is, but how much you get out of what you paid. In the future I will be replacing some, but not all, of the Sigma lenses – notably the 24-70 and the 70-200. Those are my go-to lenses for much of my work and I’d happily pay more to replace them with the Nikon versions. Why? First, neither lens is sealed. When I last returned from Africa, my D3s sensors were filthier than any sensor I’ve ever seen. I was working in some of the most punishing conditions I’ve ever been in and sealed lenses would have made a huge difference.  If you aren’t working in these conditions, it could be a total non-issue. After-all, not even all Canon L-series lenses, are sealed. But to me, for these two lenses, it matters. Secondly, the build quality just doesn’t measure up, and I punish my gear, so durability matters. The body of the Sigma 70-200/2.8 EX, for example is made largely of plastic. It’s lighter, for sure, but I’ve less confidence in it than I would a lens made with more weight. In the field I need my gear to be more like a tank than a toy. But if you don’t need this kind of tankishness, then you might benefit from the saved dollars and the lighter weight. Those are my own reasons, but “horses for courses” as they say, and you need to decide what’s important to you. For many of you budget may prevent you from buying the top-shelf Nikon or Canon lenses, but you’ll get huge value from a fast, constant-aperture, zoom lens that makes beautiful photographs. If this is the case, Sigma’s got some great lenses for you.

The three photographs posted here were all made with the Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG. I’ll eventually replace it, but not because of image quality.


Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG

Would I continue to shoot with these lenses? I would and I will. Absolutely. They won’t be the lenses I go to when I need them to beat the sand and grit of the Kaisut Desert, but I’ll keep using them and recommending people consider Sigma, and take them for a test-drive when they can. Some of my favourite photographs from the past year were made with these lenses, and I’m grateful to Sigma for the chance to work with them. You can see some of those images, along with images of friends like Darwin Wiggett and Younes Bounhar on the Sigma Canada site HERE.

Comments

  1. I don’t yet see Younes showcased on the site, but then he’s still a Sigma Pro newb, right?

    Thanks for this write-up, David. The balance in purchasing gear is always one of performance, durability and value. Value is incredibly subjective, while performance and especially durability are considerably less so. A lens will either last the long haul or it won’t. Whether this is worth the added cost of the Nikon/Canon glass is up to the buyer, but it sure is nice to see great photography come being created with less-expensive gear!

  2. ‘And if the best thing people say about my work is, “Wow, it sure is sharp,” then I’ve failed and the lens is irrelevant.’ Best sentence I’ve read in awhile. Thanks, David, for the reminder!

  3. Dave, it’d be nice to see how you “punished” your gear. My guess is that the Sigma would last well into whatever future projects you have.

    It’s ok to give into gear lust Dave. You’ve earned it.

  4. Thanks Dave, a good read once again, I took a Sigma 70-200mm to Afghanistan where it eventually bowed to conditions of everpresent dust in spite of painstaking care. It would have been interesting to know how the original Nikon would have performed. Regarding Sigma I carry a Sigma DP1 as a back-up and am really pleased with the image quality from the Foveon chip! Maybe worth an article in the future on back-up systems?
    Best regards, Harald

  5. Thanks David, I have only a Sigma 10-20mm at the moment and your long term view, especially some of the condition dependant views you have, are really helpful and I’ll be more considerate when I head down the beach now.

  6. I use the Sigma 120 – 400 mm for wildlife photography and also brought it on the trip to Kenya. Love that lens!

  7. Good information David – it’s nice to once again hear about gear from a perspective of how it works for a person rather than the technical, or pixel peeper, aspect. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Great write-up as usual, David. Looking forward to seeing you in Otown. And Thanks for the shoutout!
    (and for the record, my gallery at Sigma should be up this week).

  9. Hey David. Since you seem to love your Sigma lenses and you still use them and will keep on using them, mind if I ask your opinion on their 12-24? It just seems like such a great lens to me, like it has such an incredible FoV and rectilinear correction to boot. I keep seeing beautiful photos made with it but have felt reluctant to get it because it is a Sigma. I totally agree that the quality of the photo is not determined by the lens. This one seems, to me, to be pretty unique. Do you have a take on it?

    Oh crap I’m making a gear post on a gear-doesn’t-matter thread! 😉

  10. An interesting post David, not from a gear perspective but from it’s place your life as a photographer.

    I recently went through a phase of obsession around sharpness in my landscape images, and this was while I was using Canon L Glass. My cure was to spend time making large 24″ and 30″ prints and realising it’s “sharp enough” 🙂

    Cheers
    John

  11. I love my Sigma 24-70. I’ll sometimes go through phases where I feel the need to replace it with a Nikon 24-70… then I’ll enter pixel-peeper mode (in order to justify the upgrade cost) and I just can’t find any reason to upgrade. I’ve even gone so far as to rent the Nikon and I can notice a difference in sharpness when it’s wide open. So I decided an extra push of the sharpness slider in Lightroom would save me about $900 in switching to Nikon glass. At f/4 and beyond, the lenses are identical. I also realize that difference in sharpness comes when pixel-peeping. I go through a pixel-peeping phase about once a year for a few days, the rest of the year I’m strongly against it. 

    The only thing I can say that’s a knock against Sigma is resale value. The lenses just don’t hold their value like brand glass. In a cold economic perspective, brand glass is a better investment, hands down. 

    Maybe after 5 or 6 years the hobbyist’s (hobbyist = the majority of your readers) life changes and they don’t have time for photography any more. Maybe they downgrade or upgrade lenses. Maybe the water heater breaks and something’s got to get sold to pay for repairs. Who knows… but you can regain about 90% of your investment of brand glass even after 10 years. Now that’s a good investment!

    🙂

  12. I’ve been a Sigma fan since I got my first Rebel seven years ago. I’ve upgraded my camera since then but still love both my Sigma 30EX prime and 17-3EX 5mm. As a ‘backyard’ photographer, I’ve also found Sigma to have great value and always look there before Canon and compare when I’m looking for a new lens.

  13. Sounds like an honest assessment to me! I’ve been wanting the Sigma fisheye for quite some time, just have to get the cash together… but what I appreciate is your unwavering view that gear is only as good as the hands using it.. and the vision motivating those hands. Your blog says there’s hope for someone like me to keep producing images that I love, with or without the budget for top of the line lenses. Thanks David!

  14. My experience with Sigma glass and a Nikon body has been mixed. I bought the 85 f/1.4 and the 50 f/1.4 as a wedding photographer who doesn’t live and die by fast primes. I do pretty well taking care of my gear and the extent of my “demanding” environments is reception lighting not designed with the photographer in mind 😉

    The 85 is amazing. Simply amazing. I don’t know how it compares to the new Nikkor G but it is definitely “good enough” and at half the price. The 50, on the other hand, continues to struggle with a lot of focus issues, even after an AF adjustment of +14. I go back and forth between deciding I need to send it in and deciding I need to work my AF sensors more carefully. When it’s in focus, it is very good, but not top of the line (then again, neither is the Nikkor 50mm G.) Unfortunately it’s also not in focus a lot of the time.

    I am surprised how much I still enjoy the Nikkor 24-70 and 70-200 – not just for their versatility – but because their AF is just so fast and accurate. I don’t understand how the $2,000 24mm f/1.4 – while great glass in a lot of respects – is so slow to acquire focus.

  15. So nice to see and read no-holds barred review of a product. Thanks for noting the strengths and concerns… honesty is always best

  16. David,

    Like you I have used Sigma with pleasure and great results. I have no problems buying Sigma lenses, and although I love my 17-55 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 85 f/1.8 and all my other Nikkors, I have some Sigma lenses, which I feel do a really great job and fill a gap. My Sigma 30mm f/1.4 as well as the 20mm f/1.8 are as good as any Nikon counterpart as far as I can judge, and I have a Sigma 50mm f/1.4, which I think is a really great lens and use quite a lot.

    I’m not an amateur as such (more like semi-pro not making a living but sometimes getting paid to shoot), but still have to pay for my gear, and should I have bought all my glass from the Nikon range, I’d be a lot poorer than I am now.

    Shooting a lot on the beach, with wind, water, sand and dust, I have no bad experiences with Sigma. My favorite lens, the Sigma 10-20mm, has seen more action than most lenses, and is quite beat up, but still working like a charm. Sure the 17-55 with its metal hood will last longer, but it’s also another league regarding price, and Nikon’s 10-24, which is a worthy alternative is still almost twice what I paid for the 10-20.

    Life starts at f/1.8 as I say, and that life is a lot less expensive if you ride the Sigma line compared to the Nikon line. http://500th.net/life-starts-at-f-1.8

    So good people: don’t be afraid of non-Nikon (or non-Canon) lenses, but be open-minded and try out the alternatives.

    Martin

  17. This is a perfect summary of my feelings and own opinions on Sigma lenses. They, like all gear, are capable of taking truly great images – if the Photographer is open to seeing and creating them.

    The plastic body has come up with some people I know too, but if you’re going to save on anything, there are going to be compromises somewhere. Another great advantage of Sigma is their commitment to filling niches that Nikon & Canon just aren’t filling. Their telephoto zoom lenses are so unique as to be unrivalled. Their primes also offer us with unique opportunities: the Sigma 85 1.4 is great for Canon users, who *only* have the 85 1.8 or 85 1.2 to choose from (a perfect middle choice). Or, like what I own, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 – made only for crop bodies, yet allows Canon shooters to have a fairly wide-fast prime well below $1,000.

    Personally, I’d also love to try the 8-16… it’s crazy wide and I don’t see myself using it every day, but under certain conditions I’m sure it would offer a view that no other optics currently do.

  18. Sweet, Younes! I look forward to seeing you up there in fine company. I’ve been scoping your work and your blog for a while now, and am stoked to see you so duly recognized. Congrats!

  19. The performance of my Sigma 24-70 convinced me to spend the extra money for Canon lenses. 🙁

    By the way, I just read your last gear post on switching from Canon to Nikon – I was curious why and appreciated your comments. You and some commenters mentioned focus issues w/ Canon. That has been an issue for me and I now focus manually most of the time. I’ve thought that lenses controlled focusing. Does the camera have an influence? I have a Rebel t2i – my first DSLR – could it be more problematic than more expensive Canons? I’ve spent the last year learning everything I can to take clearer images and overall remain frustrated.

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  21. Thanks for the info, not just to David but to everyone who has commented – I have been contemplating the idea of a new lens and “eyeing” the price tag of the Sigma lenses rather than paying the big bucks for Canon. I still haven’t made a decision but you have added to the knowledge base!

  22. Build quality and weather sealing have always been important to me which is why I’ve opted for Nikon lenses mysefl.

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  24. Nice blog post, David. Since I bought my DLSR six years ago, I’ve usually discounted Sigma as a cheap knock-off of a nicer “professional” lens. Because of that, I haven’t done any research at all about Sigma until recently. Now I’m beginning to find out that I was wrong to write off Sigma as just a cheap knock-off lens that no professional would ever own and use. I guess that teaches me I need to do research on my own and not easily believe stereotypes.

  25. Thank you, David! I love that we can count on your honesty. I’ve been using Canon equipment for a while now (with a few old and manual nikon lenses) and for now I can’t afford the L-series. But I can’t complain about the quality of the images I can make with the lenses I have! Just like you say, gear is good but vision is DEFINITELY better! If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say the best gear won’t help you say it! :c)

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  27. The first lenses I ever bought were Sigma! I also proceeded to drop them each at different times and they had to be sent back to Sigma for repair:( I patiently waited for their return each time-it took approximately a month and I expected to pay $150.00 or more. But when they came back they charged me NOTHING each time! So Sigma has won my heart over! Just found your blog tonight-a new fan for sure!

  28. Hi David, I was curious about your implication that most amateurs can’t afford the top glass, implying that pros can. There are a lot of poor pros and wealthy amateurs 🙂 I assume you mean ”justify’ rather than afford. For my two penneth, I love my Sigma lenses on my D300s, my 18-50 macro 2.8 is light and versatile and goes everywhere with me. The 10-20 is ultra- sharp. Great lenses and interesting post that keeps choice of gear in perspective.

  29. MIchael – You’re right, though I wasn’t at all implying a difference between pros and amateurs. I know my audience and I know that many – even most – of them simply don’t have the same money to spend on their hobby. It might be that the better word is “justify” but I’m not sure it really matters. The point is there are options, right? 🙂

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