A Year with Sigma
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.