Hardware Review: Sigma 18-250

Lens reviews are at the heart of any photography-themed blog, and today is the review of the Sigma 18-250…with it’s wide focal range, this is a key lens to have in your bag if you want your SLR to reach it’s best potential.  While Point and Shoot and camera phones may be great for some scenarios, it’s the bigger sensor size of the SLR that will garner you better photos…yet these photos are only as good as the glass they’re captured through!  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the Sigma 18-250! Read more

Hardware review Sigma 85mm f1.4

Low Light - Hand held fire light



For today, I am happy to bring to you the latest hardware gear review – from none other than the folks at Sigma, with their 85mm f1.4 lens.  Let’s just jump right in:

1.  Focal Length – I’ve talked at length on the blog before about fixed focal length versus variable length zooms.  Their differences, both pros and cons of each are duly noted, and for the most part, I think we can skip the formalities of the technical explanations.  It’s an 85mm lens.  This means you are not going to be able to zoom with the lens, rather with your feet.  It also means that you will gain pros in IQ (See #8 below).  Normally I am shooting with either a 10-22 for wide angle landscapes or a 70-200 for portrait work, so this took a bit of adjusting.

When I did shoot portrait work, I kept on having to step further back to bring more of the subjects face into the scene, and with landscapes, I found myself rotating into portrait position (vertical) and instead of trying to get everything in one shot, rather capturing several shots, with the acceptance that I would have to stitch together in post production.

It’s not perfect for either, but a good compromise in focal length to try and meet the needs of both ends as much as possible.  If I had to choose my favorite focal length, it probably would not be an 85mm, but there are very subjective reasons for that, which probably aren’t as relevant here, so I will defer that for another post.  The focal length is what it is.  You either like the length or you do not.  I was middle of the road on it – sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t.

In the end, I think the focal length was fine for most purposes.  Even

2.  F-Stop Range – This is the reason I want this lens.  Stopping all the way open to an f1.4 gives you amazing results from two key perspectives:

  • Depth of Field – When you shoot with a low depth of field, the subject is very easily separated from the background.  This also brings up the subject of bokeh quality, and here I was quite impressed as I didn’t see any evidence of jagged lines or aperture opening sizes, which is often characteristic of cheaper lens builds.
  • Low Light photography – Low light photography to me means shooting at or near dusk, or in an incandescent environment where you don’t want to introduce flash.  You don’t want to be a part of the scene.  The photographer wants to blend into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible.  Lenses with low f-stop ranges allow you to do this, and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is no exception!

3.  Noise – The motor on this lens is as quiet as one would expect for current technology – whisper!  I never heard anything that would cause a distraction, and at this point I am actually considering upgrading the Sigma Macro for this reason – the quieter the operation, the easier it is to concentrate on what you are shooting!

4.  Size/weight – About what would would expect for this focal length and aperture.  Remember, the lower the aperture (f1.4) the beefier a lens will have to be, because elements will need to be thicker in order to have any sort of stability.  It made for near perfect balance in conjunction with the 40D.  On a larger camera like the 5D or 1Ds Mark IV, I could see where you might not have as much a balance, but for my purposes, it works!

5.  Build – Patented and as expected, the water resistant housing, and non-slip grip that is now almost a trademark feature of Sigma was present so no surprises there.  I always enjoy shooting with Sigma gear because the heft of it just feels solid in my hands.

6.  OS/IS/VR – There is no built in motion correction here, which is what I collectively use to refer to the proprietary features of Sigma, Canon’s and Nikon’s camera shake correction technologies.  ALthough I should probably share that OS = Optical Stabilization (Sigma), IS = Image Stabilization (Canon), and VR = Vibration Reduction (Nikon).  Since this lens doesn’t have this motion correction feature, there’s really not much to discuss here.

The one note I would have is that when shooting with this lens, the benefit is primarily in that you can shoot at f1.4 which lets in a lot of light.  To that end, the need for motion correction is probably not as needed, except for the most exceeding low light scenarios, but you’ll see in a minute, that’d have to be pretty darn low!

7.  Cost – For the benefit of shooting at f1.4, the price of admission is hefty indeed.  B&H Photo prices it out at $969.  Since this is a new lens in their lineup, you likely will not find it for much less than this, as there is no aftermarket yet to speak of.

8.  Image Quality – Here, as always, I like to let the images speak for themselves.  I’ve tried to include a few samples that demonstrate both the depth of field capabilities and the low light performance.  Keep in mind – every image here was shot hand held!

Shallow DOF on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Shallow DOF #2 on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Selective Focus on the 85mm

Low Light - Handheld Sunset

Low Light - Hand held fire light

Fishing with shallow DOF

*Editor Note*  This review was done back in 2011, but still holds today after another rental session with this lens.  My review still stands!


Raquette Lake, 2012

RaquetteLake-27

In what has become an annual tradition for the Anderson family, the men reconvened for our annual canoe trip to “re-connect with nature”.  I use quotations because the older we get, the less removed from society we are.  Now granted, there is no internet, no wifi, and no cellular service for many miles around, but when coolers of beverages, grilling foods, eggs, and yes – ice cream, make the trip, we’re are hardly roughing it anymore.

So, how does this relate to photography?  As luck would have it, the Canon G12 was still with me for the duration of this trip.  I did have an SLR with me as well, in case I started butting up against the limitations of the poster boy of the Powershot series camera.  Suffice to say, I did hit the limits, but only once, and that was during some flash testing.

What I liked

1.  Shutter Speed:  The bane of P&S cameras historically is response or lag time on shutter release.  The G12 was no slouch, offering a very quick response time.  Granted, it was not always milliseconds away from a great capture, leaving me with several shots that had to be thrown out due to blur, but otherwise, I was successful about 95% of the time.

2.  Image Quality:  I tried to reproduce several similar composition of years past (see those galleries here and here), and think the G12 stood its ground quite well.  While I could have shot in raw, the advantage of P&S cameras is to click and go, so I kept my settings to jpg for the duration of the trip.

3.  Video:  Let’s not kid ourselves, video is where things are headed, and the G12 was able to really stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any portable camcorder in the market today.

4.  Hot Shoe: A big reason why I had chosen the G12 to review is because of its ability to accommodate the Canon Speedlight series.  I took a 580EX II with me, and much to my delight, I was able to fire off several shots with both the flash mounted to the hot shoe, and using my wireless trigger set (more on that in a future post)

5.  Inter-valometer:  An inter-valometer lets you take shots at intervals, say every 5 seconds, 10 seconds, one minute, etc.  I liked that the G12 had a setting where you could set it up to take photos at several intervals over a specified period of time.  While I didn’t get a chance to use it on this short trip, it was something I learned about afterwards that made me think, “Cool!”

What I didn’t like

1.  Menus:  I know, I need to get over it, but the menu structure is different from the trusty rusty days of the 20D, 30D, and even 40D setups.  It took me about 5 more minutes to get the menus down because things were in different locations!  A small nit, I know, but I certainly know my 40D and 5D better than the G12!

2.  Lenses:  The other bane of P&S cameras is that you only have one lens to choose from.  This is why the SLR (and now the newest 3rd generation of cameras – mirrorless lenses) give more creative options.  I was limited to the focal range offered on the G12, which is equivalent to about a 28mm – 140mm range on an SLR (verified on several sources, but here’s a site I should be plugging more, Camera Source)

3.  Price Point:  Sorry Canon, but a price point of $500+ for a P&S camera?  I can get an SLR for only $100 more which opens up many more options, not only for lenses, but filters and many other acouterments like flash accessories as well.  $450 was the average price point and this just seems inordinately high for this breed of camera.  Now maybe the folks at Canon are trying to position themselves for moving into the mirrorless market with the announcement of their first in that line with the EOS-M series at $799, but that’s a nut I can’t crack! (More to come on the EOS-M line as well…)

*****

I could wax on endlessly, but you undoubtedly want to see the shots I came away with more than read my own prattling about the camera and all its features, so let’s just get to the goods: