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Sigma 24-70mm Art Review | Formidable or Forgettable?

By Shivani Reddy on September 20th 2017

While the 24-70 focal length may be, begrudgingly, the most unappealing of the lot, it consistently proves to be the most versatile, durable, and adaptable lens in a wedding photographer’s kit. It would be almost criminal to try and shoot a 200+ person wedding without a wide-angle zoom lens handy.

When searching for the right 24-70 you have to weigh your options similarly to how you would consider the characteristics for your future spouse:

  • Integrity: will it be able to withstand the high demand of its role, be quickly adaptable to any situation and excel?
  • Aesthetics: even though it may look sexy, does it have a professional, durable build quality and will it be able to withstand a variety of conditions?
  • Consistency: is it performing at its promised best and delivering high-quality results?

Sigma has consistently delivered the goods when it comes to their Art lineup. After owning an Art lens, most users are itching to own more, so when it was announced that the Sigma 24-70 Art was being added to their Art lineup, many, including myself, were beyond eager to see how it would fare.

For those in search of a TLDR; version of this review, look no further:

PROS

  • Image Quality – Negligible differences in the quality of the images of the Sigma 24-70 Art vs. the Canon 24-70. Suffice to say quality is high, with low CA (a bit more than Canon), good colors, but lacks sharpness of Canon and Nikon – note edge falloff at wide apertures until stopped down to about 5.6
  • Price – At $1,299 the Sigma is $450 cheaper than the Canon and a whopping $1,100 cheaper than Nikon’s equivalent.
  • Image Stabilization – Probably the most prominent attribute of this lens that some of its competitors lack.

CONS

  • Auto-Focus – Although equipped with the same Hypersonic AF motor that the 85 Art sports, the Sigma 24-70 Art could not keep up with fast-paced movement and low light situations (paired with 5D Mark III)
  • Weight & Size – Although it is shorter in length compared to the Nikon 24-70, it is definitely girthier than all other lenses in its category.  This is definitely a huge factor to pose against its opponents since this is such a run and gun lens for photographers. For those looking into it for video, make sure you have a gimbal that supports the weight of the body + lens.
  • Maneuverability – coming from a Canon it was definitely a rough start trying to get familiar with since the zoom and focus rings are switched on the Sigma (the focus ring is closer to the front glass element on the Sigma) but once I got the hang of it, I was fine – but it is something to note.
  • Weather Sealed – Just like other ART lenses the 24-70 Art is weather sealed.

Design & weight

There is something about the feel of Sigma’s Art series that is appealing. Maybe it’s the matte black finish or the monochromatic clean look of the lens in general, but needless to say Sigma delivered once again when it came to designing another member for their Art lineup. Sigma’s 85 Art came with an improved material, Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) for greater precision and use in wide temperature variations, which was also used to create their new 24-70.

[REWIND: SIGMA 85MM F/1.4 ART REVIEW | THE BEAUTY OF THIS BEAST]

The zoom and focus rings are opposite of Canon’s – meaning the focus ring on the Sigma is closer to the front element. This can be a bit frustrating at first, but like anything, it just takes some time to get used to. Keeping consistent with the 85 Art, the switches for the AF and OS are extremely high quality, and the overall build quality shows promise in the longevity of the lens since it is so sturdy and has more of a professional lens tactility.

Unfortunately, just like the 85 Art, the Sigma 24-70 Art is a heifer of a lens. Take a look at the staggering difference in weight when you compare weight across the board with the 24-70’s in the market:

The Sigma is 20% heavier than Canon’s MKII. It’s notable that Canon made the change in the MKII version of the lens to opt for a lighter version considering their first one felt like a tank, but what’s even more noteworthy is that Nikon and Sigma don’t differ too much and are the heaviest of the bunch. Nikon’s equivalent 24-70 is $1,100 more than the Sigma Art in price and they both contain a 9 blade diaphragm, so it makes one ponder why there’s such a price difference.

Autofocus

The Sigma 24-70 Art comes equipped with the same ‘Hypersonic AF’ technology that came with the 85 Art which was implemented due to the resounding AF issues plaguing the starting Art lenses. It actually saddens me to report that the AF could not hold up in some tough lighting scenarios, even with the assistance of my Canon 600EX-RT. While it breezed through well-lit portions of the day (scenes predominantly lit with daylight & window light) the new Sigma 24-70mm Art struggled with low light scenes where ambient light was sparse.

[REWIND: 24-70MM VS 24-105MM | WHICH ONE DO YOU CHOOSE?]

I tested this lens during a 25-hour destination Indian wedding in Delaware and if that isn’t the most challenging of scenarios I don’t know what is. When shooting in low-light reception ballrooms and outdoor nighttime action photos the AF just couldn’t snap and would lag similar to the slow-focusing death of the Canon 85L many have experienced. With over 5,800 images taken in a 3-day wedding, the Sigma 24-70 Art yielded a 74% hit accuracy. Most of the issues were back focusing and not blatant missed focuses, but that still is a disheartening factor when considering purchasing the lens. While I do see AF issues with my Canon, they are far and few between.

Manual Override

This isn’t the first time we are seeing a MO feature on a 24-70. Nikon also sports this capability, which could be another reason for its high price point. While I didn’t quite test this feature out, it should be a boon for those looking for a solid cinematography zoom lens. Manual Override essentially selects a critical focus point and then allows you to change it if need be without jumping back to its original guess, so you can see how beneficial this would be for those operating on a gimbal for tracking subjects.

Image stabilization (OS)

@ 24mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/8th of a second

While image stabilization is a necessary attribute for a lens of this caliber, I didn’t see much of a difference for stills when it came to optimal stability.

investment

By in no means is this an all-inclusive list of all the contenders against the Sigma 24-70 Art, but to own all of them I would have to sell my right kidney. Since I am a Canon shooter I have tried the Mark I and Mark II versions and have gotten to test the Tamron when in need of a backup. Here is a list of alternatives and equivalents for this focal length across the manufacturers in the industry:

Price wise, the Sigma fits in somewhere in between the Tokina/Tamron and the Canon/Nikon, as expected. What’s really interesting is that the Sigma offers OS (optical stabilization), the Nikon has VR (vibration reduction), and the Tamron has VC (vibration compensation) while the rest do not compensate for stabilization. Is that reflected in the price? Well definitely in Nikon’s but Tamron and Sigma only have $100 difference between the two, while Canon’s MKII and Sigma have a solid $450 difference. What more are you getting at this price point though? Let’s dive into the nitty gritty shall we.

Sharpness & image quality

3 Image Pano-Stitch @ 70mm

I did find it difficult to test the Sigma against its opponents when using it at weddings and events considering I didn’t have the freedom or time to constantly switch lenses to practically take the same shot. What I did find is that you can achieve almost identical image quality with this lens than you would with any of its competitors. I bet you can’t guess which set of images below was taken on a Canon vs a Sigma?

Well? Is there a difference in compression, sharpness, quality? Negligible. (In case you needed to know the images on the right were taken with the Sigma 24-70 Art.) Sigma has done a phenomenal job creating an equivalent when it comes to image quality with this new Art. When there is ample light this lens performs like a dream, but this conditional performance just doesn’t cut it for wedding photographers – not in a new lens.

Edge Distortion & Chromatic aberration

If you click this image and zoom for yourself you’ll see a slight CA issues in the brighter parts of the image near the strong transition from highlights to shadows in the buildings. The edge distortion @ 24mm wasn’t nearly as bad as the Sigma 24 Art (which I also own).

See more images taken with the Sigma 24-70mm Art below at real weddings and events. 

real-world application

After scrounging online to see what other’s felt about this lens I felt as though many people missed the opportunity to put this lens through its paces since that is largely the purpose of a lens with this focal length. To test its capabilities, I took it with me on several weddings, an in-studio portrait session, a weekend trip to Seattle, and a smaller engagement party.

These images prove that it isn’t the gear that makes the shot look significantly better (especially since the specs and stats place the Sigma Art 24-70 among the top contenders in its class) but more so how you utilize what you have and push the gear you own to its full potential. All images edited using SLR Lounge Preset System

@ 70mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/400th

@ 42mm f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/200th (with constant light)

@ 70mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/800th

@ 33mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/2500th

@ 24mm f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/320th

@ 24mm f/6.3, ISO 200, 1 Second Exposure (Tripod)

@ 44mm f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/320th

@ 24mm f/6.3, ISO 200, 1 Second (Tripod)

@ 50mm f/6.3, ISO 3200, 1/10th (Tripod)

@ 24mm f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/80th (Handheld)

@ 62mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/1600th

@ 24mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/250th (one of only shots that showed strong bokeh)

@ 70mm f/3.5, ISO 6400, 1/125th

@ 24mm f/11, ISO 100, 1/400th (you can see the edge distortion here as well)

A small note about taking this lens traveling: Because of its weight I found it quite annoying to haul around town. While having this focal length for a variety of scenes is key I don’t think I would be able to recommend this to anyone if they are specifically looking to travel with just this lens. Refer back to the weight chart to see why I would choose a Canon MKII over this.

@ 70mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/320th

In-studio Shots using an Alien Bee Lighting Setup. Image on the left: @ 67mm f/4.5, ISO 200, 1/160th Image on the Right: @ 70mm, f/9, ISO 200, 1/160th

Is this the workhorse for you?

My first professional lens purchase was the Canon 24-70 MKI and is still my most used lens to this day. While I wanted this lens to be my Art in shining armor, it just didn’t have the integrity necessary to keep up with the demands of our job as wedding photography. The Sigma 24-70mm Art’s aesthetics parallel that of its Art predecessors and you can feel the quality to the touch with it’s fluid zoom & focus rings and sturdy switches. However, its struggling AF and performance in low light scenarios proved that it lacks the consistency to be a keeper in my kit. Although it passed with flying colors in brighter situations, I can’t rely on that AF when all moments matter.

You can purchase or pre-order the new Sigma 24-70mm Art for CanonNikon, or Sony.

Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aleksander Michaud

    I hate to be that guy, so feel free to delete this afterwards, but it looks like under Cons you have “like other art lenses… is weather sealed”, but I think you mean to say “is not”, because I don’t think any of the art lenses have rubber gaskets, etc. Again, not trying to be the correction troll, great article!

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  2. Marc Wrzesinski

    It really looks like Tamron gets the big win this year in the 24-70mm. I know which way I’m going when purchasing now. 

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  3. Parampreet Dhatt

    The “normal” zoom range (24mm onwards) seems to be Sigma’s Achilles heel as their previous 24-105mm f/4 was also a mediocre lens compared to the rest of the Art lineup and the competition.

    The older Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC seems to be the best bargain in this price range, as it optically (almost) as good as the Sigma and its price will drop further with the launch of the G2 variant.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Everyone is waiting to see what that G2 holds for them – I am hoping that its the hero everyone is holding out for. 

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  4. Kachi Eke

    I signed up just to point out that horribly  scaled graph showing the weight of the lenses. There’s only a couple hundred grams between the lenses, but the scaling makes it seem like the Sigma is several times heavier than the Canon.  Anyone who’s taken a statistics class in HS or college should be offended by that graph.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Well, thanks for signing up! You can see from Steinar’s comment below that I amended the text to represent a percentage. I am sorry if the graph offends you but there are much worse things happening for this to be THAT offensive. Thanks for reading! 

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    • mark meerdam

      i agree completely. Off course there are worse things to be offended about but it is just plain misleading, if there’s  a 20% difference, a graph should not imply over double/triple the weight. You use graphs to enhance comprehension not create alternate realities. Shivani, it hurts your credibility to keep the chart up without modification. I question your motives now.

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  5. Steinar Knai

    I find the comments and graphs about the weight difference unclear and not quite fair. The weight difference is only about 20 % between the Canon and the Sigma, but the graph shows them as being almost double, unless you properly read the left axis of the graph,  which many people will not do. Just say the Sigma is 20% heavier and it becomes more meaningful and less of a punishment. 

    Now for the AF problems there may be no other solution then bringing a flash, which most wedding photographers do anyways. Nobody tries to take pictures of a moving scene at 1/8s at f2.8 at ISO 12800. Come on. Mind you, if you cannot focus, the flash won’t help much, will it. Although you can always shoot at f11 with a flash and everything will be sharp.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Steinar, 

      Thanks for reading through, I appreciate it. I can see what you are saying about the graph but it clearly denotes the what the axis represents. The Sigma is 2.24 lbs. while Canon MKII is 1.775 (taken from B&H’s Weight Specs). My hope in creating the graph is that people click in to read it – I have no issue making that adjustment. Thanks. 

      As far as the AF goes, I did mention I was using a flash for Af assist. As far as the shots being out of focus, there was slight action involved and the Sigma couldn’t keep up. While I have had issues with my Canon MKI, the hit accuracy wasn’t this bad. Even in a conference room like setting it just wasn’t nailing focus because of the lack of ambient light available. That was a fact for me, it may not have been that way for someone else. But that unreliability is just something you can’t afford when you are documenting things as they are happening, can we agree on that? 

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  6. Pye Jirsa

    Very curious how this lens, along with the rest of Sigma’s Art line up holds up in durability over time. Seems like each one has had long-term quality issues. The lenses come amazingly sharp, with very high quality glass, but then simply can’t hold up to continual use as they require frequent recalibrations. 

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    • Chris Warkocki

      I’d like to see where you got this info or if it’s just a statement without fact. I’ve owned the 35 1.4 Art since launch day for Nikon and calibrated it once. Same with my day one 50mm, 24mm, and 85mm. I only shoot 25-30 weddings a year, but also shoot model/fashion work and family sessions. I’ve put on over 1 million shutter releases on my dual 750s and they still focus like day one. The rubber is definitely showing age and it’s starting to wear in the paint but your frequent recalibration statement has been completely wrong for me and many others I know locally who own the same lenses.

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    • Pye Jirsa

      Chris Warkocki Not sure if you disagreeing with me merits flagging my comment, but touché ;) 

      Glad your experience and your friends experiences have been positive. As a studio shooting millions of images each year, the hitrate for shooters on sigma using 5DM3s or 5DM4s (through the viewfinder) is lower than those using factory glass. That hit rate also decreases over time and I’ve worked directly with Sigma reps to try to fix.

      Many established photographers are experiencing similar issues, especially over time. It’s something we’ve discussed with Sigma directly. Great image quality, but AF reliability over time wasn’t there.

      That being said, maybe they’ve corrected the problem. This was an issue on every Sigma art prime I owned. But, just speaking from experience, not trying to fanboy or bash another brand. We love what Sigma is doing in pushing the industry.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Chris Warkocki, I too have personally encountered numerous Sigma lenses with serious physical damage due to “regular” use by working pros. I’ve encountered two 35 Arts and two 50 Arts that literally were falling apart, (the screws inside were coming loose, and the lenses were just plain *breaking*) …and at least two 24 Arts that had major, major de-centering issues that caused severe plane of focus tweaks which made the lens borderline useless for astro-landscape photos.

      Simply put, these lenses start off rock-solid like Pye said, but if you heavily use them, you begin to play roulette. You may have a copy of a lens that never “goes bad”, but you may have a lens that winds up literally falling apart after 1-2 years of heavy use.

      That’s not to say that I haven’t also experienced Canon and Nikon lenses that had the same “falling apart” issues. However, on average especially among the prime lenses, Canon and Nikon’s top-tier lenses do seem to be more “indestructible” than Sigmas, Tokinas, and Tamrons.

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    • Giules LeClerc

      Hi Pye,

      I have to agree that I’ve noticed a lot more wear & tear / durability issues over a longer life span on the art lenses, but particularly my 35 1.4.  I haven’t been that pleased with the AF either, though I love the lens when it locks in.

      It’s been mentioned that the art lenses that came out later had fewer AF / durability issues and it certainly feels like that.

      I’ve been debating between this 24-70 and Tamron’s new one, which looks incredible on paper.

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    • Chris Warkocki

      I flag anything that would be considered hearsay. What is many to you? A dozen or two photographers? 

      I’ve had Canon and Nikon glass go out of alignment.

      If you have hit rate problems I would first consider bettering the person behind the camera. It’s not always the gears fault. 

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  7. Nikhil Shetty

    Well from the pictures of the lens. Looks like it zooms in the same direction as canon as all sigma’s do. Am I misunderstanding something. 

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Nikhil, 

      Thanks for reading! I went in and clarified, but the what I meant to say was that the rings are switched on the Sigma and Canon. The Canon’s zoom ring is closer to the front glass element while on the Sigma the focus ring is closer. So I kept trying to zoom in on the Sigma but only ended up changing focus. Even though the ring sizes are different, it was hard to get used to since my mind is formatted to think the zoom is further down on the lens. Make sense? 

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    • Nikhil Shetty

      Hi Shivani Got it. I thought you were talking about the zoom ring direction. Thanks for clarifying. 

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  8. Kishore Sawh

    This really has me intrigued now. The Nikon 24-70 is such a monster, but performs so well. The price point is astronomical by comparison, so I’m curious how the new Tamron will fare, and I’ll be testing that soon. 

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Ohh, can’t wait for that!

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    • Wendell Weithers

      With Tamron’s recent IQ improvements and sub-sigma pricing, I’d say they will have made a stronger lineup for DSLR’s in the future. As Megapixels increase, their VC will become more vital to shooters. They only need to flesh out their new SP lineup a bit more.

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    • Matthew Saville

      BTW, why no mention of the Nikon mk1 24-70, even though the Canon mk1  24-70 is mentioned? The Nikon 24-70 mk1 beats the pants off the Canon 24-70 mk1, in fact it’s about roughly the same sharpness as the mk2.

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