Versatile lens for many occasions, but with a few flaws
Sigma is a Japanese camera, lens and flash manufacturer which also dabbles in other photography related accessories. But in India, the brand is renowned as a third party lens maker. It has been making lenses for the multiple mounts of cameras from companies such as Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, among others. Sigma along with Tamron has been the go-to company in case you are looking at a relatively affordable alternative to lenses from your native camera companies such as Canon or Nikon or Sony. Sigma has an extensive portfolio of lenses which differs based on the mounts you would require. For this particular review, we have with us the 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM II lens. So let us see how this lens performs.
Build quality and Handling: 7.5/10
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 lens comes with a metal and plastic body with rubberised focus and zoom rings. It weighs around 670 grams and measures around 120mm in length. It isn’t portable for sure, but at the same time isn’t unwieldy considering the lens construction. Sigma bundles in a rounded rectangular case to hold the lens in place. It comes pre-attached with a lens hood.
Starting from the mount with contacts, the first ring that you come across is the 27mm zoom ring followed by the 26mm focussing ring which is placed just before the metallic lens hood. The texture on the zoom and focus rings are similar and have a rubberised finish to it. The lens fits well in the palm of your hand. While rotating the rings, we noticed that while the focus ring could be easily rotated, the zoom ring required relatively more effort. The AF/MF switch is located on the left hand side between the two rings. The gap between the two rings has the Sigma branding and the distance indicator.
The zoom ring has markings for different focal lengths such as 12,15,17,20,24mm. The lens barrel is fixed and it is only the elements that move inside when you adjust the zoom ring. The edge of the lens has a convex glass which has an opening of 48mm diameter. The petal-type lens hood protects the lens from any damage in case the lens is placed facing downwards.
Now before we get to the features of the lens, let us try and decode what the name of the lens means. The Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM II. 12-24mm of course is the 35mm equivalent focal length for the lens having maximum apertures of f/4.5 at the wide end and f/5.6 at the telephoto end. (On a Nikon APS-C sensor which has a 1.5x crop factor, it will give a 18-37mm equivalent)
This slots it in the ultra-wide angle zoom lens category which is suited for nature, architecture, travel and landscape photography genres. Of course, the wider angles also makes it ideal to use for wedding photography, but you have to beware of the distortions at the widest ends. But unlike a fish-eye lens, the Sigma 12-24mm lens does not give a curvilinear output, but a rectilinear one, i.e. horizontal lines will always be straight.
DG stands for ‘Digital Grade’ which is basically a coating which is optimised for full frame and APS-C sensor sporting DSLRs on which the lens is mounted. HSM translates to ‘Hyper-Sonic Motor’ which means that the lens comes with an inbuilt ultrasonic motor which keeps the camera quiet when acquiring auto-focus and ensures that the process is smoother as compared to a regular DC powered motor.
The Sigma 12-24mm lens houses four aspherical glass elements, one SLD (special low dispersion) element, three glass mould elements and one hybrid aspherical lens element among others. There are a total of 17 elements slotted in 13 groups in this ultra wide angle zoom lens.
The hood is not removable, so naturally there is no provision to add in filters via the threading on the edge of the lens. The lens cap comprises a circular cover which goes over the lens hood. You can either just remove the lens cap from this cover, or the entire cover. I faced a lot of issues keeping the lens cover in place when out and about as even a mild touch on the edges would loosen it and it would fall off.
Full weather sealing isn’t an option on the lens body, but it can definitely take mild rainfall. In terms of overall build quality it is quite impressive. On a Nikon DX sensor camera such as D5500 on which we tested it, it does tend to get top heavy.
We tested the Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM II on a Nikon D5500. So all the focal lengths should be multiplied with the 1.5x crop factor to get the equivalent focal length.
Image quality is generally good, while one does notice more sharpness in the centre as compared to the edges. With the aperture wide open, you will notice sharpness dropping around the edges as you increase the focal length, with the telephoto end showing the most softest edges. At around 15mm (22.5mm equivalent for D5500) we noticed that the centre and edge sharpness were better than any other focal length.
Distortion is noticeable at the 12mm (18mm equivalent), which is expected. But we liked how well controlled it is. At the telephoto end 22-24mm (33-36mm equivalent), one can’t really say if the image has come out of a wide-angle zoom lens which is quite impressive. Distortion at this end is easily fixable in post. This makes the lens ideal for landscape photography and also making some interesting travel portraits. The wide angle makes it great for interior architecture and wedding photography as well.
The aperture range does not give the lens any chance to have images with shallow depth of field. Also at night, one really needs a tripod to get the best out of this lens as the aperture range does not lend well to sharp handheld shots. The AF motor operates smoothly and without much noise.
Thanks to the convex lens glass, lens flare is something you will have to be really careful about. While shooting under street lights at night in particular, the petal-shaped lens hood didn’t turn out to be very effective and we did get a lot of unwanted lens flare. During daytime too lens flare is visible in extreme light situations. Flare is noticeable across the focal range. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled though.
Verdict and Overall Rating: 7.5/10
The Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM II lens is ideal for genres of photography such as travel, wedding, architecture, interior and landscape. Of course, you can also use it for making some quirky portraits or some surreal photos using its ultra-wide angles to your advantage. The lens is priced at a hefty Rs 75,900.
The lens has its flaws such as reduced edge sharpness, no weather sealing and a not so optimal lens-flare control. Having said that, it does manage to give good images, and the telephoto end just gets rid of any kind of distortions. The narrow aperture range may be an issue for some as it dosen’t help much with low light situations.
If you have a full frame Canon or Nikon body, then there is no equivalent lens for this particular focal range. But if you have an APS-C sensor camera, then Nikon offers a 12-24mm f/4 lens at Rs 78,800. Canon APS-C DSLR users can opt for the relatively affordable EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 lens at Rs 21,000 if you are on a budget.