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?

Specs

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.

Focus

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.

Exposure

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.

Sharpness

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.

Bokeh

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.

Unboxing

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 [http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/18-55mm-vr.htm](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

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