As an avid proponent of doing due diligence, I’ve always encouraged people to do research on lenses before buying them.  Whether it means renting them from vendors like LensProToGo, Rent Glass, or through vendor relationships, it’s a great way to get a first hand look on how lenses perform under a variety of circumstances.  This was the case recently as I’ve been the benefactor of a solid relationship with the folks at Sigma.  I’ve spent the last month kicking the proverbial tires on one of their latest lenses to hit the market:  the 8-16mm lens.

Sigma 8-16mm
Sigma 8-16mm

As I understand it, this is a rather unique lens in that it is the widest non-fisheye lens on the market, even wider than the previous widest one I own, the Canon 10-22.  It was quite interesting to compare these two lenses side by side.

What I Liked

1.  Optical Quality

The optical quality of this lens really is amazing given it’s wide angle nature.  I say this because wide angle lenses are typically prone to distortion, particularly around the edge of the lens, and especially at their widest points.  Now, shooting this on a Canon 40D, it is mounted for the APS-C sensor size, so am not sure this would work too well on a full frame camera.  The end range after you consider the 1.6 crop factor brings it up to 12.8-25mm.  With that in mind, I tried shooting wide open and was happily surprised at the minimal distortion on the edges:

Tree at sunset
Tree at sunset

Horizon Test
Horizon Test

On the first shot, here I didn’t see any distortion actually from the branches of the trees, and the second shot the horizon didn’t really seem off-kilter much either.  However, these were a fair distance away from the lens itself, and while wide angle lenses aren’t intended for portrait work, I was curious as to what the results would be like if I pushed it to those ends:

Portrait Test
Portrait Test

So, portrait work should probably not be done with this lens, but then again, as mentioned above, wide angle lenses really aren’t meant for that sort of work anyway.

2.  Weight – This weighed in at just a touch over a pound at 19 ounces.  Pretty light but also heavy enough to know you’ve got some nice balance to it, and it balanced well on the body of the 40D too, so I suspect it would also balance well on the rest of the Canon X0D lineup (e.g. 30D, 40D, 50D, 60D, etc.)

3.  Finish – Like the rest of the Sigma line-up, the rubberized-metallic finish they apply to their lenses is present and it just speaks to the professionalism of the line-up as a whole.

4.  Range – The extra ten mm of range I got from the Sigma was more than I would have thought in a scene.  While I was shooting rather sloppily in terms of exact comparisons, when I had both lenses with me, I did get similarly composed scene for both teh 16mm end of teh Sigma and the 22mm end of the Canon, as was surprised how much of a difference 10mm was.  Take a look:

Canon Lens at 22
Canon Lens at 22
Sigma Lens at 18
Sigma Lens at 18

Like I said, it was a bit of sloppy photography on my part for not making the scenes truly identical in terms of exposure values, but the underlying scene is rather telling.  First, though, it would probably help to explain why I I chose to compare at the longest end of the zoom range.  The way I understand the physics, there is less distortion at the longest point of a zoom, and I wanted to just compare scenic differences, so by using the long end, was able to effectively eliminate that as a comparison point (both lenses have that, and it’s to be expected).

Here, rather the 8-16mm shows a significantly wider scene than the 10-22.  This can be a point both in its favor and against it depending on your purpose.  In it’s favor, if you need to capture at the long end of the zoom, it’s still going to require fewer shots than the 10-22 counterpart from Canon for panorama images.  As a downside, it does mean you can’t get as close to the scene that the 10-22 can.

Now granted, when using a wide angle lens, you probably are not wanting to get all that close to begin with, but here I thought the images made for a good juxtaposition with one another, and it’s where the real differences lie in the range of the two lenses, because the different between 8 and 10 is not as significant as the one between 16 and 22.  At the long end, the Sigma still keeps you very wide at 25mm when counting for the crop factor, while the Canon lens takes you a bit past the 35mm range.  In wide angle photography, 10mm of “wideness” can be a difference-maker.

5.  PriceThe Sigma retails at $700.  The Canon, $770.  So, it’s $70 cheaper, and has a wider end than Canon, and dare I say less distortion at that end.  Hmmm, not much of a decision here.  Had this lens been available when I was I was in the market, I suspect it would have gotten the nod.  Now I realize that some subscribe to the theory that a body works best when mirrored with a lens from the same manufacturer, and while that may have been true in the days of yesteryear, the differences have dropped significantly in recent years.  Today, I would submit that the difference is negligible, and sometimes even non-existent.  Of course, that’s something that will be subjective depending on your shooting needs and preferences.

For me though, the answer is a resounding yes!

***

It definitely a high quality lens, and I would even venture to say there is relatively less distortion at the short end of the Sigma than the Canon at its shortest, but did not get out enough to test things to that level of minutia.  While it’s not something I can justify for myself at this point, that is only because I already own a similarly ranged lens, if I was in the market and did not own a lens, the Sigma would be a tempting lens to consider.  For the nature photographer who is looking for a super wide – this lens will not disappoint.

For those looking to purchase the lens – you can get it direct from B&H here.

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