Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM Ultra Wide angle

I'm determined to get out and about as much as I can this summer with the D90 and I'm looking forward to the many fantastic shots we'll take together. Weddings aside, it's the landscape images I'm most excited about taking, and a large part of this is having the Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 ultra-wide angle lens in my kit.

The weather has been miserable lately, but we finally got a fine day on Sunday, so I went out late afternoon to one of my favorite coastal beaches to try the 10-20mm out.

9 Mile Beach - Nikon D90 with Sigma 10-20mm @ f8
I must confess I've never really been an ultra-wide fan, although I have previously owned a Sigma 15-30mm (the one with bulbous front element and built-in hood) that I really enjoyed using. It was a sharp and fun lens to use, and restored my faith in Sigma lenses after having a couple of disappointing prior experiences.

The Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX lens is a solid, compact lens with a fast and quiet HSM focusing motor, which allows for full-time manual 'tweaking' of the focus, even when you remain in autofocus mode. Not that you really need to tweak the focus on an ultra-wide. Set it to f8 and just about everything from front to back will be in sharp focus (see above).

Same settings as above. Why change a winning formula :-)
The 'EX' designation means that this is one of Sigma's 'pro' series lenses, although it is specifically designed for the smaller APS-C sensored cameras like the D90. If I was ever to move up to full frame, I would have to sell the lens - but that's a long way off yet, and may never happen?

The lens is finished in the famous Sigma 'matt black crinkle' which also, famously, tends to wear off - although my lens shows no signs of that at the moment. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of this type of finish and I think in more recent models Sigma has moved away from this to a more traditional (harder wearing) finish.

Lots of detail and heaps of colour - that's what ultra-wides are made for!
Whether the finish eventually wears off or not is neither here nor there though - what really matters in a wide angle landscape lens is the colour, contrast and sharpness - and the Sigma has this in spades! The smallish petal type lens hood does a reasonable job of shading the 77mm glass frontage, although I would be careful (i.e. avoid) shooting directly into the sun. When zoomed all the way out to 10mm (the equivalent of 15mm in full frame!) you can still have the sun glaring into your view when it feels like it's behind you!

The huge field of view that this lens afford is what makes it such fun, but also what makes it rather tricky to use effectively. Tilt the lens down and horizons will start to bow, yet not alarmingly so. The lens is actually well designed to avoid any massive distortion - but you can make it happen if you really try (and if you like the effect). Focus was fast, snappy and silent on my D90 - and the large zoom ring turns smoothly and is a joy to use.

NOT taken with the Sigma 10-20mm. I just like the shot :-)
Sigma's 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM is a fantastic lens and a great inclusion to any landscape photographers arsenal. Some may disregard this lens for its 'faster' (and more expensive) brother, the 10-20mm f3.5 - but why? Seriously, if you're looking at an ultra-wide angle lens to isolate your subject and blur out the background with a wide open aperture, then you're looking at the wrong lenses my friend. Yes, you will most likely be using these lenses in low light - but you should also be using them at around f8 anyway, and your camera should be on a tripod! Even if I had the f3.5 version, I wouldn't shoot with it wide open, that's just not what these lenses are for. At f8 to f11, both lenses will be practically identical - so save yourself some money and opt for the 'slower' f4/5.6 version. This is landscape photography, not portraiture.

I'm very happy with the lens, and with the first images I've taken with it. Hopefully, over the course of this summer, there'll be plenty more where that came from.

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