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News & Insight

One Sigma 1.8 Zoom Or A Stable Of Three Nikon Primes | What Would You Choose?

By Kishore Sawh on March 31st 2015

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Even with the more varied offerings and competitive pricing among full frame cameras today, cropped sensors still make up the majority of what’s created and bought. One of the ways that this has been sort of sad before, is that aside from the basic beneficial elements of shooting full frame, full frame glass was typically more ‘pro’ in terms of both build, and picture quality. Often, in the hopes and assumption that there would be an upgrade at a later time, cropped body buyers would purchase full frame glass to have some of these benefits, and to have a kit that was capable of elevating. But now, there may be a cropped sensor lens that will have you reconsidering a move to full frame.

Sigma, within the last year, has turned the entire DSLR industry a bit on its head, by making lenses so far removed from what anyone thought could come from a third party company. We almost exclusively use them for much of our work within the SLRL studio, and see little reason to change. Not only has the praise been ‘for a third party’, but overall, putting Nikon and Canon offerings to shame, and effectively putting them out to pasture.

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Not too long ago, they released the 18-35mm f/1.8 which we reviewed here and Matt, our resident camera tech geek and pixel-peeper had only good things to say about it. Now, the CameraStoreTV has put it to a new test. Essentially, the 18-35mm focal range covers a number of Nikon full frame ‘pro’ prime focal lengths, which together would cost north of $2000, and they wanted to see if this single Sigma offering was good enough and could replace the need for all those primes – saving money, change times, and weight.

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[REWIND: Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 EX DC – Field Review]

The test was not exactly scientific in nature, as it put FX primes (Nikon’s 20mm 1.8, 28mm 1.8, 35mm 1.8) on a DX D7100 body against a lens meant for the smaller sensor. Though they were using only the sweet-spot of the prime lenses, the results were rather telling. They’ll go through the gamut in the video, but suffice to say that other than in autofocus times, where differences were negligible, the Sigma outshot the competition in everything from edge-to-edge-sharpness, to bokeh, to color, and it did it all for around $800.

So if you were in the market, would you consider this an actual replacement for a stable of primes? See the full video and our own field review below.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Velasquez

    The best standard crop sensor lens on the market. Don’t waist your coin on that old 17-55 f/2.8 nikon and cannon are charging overpriced for. Unfortunately I don’t have a crop sensor body deserving of this lens. I don’t think this lens will replaced the Sigma 30 f/1.4 lens but it will replaced the those FX primes shown on the camera store but not the nifty 50.

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  2. David Blanchard

    Looks like a natural for Sony E-Mount.

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    • Phil Bautista

      David, I’ve already adapted mine to an a6000 using a speed booster so I get a max aperture of 1.3. It can only zoom out to 28 (maybe pushed to around 26 approx) and there’s a small crop factor tagged on so 28mm comes to a little under 30mm. I also get full usage with a regular smart adapter but AF is slow. But as far as it being a natural for E-mount, I wouldn’t say that. Too big. I would have to say that legacy primes are still the best non-native lenses for Sony mirrorless.

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  3. Masrur Mahmood

    I do wish the lens could capture wider (maybe 16-35mm @ f/1.8). That will give Canon & Nikon a run for its money.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yeah, judging by the sharpness and the weight, they certainly could have squeaked out 16-35mm (crop-sensor, mind you) and not broken the bank, or any backs that weren’t already going to avoid such a lens.

      My hope is that Sigma saw the Tokina 11-16 and was envious from the start, and is cooking up a 11-16 f/1.8 DC Art. That’d be nuts!

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  4. Leslie Troyer

    I went with a used 18-35 and couldn’t be happier. I was going to build out my lenses with primes, but the reviews were so good on this lens I went the zoom route instead.

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  5. Dave Haynie

    I don’t get to play here at all! I have a Nikon 70D, N90, and N8008… Dad’s cameras. Not really looking to build that system. I could fit those Nikon primes to my Canon 6D or Olympus OM-D via adapters, but just not that interesting.

    The Canon-mount Sigma would fit the 6D, but it’s not a FF lens. It could be adapted to the OM-D, but it’s really too large, even if they did a native m43 mount version. I’ll stick with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO for now, and occasionally wish I had f/1.8 on that lens :-).

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    • adam sanford

      Shocked to hear this will fit on a FF Canon mount, but it’s true! I just read up on it. I thought all sorts of bad rear-element assault on the mirrorbox would take place, but apparently not so.

      It fiercely mechanically vignettes (almost like a circular fisheye) on the wide end, but I cannot believe it works. Some folks are letterboxing out the vignetting and shooting video at 18mm with it (not quite 1080p) and others are just using it as a very sharp 35 prime. I think this is more of a magic trick than a proper useable zoom, but you learn something every day. Thanks, Dave!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yes, unlike Canon’s EF-S lenses which are ridiculous in their engineering decisions, third-party lenses for crop sensors can all be safely mounted on Canon full-frame bodies. There are a handful of good lenses that you won’t need to sell if you don’t mind a little vignetting, or care to crop your images. I’ve been doing this for a while now with my Nikons…

      The thing is, if you have a full-frame camera, you might as well get the Sigma 35 1.4 and / or 24 1.4. You’ll get more aperture power, less weight per-lens, and still come out ahead of some Canon L primes… ;-)

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    • Phil Bautista

      Adam, you can zoom out to 28mm too without vignetting. Wanna know something even cooler? you can plug the Tokina 11-16mm onto a FF Canon and have a 15mm f/2.8. That’s even wider than 11mm on a Canon crop.

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  6. Kristopher Galuska

    Not only have I considered getting this lens instead of a set of primes, but I’m actively debating getting it with a crop body instead of investing in full frame. This is espetially apealing on a sony slt body or Pentax k3 since they both have in body image stabilization. Imagine this lens AND ibis!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Oh, do they make this lens in the Pentax Mount? That’d be tempting, indeed…

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    • Paul Monaghan

      MATTHEW they do indeed make it for pentax and it makes a great lens on the k3 not just for IBIS but also that the k3 has -3 ev autofocus. So you have a great lowlight kit.

      If on the otherhand you want IQ at low iso over lowlight shooting this lens is also amazing on the SD1 Merrill.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Well, when it comes to IQ at low ISO, I turn to the 24 MP DX sensor anyways, cuz the Pentax K-3’s sensor has just as good dynamic range as the other 24 MP Nikons I’ve tested. For me as a landscape shooter, extreme DR and 24 MP bayer is worth more than any less DR and 15-45 MP Foveon…

      I’ll continue to give new Sigma / Foveon sensors a try, but for now I gotta be honest, the most tempting camera (that I don’t already own) is definitely the K-3…

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    • Paul Monaghan

      I have the k5 Matthew at at iso 80 its still one of the best camera’s around for dynamic range and while the Merrill sensor isn’t as good it is still capable of capturing a dynamic scene in one raw if properly exposed.

      I tend to shoot +0.3 to +0.7 and then make a 16 bit pro photo tiff from sigma pro photo at around (-2ev,-2 contrast, +2 shadow,-2 highlight and +0.2fill light) and then edit that tiff in adobe raw/lightroom, Its a little more work but I find I can get a lot more out of the sensor that way before running into any color blotching.

      I don’t have a 24mp aps-c sensor with my k5 being my other dslr but for me the rendering of the Merrill is worth it (the way it brings out distance detail and how clouds look) and there are still scenes when the little 14.7mp Merrill sensor can resolve more than a 36mp Bayer hence why I said :)

      As a general camera though the k3 with the 18-35 f1.8 would let you shoot a lot more things in a lot more situations and I may one day get one but I mostly just shoot with DP’s now even for studio work.

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    • adam sanford

      Pentax callout, can’t resist:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ9MsmECULw

      Kai and Lok ftw (just see the opening 60 seconds, priceless)

      Those Pentax rigs are sleepers, I do declare — loaded full of tech yet few folks give them a second look.

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    • Kristopher Galuska

      Hahah! Adam, love the video. I’ve always had a soft spot for Pentax. They offer so much (weather sealing, ibis, dual control wheels) at a much better price point then Nikon and especially Canon. My only concern has been longevity of the brand. Richo seems to be doing a good job with them. But I’d hate to invest and have them disappear.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Get the D750 which is the best valued full frame camera out there!

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  7. robert garfinkle

    I had the 28mm Nikon 1.8, loved it, yet traded for the 20mm 1.8

    I have not gone back to using 3rd party lenses, yet. I’ve owned Sigma / Tamron, yet sold the Sigma 200mm to change to a Nikon 80 – 400 (older model), if I had waited for the newer one, and I had a Tamron 90mm macro, traded up for a Nikon 105 micro…

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  8. adam sanford

    9 times out of 10, it would be primes in a landslide for larger aperture and overall IQ, but that Sigma is ridiculous. It outresolves all three of those primes.

    The only drawback to that Sigma is size/weight and *possibly* AF reliability with all focus points on all camera bodies. I’ve heard of some of the Art Sigma glass absolutely sing on one body (generally more modern with a solid AF system) yet struggle with off-center points on another.

    But for that kind of IQ, with the speed of a prime and a very reasonable cost, it’s a no brainer if you shoot Nikon crop. The comparison for Canon is murkier as their ‘equivalent’ lenses are slower but pack IS, and they a cost a but less than the Nikons do.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I just don’t think the Sigma 18-35 1.8 was meant to compete too directly with lenses like the Canon 17-55 2.8 IS; the Sigma was meant to attract folks who really prefer primes, but need a slight bit of zoom range.

      Now, if only Sigma would make a 10-18mm f/1.8 DC for crop sensors too, and a new lightweight 50-150 2.8 ART, (the existing one with OS is heavier than the original 50-150, so I’m strongly inclined to wish that it doesn’t have OS) …I’d be head-over-heels for my DX system all over again!

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    • adam sanford

      Personally, Matt, I think two things about the 18-35 f/1.8 zoom:

      1) Canon and Nikon have sorely neglected their DX / EF-S users — specifically on the lack of a ‘pro’ standard zoom on a crop rig — in an attempt to get those more serious crop shooters to either buy an UWA pro zoom to work as a standard zoom on crop ($$) or tomake the full plunge to FF ($$$$). Kudos to Sigma for nailing such an unmet need — now crop users have a killer standard zoom, and some other folks on this thread are correct in saying that with crop lenses *this* good, staying in crop longer term can be a fine decision.

      2) This entire 18-35 f/1.8 project — from the engineering to the ‘industry first’ marketing and messaging — has “batting practice” or “dress rehearsal” written all over it. I think this was a technology side project to see what demand would exist for a FX/EF 24-70 f/2 zoom, or possibly a reigned in 24-50 f/2 zoom. It. Would. Be. Dynamite. (It may *also* be 70-200 2.8 big and heavy and cost $3k, but… wowzers.)

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I’ve used the Sigma on a plethora of camera bodies and the focus has always been dead on. It focuses much better than either my 35mm A or my 24-105 A. It’s quick and accurate. Maybe I got a cherry one, but like I said, it was so good I used it on my FX cameras at times when I didn’t need full-res. The lens is too good.

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  9. robert s

    look at sigma and tamron schooling nikon and canon. never thought Id see the day. years and years of selling budget gear (IQ and price)

    where the hell were you till now.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I wouldn’t say Tamron is exactly “schooling” them. They still have a long way to go in build quality, their plastic is bad. The Sigma Global Vision Lenses aren’t only optically superior they are also built better. The thermoplastic whatever it is that they use is bullet-proof.

      Nikon used to make all of their gold ring lenses out of magnesium. Look at the 20 and 28 f/1.8. It’s built no better than the 50mm f/1.8G Even the 50mm f/1.4G gold ring lens is plastic. As is the 16-35mm f/4 and the 24-120 f/4. Both gold ring lenses.

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    • adam sanford

      J Dennis, yep, same on the Canon side. L lenses used to be built like Sherman tanks, but the weight savings from the ‘engineered plastic’ of the 100L Macro has gone viral, it would appear. All the f/4L zooms seem to have it now, and some of the iconic f/2.8 zooms are going on a diet as well.

      I’ve not had any trouble with with my f/4L zooms, mind you — they are sturdily built — but I can’t use them like a blunt weapon if I’m mugged like I could with my old 24-70 F/2.8L I, which was nothing more than a steel cudgel with a red ring. :-P

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I kept my old Nikon 17-35 f/2.8, 28-70 f/2.8D(aka The Beast) and 80-200 f/2.8D AF-S lenses long past their prime because they were built so well. But when the D600 came out and prices skyrocketed for older pro zooms, sold them for a pretty penny and upgraded to the newer ones. They’re still built pretty solid, but not as solid. The 16-35 f/4G and the 17-35 f/2.8D are night and day. The AF-D lens is still built like a brick shithouse, but the 16-35 is plastic. I’m rough on my gear and I have to baby my 16-35 whereas I threw the 17-35 around like nothing. The Sigma’s I don’t treat as rough as my old pro Nikkors, but I don’t baby them like I do the new Nikon gold rings.

      I bashed a few heads with my 80-200 f/2.8D AF-S. That thing was a billy club.

      But, nobody wants a heavy camera anymore :'(

      Seriously though. I like lightweight gear when the job calls for it, but as a serious pro out in the trenches give me something I can be confident with. One of the reasons I went with the Sigma 24-105 over the Nikon 24-120 is that when the zoom is recessed it feels TOUGH, and it does have a metal base (mine is “brassed” already), whereas the Nikon felt like it could break with a quick elbow from a neighboring photographer.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      The gold ring on a Nikon lens means ED glass… nothing more. It’s not the same as “L” for Cannon, and it does not signify a “professional” lens. The 50 1.4 is a fantastic lens used by Professionals, and my personal favorite and has no gold ring.

      I think Sigma still has a ways to go before they “beat” Nikon or Cannon. The Art lens series is good, and probably has Nikon and Cannon scared … buut … it’s still not “there” yet. They still lack consistency, and on the high-res pro bodies like the d800e and d810 they have a hard ass time auto-focusing.

      I think the most impressive lens I’ve seen from the 3rd parties recently has been the Tamron 15-30 .. now that’s an impressive lens.

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  10. Matthew Saville

    Yeah, it’s a Sharpie. Actually I think the Sharpie pen is named after the Sigma 18-35.

    Sad to see some of my favorite full-frame primes fall short when compared on a crop-sensor body against a crop-sensor lens. I wish the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 in particular was sharper in the corners, that’s for sure.

    Maybe Sigma’s 24mm f/1.4 will be followed-up by additional full-frame primes, or even DX primes. Considering Sigma’s reputation with their historic 20mm, 24mm, and 28mm f/1.8 EX lenses, I’d love to see a Sigma ~20mm f/1.8 Art, or a Sigma ~12mm f/1.8 DC Art…

    =Matt=

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  11. J. Dennis Thomas

    Man, that Sigma is so good I used it on my Df in crop mode when shooting nightlife events. The AF and sharpness are better than almost any lens I’ve ever used.

    If they made an FX 18-35 f/1.8 and it was 1.5X larger, but the IQ was the same, I’d get it in a heartbeat.

    The Sigma just beats the crap out of those Nikon primes. The Nikon 20 and 28 shouldn’t even have a gold ring. They aren’t pro quality lenses at all.

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  12. Kurk Rouse

    Can sigma go wrong with these art lenses ? Sigma all the way , this head to head test was awesome.

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    • adam sanford

      Generally, no. Sigma is killing it.

      But their new 24 Art appears to be their first ‘miss’ and I use that term loosely, as it only matches the overpriced L lens it was paired against instead of obliterating it. :-P

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    • Matthew Saville

      I think it was a tall order to expect the Sigma 24 1.4 to do better than the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4; the Rokinon is just magically impressive when it comes to coma and CA especially. As a general photojournalism lens, the Sigma 24 Art is still might impressive considering its price. As a Nikon user I might say, get the 20mm 1.8 or 28mm 1.8 instead, but for a Canon user, or for anyone who NEEDS autofocus and f/1.4, it still makes more sense than any lens costing twice as much…

      =Matt=

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I am really impressed with the overall quality of these lenses! They are doing a great job!

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  13. Eric Sharpe

    Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 all day in the paint. That was a great, non-scientific, real world test. You get 1 awesome lens for half the cost of 3 primes. Sure, the lens won’t be as useful on FF, but with as many people as there are claiming to go Fuji or Olympus m43 mirrorless and not looking back, you could just stay with APS-C and this lens.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      A great value lens for sure and the quality is really amazing! Thanks for the great comment.

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