Field Test – Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM
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I was lucky enough to be able to test Sigma’s new 8-16mm ultra-wide rectilinear zoom prior and during the recent Extreme Saskatchewan tour. If you want rigorous lab tests of this lens’ performance I recommend PhotoZone and LensTip. Below are my impressions of the lens from shooting landscape images in the field—no lens test charts were harmed in the making of this blog entry!
The Sigma 8-16mm lens (12-24mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is specifically made for APS-C sized cameras and is available in Nikon, Canon, Sony, Sigma, and Pentax mounts. At 8mm, the angle of view is a whopping 119 degrees–that is wide! For the full specs on this lens refer to the Sigma Website but in short this lens is the widest zoom currently on the market and has special FLD glass for reduced chromatic aberrations (you know to get rid of those nasty coloured edges along lines of high contrast). The spiffy glass goodies and tough build are meant to give pro quality images. Supposedly this lens delivers punchy, sharp images in an extreme wide-angle zoom. Can it deliver?
The lens is solidly built with a wonderfully smooth feeling manual focus and zoom mechanism. But the real surprise occurs after you take off the lens cap and the protective lens tube–it is crazy just how wide 8mm is… the whole world expands before you! This is a fun lens that demands you go out and play with its severe angles of view. Of course because of its bulging front element you can not filter this lens. But when you are this wide, things like polarizing filters are pointless unless you enjoy uneven splotches of polarized light across the wide scene. In scenes where I had a bright sky and a dark foreground I did miss being able to use a grad filter but that problem can be fixed by making several exposures and blending them together in post-production.
I was impressed! The lens was very sharp even wide open and across all focal lengths. Mostly I was blown away by how sharp the lens was at 8mm even on the edges and especially at the apertures of f4.5 to f8. Also I was pleased by how little chromatic aberration I saw and how well the lens handled flare in backlit situations. I found I almost always used the lens at 8mm for extreme views and it was really nice that the lens performed so well even at its widest focal length.
I found that this lens performed best at all focal lengths at an aperture of f8 which gave great overall sharpness from center to edge and also gave the most even exposure across the frame. With APS-C cameras, small apertures such as f16 and f22 cause much diffraction and image quality suffers. With the two Canon Rebels I used (XSi and T2i) this lens gave image results that were of high quality at f11 but at f16 and f22 image sharpness suffered greatly. Frankly performance at f22 was really bad. I recommend using apertures of f11 or less with this lens. I always seemed to have enough depth-of-field even when limited to f11 with this lens so don’t let the limit of usable apertures worry you much.
What I liked most about the lens was how I could use the extreme wide angle to let me get it all in. I also liked to be able to exaggerate perspective and to create fresh and exciting viewpoints. I think this is a great landscape or travel lens that opens up worlds of creative possibilities. I sure had fun using the lens and I got some memorable images. As a final note if you have video capabilities on your camera you can make some crazy fun videos at 8mm! Below are a few more images I took with the lens–all I can say is each photo is sharp from edge to edge which really makes me happy because most wide angle lenses I have tried have not performed this good!
BTW if you want a chance to win this lens be sure to enter the Travel Photo Contest on this blog And thanks especially to Gentec who supplied a review lens and who graciously has offered a brand new 8-16mm lens as the grand prize in the photo contest!