Archive for the ‘gear’ category

Real world experience with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art

April 23rd, 2016

Writing my first article about the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art lens was mostly motivated by the fact that the AF inconsistency was sooo frustrating. Then only one week later I dropped the camera (a first for me in 10 years of owning a DSLR) with the Sigma attached, damaging the rear barrel and destroying the main PCB. But hey, I already knew where to send it so some weeks and about 200€ later I got it back like new just before leaving for two weeks vacation in Sri Lanka.

Of course there was no time to check focus again or even take test shots so this journey was the real test to see if the lens can hold up to my expectations.

After going through over 800 pictures the situation is more or less unchanged

  • AF misses maybe 10-15% of all shots
  • when AF is off it is almost always completely off – more or less to either end of the focus scale
  • I found no pattern in the AF glitches, they seem to be more or less random
  • refocusing one or two times gets the AF to work correctly most of the time
  • Sharpness, contrast and color is absolutely amazing when focus is correct

All in all the lens was way more convenient to use for everyday shooting than I thought. Yes, the range may be a bit limited compared to a 17-50mm f/2.8  and it is far bigger and heavier. However the creative potential and amazing image quality at all apertures makes the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art a joy to use for me.

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EOS 7D – ISO100 – 1/2000 s – f/1.8 – 18mm

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EOS 7D – ISO3200 – 1/200 s – f/1.8 – 20mm

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EOS 7D – ISO800 – 1/60 s – f/1.8 – 18mm

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EOS 7D – ISO100 – 1/1600 s – f/1.8 – 18mm

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EOS 7D – ISO100 – 1/1250 s – f/1.8 – 18mm

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art: a Story of love and despair

December 23rd, 2015

Did you ever think that your standard 17-50 (or similar) lens has a too large zoom range, weighs too little and is too cheap? Surely not. So why would you want to have a massive 18-35mm lens that costs around 750€? Sigma must be nuts to develop such a thing!

S1835_bokeh_IMG_4386

Two reasons: aperture and image quality. It’s that simple.

Long Story first – skip if you just need technical details.

I first tried the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art in Dublin on holiday. After a few test shots the autofocus appeared to be a hit and miss so I played it safe and decided not to buy abroad.

Back home I went to my local dealer and spent a long time trying their only remaining model. The result was so-so even on a 7DmkII and 750D that they had on display. But as they had all lenses on sale for 10% off that day I jumped right in and bought it.

What do you do with a new lens? You walk around and shoot random things, learning how your new toy behaves in the real world. Disillusion came quick as I realized that the focus was off at many distances that I had not tried in the shop.

So I went back, ready to get an instant refund. The good man at the shop however convinced me to give it one more chance and let him send it to Sigma for calibration. So after an agonizing 6 weeks (they forgot to send the proof of purchase) I went back, tried it and oh wonder suddenly it was focusing perfectly at the distances that were terrible before.

Some days later I had time for some testing and instantly I regretted ever getting the lens. The focus was now way off at the distances that were perfect before! This time I decided to contact Sigma directly via eMail. The response was quick and nice and they asked me to send the lens and camera in again promising to return all before christmas. I got a for for a free return with DHL and off it went.

Wondering how long this may take I was extremely surprised when 3 days later I got a packet back.

The result? Oh well… I was SO frustrated to find that trying to focus on my self-printed test target was horrible at 18mm and a distance of around 1-1.5m.

What now? An email with no so happy words was prepared to go, I went through loads of websites where people seemed to have similar problems but they solved them by calibrating the lens themselves with the Sigma USB dock. But I had the lens calibrated twice by Sigma themselves! Why should I invest even more time and money to make the lens work?

Oh well, the dock can be returned and I really want the lens to work so I will just give it one last try.

Hours of adjusting and testing later all focal lengths were adjusted at all possible distances. Especially the infinity setting had to be heavily corrected.

And the result of all this? Let me put it like this: The focus itself is far from perfect and hopefully Sigma can improve it via firmware update in the future but in the real world it works really fine. Not always perfect but most of the time.

Now let’s get to the technical details.


Technical details

The lens is a massive piece of equipment. Compared to the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 it not only looks huge. It’s almost twice the weight (852g according to the kitchen scales) and with the hood off it is as long as the Tamron with the hood on.

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The filter diameter is reasonable at 72mm and there is no restriction for using filters like bulbous front elements or similar.

What stands out even more than the size and weight is the high quality feel when holding it. Sigma has really outdone themselves with the latest lens design of the Art-Line lenses. The Plastic feels almost like metal, focus and zoom rings are perfectly damped, the AF switch clicks nicely and of course there is no wobble at all.

One thing that I always hated about Canon lenses is the lack of accessories that come with the lens as standard. On non-L lenses you don’t even get a lens hood as standard and bags are not nice and padded but mostly simple pouches. Sigma supplies you for free with a nice bag and a lens hood that is unparalleled (as far as my knowledge of lenses goes).

There is no movement when zooming or focusing. Everything happens inside the barrel.

Enough for the external view. How does it look on the inside? The optical construction is very complex with 17 elements in 12 groups. That’s of course what makes the lens heavy and big.

Chromatic aberrations are low, vignetting is well controlled, distortion is ok and not really relevant in everyday situations, AF is really fast, coma is good.

What is most important: the images produced are incredibly sharp at all apertures and focal lengths. Images at f/1.8 are already sharp and contrasty across the frame. Stopping down improves corner quality and overall detail a bit but mainly it reduces vignetting.

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18mm@f/1.8, 100% crop, no adjustments

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18mm@f/4, 100%crop, no adjustments

One important aspect of large aperture lenses is the background blur or “bokeh”. The question whether the quality is good or not depends very much on your own taste.

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EOS 7D – ISO100 – 1/1000 s – f/1.8 – 18 mm

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EOS 7D – ISO100 – 1/1600 s – f/2 – 18 mm

For me the Bokeh is very nice but not perfect. Highlight are nice and circular but not as creamy as you are used to from f/1.8 prime lenses.


Summary

Sigma has created a unique lens with the 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art that makes things possible that one could only dream of before. 18mm f/1.8 lenses were not even available as prime lenses and they managed to put in zoom and astounding image quality as well!

Optics and build quality are up to highest standards and combined with the reasonable price (around 700€ in Germany in November 2015) the value for money is amazing.

The focus issues are something to worry especially for those who do not want to invest hours of work for calibration. Especially the fact that two trips to the Sigma service center did not really help makes me wonder what they are doing. Better calculate 40€ for the USB dock when looking for the lens.

So in the end there is a lot of good stuff but it is hard to overlook the focus calibration issue.


Other reviews

photozone.de

lenstip.com

dpreview.com

Upgrading external hard drives

September 8th, 2011

I have several external USB hard drives for multiple backups. Of course hard discs are getting bigger every year – as do the files from digital cameras.

So I was wondering if I could just swap the “old” discs for new, bigger, more efficient and more silent ones.

The short answer is: Yes, you can but there are some limits.

 

I have bought a Seagate Barracuda ST2000DL003 (2TB, SATA) – very silent and doesn’t get too warm even after transfering 100GB+.

I wanted to replace the 500GB drive from a Western Digital Elements WD5000C035-000 but it doesn’t seem to work. I then tried to replace the 1TB drive from the WD10000E035 and it works! The 1TB WD drive also works as a replacement for the 500GB drive so everything went well.

 

In short:

2 TB Seagate SATA drive works fine in a WD10000E035 but NOT in a WD5000C035 case

1TB WD Caviar Green works in a WD5000C035 case

 

I would be interested in reports about other “upgrades” because I didn’t find anything on this topic on the web.

 

Testing a simple collapsible reflector

July 16th, 2011

Collapsible reflectors are dirt cheap – you can get one for around 20€ at your favorite online dealer. But what are they good for?

The one I bought is a bit more than 100 cm in diameter and offers a black, white, silver and gold side as well as a translucent diffuser.

So for a little testing to show how useful the effect can be I took my two “Häkelschweine” and did a quick shooting!

 

First of all the picture without the reflector. The light comes from two windows, one behind and one to the right of my cute models. The reflector was placed on the left.

As you can see there are relatively harsh shadows on the left side as well as under the ears. Nothing dramatic because there is no direct sunlight but it could be better.

 

Using the white reflector

The white reflector is matte so it doesn’t reflect that much light.  Nevertheless it improves the evenness of the lighting quite a bit.

 

On to the golden reflector

The golden reflector gives a warm light and because it is glossy the image looks almost as if a flash had been used.

 

The silver side

Like the golden side the silver side is glossy and it reflects even more light. It is more difficult to use and produces relatively hard, cold light.

 

Last but nor least (*) – the translucent diffuser

The diffuser is simply held above the subjects to make the lighting more even. The effect is clearly different and I can imagine most useful when combined with a second diffuser or a flash.

 

Summary:  Reflectors are cheap, simple to use, small (40 cm diameter when folded) and give good results. If from time to time you are doing portraits or product photography there is no cheaper way to get much better pictures than with a simple reflector. You can also build your own with Styrofoam or aluminium foil on a wooden board but why all the hassle when you get the same delivered and ready to use for under 30€? The only downside is that you might need a second person or a stand to help you holding it and when it’s windy this thing is like a sail.

 

(*) I couldn’t find a use for the black side. Maybe when there is direct sunlight?

Spring is here – and so is my new camera

April 16th, 2011

Last week I got myself a new camera and so far I’m pretty impressed with the results. I hope to write a little about it here some time.

The high-ISO capabilities are really useful when using long lenses in not too bright conditions. No need to shoot wide open all the time.

 

7D – ISO1600 – 1/400 s – f/6.3 – 600 mm

 

7D – ISO1600 – 1/320 s – f/6.3 – 600 mm

A short test of the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX OS HSM

October 20th, 2010

The boring

I had the opportunity to take some testshots with Sigmas new 70-200mm f/2.8 OS that I wanted to share as well as my thoughts about the lens itself.

First of all I must say that I’m a big fan of some Sigma lenses – but not of Sigma in general. I love the 30mm/1.4 and the 150mm macro but I also found some “lemons” that just didn’t cut it like the 120-300/2.8.

The 70-200 OS looks highly interesting to me because it is the first non-Canon 70-200/2.8 that features an optic stabilizer as well as an ultrasonic AF motor, fits onto the EF mount and still sells for at least 20% less (give or take a few percent).

As I tested it in a shop my findings are just rough but I hope they give you an idea what this lens is like.

The lens

My first impressions were thet the build quality is highly impressive. It simply felt solid an well made unlike the Tamron 70-200/2.8 that I used for some hours a few months ago. the OS system works very good and the AF on the 40D was precise as well as decently fast. My EF 85/1.8 and 300/2.8 are faster but these lenses are widely known to be as fast as it gets.

Optically, I think, the Sigma does a really great job but doesn’t reach the levels of the new Canon 70-200/2.8 IS mkII.

For professionals or people with too much money the Canon still is THE lens to get but if I had to choose between the Canon and the Sigma plus a nice 4-day trip to Rome (or the like) the Canon woldn’t stand a chance.

The pictures

All pictures are converted with CaptureOne and not sharpened in post. For the real 100% view you might have to use the direct link (depending on your screen size).

Direct link

40D – ISO100 – 1/3200 s – f/2.8 – 91 mm

A 100% crop from the image center

40D – ISO100 – 1/1600 s – f/3.2 – 200 mm

A bit of Bokeh

40D – ISO100 – 1/320 s – f/2.8 – 97 mm

100% crop to test the OS effectivity

40D – ISO100 – 1/4 s – f/8 – 70 mm

The verdict

Would I like to have this lens? Definitively yes. It’s great in every aspect and would fit my needs.

Do I want it now? No, it still is too expensive at around 1500€ but the price keeps dropping so I will keep my eyes at it.