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Lens Reviews

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Review

Jan Stimel (photocyan)

Keywords: sigma, nikkor, comparison

In the past, when I was working in a photo store, the aversion towards other than original lenses (especially Sigma) was really overwhelming. A common malady of these lenses was that the same lens types differed from piece to piece and sometimes fell apart after half year of usage. An internal joke was that every Sigma lens purchase should include some free instant glue. These lenses also had issues with back-focus. Not to mention the fact that older Sigma lenses had to be re-chipped to work with newer digital SLRs. I have seen a lot of frustrated customers so you can imagine my attitude towards this specific brand. This was ten years ago.

When Sigma released information about its new lens concept in September 2012 I was skeptical at first. They announced plans to divide and reorganize their interchangeable lens business into three product lines – Contemporary, Art and Sports; each line for specific photography needs. After the announcement of new lenses like 35mm F1.4 DG HSM, 50mm F1.4 DG HSM, and 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM, I began to rethink my mostly negative, opinion. Then some superb reviews from credible authors and well-known websites were published and my attitude changed slightly. I wanted desperately to test some of the lenses. Are they really that good? Do they deliver a crisp image? Are they well-made and is the handling smooth?

The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens (from herein referred to as Sigma 18-35mm) has attracted my attention because it’s the first lens in the world that has a constant 1.8 aperture within the whole zoom range. It is a DC lens, which means it is specifically made for small sensor cameras. You can mount it to a full frame camera but the result will be a tunnel view or heavy vignetting. In Nikon cameras it covers the range 27 - 52.5mm when calculated for the full frame. It is not a big zoom lens, but actually it covers the range from a medium wide to normal focal distance, which can make it a practical companion. A regular street price for the lens is about $800 USD (700€).

The lens itself comes shipped with a lens hood and a lens bag. This leaves a good initial impression on our first meeting. The lens bag is a solid padded case with inner foaming, no cheap textile bag whose only purpose is collecting dust in a shelf. The lens case fitted perfectly in my Lowepro rucksack and was instantly “ready to go”.

I have to admit, the lens is a little bit long as I have expected. It is longer than my AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED I usually use. It reminds me more of a tele-lens than a wide-angle lens. Reviews on the Internet say that the Sigma 18-35mm is heavy with its 28.2 oz. (800 g), but it felt pretty well and confident in the hand. The 17 glass elements inside the lens and the internal focusing mechanism call for its price.  The Sigma 18-35mm is therefore a little bit heavier and longer (4.76”, 12.1cm). A surprise is the internal zooming, that means the lens stays the same size all the time. That is impressive! The lens stays the same on 18mm and 35mm and the front lens doesn’t rotate, kudos Sigma!

afternoon in the park

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bill keane (billD80) on June 18, 2014

This is a truly beaut lens, and the USB dock is an ideal accessory. The only downside is the front cap. Mine popped off, so I got the much better Nikon one.

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on June 17, 2014

Hi Christian, you are right, it is clearly a typo :-) Thank you for thoroughly reading my article, it is already corrected.

Mike Banks (unclemikey) on June 16, 2014

Jan, thanks for taking the time to do all the work with the Sigma 18-35. I have been on the fence for some time regarding this glass but now I think I'll pull the trigger. I'm not much of a prime lens user at my age, zooms make things easier. Certainly some primes are a must for some applications but for general journalism you prove this is a fine instrument to add to any kit.

H.-Christian Theussl (hct) on June 16, 2014

Thank for the review. Very interesting. Just wanted to ask: are these typing errors on page 2 at "...Stepped down to aperture f/1.4 it is unstoppable in terms of quality: no visible vignetting, no unpleasant purple lines but a crisp and vigorous image from the center to the corners. It beats the fixed focus Nikkor 35mm and the Nikkor 17-55mm. The Nikkor 35mm seems to be less sharp at f/1.4, ...". There you wrote two times f/1.4 Should it not read f/4? Christian (Vienna)

David Soderlund (DaveSoderlund) on June 15, 2014

Laureate Ribbon awarded as a Winner in a Nikonians Best of Images Annual Photo Contest

Great review, thank you! This lens moves to the top of my wish list... Dave

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on June 13, 2014

Hi John, thank you for your remark about the backfocus. It is still an issue and a hot topic in several internet discussions about Sigma lenses. Good to hear about the successful "operation", to set up the focus on a zoom lens can be a tricky job. The USB Dock itself is not very expensive, I think it costs about $60, and it's good to obtain one, especially if the camera lacks the AF-fine tuning as you mentioned.

Wes Pittman (jwstl) on June 12, 2014

I own this lens but almost returned it because I couldn't get a sharp image on either my D7100 or D7000...especially when shooting at or near wide open. Instead of returning it, I did some tests and found the lens to be severely back focusing. With some adjustments, I am now happy with the lens. I do recommend that when you buy it be sure to get the Sigma USB Dock so you can adjust focus. The dock isn't required if you have a body with AF-Fine Tune but, in my opinion, is essential for those without that feature.