Archive for the Photography Gear Category

A Year With Sigma Lenses (plus a review of the 70-200 f2.8 and the 150 f2.8 macro)

Posted in Lens Review, Photography Gear with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by Darwin

Just over a year ago I was approached by Sigma Canada to see if I was interested in being a Sigma Professional. What that meant was that I would get some free lenses and all I needed to do was make images using Sigma lenses that Sigma Canada could use on their website to promote the brand. What photographer (especially a guy) does not want free lenses? So I agreed but on the condition that I could review their lenses and tell my honest impressions of each. If I could not say what I really thought, then I was not interested in the sponsorship. They agreed and so I used the lenses (a lot) and formed some opinions and did some reviews (see the list below). To see all upcoming reviews please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

Sigma 50-500 f4.5-6.3 zoom

Sigma 17-50mm f2.8

Sigma 85mm f 1.4

Sigma 8-16mm lens

Sigma 120-400mm f4.5-5.6

Sigma 24-70mm f2.8

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens at 45mm

Going into the deal I had some biased opinions about Sigma lenses (mostly based on what I heard form other photographers but not from any personal experience):

  1. Sigma stuff could hit or miss; there is wide manufacturing tolerance and you’ll get either a dud or a winner
  2. Sigma is pretty good at telephoto and macro lenses but poor at making wide angle lenses
  3. Sigma lenses are lower in contrast and build quality is lower than Canon or Nikon lenses

After using Sigma lenses for a year my impressions changed:

Lens Variation

There is a load of stuff on the web about people trying out numerous lenses of the same model and same brand in search of a winning copy (e.g. Canon’s 17-40L lens is a classic one where photographers try out many before finding a ‘good’ copy). This copy variation theory was suggested as applicable for all almost all brands, but the third party manufacturers (Sigma, Tokina, Tamron) were blamed for having the most variation.

I have no data to refute or confirm if variation is higher in the third party brands or not, but I do know that there are numerous variables that contribute to what photographers ‘perceive’ as lens variation (e.g. the same lens will test differently on different cameras of the same model and auto-focus gives different – usually softer – results than manual focus in Live View for instance). For an excellent series of articles on this topic every photographer should visit these links:

Notes on Lens and Camera Variation

The Limits of Variation

In the end, I do note that if a lens (Sigma or otherwise) is optimized for a particular camera body that optical performance is greatly increased. The nice thing about Sigma Canada is that if you think your lens is ‘softer’ than it should be, you just send it back to Sigma and they will calibrate it to your camera body and you’ll get back a lens that is performing to its best specs. I have talked to numerous photographers who have done this and they have all been amazed by the results! All of a sudden their so-so lenses became great. I have heard the same thing from Canon shooters who have had Canon recalibrate their lenses to much better results. So mileage my vary depending on how you drive….

All the lenses Sigma sent to me were ‘pimped’ out for optimal auto-focus for my camera bodies so they performed really well using auto-focus. But for my sharpness tests I only used manual focus and live view so the auto-focus variable was not a factor in my overall judgement of sharpness. In the end none of the lenses I tested from Sigma was lacking in the sharpness department. Indeed many were as good or slightly better than the Canon equivalents (see my previous review articles).

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 17-50mm lens at 17, f14

Telephoto versus Wide Angle Lenses

Some photographers insist that Sigma knows how to make telephoto lenses but that their wide angle lenses are not great. In my tests of the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 lens I was impressed and for me I liked the lens better than Canon’s 24-70mm lens in terms of performance and sharpness. On my Rebel I use the 17-50 f2.8 lens as my default lens and find is just as sharp as the Tamron or Canon equivalent.  And one of my favorite Sigma lenses is the 8-16mm lens for APS-C sensors. That lens is wicked fun and seems really nice and sharp to me. So… I dunno, I am not a lens tester, just a photographer and the results I got from all the Sigma lenses were perfectly fine to my eye.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

Build Quality

Build quality within a product line varies greatly. For example Canon’s consumer kit lens, the 18-50mm is a piece of crap but its pro lenses like the 70-200 f2.8L Mark II is super robust. You get what you pay for. Sigma has consumer lenses which are cheaply built (but not as bad as Canon’s 18-55mm!). And they have pro lenses which to me seem pretty robust but not as fully gasketed and weather-proof as Canon or Nikon’s top line lenses. Nevertheless the Sigma stuff lives up to my abuse (-40 Celsius, wind, dust, rain and snow). I have not had a failure yet but if push came to shove I think the Canon top end lenses might be just a bit better sealed (except for Canon’s 100-400mm dust-sucking monster!).

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 120-400 at 400mm

Conclusion

Here is the bottom line:  All the lenses I got from Sigma, I am going to keep and use. In fact, I sold a number of my Canon lenses. For me the Sigma lenses are as good as the Canon lenses (in some cases I liked them better) and they are usually 30-40% cheaper. If I had to buy these lenses this would be a huge factor. Look, I could sell all my Sigma glass (which I got for free) and buy Canon replacements. But why would I? The Sigma stuff is great and works for me and I see no real advantage to getting the Canon glass (except for Canon’s Tilt-shift lenses which is a whole other story!).

You may be skeptical and thinking, he is just saying this shit because he is sponsored and he wants more freebies. Well, the truth is I have recently rejected renewing any sponsorship or affiliations (more on that later). I am no longer sponsored or affiliated with anyone. I won’t get any more free stuff from anyone (including Sigma). I will be buying whatever I need with hard-earned cash just like the rest of you (so value for my dollar will be important going forward). For me I learned that Sigma gives good value and performance for the money spent. I don’t hesitate to recommend their products to any photographer.

Quick Review: Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM

This is Sigma’s pro 70-200mm lens that features optical stabilization, silent auto-focus (HSM), flourite low dispersion glass and full frame coverage. It is meant to compete with Canon’s 70-200 f2.8L IS II lens or Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. I have had the luxury of shooting with Sigma’s 70-200mm lens for about a year and I am happy with its sharpness and performance but can it compete with the Canon and Nikon 70-200’s? I can’t speak about the Nikon lens but I compared the Sigma and Canon lenses and found the following benefits for each lens:

Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

  1. The Sigma lens is much less expensive than Canon’s version ($1480 vs $2580 at The Camera Store). That is a huge difference!
  2. I found the Sigma lens to be just as sharp as the Canon lens across all apertures from f5.6 to f22 at all focal lengths The Canon was noticeably better at f2.8 both on edge and center sharpness and better at f4 along the edges.
  3. The autofocus on the Sigma was zippy and quiet and just as fast as the Canon lens except in low light where the Canon ‘hunted’ less for focus.
  4. I was super impressed by the lack of fringing and chromatic aberrations with the Sigma lens (IMO better then the Canon)

Canon 70-200 f2.8:

  1. This noticeably lens was better at f2.8 than the Sigma lens
  2. The Canon lens focuses a bit closer (which can be useful).
  3. Where the Canon lens really shines is with its Image Stabilization which easily lets your get sharp shots hand-held  down to 1/15th of a second. Amazing! The Optical Stabilization on the Sigma worked well down to 1/60th of a second and sometimes gave sharp shots to 1/30th.
  4. The build quailty of the Sigma is really good, but the Canon is better with gaskets for waterproofing.

Overall, I would rate the Sigma easily as good or slightly better than Canon’s previous version of its 70-200mm f2.8L lens. The Sigma is a very good lens especially for its price point. But the improvements to Canon’s latest 70-200mm lens (Mark II) are significant and for people who might shoot hand-held especially in dimmer light (e.g. wedding photographers or journalists) the better wide aperture performance and image stabilization on the Canon might justify the extra $1100 in costs for the Canon. Or if you shoot in rough conditions (sand storms, ocean spray etc), then the Canon might make more sense as well with its gasketing. But for photographers like me, who mostly use a tripod and only occasionally use f2.8 (which really ain’t bad on the Sigma), and who shoots outdoors but not in crazy extremes, then the Sigma 70-200mm lens makes more economic sense.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 70-200mm at 147mm, 1/40s at f2.8, hand-held

Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro

This one is easy; for me the longer the macro lens the better because the camera and lens will be further from the subject (working distance) and so I will be less likely to bump, shade, or disturb the subject. As well, a longer telephoto macro lens takes in a narrower background making it easier to make clean compositions. But everytime you double the focal length of a macro lens, the price doubles. A 100mm macro is twice the price of a 50mm macro for example so long lenses like a 150mm will cost you dearly (the Sigma costs about $1240 in Canada). But if you can afford it, I think a longer macro lens is better (especailly for nature subjects).

I have owned many macro lenses mostly in the 100mm to 180mm focal length and found all macro lenses to be among the sharpest optics made by lens manufacturers. Sigma is no exception, many of their macro lenses are highly rated. The previous 150mm macro without optical stabilization is well known among photographers to be a winner of a lens. So how does the newest version stack up?

I did not do a direct comparison with other macro lenses nor did I have an older 150mm for comparison but I can honestly tell you I was impressed by the sharp images I got with this lens. So far this is the sharpest macro lens I have owned. Possibly the Canon 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM is sharper but I have not done a comparison between the two lenses. The Canon has gotten some rave reviews to suggest it is a stellar performer.

Here are a couple of  reviews that of the Sigma 150mm lens. For me this lens does all I need it to and at an attractive focal length for nature photography. Consider it when shopping for a macro lens.

Photozone Review

Pop Photo Review

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 150mm macro at f9.0

Fabulous Film Fridays – September 30, 2011

Posted in Art of Photography, Fabulous Film Fridays, Photography Gear, TCBlog, Techniques with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2011 by Darwin

Below are three images I made with Einstein our glass lens Holga which is really sharp in the center of the frame but soft towards the edges. I think Holga’s are great for old abandoned things;the look of the images matches the feel of the subject.  I used Fuji NPS 160 film. Click on each image to see a larger view.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Dredging Up the Canon 7D

Posted in Camera Review, Controversy, Photography Gear, TCBlog, Techniques with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2011 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

Almost two years ago Samantha and I did a little review on the Canon 7D that caused a bit of a stir. We felt that the 7D is one of Canon’s most user friendly and best handling cameras. We loved it for that. What we did not like was the quality of files from the camera which we felt were sub par. Of course a vocal majority of people blamed our methodology, and the way we used the camera for the shoddy results; according to them the camera was not the problem, it was the testers. If that is the case then why do we get really fine results from the Canon EOS 1Ds, the Canon Rebel Xsi, The Canon Rebel T2i, and the Nikon D300s? Others accused us of being paid by Nikon for the bad review. Really? Wow. It goes on on on. In the end neither Samantha or I and the way we do photography could get acceptable results from the camera.

In the intervening time, we have received dozens of emails from 7D users telling us they see exactly what we saw in our review (crappy files). They all want to know if there is a ‘fix’ for the camera that they otherwise love. I had hoped that Canon would have addressed whatever issue was causing the problem (too strong of an anti-aliasing filter, or some adjustment to the sensor) but they don’t seem to have (to my knowledge). For example, here is an email I just got yesterday from another unhappy 7D owner:

I know this is old news to you, but it’s new to me and I’m wondering if you can help? I bought a Canon 7d about 6 months ago. I took it out of the box, shot the usual dumb pictures of my kitchen and back yard, but didn’t really look at them. I won’t bore you with the details, but for a bunch of reasons I put the 7d down and didn’t get back to it until today.

So today, I took the 7d and my wife’s Nikon d300 out and shot about 150 pictures, most of the time shooting identical or similar pictures with both cameras. Long story short, the Nikon pictures are perfect and the 7d pictures look like the ones in your 2009 article. Every single one.

A few of the Canon pictures, ones that have a distant subject and something in the foreground, look as though they might be tremendously front-focused. I don’t mean a little bit; I mean they’re focused about half-way between me and the subject. I’ll have to go out tomorrow and test that.

In any case, the problem has nothing to do with diffraction, or raw conversion programs, or any of the other things that commenters bashed you with. They’re just not sharp.

This makes me sad, because like you, I love the way the camera handles, and the color is fantastic, better, I think, than the Nikon. Also because I was dumb enough not to do this until it was too late to return the camera, and I don’t even feel that I can sell it honestly. So as of now, I feel like I might have burned 1500 bucks, or whatever. I Googled “soft Canon 7d”, and I found your blog.

Sooooo, here’s the question: Since you’ve been aware of the issue for a year or so, I’m wondering If you ever found out what the problem is. Did Canon ever acknowledge that there is a problem? Can it be fixed? Or is it just a paperweight that I might as well throw away? If there is a fix, could you just point me in the right direction?

The point of this post is not a ‘we told you so’ or to rehash the results of the test. The point is simple; numerous people have troubles getting an acceptable file from the 7D (it’s not just us). Are there any 7D users out there that have solved this problem and if so how? Does anyone know what the cause of the problem is? Has Canon addressed the issue or made a fix (e.g. firmware update)?

Not only have we heard complaints about file quality but we have also heard about severe front-focus or back-focus problems with the 7D that can’t easily be fixed with micro-focus adjustments (this sounds like the problem in the email above). We want to hear from 7D users who have had any  ‘problems’  (focus or otherwise) with the 7D and learn how you fixed those problems. We would like to help out frustrated 7D owners to get them the camera they thought they purchased. Please constructive comments only, bashing and name-calling will not be tolerated. Thanks in advance.

Readers have sent in these really helpful links as well:

How to fix auto-focus problems with the 7D

Canon 7D Auto-focus Petitition

The Grande Prairie Photo Club – PhotoCram II

Posted in Photography Gear, Techniques, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by Darwin

Samantha and I just got back from a wonderful weekend at the Grande Prairie Photo Club where we presented PhotoCram II, an intensive 3-day workshop designed to help photographers build skills for creating images with personal vision. This is the second year we’ve been invited to the Grande Prairie Photo Club and like last year we were met with the most well organized and fun group of photographers ever. This crew had us in stitches! And the food was fantastic.

We want to thank everyone at the club for great time. Below is a photo from the Sunday night field session where we were lucky to get a full moon hanging in a glowing sky over Grande Prairie. Also below are three images of Samantha taken from our assignment on lens choice where she was photographed with a normal, wide angle, and telephoto focal length lens.

If you missed this PhotoCram event and want to take part in an intensive weekend of photographic learning you can join us at the Edson Camera Club in Edson, Alberta, September 30 – October 2, 2011 where we are presenting PhotoCram I.

©Darwin Wiggett - Moon rise over Grande Prairie - Canon Rebel T2i with a Sigma 17-50mm lens

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon, T2i, Sigma 17-50mm at 35mm

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon T2i, Sigma 8-16mm lens

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon T2i, Sigma 70-200 at 200mm

This Week’s Photo Contest Winner and More

Posted in Articles about Photography, eBooks, Instruction, Monthly Photo Contest, Photography Gear, Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by Darwin

Go over to the How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies blog to see this week’s winner of the How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies Photo Contest. Be sure to enter before the the end of September to get that fabulous prize from Aurum Lodge!

Samantha and I are consolidating a number of our endevours into one landing place on the web. Watch for that coming soon! In the meantime we are doing some housecleaning and that means that some of our products and services will no longer be offered or will change significantly in the future. One of these products are our online courses over at Nature Photographers. Samantha is doing one more session of her acclaimed Learning to Speak the Language of Visual Expression six-week on-line course. I just reread her PDF lessons and I really think she has one of the best courses I have seen on creative and personal expression. If you are struggling with getting your voice to translate into photos, then this might just be the course for you.

And if you haven’t seen any of our instructional eBooks over at Visual Wilderness be sure to check them out. We are closing the shop at the end of August and this is your last chance to grab any of the titles that might be of interest. There are some free eBooks you can get like Good Photo in Bad Light, The l’il eBook of Trees, Trophy Hunting vs Immersion and Winter Musings. Grab ‘em before they are gone!

And of course you can get any of our popular titles like Essential Filters for Digital Nature Photography, Aperture: 3 Simple Rules, or The Basics of Light Painting. Grab them at 15% discount by using the code THANKS on checkout.

©Darwin Wiggett

Film Friday – August 18, 2011 – One Roll of Film, Six Photos

Posted in Fabulous Film Fridays, Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2011 by Darwin

Last week I took Linny, the Linhof 6×12 medium format film camera out for a morning shoot. I put a roll of 120 Fuji NPS 160 ISO film in the camera and was determined to shoot the entire roll of film that morning. But one roll of 120 in a 6×12 camera gives you only six shots! So I needed to be really selective about what I shot if I wanted each shot to be useable. Below are the six photos I came up with that morning. Click on any photo to see a larger version.

And for those of you that missed last week’s Film Friday, check out what Samantha did with the Fuji 645 Pro camera on a stroll in around Mitford Ponds in Cochrane.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L vs Sigma f2.8 IF EX DG HSM

Posted in Articles about Photography, Lens Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

On full frame cameras a 24-70mm lens is the standard zoom lens for most professional photographers whether you shoot weddings, portraits, journalism, sports, travel or landscape. A 24-70 f2.8 gives you a fast lens with a wide angle, normal and short telephoto capabilities. Almost every professional I know owns and relies on a 24-70mm lens.

For years I owned a Canon 24-70mm f2.8L lens and it was a workhorse lens for me especially for my photographs of dogs and kids and outdoor recreation.. I also used it for landscape photography (until I started using tilt-shift lenses). I sold my lens about two years ago anticipating that Canon would release a Mark II version of the lens that was image stabilized and a bit sharper and with less distortion at the wide end. To date (August 2011), that lens is not yet out. So for almost two years I lived without a 24-70mm lens, waiting for the new and improved Canon. In the meantime, Sigma lent me their 24-70mm f2.8 pro lens to test out. I borrowed Wayne Simpson’s Canon 24-70mm Canon and spent three days in the field shooting with the two lenses. Here is what I found out:

Prices:

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L at B+H Photo = $1399.00 (weight 950g)

Sigma 24-70 f2.8 IF EX DG HSM = $899.00 (weight 790g)

The Sigma 24-70 f2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lenses side-by-side

As you can see from the photo above the Sigma lens is significantly smaller (and lighter) than the big Canon 24-70mm lens and the Sigma costs 40% less than the Canon lens. Can the smaller and less expensive Sigma lens hold its own in the field?

First a note on the design of the lens. The Canon lens physically gets larger when zoomed to 24mm and is shortest when zoomed to 70mm. This is a strange design feature because most lenses are physically longer at longer focal lengths like we see with the Sigma lens (see photos below).

Sigma at 24mm (left) aad Canon at 24mm (right)

At 24mm the Sigma lens is short and compact but the Canon lens is fully extended at 24mm.

The Sigma (left) and the Canon (right) at 70mm

At 70mm both lenses are the same size. Canon’s design means that the lens is larger and extends even longer at 24mm. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is actually kind of clever because the lens hood on the Canon then becomes fully functional at all focal lengths. The hood attaches to the lens body with a bayonet mount right above the red line on the lens. The hood is long and when the lens is extended to 24mm, only about 1/3rd of the hood is used. Pulled back to 70mm the full hood length is used. The Sigma lens has a short hood that is optimized for 24mm and when the lens is zoomed out, you still have a 24mm effective hood. So with the Canon you have a fully functional hood but with the Sigma it only works its best at 24mm.

So… the price you pay for the clever functional zoom within a long hood is that the Canon lens is bigger lens that weighs 20% more than the Sigma lens! If you do a lot of backlit photos then the Canon 24-70mm and its functional lens hood will better prevent flare.

A 24mm is a 24mm right?

Both the Canon and Sigma lenses are 24-70mm focal lengths so I expected both lenses to give me the exact same coverage when I swapped the lenses on the tripod-mounted body. I was surprised that with the camera in the exact same position that the two zooms gave very different angles of view at the same focal length!

The Sigma 24-70 at 24mm

The Canon 24-70 at 24mm

What the heck??? How can the two lenses both zoomed to 24mm and mounted on the same camera body on a tripod (nothing was moved) give such different coverage? Is is because the Canon extends out at 24mm and so the front of the lens is closer to the subject?

If this is the case, then at 70mm when both lenses are physically the same size then we should see the angle of view be exactly the same. But both lenses produced different coverage even at 70mm even when the camera was fixed in position on a tripod. Note how Brando the dog is slightly larger in the frame with the Canon lens.

The Sigma lens at 70mm

The Canon lens at 70mm

The Sigma gives wider angles of view than the Canon when both are set to the same focal lengths. Which one is more accurate is hard to say but for reference I tested both against my 24mm TS-E lens and the Sigma and the Canon 24mm TS-E had almost exactly the same coverage. I don’t think the Canon 24-70mm lens is truly a 24-70!

What About Close-Focus Abilities?

This one is easy, the Canon can focus significantly closer than the Sigma at both 24 and 70mm.

Sigma close-focus at 70mm (top), Canon close focus at 70mm (bottom)

But which lens is sharper at close focus? Below is the same scene at the closest focus for each lens. The camera is tripod-mounted, live view, manual focus was used, mirror lock-up and an aperture of f8 was used.

The detail close-up scene

Sigma lens at 70mm f8 (top); Canon lens at 70mm f8 (bottom)

Center sharpness (above 100% magnification in Photoshop) was similar at close focus at 70mm for the two lenses but with the nod going to the Canon 24mm F2.8L lens.

Edge sharpness at closest focus at f8 for both lenses was disappointing and both lenses suffered from fairly severe chromatic aberrations at closest focus at 70mm (see below).

Edge sharpness at f8 for the Sigma lens (top) and the Canon lens (bottom)

What about Bokeh?

Bokeh is the the aesthetic quality of the blur in the out-of-focus areas. With fast lenses like a f2.8 zoom, the quality of the blur is important as a counter point to the sharp areas. To test how each lens rendered out-of-focus areas I shot various scenes at different focal lengths all at f2.8. Below are several sample photos. For me both the Sigma and the Canon seemed to render the out-of-focus with similar pleasing blur (but I give the nod to the Sigma for softer bokeh at 24mm).

Sigma lens at 24mm f2.8

Canon lens at 24mm f2.8

Sigma at 55mm, f2.8

Canon at 57mm, f2.8

Sigma at 70mm, f2.8

Canon at 70mm, f2.8

Overall Sharpness

I tested the sharpness of both lenses using my Canon EOS-1ds Mark III. I always use Live View and manual focus to test sharpness because auto-focus can vary with various lenses and each lens needs to be micro-adjusted for precision of focus. Live View with manual focusing gives consistent sharp results.

Both lenses are optimized for sharpness in the f2.8 to f8 range. Higher apertures like f11-f22 suffer from diffraction and yield less resolution than wider apertures. For example check out the 100% magnifications of the images below. The top photo is f2.8, the middle one is f8, the final one is f22. You can see that f8 is the sharpest, f2.8 next best and f22 trails far behind in sharpness. This was true for both lenses at all focal lengths.

Canon 24-70mm lens aperture resolution; f2.8, f8, f22

At 24mm the Sigma performed better than the Canon at all apertures in both center and edge sharpness. Below are two samples the first center sharpness at f8 where there is only a minor difference between the two lenses and then edge sharpness at f8 where the Sigma does a better job.

Center sharpness at 24mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

Edge Sharpness at 24 mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

In tests at 35mm, 50mm and 70mm, the Canon was slightly sharper in the center and at the edges of the frame than the Sigma but not by much. At f4 both lenses performed equally at all these focal lengths. From f5.6 to f22, the Sigma was sharper than the Canon at all of these focal lengths. As well, the Canon lenses produced darker photos than the Sigma lens even when both were shot at the exact same shutter speed and aperture. The Sigma photos were lighter and a bit more contrasty.

Center sharpness at 50mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom); both at 1/30s - note differences in angle of coverage at 50mm

Overall I give the edge in sharpness to the Sigma lens which was a better performer at 24mm and as good or better than the Canon at all other focal lengths from f4 to f22. The Canon was better at f2.8 at 35, 50 and 70mm. If you are a landscape photographer the Sigma has less diffraction than the Canon at f16 and f22.

The overall scene - Sigma at 24mm, f22

Below is a 100% magnified view of the scene above shot with the Sigma and Canon lens at 24mm and f22 — the Sigma lens handles diffraction at small aperture openings much better.

Sigma at f22 (top), Canon at f22 (bottom)

Auto-Focus Tests

Both lenses were fast and responsive in auto-focus. I could get sharper photos with both lens using manual focus and 5x Live View, but auto-focus was pretty close in sharpness. I calibrated each lens using Lens Align and micro-focus adjustments in-camera and once calibrated each lens accurately popped into focus. Neither lens seemed better nor faster than the other when it came to action photography.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens at 34mm, f2.8

Image Look

Both lenses produced images that looked similar. The Sigma lens produced slightly brighter and slightly more contrasty images than the Canon lens when both were shot in the same light at the same settings but overall both lenses produced crisp, sharp images.

Sigma 24-70mm lens

Canon 24-70mm lens

Final Considerations

The Canon lens has a filter size of 77mm which is common for Canon L lenses. The Sigma lens has an odd size filter thread of 82mm. If you use filters the odd size filter size on the Sigma might be a serious drawback requiring an investment in larger sized filters. For me, I use a Cokin Z-Pro Filter holder on my lenses and to get filters on the Sigma lenses was just a matter of buying an 82mm adapter ring for my filter holder. It would have been nice if the Sigma lens use 77mm threads which is a more common filter size than 82mm.

So Which One Should You Buy?

As always that depends. If you are a wedding or sports photographer who always shoots at f2.8 and likes to use back light, then I think the Canon is a good bet because it has better lens sharpness (by a small margin) at f2.8 and at all focal lengths except at 24mm. As well, the well designed lens hood/zoom mechanism on the Canon helps to prevent flare my having a more functional lens hood. Also the close focus ability of the Canon is better and sharper at 70mm than the Sigma lens and for detail photos at a wedding (rings, flowers, cake, tight face shots) this close-up capability would be welcome.

On the other hand, if you are looking for an all around travel and landscape lens, I would give the Sigma higher marks because it is smaller, lighter, sharper at 24mm and at all other focal lengths at apertures f4 and higher and it suffers less from diffraction at small f-stops (like f16 and f22). I also like that the 24mm setting on the Sigma is more true and more wide than the Canon 24mm setting. Also the Sigma lens is much less money which is always good. Both lenses seem to be robustly built and should handle the rigours of use well. Personally I prefer the mechanics and feel of the Sigma lens over the Canon lens.

Wish List

For both the Canon and Sigma lenses I wish both manufacturers made a 24-70mm lens with image stabilization (optical stabilization for Sigma). Having a stabilized lens would really help photographers get the most of a fast f2.8 lens so that we can hand-hold at lower shutter speeds. Both lenses also suffer from chromatic aberrations at the edges of the frame and are not as sharp as they could be when focused close. I expect better performance from such high end pro lenses. Overall either lens is a fine tool that will serve most photographers well. Which one you choose, depends on your interests and budget. I have no idea whether Canon or Sigma plan to update these work horse lenses but it may be worth waiting to see if they do unless you just can’t wait. Either way, you’ll get great images with these two lenses but be aware of their shortcomings.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon 24-70mm f2.8L - great for tight close work!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens - great for landscape, travel and general use!

Note: I am sponsored by Sigma Canada and they provide me with lenses to use. I report things the way I see it and am not paid or influenced to bias the review. I use Sigma lenses whenever they perform better than Canon lenses. When they don’t I use Canon lenses. For my style of photography the Sigma 24-70mm lens is a better choice for me. Your mileage may vary.

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