Ever since Sigma announced their new direction with reorganizing new lenses into three different “Contemporary”, “Art” and “Sports” product lines, the company has been successfully rolling out a number of truly groundbreaking lenses. We were blown away by the optical quality of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens, which topped our lens charts as one of the sharpest lenses we have seen to date. Then we welcomed the updated Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and were quite inspired by world’s first f/1.8 constant aperture zoom lens, the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art. Earlier this year, Sigma announced yet another addition to the “Art” line of lenses, again in the “world’s first” category, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art. Built on the concept of the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art, the 24-35mm f/2 was redesigned to cover the full-frame image circle, while maintaining the superb optical performance. The result was a larger and heavier lens, but one that was to challenge primes from 24mm to 35mm focal lengths. Set on to go head to head with such primes specifically, the biggest question I had was – could this lens actually optically challenge prime lenses? If it performed well optically, that’s a single lens which could potentially replace such lenses as the Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G, 28mm f/1.8G and 35mm f/1.8G in a single package – a rather tough challenge, as those lenses are quite strong performers on their own.
With a fast aperture of f/2, the 24-35mm Art is an attractive choice for many types of photography. Having photographed a wedding with the lens, I found great use for such a lens when capturing groups and doing environmental portraits. It is not a slow zoom like the 16-35mm f/4 and those two stops of light do matter quite a bit when shooting in low-light churches or dimly lit rooms. That’s ISO 1600 vs ISO 6400, or 1/25 vs 1/100.
The focal length coverage of the lens is also great for photographing landscapes and architecture. I personally love shooting at 24mm and 35mm focal lengths, so having those two in a single package sounded quite good. I am limited to f/2.8 with my Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G, which is why I often resort to primes when shooting a dark night sky, as even a stop of light can make a huge difference. And shooting at f/1.4 or f/1.8 is not something I will typically do, since fast aperture primes usually don’t do very well at the widest aperture, so I find myself shooting in the f/2 range with those anyway.
To sum up, despite the fact that the 24-35mm range sounds a bit too narrow, particularly when you have many other lens options covering more, it all comes down to pure optical performance. If the 24-35mm f/2 is as solid as other primes stopped down to f/2, one would not need to compare it to other zooms, which is where Sigma is aiming. And as I reveal in the subsequent sections of this review, that’s exactly what Sigma has achieved with this optical marvel. Without giving more spoilers, let’s take a look at the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art in detail and see what it has to offer.
1) Lens Specifications
- Designed for use with full frame and APS-C sensor digital cameras
- Designed with SLD and FLD glass elements to help correct both axial and chromatic aberrations
- HSM (Hyper-Sonic Motor) ensures a quiet & high-speed autofocus
- 9 blade rounded diaphragm creates a pleasant out-of-focus effect on backgrounds
- Compatible with the Sigma USB dock and Optimization Pro software to adjust and fine tune focusing parameters
- Mount Type: Sigma, Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax
- Focal Length: 24-35mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Lens Construction: 18 Elements in 13 Groups
- Angle of View: 84.1º-63.4º
- Number of Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 28cm/11in
- Filter Size: 82mm
- Maximum Magnification: 1:4.4
- Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 87.6×122.7mm / 3.4×4.8in
- Weight: 940g/33.2oz.
- A lens hood, front & rear lens caps and carrying case are included with the lens
2) Lens Handling and Build
The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM is built very well, just like all other Art-series lenses – it has a very nice all-metal barrel and a metal mount. The lens feels very solid in hands and it has a better feel to it than Nikon’s plastic primes, which feel rather cheap in comparison. To be able to make such a wide aperture possible throughout the focal length range, Sigma had to make the front element of the lens rather big, which certainly impacted the overall size and weight of the lens. As a result, the lens features a large 82mm filter thread, which can be rather painful for some photographers, since 82mm filters are usually quite expensive when compared to smaller 77mm filters. I personally had to spring for the B+W 82mm HTC Kaezemann Nano Polarizer and it was not cheap at over $200 (and I would not recommend anything less if you want the best image quality) just to be able to use it with this lens.
At 940 grams / 33.2 ounces, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 is a bit heavy when compared to lightweight primes. However, it would be a mistake to compare such a lens with a single prime. The Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G, 28mm f/1.8G and 35mm f/1.8G collectively weigh 990 grams, which is basically what this single lens would be replacing. While 50 grams might not sound like a lot, the space savings, the time savings and the versatility of the 24-35mm (especially in dusty environments) are huge.
Focusing with the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 is a breeze – the focus ring is located on the front of the lens barrel and it is very smooth and easy to rotate, making the lens a great candidate for manual focusing. Be warned though, if you have been shooting with Nikon lenses, keep in mind that all Sigma lenses rotate in the opposite direction like Canon lenses do. Not an issue for most people, but can take some time to get used to, especially with Nikon viewfinders showing rotation in the opposite direction when looking at the focus assist indicators.
There is a switch on the side of the lens to move between Autofocus and Manual Focus, similar to the switches found on Nikkor lenses. The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art comes with a plastic petal type hood that stays securely locked once mounted on the front of the lens.
There is little to complain about in terms of the lens build except one area – weather sealing. While the lens itself probably can take plenty of abuse, the lens mount is not sealed with a rubber gasket like the new Nikon lenses. This means that you have to watch out for dust between the lens and the camera mount or it will easily make it into the camera and potentially even into the lens. As I explained in my “what to do with dust inside lenses” article, it is quite normal for lenses to suck air in and out when focusing or zooming in/out, so I recommend to try to keep the rear metal mount area clean at all times.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art features the same high quality “HSM” hyper-sonic motor found on other Sigma lenses, which provides fast and quiet autofocus operation. Autofocus accuracy is also excellent and I used the lens on a variety of Nikon DSLR camera bodies, including the high-resolution Nikon D810 – none of them had any front or back focus issues. And if I had any focus accuracy issues, I could have easily taken care of those with the Sigma USB Dock, which is a must-have tool, especially if you already own or planning to own more than one Sigma lens. That’s one of the biggest advantages of the new generation Sigma lenses, as you can not only update lens firmware, but also calibrate lenses individually without messing with AF Micro-Adjustment settings. I ran a number of different AF accuracy tests with the LensAlign lens calibration tool and the lens was spot on at all times and there was no need for additional calibration. This speaks for the new QA controls and high standards, which Sigma surely deserves to be praised for.
4) Lens sharpness, contrast and color rendition
As I reveal below, the sharpness performance of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 is simply amazing. I was quite shocked to see the lens outperform all of the Nikkor f/1.8G primes in center resolution. In fact, based on the performance of the lens at 24mm, the 24-35mm f/2 Art now holds the crown as the sharpest lens I have tested to date, with an Imatest score of 3235 in the center of the frame at f/2.8. While that’s certainly very impressive, such performance does come at a cost – the lens exhibits some focus shift.
When focusing on a subject wide open at f/2, the lens would yield very impressive mid-frame and corner performance in the expense of center performance when stopping down to f/5.6 and smaller. Imatest showed slightly lower performance in the center compared to mid-frame and the corners at f/5.6-f/11 range, which is a sign of focus shift. To keep center resolution high, I had to re-focus at f/4 using live view and re-measure the lens performance at different apertures. Although focus shift was not significant (not a big deal for most types of shooting), you might need to check your images when shooting in the field and potentially re-acquire focus at your desired aperture using live view.
Let’s now take a look at some Imatest numbers at different focal lengths:
The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art is a stunner at 24mm. Its wide open performance is superb and when stopped down to f/2.8, I was able to reach such high performance that no other lens has demonstrated before.
At 28mm, the lens gets a bit weaker at wide apertures, but not all that far from 24mm. By f/4 it reaches superb levels of sharpness and stopping down to f/5.6 results in excellent mid-frame and corner sharpness.
Zooming in to 35mm does not drastically change the overall picture – the lens performs amazingly well here, reaching best overall performance at f/5.6.
It is hard to understand just how good the above numbers are without comparing them to other lenses. Check out the lens comparisons section, where I put each focal length side to side with the Nikkor f/1.8G primes!
With such a wide coverage and a maximum aperture of f/2, I would not expect this lens to produce stunning bokeh – that’s just not what the lens is designed to do. If you need a solid portrait lens capable of rendering beautiful, creamy bokeh, you will be better off with a dedicated portrait lens in the 50mm+ range. However, if you often shoot wide open and you want to see how well the lens does in terms of rendering out of focus subjects, I have included a couple of images captured in the f/2 to f/4 range in this review. In short – not bad, but not great either. Out of focus transitions look pretty smooth, but if you are concerned about highlights in the background, you should be aware that this lens won’t do magic. Lenses such as the 24-35mm f/2 with aspherical elements tend to perform poorly with background highlights, showing “onion-ring” bokeh.
Here is a sample image captured at f/2:
Most lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open, especially on a full-frame body. As expected, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 vignettes quite a bit wide open, with vignetting levels falling sharply when stopped down beyond f/2.8. Here are the vignetting levels measured by Imatest:
As you can see, vignetting is quite strong at f/2, measuring over 3.5 stops at close focus. Vignetting is not that noticeable at infinity, although it is still on the heavy side. If it bothers you, it is relatively easy to fix in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop.
7) Ghosting and Flare
The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art handles flares and ghosting very well. When shooting against a very bright source of light such as the sun, if the light source is in the extreme corners, you might see some flare and ghosting in your images, which is normal and expected from most wide angle lenses. The provided lens hood is light and not overly obtrusive, so I would keep it on the lens at all times. When using the lens with filters, I got in the habit of reversing the lens hood and keeping it on the lens, although it made the focus ring a bit tougher to access in situations when I had to focus manually. Please keep in mind that using UV and other filters can potentially introduce more flares and ghosting to your images.
Unfortunately, distortion is the weak spot of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2, as it exhibits both barrel and pincushion distortion at different focal lengths. Take a look at the below chart, which illustrates the distortion behavior of the lens:
As you can see, the lens exhibits pretty strong barrel distortion measuring around 2% at 24mm, which gets significantly reduced at the 28mm mark (non-existent at around 30mm) and then transitions into pincushion distortion at 35mm.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration levels stay very light (below 1 pixel) at all focal lengths, which is quite impressive:
Most similar lenses typically stay in the 1.5 to 2.5 pixel range, so the performance of the 24-35mm f/2 is surprisingly good here.
10) Infrared Performance
Unfortunately, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 suffers from hot spots, most likely due to use of aspherical elements. They are subtle, but definitely visible, especially when stopped down to f/8 and smaller range. I ended up converting my IR images to black and white, since the hot spot in the colored versions looked pretty bad and it was impossible to work with.
11) Sigma 24-35mm f/2 vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
I have not yet had a chance to test the Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G lens, so the below comparison for now is between the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 and the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G. Once I test the 24mm f/1.8G, I will update this comparison as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at how the pro-level 24mm f/1.4G stacks up against the 24-35mm f/2:
The performance differences between these two lenses are clear – the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 outperforms the pro-level Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G in sharpness. While both lenses start out similarly at f/2 in the center, the Sigma is clearly sharper in the corners, pretty much at all apertures. That’s pretty remarkable, since the Sigma is much cheaper in comparison. Granted the Sigma is a full stop slower, but the Nikkor isn’t very sharp at f/1.4 either, often making smaller apertures more desirable to use anyway…
12) Sigma 24-35mm f/2 vs Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
Let’s take a look at how the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 does at 28mm when compared to the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G:
Although the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G is a bit sharper wide open in the center frame, take a look at how the lens performs in the mid-frame – its field curvature issues are to blame here and the Sigma is better there for sure. Once stopped down to f/2.8, the Sigma takes off in the center frame and shows slightly mid-frame and corner performance. And the difference is even more noticeable at smaller apertures – the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 is sharper all around! The Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G simply cannot keep up with the performance of the Sigma.
13) Sigma 24-35mm f/2 vs Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G
Let’s now take a look at how the Sigma 24-35m f/2 compares to the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G:
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is sharper at f/2 than the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 in the center, but its corner performance is surely lacking in comparison. It also loses to the Sigma stopped down to f/2.8 both in the center and corner sharpness. The lenses are somewhat comparable at f/4, but the Sigma seems to be stronger in mid-frame at pretty much every aperture.
14) Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Comparison Summary
Sigma deserves a big applause for making such a phenomenal lens. It practically outperforms all three Nikkor primes presented in this section, which is remarkable, considering that it is a single lens vs three dedicated primes. As you can see from the comparison above, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 in most cases looks sharper than the 24mm f/1.4G, 28mm f/1.8G and 35mm f/1.8G at equivalent apertures. Since the difference between f/1.8 and f/2 is so small, if one were to look into getting all three Nikkor primes, it would be a tough choice to go with those, since the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 pretty much does it all in a single package. No need to worry about swapping lenses and spending all that money!
Sigma surely has been on a roll, making one superb lens after another. When the 24-35mm f/2 was initially announced, I was a bit skeptical about the release, as the lens seemed to be too big, too heavy and too limited in focal length coverage when compared to some of the other zoom lenses. Since it is rare to see a zoom lens outperform a prime, my assumption was that we were looking at yet another zoom lens that would not necessarily shine optically. However, after testing the lens and comparing it to Nikon’s three excellent prime lenses, I realized that I was wrong – the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 is not just an ordinary wide angle zoom, it actually has the optical characteristics of prime lenses not just in terms of maximum aperture, but also in terms of optical performance. As you can see from the previous section, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art turned out to be sharper than Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G, 28mm f/1.8G and 35mm f/1.8G at equivalent apertures. Seeing a zoom outperform one prime is already a huge achievement and here we have one lens that can pretty much replace three. Now that’s groundbreaking!
The Sigma 24-35m f/2 Art is not without its faults though. Although its sharpness is stunning and lateral chromatic aberrations are fairly low, the lens certainly does exhibit noticeably more distortion and vignetting when compared to the three primes. However, those issues are not critical, as both issues can be corrected in post. Once Adobe and other companies provide support for the lens, it will be possible to fix distortion and vignetting with a single click of a button, so I see it as a small and addressable issue. Another disadvantage is bokeh – although the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 does quite well with background transitions, the presence of aspherical elements in the lens results in onion-shaped background highlights, which can be distracting to look at. Lastly, the lens is indeed quite bulky and heavy – thanks to the optical complexity of the lens, Sigma had to resort to a large 82mm filter thread on the lens, which could also deter some photographers.
Overall though, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art definitely falls into the “game changer” category. If you want the convenience of a zoom without compromises, matching, if not exceeding the performance of prime lenses, look no further – the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 will surely fit the bill. It is a true optical marvel, something other manufacturers will have a hard time catching up with for a while. Great job Sigma with giving us another killer lens!
16) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art lens for $999 (as of 09/20/2015).
17) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating