During Photokina 2012, Sigma announced three new rather exciting lenses – the fast 35mm f/1.4 prime lens, 17-70mm f/2.8-4 standard zoom for APS-C cameras and the still-unique 120-300mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom for sports and wildlife photographers. Two of the three seem to be mildly refreshed versions of their predecessors, but the 35mm f/1.4 has been highly anticipated and may prove to be very popular. Very recently, it’s price has been revealed and stands at a mere (in comparison with brand 35mm f/1.4’s) $899. Interestingly, it doesn’t feel right to say these new lenses will join Sigma’s lineup. In fact, it seems more like they are starting a new lineup, fresh. If you ever found yourself thinking Sigma was always about cheaply priced, cheaply built and cheaply performing lenses, well, they seem to have had an epiphany.
I will go ahead and say this – the new strategy Sigma is taking might as well make their products real and tempting alternatives to brand lenses even when money is of no concern.
1) Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Lens
Until Tamron comes around, this lens is the only alternative to brand offering from Canon and Nikon. Carl Zeiss and Samyang offer manual focus alternatives, but they are much more specialized. As fun as it would be to use one of their lenses for street and landscape photography, taking manual focus lenses to a wedding, for example, might be a little too risky. If Sigma’s own 85mm f/1.4 is of any indication, the 35mm f/1.4 lens should be a very solid performer and will likely tempt many professional photographers. We at Photography Life are very intrigued by it and hope to get it for a review as soon as possible. At a recently revealed price of $899, it is also much less expensive than $1600 Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G (read the review) and the aging $1400 Canon 35mm f/1.4L, both of which are very capable.
The lens features Sigma’s own HSM ultrasonic focus motor and special glass elements to counter all kinds of chromatic aberration. It also has floating elements for high quality close-up photographs. Floating elements are usually present in macro lenses. What’s most interesting, however, is that you can buy a special USB port for the lens. This feature, when used with Sigma Optimization Pro software, will help you correct any AF inaccuracies of your lens copy. You will also be able to update lens firmware through it. Previous Sigma lenses have not always been reliable in AF department. The USB port should make buying this lens a much safer bet.
Here are the official specifications:
- Lens Construction: 13 elements in 11 groups
- Aperture range: f/1.4-16
- Filter size: 67mm
- Angle of view (35mm equivalent): 63.4°
- Minimum focusing distance: 30cm / 11.8in
- Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 77mm x 94.0mm / 3.0in x 3.7in
- Number of diaphragm blades: 9 (Rounded diaphragm)
- Maximum magnification ratio: 1:5.2
2) Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS Lens
If there’s one thing Sigma has always been good at, it’s making unique lenses. In case you find that 200-500 f/2.8 lens (available in different mounts, too) is a little too much for you, maybe the new (likely a mere cosmetic refresh of its predecessor) 120-300mm f/2.8 OS won’t be. This speedy telephoto lens combines aperture size of traditional exotic 300mm f/2.8 lenses with an added versatility of a zoom. Because of that, it will prove to be very suitable for sports and wildlife photography if optical, mechanical and AF performance is good enough. No other maker has anything close to this lens on offer. Prime lenses almost certainly offer better performance – those 300mm f/2.8 Canon and Nikon lenses are as good as they get – but for some photographers, Sigma performance might be more than adequate.
Other highlights include the usual HSM autofocus with full-time manual override and Sigma’s optical image stabilizer. Hopefully, it’s competitive with other stabilizer systems out there. The lens comes with a metal hood, a case and tripod ring and also has low dispersion glass elements to counter chromatic aberration. Weather sealing is present. There is a focus speed adjustment, as well as focus limiter.
Here are the official specifications (appearance and specs are still subject to change):
- Lens Construction: 23 elements in 18 groups
- Aperture range: f/2.8-22
- Filter size: 105mm
- Angle of view (35mm equivalent): 20.4° – 8.2°
- Minimum focusing distance: 150cm – 250cm / 59.1in – 98.4in
- Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 124.4mm x 291mm / 4.8in x 11.5in
- Blades: 9 (Rounded diaphragm)
- Maximum magnification ratio: 1:8.1
Pricing is yet unknown. B&H has its predecessor in stock, however. It retails for $2999 with instant savings, which is less than twice the price of competing Canon and Nikon exotic primes. We can expect the price of this new 120-300mm f/2.8 OS lens to be around $3500 or even less. Time will tell, and we hope to get a copy for a review as soon as it’s out.
3) Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 OS Lens
This lens is meant for APS-C sensor cameras and combines practical zoom range with relatively fast aperture. If photography is no more than a hobby, it’s an interesting alternative for those standard 18-55mm kit zooms. Don’t expect it to be perfect, though. Heavy distortion, corner softness and some CA may be present. Still, it’s a standard zoom and perfect performance is unlikely to be expected of it – that’s missing the point. As usual, it comes with HSM autofocus and optical stabilizer. You will find a lens hood in the package, too. There are aspherical elements, as well as low dispertion lenses for CA control.
Here are the official specifications (appearance and specs are still subject to change):
- Lens Construction: 16 elements in 14 groups
- Minimum aperture: down to f/22
- Filter size: 72mm
- Angle of view (APS-C): 79.7° – 22.9°
- Minimum focusing distance: 22cm
- Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 79mm x 82mm / 3.1in x 3.2in
- Blades: 7 (Rounded diaphragm)
- Maximum magnification ratio: 1:2.9
- Weight: 470g / 16.6oz.
Similarly to Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS lens, the “new” lens is likely also no more than a cosmetic refresh of the older one, so you should expect it to cost the same or thereabout – $470. The current 17-70mm f/2.8-4 OS lens can be had from B&H for $419 (with instant savings): Nikon mount, Canon mount, Sony mount.
Sigma Global Vision Concept
First step towards the right direction for Sigma was the release of their highly popular 50mm f/1.4 EX lens. Having found its place in many photographers’ bags, this lens has a high price tag (higher than those of brand fast normal lenses), but also optical performance to back it up. It has a nippy focus, feels very solid in hand, and, during its lifespan, Sigma even got rid of their old lens finish. The old finish was very prone to gathering dust and then, if abused slightly, coming off completely. The new finish is much sleeker and more durable.
They didn’t stop with one fast lens, though. 85mm f/1.4 EX came out – it was an even bigger hit among professional photographers and a real leap for Sigma in terms of quality and performance. Ryan Brenizer, whose amazing panorama method we discussed, uses it in his most demanding jobs with confidence. I thought of replacing my 85mm f/1.4D lens with the Sigma, given that prices are very similar. This classic fast portrait prime lens is very sharp even wide open and has tough build quality. It, too, focuses faster (due to short focus ring travel path) than either Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4G or Canon’s 85mm f/1.2 II L, is much cheaper and makes a real alternative.
As if this wasn’t enough to show Sigma means business, they’ve stopped walking and started running. Sigma has announced a new strategy, a concept of a sort (quote):
Sigma is organizing all its interchangeable lenses into three product lines. Each line has its own clearly defined concept, and every lens we develop from now on will be assigned to one of these lines.
Our objective is not to impose a new way of categorizing equipment, but simply to clarify the approach we have taken in developing each new lens. Our hope is that these new product lines will help guide photographers, giving an overview of the type of image creation each lens was designed to support.
There are three categories:
- C stands for Contemporary. Normal, versatile zoom lenses are likely to join this category: “Featuring the very latest technology, and combining optical performance with compactness, our high-performance Contemporary line covers a wide range of needs.” At this time, the refreshed and stabilized 17-70mm f/2.8-4 lens belongs here.
- A stands for Art, and will include fast prime lenses ranging from wide-angle to moderate telephoto, as well as macro and fish-eye lenses: “Designed with a focus on sophisticated optical performance and abundant expressive power, our Art line delivers high-level artistic expression.” Currently, this category holds one lens – the newly announced 35mm f/1.4 fast prime. You can expect 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses to join this category shortly (possibly with improvements).
- S means, predictably, Sports, and will include fast telephoto lenses, both prime and zoom. “While offering sophisticated optical performance and expressiveness, our Sports line lenses deliver high action-capture performance, enabling photographers to get exactly the shots they want.” Currently, refreshed and unique 120-300mm f/2.8 OS lens is in this category. It is likely Sigma’s 70-200 f/2.8 OS will join it soon.
I must say – these new and refreshed lenses look very solid and inspire confidence. We are yet to see how they perform. We await the arrival of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens most eagerly and will present you with a review as soon as we have enough field-experience with it.
Visit Sigma Global website if you’re interested in learning a bit more. Let’s hope they deliver as much as they promise.