Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Lens Review

This is a review of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens for Nikon. I bought this lens with my own money for video and general photography like landscape and events. I paid $800 for it at BH Photo where they have a 4% rebate and offer it with expedited shipping.

Before this lens, I only had the 18-55mm and 55-300mm kit lenses that came with my Nikon 5100 bundle from Costco. When deciding on this lens, I was trying to pick one from Nikon 35mm f/1.8, Sigma 20mm f/1.4 ART, or Sigma 30mm f/1.4 ART. I wanted something fast so I could do night photography as well as wide-ish to capture landscapes. I wasn’t too keen on an ultra-wide-angle lens because of distortion. After looking around I decided on the Sigma 18-35mm because of TheCameraTVStore’s “It’s a bag-full of primes” comment. If I couldn’t pick one prime lens, then why not get them all?


From Sigma’s official website with some corrections.

Specification Value
Lens Construction 17 Elements in 12 Groups
Angle of View (SD1) 76.5ยบ-44.2ยบ
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Maximum Aperture f16
Minimum Focusing Distance 28 cm/ 11.0 in
Filter Size(mm) 72mm
Maximum Magnification 1:4.3
Dimensions(Diameter x Length) 78mmx121.0mm / 3.1in. x 4.8in.
Weight 28.6oz

First Impressions

My first impressions mirror those of other reviewers. The lens is solidly built but large and heavy with a big glass front. The focus and focal movements are heavy, like you are moving them through heavy syrup. The rings are made of rubber and that gives them a cheapish feel that I wouldn’t expect at this price range. All the movement is internal so I don’t have to worry about hitting the front when focusing on something close.

You have to be careful when handling the lens, it sticks out quite a bit and the weight gives it a good amount of momentum. This along with the big glass front makes me nervous when I’m around people or if I have to let go of the camera and let it swing by its strap around my neck.


Many people have commented that the lens is hard to focus. I suspect this is because of the lenses f/1.8 minimum aperture which results in a shallow depth of field. I have a feeling that with a big aperture the camera tries to bring everything into focus but the small depth of field renders some or most of the scene as out of focus. The user then decides the lens has focusing problems. I too had trouble with focus but I was able to work around it by setting the focus mode to single point and pushing the aperture to about f/4 for scenes with depth, like landscapes, and bumping it down to f/2 or f/1.8 when working with flatter objects.

In terms of mechanics the focusing is very quiet. I hear a soft purr when I’m holding the camera and nothing when I’m taking pictures from a few feet a way with the remote. I don’t like using continuous-servo autofocus with the kit lenses because they continuously grind, with this lens I don’t even hear it. This makes it excellent for movie making.


This lens tends to overexpose, especially in bright light or sunlight. I suspect the large aperture allows in too much light and the camera sensors can’t quite adjust the shutter speed to deal with it. I often have to adjust the exposure by -1 to -1/2 in bright light. Conversely, the exposure is excellent in the shade or when cloudy.


Once you get past the focus and exposure problems, you’ll find the lens is very sharp. Everything in focus has good detail and you won’t find the colors meshing even when you zoom in. Parts that are out of focus will, of course, not be sharp but they have a nice blurriness to them.


The bokeh on this lens is excellent. Words that describe it include ‘creamy’, ‘smooth’, and ‘buttery’. Phrases like ‘broken glass’ or ‘jagged’ do not apply.


I have an unboxing video on youtube.

Final Thoughts

Overall this is an ok lens. The pictures are excellent once it is tuned, but it is difficult to get there. The sharpness and bokeh are excellent but the big aperture makes it difficult to focus and gives it a tendency to overexpose. The lens’ weight and size make it difficult to carry and the mass makes it bang around when you are carrying while walking or hiking. I wish it had the ease of use and lightness of my 18-55mm kit lens.

For comparison, I’d rate my previous favorite lens, the 18-55mm kit lens that came with my camera, at 85% of as this lens. The kit lens is quite nice and as [](Ken Rockwell) says, its perfect and not much it can’t do well. In bright light the kit lens captures excellent images with good sharpness and detail. Those that own this lens know what I’m talking about. If you are not a professional shooting indoors (and a professional probably won’t have a crop sensor) I’d suggest sticking with the kit lens and spending the extra money on a flash to boost your indoor game along, optionally, with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8.

Other Reviews

Unlike many reviewers, I did not receive this lens for a review. I bought and paid for it with my own money. So keep in mind that reviewers that didn’t pay for their version will tend to gloss over its faults.

Sample Image

I took this picture on a cloudy and rainy day. The color reproduction is excellent and you can see I focused on the face and the rest of the body and background is pleasantly out of focus. You see how the depth of field is very shallow and how this can make it difficult to focus on a moving object. Click on the image to see the original full version to get an idea of the sharpness. At full size you can see my reflection in the eyes!

Image of dog taken with Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 lens


Briggs and Riley Torq International Carryon Review

I am a long time backpack carrier. I’ve put my stuff in one from when I got my first pack in Kindergarten to now where I use it to tote my laptop and sundries around. I even take one to the store to carry my groceries instead of the reusable bags most people prefer. For travel, backpacks are ideal. You can fit in a few days of gear and still be highly mobile. Being malleable, they generally fit under the seat and no one takes notice when someone is walking around with one.

They do have their drawbacks though. They are literally a pain to carry. My backpack puts stress on my neck and shoulders which hurt after a long day of travel. Since they are soft-sided, they don’t protect delicate items like electronics well. Especially when you put it in the overhead compartment and someone comes by and shoves in their over-sized carry-on with complete disregard for your possessions.

I decided to purchase a carry-on after a long multi-city international trip where I had to lug my backpack across many flights. I decided to adopt my travel companion’s strategy of putting his backpack in the carry-on for portability during travel. He would leave the carry-on at the hotel and load up his backpack with just the essentials when we were at our destination and getting out and about.

The Decision

I turned to the Flyertalk travel products forum figuring the seasoned travelers on that board would have good advice. While Red Oxx’s Air Boss and Mini Air Boss where highly recommended, I did not choose one because I was getting away from carrying things. Tumi came up often but so did their limited warranty. Rimowa was another option but seemed to be too heavy, too pricey, and a bit too big for me. Travelpro came up a few times as a budget brand. They were outed to have bad warranty support and were often mentioned to weasel their way out of fixing their bags even when under warranty.

Red Briggs & Riley Torq Carry-on back corner view showing zipper curve

One brand that the forum consistently praises is Briggs and Riley. Their bags are built like tanks. They have excellent support. Their warranty was simply “lifetime”. I barely saw bad feedback. Some of their product warranties even cover damage that occurs during travel. After some research I settled on the Torq® International Carry-on. It has the aforementioned warranty that covered travel damage, a separate compartment for my laptop, and at 21″x14″x9″ sized to fit most domestic and international airline limits. Oh, and it had a hardcase so Mr. Oversized bag wouldn’t squish my things.


Purchasing was easy. I bought a red one during the Briggs and Riley $50 off every $350 spent Christmas sale. I’ve heard further discounts are possible if you use an email sign-up coupon along with a sale at another retailer. I briefly thought about also purchasing a B&R backpack. After looking at the prices, I decided against it. It “shipped” the same day I ordered which means the package information was sent to Fedex and it was scheduled for pick-up. The package was sent from Santa Fe Springs, CA and I received it 4 days later in Northern Oregon.

The Suitcase

Red Briggs and Riley Torq carryon wheels

The suitcase came in a big box and was protected by a white cover. The cover is to be used when the suitcase is in storage.

The B&R Torq® is designed with style. The black of the laptop section contrasts nicely with the red, and the zipper curve at the bottom makes it look business-like. It sits apart from the mass-manufactured Samsonite flat colors with straight zips. The interior padding is unexpectedly plush and the packing guides fold out as promised. I like how the handle mechanism is heavily padded to keep the inside of the suitcase flat which helps keep my clothes wrinkle free. The base of the case expands down to between the wheels which gives it a low center of gravity. The rolling is light and easy and the suitcase pivots nicely. The small size lends to easy rolling down airplane aisles and you can maneuver it overhead without risk of hurting someone. I love the fact that it measures exactly what B&R lists on its site – 21x14x7 inches.

This carry-on does get some looks. The check-in agent gave it a good look on a recent flight from Portland. The Alaska Airlines Board Room Lounge agent gave me a nice smile and was friendly instead of display the normal business-like demeanor. And the passenger that was one seat up from me was giving it side glances while we were waiting to de-plane. She had a Tumi bag so she probably knew with what I was rolling. I feel like I’m in an exclusive club when I travel with this case. This is the carry-on to get if you want to blend in with the business folks and appear to be in the know.

Red Briggs and Riley Torq carryon laptop pocket hinge details with closeup

While it has the aura of sophistication, the Torq® feels moderately flimsy. I think it is because of the trade-offs to keep the weight low. The sides of the case are not rigid and flex when I put weight on them. While the individual pieces are solid, the joints of the handles click and clack. The zipper looks weak – it does not have anything like the size, feel, or strength of Red Oxx’s #10 zippers. It is a small zipper like one you’d find on a clearance bomber jacket from the Men’s Warehouse. Only time will tell if the suitcase can stand up to the rigors of travel. I am not concerned because of the B&R reputation and their warranty.

As many people have pointed out, the laptop/tablet pocket is on the small side and is more of a tablet and less of a laptop pocket. Having said that, thought, it fits my Lenovo Yoga 12 ThinkPad. It is a tight fit though. The pocket has hard protection on all sides, even on the inside. However, the sides flex under weight and so I wouldn’t check it with my laptop inside.

Red Briggs and Riley Torq carryon wheel well closeup


There isn’t much room for improvement with the Torq®. The sides could be more rigid but I suppose that is a trade-off with the weight. They could have put a handle on the bottom to make it easier to pull when it arrives wheels first. But that may interfere with the low center of gravity. They could have inset the handle into the bottom, but I guess we are quibbling over small details here.

Red Briggs and Riley Torq carryon wheel detail showing logo and closeup

Close-up of the Briggs & Riley Torq Carry-on handle

Red Briggs and Riley Torq carryon zippers curve

Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber Tripod Review

I bought the Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber Tripod to use with my Nikon D5100 for outdoor and indoor video and photography. It is a nice tripod and a decent deal if you can get it on sale for less than its list price.

I highly recommend that you consider the aluminum version. You’ll easily save $100 to $150 for a about 0.5lb increase in weight and no change in any other specification. The head, body, and base plate are already made of aluminum on both – the only difference is in the legs.

Quick Specs

Category Carbon Fiber Aluminum
Weight 2.4lbs 3lbs
Leg Material Carbon Fiber Aluminum
Max Load 8.8lbs
Max Height 56.7”
Minimum Height 13.4”
Folded Height 15.8”
Head and Body Material Aluminum


The BeFree Carbon Fiber Tripod is very popular and highly recommended but I’ve found that it is not a no-compromises tripod. Typical with things built to a price point it has its pros and cons.


  • It is light and compact – The BeFree only weights 2.4lbs. It folds up really small, is incredibly light, and I can take it on long hikes without it weighing me down.

  • It’s build solid. It does have some wobble at full extension is stable at minimum extension. The heads locks down tight and the center column doesn’t wobble. The fact that the legs are carbon fiber leads me to my next point …

  • The legs are made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is light, it won’t rust or corrode, and it naturally dampens vibrations. They even make racecars out of it!

  • Unlike cheaper tripods, spare parts are easily available. This tripod is considered to be premium and, including the aluminum version, 100s of thousands have been sold. This means that parts are easily available. You can easily buy them directly from Manfrotto or salvage them from older tripods.


  • The bag it comes with is flimsy. The zipper feels cheap and I can see the bag deforming where the handle connects to it just after a few trips. They really should have spent a few more dollars to make a nice denier nylon carrying case.

  • The BeFree is wobbly when fully extended even though it is made from carbon fiber. It doesn’t have spiked feet or a hook to hang a bag off for stability. It will wobble even in light wind and shooting a timelapse with a reasonable zoom lens will make you motion sick.

  • The tripod is compact but not that compact – It is not usable as a tabletop tripod because even at minimum extension the legs splay too far wide. It does have the capability to flip the center column and mount the camera between the legs. However this results in a flipped picture and the legs still take up a considerable amount of space. This makes taking table top un-boxing and review videos difficult.

  • Although it is branded the ‘Carbon Fiber“, only the legs are carbon fiber. The rest of the tripod – the center column, the head, the base plate, and the leg connectors – are all aluminum. It really should be called the BeFree with carbon fiber legs.

  • The base plate doesn’t have a coin slot to unscrew it. It just has a somewhat flimsy handle that I feel will break off after some use.

  • The baseplate isn’t perfectly flat, it has a slight edge to it on the corners which makes the camera tilt over on a flat surface – it really could be made more stable. I hesitate to remove the baseplate every time I take my camera off the tripod because like I mentioned above, it looks like the screw handle will break off after some use.

  • Along similar lines, the baseplate has hard edges and pointy corners. I hesitate to put it table surfaces to avoid scratches. Rubberizing the base of the baseplate would have made sense but again it seems like there was a price point they wanted to hit.

Final Thoughts

The Manfrotto BeFree is an excellent travel tripod. It is compact, sturdy, well-built but sacrifices stability and has been built to a price point resulting in some compromises. If you can handle a 1/2lb increase in weight then I’d recommend the aluminum version. Except for the legs, there is no difference in specification between the aluminum and carbon-fiber versions and the price difference is substantial at around $150.

Unboxing Video

Watson EN-EL14A Lithium Ion Battery Pack Review and Pictures

I’ve recently become interested in photography. I have a Nikon D5100 and while I can take several hundred pictures by themselves, using the screen and taking video tends to drain the battery. Since I only have the one battery my Nikon D5100 came with, I decided to get a second battery for extended photo sessions.

Looking at the B and H Photo website, I had the option of purchasing an OEM Nikon EN-EL14A battery for $42 or a generic “Watson” brand battery for $30. The reviews for the Watson battery were mostly positive. Both batteries had free shipping so the choice was clear – I picked the Watson battery and saved the $12 for future shopping.

The battery shipped and arrived surprisingly fast. I ordered it on a Thursday and it was at my house on the following Monday. I opened the package and plugged the Watson battery into the OEM Nikon charger that came with my camera. It charged fine. Nikon is known to puts chips in their batteries to keep out competitors but this battery worked in my D5100. I was able to take pictures and change settings right away. The Watson weights about the same as the OEM Nikon battery but I expect it to last a little longer between charges because it is rated for 1150mAh vs the 1030mAh the EN-EL14 (no A at the end) that came with my camera.

I will update this page if the battery doesn’t live up to expectations. For now the battery functions the same and lasts as long as my OEM Nikon battery.


Front of Watson EN EL-EL14A Battery in Package

Back of Watson EN EL-EL14A Battery in Package

Review of the Cirque Du Soleil Show – ‘O’

I attended the Cirque Du Soleil Show “O” at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. I had seats in the center section in the third row from the front. I paid $160 for the seat. While the show is good, if I could choose again, I wouldn’t pay $160 to watch it from the front. I’d sit towards the back and pay the the $100 to $120 I think it is worth.

My thoughts on the show …

I didn’t gain much from sitting at the front. Parts of the show take place in the middle of the theater and it was difficult to watch that from the front. Also, a lot of action occurs on the sides of the stage and it was difficult to keep everything in sight without moving my head around because I was so close to the front. I would recommend sitting towards the back of the front section to keep everything in view and also see the parts of the show that occur in the middle of the audience.

It seemed like some of the performers were new or out of practice. it could have been that they were just out of practice since this was the first show of the week. For example, during some of the water scenes the people on the outside seemed to be a half beat out of sync with the center. In another scene some of the performers weren’t keeping up or the coordination was lacking and one even dropped their scarf.

Be sure to bring your own water or get a drink before you go to the show. There are no water fountains, even at the restrooms in the theater lobby. The only water was the “$7 for a small bottle” water.

Pricing for souvenirs is similarly exorbitant. Before the show they had people going around taking photographs of attendees. At the end of the show these photographs were being sold at $40 for just two prints. Don’t bother with the gift shop – even the discount rack was expensive. You are better off purchasing souvenirs from Ebay.

The stage pool is marvel of engineering. The surface of the water is very smooth and despite the pool being filled to the surface, the audience was not unintentionally splashed. The pool has a floor that allows the depth to vary and it even comes up to create a solid floor.

The set itself is also interesting. Instead of the traditional rise or part, the curtain is pulled back and disappears into the background. At closing it is pulled back into place. Overhead there is a huge crane with a rotating section that operates very quietly. Look up during the ship scene to see it.

Here are several videos online that go behind the scenes and give a preview of the show.

Behind The Scenes

Official Trailer

Le Rêve

La Rêve is a similar show at The Wynn hotel. I imagine their pool and technology is similar to the one used by ‘O’.


Red Oxx Rigger Wallet – A Review

I happened across Red Oxx while reading through the Flyertalk forums. The thread was about about their Mini Air Boss and was filled with rave reviews about the build quality and the Red Oxx unconditional warranty. I checked out their site and noticed they had a wallet. I had been looking for a wallet for a while and almost settled on a Bellroy but was hesitant because it is pricey and the thin fashionable leather did not seem durable.

There are not many formal reviews of the Red Oxx wallet or even the many Red Oxx products. I suspect this is because Red Oxx does not advertise an affiliate program and I suppose this lack of payment for clicks precludes many bloggers from shilling their products.
However, the many forum posts I perused spoke highly of their products and warranty which is why I decided to try them out. The Red Oxx Rigger wallet looked simple and durable and was not too expensive at $25 so I purchased a red one along with a Safari Chica bag.


A few days after my order, I received an email from Red Oxx stating that the Red Rigger wallet was out of stock with an unknown availability date and that I could pick a different color. Most interestingly the email mentioned that Red Oxx does not make the Rigger wallet. The representative mentioned that it is the only product they outsource and it is made by a company in California. I decided to go with a black wallet instead figuring it was probably more formal than a red wallet and it had red stitching which was enough for me.

I received a shipping notice the same day I replied to the Red Oxx representative and the wallet and Chica bag showed up a few days later.  They were nicely packaged in a box bearing the Red Oxx logo and a cleanly formatted packing slip that detailed the order and shipping costs.

The Wallet

The wallet itself is well made and is built out of a very durable Cordura nylon fabric. All the edges are wrapped in another soft fabric which is then double stitched. There is only one main pocket but it is deep and surprisingly long when folded out. Besides money, I’ve also stashed my ID and ATM card in the big pocket.

The front consists of three sections. On the left there is a zippered change pocket, the middle contains a credit card pocket with another, hidden, compartment behind it for additional cards. The right side has a pocket with a transparent plastic front meant store your ID. The whole wallet is held closed by a very grippy velcro closure. The back of the wallet is a continuous strip of the same nylon fabric and has a strip across the lower third with, all stitched in red, the words “RED OXX” on the front, four parachutes on the back, and the word “RIGGER” on the inside flap.

The wallet is slim even after it is folded. I can feel it in my back pocket when I sit but it does not feel blocky or uncomfortable. The tall height allow the edges go beyond the cards inside which allows it taper off which gives the wallet a nice curve at the top and bottom. That helps when you’re sitting on it. The Cordura nylon feels tough with a tight weave and is decently water resistant. The zipper on the zippered pocket is not Red Oxx’s usual #10 zipper but rather their #5 zipper for comfort.

Image of the Red Oxx rigger wallet


I consider the The Red Oxx Rigger wallet to be a nice wallet but it has some drawbacks.

The zipper pocket needs to be a bit bigger so users can store credit or business cards in it. It’s usability as a coin pocket is limited. Putting more than a few coins in the wallet is not practical because it causes the wallet to bulge out which, unless you are ham handed, makes it difficult to carry and handle.

The plastic on the see-through window is rather soft and easily marked. I initially put a credit card in that slot but had to remove it since the raised credit card numbers were getting embossed into the plastic. I now have a flat card in that pocket but have noticed the Red Oxx label on the inside of the wallet is starting to mark the soft plastic.

The branding on the wallet is ostentatious. The RED OXX on the front, RIGGER on the inner flap, and the Red Oxx label sewn onto the middle pocket makes it seem like a gaudy kid’s wallet rather than a sleek something a professional should carry. Speaking of branding – Red Oxx lines the inside of their bags in red for visibility and it is considered one of their trademarks. It is interesting to see the red lining is not present in any way on the Rigger wallet.


While the Rigger wallet is decent, there is room for improvement.

Opening and closing the velcro is annoying if you have to do it often. It is very grippy and usually takes two pulls to open. It would be nice if there was a credit card pocket on the back of the wallet where we could stash our most commonly used card and perhaps some ID. A smaller inset pocket could even hold a $20 bill for quick access.

There should be an option for a bi-fold or larger tri-fold wallet that can hold a passport. This would make the wallet useful for travel and even allow for a bigger zipper pocket suitable for cards. Red Oxx could even add a pen.

Video Review

I have a short video review on Youtube. It is embedded below.