Third Party Lens Manufacturers are On The Rise

I remember not that long ago there were two types of lenses. Brand lenses, those designed by known manufacturers for their own cameras, such as Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus, and the cheapskate third party lenses you’d buy if you couldn’t afford the first type. Brand lenses were more expensive, but well worth the extra price. Better build quality, better optical capability, better dependability, better compatibility, better autofocus and fewer quality control and manufacturing issues were what you got for your hard-earned cash. Not to mention respectful nods from anyone spotting letters Nikkor or a red ring around the front of that lens barrel. A few years have gone by now and situation seems to be changing, however. Third party manufacturers have moved the game up and started producing some serious alternatives. Sigma is very keen to prove the point with the launch of its latest lens, the new 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM for APS-C DSLR cameras. In this article, I will introduce you to this new lens and give insight as to why it is such an important step forward in current smaller-format lens market.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM

What is it About This Lens?

In a nutshell, this new lens sports a useful wide-to-normal focal length range of 18-35mm on an APS-C sensor camera (27-52.5mm full-frame equivalent), for which it is designed. It also has Sigma’s fast HSM AF motor, which is similar to Nikon’s SWM and Canon’s USM technology. Zooming and focusing are internal, so length remains constant. The new Sigma also has 17 elements in 12 groups and sports 9 rounded diaphragm blades for smooth out of focus highlights. Some of the optical elements are aspherical while minimum focus distance is 0.28m. The lens accepts 72mm filters and is, unfortunately, not protected against dust and moisture. It’s also quite hefty at around 810g. The lens sits in Sigma’s Art lineup alongside Sigma 35mm f/1.4 HSM and is designed with aesthetic flexibility in mind. But the spotlight is the f/1.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. Oh yes. This is the first ever f/1.8 zoom lens for DSLRs.

It’s a bit too early to say anything about the optical properties of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 – we haven’t had a chance to play with it, pre-production version or otherwise. But optical quality is not even the point of it. I know it sounds silly at first, but bear with me, because this lens marks an important milestone for APS-C camera lens design. Finally, you can truly say that this zoom lens lets you leave several primes at home without any serious compromise (assuming optical quality is good enough). It’s as fast as those 35mm f/1.8-2 class prime lenses for APS-C cameras and offers the advantage of variable focal length. But there’s also the bigger picture.

The Problem of Lens Speed

I am a big fan of larger format sensors and film, and love my D700 and Mamiya RZ67 for what they are. Even so, I can also appreciate the advantages smaller sensor cameras carry, such as reduced size, weight and price. Now, price is something that’s easy to understand, and weight and size advantages are just as important. However, in my opinion, no APS-C or smaller sensor camera system is complete without a set of fast lenses. So, these camera systems should either exploit size advantage and give the option of smaller lenses, or give plenty of wide aperture lenses. Better still, they should include both. Most manufacturers got caught up in focal-length “equivalence”, and that’s an important aspect. For example, a 50mm lens, while very nice on a full-frame camera, is nowhere near as flexible on APS-C camera. You need a 35mm lens for that. But what about aperture? That’s where brand manufacturers haven’t really been working hard, to say the least. It’s nearly impossible to replicate the shallow depth of field that a large sensor helps to provide with fast lenses at given framing using APS-C camera. For example, if you put a 35mm lens on APS-C camera, set the aperture to f/2 and focus at about 5ft away, you would have around 0.5ft of depth of field. If you put a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera (for similar framing purposes) and focus from the same distance, you could set your aperture to f/2.8 and get the same 0.5ft depth of field. Replicating depth of field of a f/1.4 lens mounted on full-frame camera would require you to have f/1 lens for your APS-C camera. Lenses that “fast” are incredibly difficult to design (especially with AF) and, of course, are a bit too much to expect. However, f/1.4 lenses are much simpler and, if designed for APS-C cameras, would be quite small. For this reason I believe there should be many more wide-aperture lenses for APS-C, which would make the crop sensor systems that much more attractive.

There’s only one f/1.4 AF lens specifically designed for APS-C DSLRs that I know of. Want to guess who designed it? Yep, Sigma – it is the 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM. And now Sigma is in the spotlight with its 18-35mm f/1.8 constant aperture zoom.

Even with the latest super-fast 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom lens, Sigma isn’t the only manufacturer to try and exploit smaller sensor advantages to the fullest. While Sony, Panasonic and other compact system camera and DSLR manufacturers release and re-release slow and often crappy zoom lenses with very narrow apertures, Fujifilm is busy with its speedy optics. The 18-55mm f/2.8-4 Fujinon is almost a stop faster than equivalent lenses in other mounts throughout the zoom range (albeit at a hefty price, perhaps, but that’s a different topic). The 35mm f/1.4 has been extremely well received, too. A 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses are in the pipeline. That’s why I seriously consider Fujifilm X-mount mirrorless cameras as a future addition to my Nikon gear that I’d use for my personal work, travel, street photography and, oh yes, weddings.

Faster lenses are not just about better low-light performance. After all, modern cameras are getting better and better at ridiculously high ISO settings. It’s also about shallow depth-of-field and aesthetics. Fujifilm gets it, Sigma gets it. The big boys, for some reason, still don’t.

The Problem of Price and Innovation

A few years ago, brand lenses were expensive for a reason. Third party offerings simply couldn’t match established makers, nor did they intend to. Sigma, Tokina and Tamron lenses were meant for the budget-minded and carried plenty of compromises as a result. These days, however, the situation is slowly changing. We now have the stabilized Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 which, all in all, is as much of a rival to brand alternatives as anything. Then there’s the excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens and I see quite a few pros chose it over Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4G or Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L lens. Not the kind that would try and save money on gear they depend on daily… The previously mentioned Sigma 35mm f/1.4 seems pretty promising as well. They all feel solid and you could hardly mistake these lenses for anything other than professional optics. The best part is, they still cost less than brand lenses. All it takes for someone who wants to manufacture premium products is design a few standouts, one after another, and gain trust. It almost seems as if Sigma has been tirelessly making its way up to stand among the big names. They’ve come up with a few worthy lenses already, and the new 18-35mm f/1.8 might just be the next one.

What happens next? Well, either third party manufacturers will realize they can bump their prices up as quality rises, or brand manufacturers will be forced to lower their prices to stay competitive. What’s certain right now, though, is that brand manufacturers are trying to improve old designs and are reluctant to bring something new to the game, while certain third party companies seem to want to do both. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens is just one example. There’s also the versatile 120-300 f/2.8 lens (already in its third incarnation), while Tamron is the only one who can offer an optically stabilized 24-70mm f/2.8 workhorse zoom for full-frame cameras (Sony Alpha and Pentax DSLR shooters enjoy image stabilization with all lenses).

Final Words

Third party lens manufacturers and Fujifilm are stirring water that has been still for too long, and coming up with some actual innovation. While Canon and Nikon try and outdo each other by updating old designs, Fujifilm, Sigma and other manufacturers are making their way forward. Someday, they may go past those who were seen as major systems and their sales will tumble, giving brand lenses a run for their money. The good thing is, photographers win either way. I’m not a very technical person, yet I can’t help but hope Fujifilm and Sigma keep it up. APS-C cameras need more fast lenses, be it zoom or prime. Technical or not, choice is a beautiful thing.


  1. 1) Peter G.
    May 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm


    I think you forgot one IMPORTANT manufacturer in your introduction, or, have you been blinded by Canon , that you mentioned it twice :-) ?
    You forgot Nikon, the choice of many professional photographers. I went ” cheapskate” about 40 years ago, and soon regretted it.

    I have been with Nikon since 1972 and never regretted it. (My lenses range from 8mm f2.8 to 800mm f5.6 )

    • May 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      Oops, that was probably me! I changed some wording in the intro and probably screwed up the manufacturer names lol :)

      • 1.1.1) Alene
        May 1, 2013 at 10:53 pm

        Oops, better change “bare with me” to “bear with me” in your edits as well. ;)
        (Great article, by the way.)

        • Papundek
          May 2, 2013 at 5:01 am

          Alene, Nasim is right, the correct phrase is ‘bear with me’, not ‘bare with me’.

          • FrancoisR
            May 2, 2013 at 5:05 am

            Okay okay most spotted it but leave it Romanas, it’s so funny lloll…

            • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin Romanas Naryškin
              May 2, 2013 at 5:27 am

              Making fun of me, are you? :)) lol

              I do my best when writing but make mistakes from time to time. It’s not that I don’t know the spelling, it’s just that I type rather quickly and don’t even notice the mistakes. I’m glad our eagle-eyed viewers are here to point them out. :)

          • Alene
            May 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm

            Yes, that IS what I originally said and the article currently reflects what I previously noted. I will also note as an editor, this blog is one of the most meticulous with their writing and presentation. Kudos.

            • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin Romanas Naryškin
              May 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm

              Thanks a lot, Alene, you’ve no idea how words like yours keep us going. And don’t worry about repeating comments, it happens to the best of us ;) Removed them now.

      • 1.1.2) Chris
        May 2, 2013 at 8:01 am

        I’ll share a story on my encounter to the Sigma lenses.

        The Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 Macro arrived on my hands the night before 2007/2/14 for my D70s, after the trusty Nikkor 18-200. I had a play with the lens and viewed it on the *camera LCD*, everything was okay, the lens was clean, metering, focusing were all okay so I went to sleep before shooting for a couple friend on Valentine’s day.

        The day went well but as soon as I opened up the photos in the computer, I immediately noticed that the photos were soft on the screen, even viewed at “fit to screen” at 1280×1024. It took me a while to realize and learn the term back-focus at 2007. Needless to say, I almost had to apologize for the “soft” photos I took. The couple were okay, since they didn’t know much about photography.

        Took the lens with my camera to the Sigma office in Hong Kong and they re-tuned it after a 20-minute wait (the D70s did not have focus adjustment like the new camera has). I was happy, since I didn’t know what a pro lens can offer, in terms of image quality and lens artifacts.

        Fast forward to 2012 where I bought a new D7000. I mostly shot with the 18-200, because it gave me the convenience I needed. Since I did not have a problem on the Sigma lens, I just snap on the lens and attended a wedding (again). At the banquet I took some photos, immediately I noticed there were focusing issues on my camera, to that I even thought I had a focusing issue with the focusing modes.

        I thought the lens was tuned 5 years ago, but clearly not the case on my upgrade to D7000. Needless to say, the photos were blurry and shaken, that were the poorest photos I took in my life. People with a compact camera did shoot better than I could.

        I had a Sigma 30 f/1.4 and the focusing was okay. That was the case until I upgraded to Nikkor 17-55, Nikkor 70-200 2.8 and invested in Reikan Focal. The tests showed that the Sigma lenses executed poorly in the focus consistency tests. Other image tests showed that all my Nikon lenses, even the 18-200, far superior to my Sigma lenses, in terms of focusing accuracy, which any good photographer, badly needs.

        After the incidents I began to shoot commercially, upgraded to entry FX and brought a whole line of Nikkor pro-zooms and eco-primes. The image quality is a blown away from the Sigma lenses, and I have been meticulously careful on every choice and technique I made before, or at the shootings.

        I sold the Sigma 30mm prime, the once fabulous lens on DX did not satisfy the straighter requirements of shooting commercially; and I use the 18-55 on full time manual only for macro shots, before upgrading to the pro macro. The scary experience on the Sigma lenses dictated me that I will never use a third party lens, at least I did not have the gut to put on real money for the Tamron SP 24-70. To me, spending more a Mercedes, makes more sense than spending less on a Mitsubishi Evolution (or spending more on good insurance, vs spending less on cheap insurance).

        I have read articles on how good the new Sigma/Tamron lenses have become, but how about the focusing accuracy? Does it achieve the *same* amount of accuracy as the Nikkor lenses do, what’s your real world usage/lab tests tells you about? Or got a good story/analogy if I were in your shoes?

        • samer RIZK
          May 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm

          I’m not sure if the Mercedes vs Evo is similar to the Brand vs Third party comparison :)

        • Jed
          August 1, 2013 at 5:46 am

          It’s all about lens and camera tolerances. Once you get a lens calibrated to a particular body it will mostly only work on that body. Swapping bodies will show that the lens is not calibrated for it and will need re-calibration. The camera bodies could likely need calibration themselves. This is a fact of life for all photographers and own brand lenses are not immune. They do have an advantage that they only need work for one brand of camera so can have less focus issues. Also Sigma have brought out a usb dock for their new lens lineup. This allows the lens to be calibrated for focus issues by the photographer and re-calibrated for new camera bodies. No more sending back to manufacturer for calibration – or getting angry and calling it a shit lens, har, har!

          Far too many people expect their lenses to ‘just work’ and if they don’t they get very angry without understanding the real world issues about tolerances. Hopefully Sigma with their usb dock and new lens lineup will make Canon and Nikon etc. sit up and take notice. I went with Sigma as their primes are faster than a lot of Canon non L’s (plus hood and soft case!) and to my eyes take just as good photographs. Also the Sigma guys here in the UK gave me no end of support and sympathy when calibrating my lenses. Can’t say the same for Canon – personal experience mind!

  2. 2) FrancoisR
    May 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Excellent as ususal!

    Romanas you bring up the Sigma 120-300 2.8. I’m itching to buy a 300 f2.8 VR or 200 f2 VR and this Sigma lens costs only half for great results the rumor mill says. I would love to get your opinion on it.


    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin 2.1) Romanas Naryškin
      May 2, 2013 at 5:55 am


      I haven’t had the chance to use 120-300 f/2.8. What I do know that, for a zoom lens (the latest version), it’s impressive, but won’t perform as well as the primes. The two Nikkors are some of the sharpest optics around. The question is whether Sigma is sharp enough for your needs, especially considering the advantage of variable focal length. I suggest you rent it and see for yourself – you’ll save yourself from any surprises that way.

  3. 3) ocir
    May 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Competition is good!

  4. 4) James
    May 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Good article, Romanas. I’ve started looking at 3rd party lenses more as I consider expanding my system. For me, it’s still more the size issues that keeps me going to Nikkor lenses. Comparable lenses from Tamron & Sigma seem to be larger in size & weight than similar Nikkor and Canon counterparts.

    Other than that, I like what I am seeing from the 3rd party products.

    • 4.1) John
      May 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      Exactly, about the weight: Sigma’s 50-150 OS gave DX equivalent FoV to FX 70-200 but wasn’t significantly lighter, and this 18-35/1.8 gives DoF equivalence to a 24-70/2.8 but only 27-52mm – a 2x zoom instead of 3x – and isn’t much lighter either; presumably lighter on the wallet.

  5. 5) David
    May 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I could not agree more Romanas.

    The big 2 are profit rather than customer focussed (sic) and its so good that 3rd party players are stirring things up. How, I wonder can Sigma make lens in Japan and still price them reasonably? Just how much more have we been paying to the Big 2 all these years?

    I hope now for a fixed aperture 18-130mm and ( gasp!) a 500mm that won’t cost the earth.

  6. 6) Peter G.
    May 1, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    There is a saying : ” Yer pays yer money and take yer chances ” .

    For me, in my early days of photography, I could not afford the good gear.
    Once I went to prime Nikon lenses way back in 1972, I could not believe the difference in results.

    Now, I have 15 Nikon lenses from 8mm f2.8 ( circular fisheye ) to 800mm f5.6 ( manual).
    My last two purchases have been Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 ( magic lens ) and Nikon 70-200 mm f2.8 MK1 ( its OK).

    My last trip overseas was in 2011 , and that 14-24mm f2.8 was used a lot . ( Terracotta Warriors in China, and Angkor Wat and the temples in Cambodia ). Even my 1997 vintage 300mm f2.8 AF-S was handy in the travels. I have seen how the cheaper lenses perform, and I have no reason to change .

  7. 7) Saji
    May 1, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Great article Romanas..
    Thanks to these 3rd party manufacturers, I can afford my D800E Lens system without sacrifycing the quality.
    I own:
    1. Rokinon 14mm F2.8
    2. Tamron 24-70VC
    3. I was also looking at new Tamron 70-200VC but decided to go with Nikon when they offered $200 discount.
    4. I am also dreaming about new Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 lens and 35MM 1.4

    >>Tamron is the only one who can offer an optically stabilized 24-70mm f/2.8 workhorse zoom for full-frame cameras<<
    I believe Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM also stabilized

    • 7.1) WFP
      May 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      If only the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM was stabilized I would have bought one. Because it wasn’t Tamron got my money. According to DXO the Tamron BETTER(!?!) in some areas than the latest Canon, but overall it sits between the old and new ones.

  8. 8) mako2011
    May 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Good Article, thank you. There is also the consideration of compatibility. Recently there has been some issues with 3rd party lenses no longer being fully function from say the D7000 to the D7100. That may have an impact for some.

  9. 9) Arun
    May 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Well briefed article. Thanks for highlighting the new developements.

  10. 10) Simanta
    May 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Its a very well written article regarding branded & off brand lens manufacturers. What I feel is that nowadays lens sharpness is hardly an issue. Every single lens out there is more or less sharp. Anyways, sharpness is more dependent on the photographer rather than the lens itself. What really matter is the AF speed, the VR/IS performance et al. The reliability factor is the main concern of the 3rd party manufacturers. One bright summer morning you suddenly find your AF not functioning or VR/IS stopped working. I’ve seen this happen to three of such lenses of my friends. So, I would rather pay twice as much going branded to save me from paying thrice as much going ‘cheapskate’. Thank you.

    • 10.1) Scott M
      May 2, 2013 at 4:19 am

      That was my theory too until one of my telephotos had VR stop working; Nikon is not immune to having VR suddenly break.

  11. 11) Richard
    May 2, 2013 at 12:11 am

    On a well known Nikon forum I have been keenly spreading the word about the increased quality of 3rd party lenses, especially Sigma and latterly Tamron. It all started when I bough the Sigma 50-500 mm OS to replace my ultra slow Nikon 80-400mm VRI, a decision I have never regretted. Then, wishing to buy a stabilised macro lens, I had a choice between the Nikon 105mm f2.8 micro and the Sigma OS macro version. In the end I bought the Sigma. I will say that neither of these decisions were down to cost as both lenses were equal price to each other. The Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro is a superbly built lens applauded by many pundits including Thom Hogan. I should say I have both the D800 and D7100 and as these are extremely demanding cameras requiring top glass, the Sigma’s perform brilliantly on them both.

    So, that’s Sigma, now Tamron and here both quality and price come into play. I have had 3 copies of the Nikon 70-300mm VR, arguably one of Nikon’s finest budget zooms and sold each one to help
    fund more exotic lenses. I missed the lens and more especially wanted a consumer grade lens to use on my Nikon V1 fitted with an FT-1. After much deliberation I bought the Tamron 70-300mm VC lens as I never intended it to be used on my D800 anyway. I have to say that I was more than pleasantly surprised at the results I have achieved. Not just on the V1, but the D7100 too. I have yet to try it on my D800, but on the D7100 it performs exceedingly well and at least equal to the Nikon version. I do not expect it to blow me away on the D800, but neither would the Nikon version as the D800 demands higher grade glass.

    Finally, I was disappointed at the cost of Nikon’s new 80-400mm AF-S VRII offering and I am looking forward to seeing if Sigma will come up with a new 80-400mm OS. Chances are they are beavering away to give us just that.

    So, to conclude here you have until a short time ago a dedicated, rock solid Nikon man who has now learned that they have stiff competition and long may it last,


    • 11.1) Ads
      May 2, 2013 at 3:39 am

      +1 on the 50-500 OS – its a fantastic lens, only wish it worked with the FT-1!

      • 11.1.1) Richard
        May 2, 2013 at 5:12 am

        “+1 on the 50-500 OS – its a fantastic lens, only wish it worked with the FT-1!”

        If it’s under warranty Sigma will re-chip it for you free of charge.


        • Ads
          May 2, 2013 at 5:39 am

          Thanks for the info Richard – my lens is out of warranty, but I sent an email to Sigma here in Aus. It’d be worth experimenting with even if it cost a few bucks to get it done.

    • 11.2) Alan
      May 2, 2013 at 5:55 am

      Odd isn’t it! My experiences are the opposite. I tried the Sigma 50-500 on a D300 and although it looked not bad, I wasn’t really impressed. I swapped it for the Nikon 80-400 (old one) and I immediately saw a big improvement.

      Similarly, I borrowed a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 from my local camera shop to do a job on my new D800. Naturally, (as you do with a new lens) I carried out tests before use and found that I could only used f8 or f11 to obtain any reasonable quality. The main problem was edge fall-off so maybe if I worked on the back focal length adjustment, it might have come OK.

      I still have a few old Nikon AIS manual focus lenses and they all produce excellent images on the D800.

      I suppose it’s a matter of you pays your money etc. Maybe the tolerances of the third party lenses are larger than that of Nikon (or Canon) – and don’t forget to carry out tests on ALL lenses before using them in anger.


  12. 12) Keith T
    May 2, 2013 at 12:41 am

    I own 3 Sigma lenses, the 10-20, the 150 f2.8 macro and the 150-500 for my Nikon bodies D300s and D90, they all perform very very well.
    I own a Nikon 80-200 f2.8 D which is so so at best, good for some occasions but disappointing for others, Nikon 18-70 average at best in all situations and the Nikon 50 f1.8G which is fairly good but not stellar. I do own other Nikon lenses which are excellent, my point being that as much as other photographers knock 3rd party lenses and defend brand lenses to the hilt, the fact is there are good and bad lenses in all brands but 3rd party lenses are becoming a serious consideration against over priced brand lenses that are still modelled on old focal length designs.
    I also own an OM-D and I have been slowly building my collection of primes for it and they really are excellent performers and the system is quickly becoming my favourite for most situations.
    The big boys really should be beginning to sit up and take notice.

  13. 13) MartinG
    May 2, 2013 at 1:12 am

    I will look forward to the results in the lens database. I have never bought a third party lens. I could be persuaded to consider it. The risk of compatibility with future equipment sis still an issue. Will the lens be useless if you upgrade or update your camera body?

    I recall a review for a Third party lens where the reviewer looked at a slightly cheaper lens and compared the relative quality. He summed it up nicely when the conclusion was that you ‘got less than you paid for’. I have seen evidence that suggests that is changing.

  14. 14) Richard
    May 2, 2013 at 1:38 am



    Neither my Sigma 50-500mm OS or 105mm OS macro will work on my V1. Not a problem as don’t ever want to use them on that camara. However, Sigma UK and US afford a 3 year warranty and this will include free re-chipping apart from a contribution to the return postage. They have offered this re-chip for the V1. Both lenses worked on day one on my D800, D7000 and D7100.


    It certainly has changed, not is changing. One big negative was the paint quality which pealed off, that has been addressed and is now fine. I disagree with “you get less than you paid for” as that is perhaps a little bit cynical. You are correct with all your assumptions pre about 2 years ago, but not now. I also feel that as Sigma won their court battle against Nikon for the alleged infringement of Nikon’s stabalization copywrite earlier this year they will be pulling at the leash to produce like for like lenses.


    • 14.1) MartinG
      May 3, 2013 at 2:04 am

      Thanks Richard,
      I have heard good things about the Sigma 105 macro. I have also heard that there have been compatibility problems with the D800, but I think that was not long after the release of the D800. One issue with a third party manufacturer is compatibility and upgrades. Hopefully all the issues will have been sorted out by now.
      Competition is a good thing, especially if it produces mor high quality lenses. I am very pleased to see Sigma and others decide to give original equipment manufacturers a run for their money.
      I think photography life’s new database will also help to raise standards. I cannot actually work out how DXO comes to the conclusions it does.

  15. 15) Richard
    May 2, 2013 at 3:21 am

    That Sigma 35mm f1.4 that you have heard good things about is the sharpest lens I have ever owned, and I’m a pro shooter. They really upped their game with their Art series, hopefully this will push the bigger names into upping theirs too.

  16. May 2, 2013 at 3:29 am

    No discussion of third-party lenses would be complete without a mention of the venerable Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 wide angle lens. For DX (crop sensor) bodies, there is little reason to look at the manufacturers’ own lenses when this one performs so well.

    I owned the well reviewed Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 but sold it as it had no distinctive personality and I’m not a big fan of mid-range zooms. Having owned the Sigma 85/1.4 for two years and recently getting to play with the Sigma 35/1.4 I am convinced that Sigma has ascended to the position alone at the top of third-party lens makers. Not sure what brought about this massive surge forward for Sigma (I heard the founder died and his son took over), but I’m not complaining.

  17. 17) Pedro G. Herrera-Davila
    May 2, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Thank you Romanas. You are one of the excellent reasons why I continue to read photography life.
    Your article is technical but very clear, direct but not abrasive, devoid of commercialism and pomposity. I highly appreciate your work and value your comments. I hope third party lens manufacturers eventually equal brand lenses. Indeed, since they concentrate only on fabricating lenses and not cameras, I am inclined to think that there is no bar to their doing even better than the brand lens makers…and hope that day will come.

  18. 18) Ertan
    May 2, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Dependability and compatibility are still not proven for 3rd part manufacturers, otherwise Sigma Tokina Tamron Samyang etc.. are doing excellent and putting a lot of pressure on Canikon and other OEMs.

  19. May 2, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Hey Romanas!
    I agree with the point of view laid out in Your article!
    What I noticed some time ago – being a “brand groupie” can cost You a lot of money. Money which is certainly harder to earn in todays photo business. I would just wish that all those high prices would be followed by precision, best available optics (for the price of course) and so on. So called third party dev’s show that those “main stream” companies don’t have to be right all the way.
    Anyway – one day I will buy “my” Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and I will be very happy :)

  20. May 2, 2013 at 6:27 am

    What about the fantastic and no longer available Sigma 100-300 f4… I so wish they would have provided an update of that lens with OS. I shot the majority of my shots on safari recently and provided you’re not too distant to the subject, the resolution is really nice and crisp. There aren’t really many in the same sort of territory as this lens – good tele zoom but still light enough to handhold. I wouldn’t say either of the Nikon (200-400) or Canon (100-400) compare either due to weight or constant aperture respectively.

    I second the mention of the Sigma 10-20 too, a great little wide angle on DX format.

  21. May 2, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I own a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 which I purchase about 8 years ago because I could not afford the Canon version for 3 times as much. The Tamron gave me issues after a few years and now does not work in the photo mode of my Canon. Oddly, it will work in the video mode still. I think it has an auto focusing problem.

    About 4 years ago I picked up the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 I and have been very happy with the quality. A few months ago my work picked up the Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 because it was only $800 compared to the $2400 for the Canon. Since the Sigma was much cheaper, we decided not to buy a UV filter and are careful to not scratch the lens. Between the Canon and Sigma I cannot tell a difference in the image quality.

  22. 22) Flores
    May 2, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Well, there was (and still are) also another kind of third party lenses, those that are not just cheap alternatives to the camera manufacturer own lenses: high performance (and highly expensive) lenses. I’m thinking, for example, of Zeiss lenses with Canon and Nikon mounts (not to be confused with Sony Zeiss branded lenses), but Zeiss is far from being alone in that market.

    Sure, these kinds of lenses I’m talking about are pricey (completely away from my pockets buying capabilities) and most have integration issues (namely most are manual focus only). However they’ve been around for lots of years and there seems to exist a niche market justifying their existence.
    I’m excited with the focus in quality and diversity where Sigma, Tamron and Tokina seem to be heading these days but I’m also looking closely at Samyang that looks like wanting to compete in the high performance market… Even if high performance lenses will always be hefty, having a high performance lens that does not cost “an arm and a leg” is very tempting.

    More in tune with your article having a lightweight camera with very good (large aperture, good “sharpness” and good build quality) but small and also lightweight optics is anybody’s dream, at least when trekking, and I believe we are witnessing (again) the interest of some manufacturers in making that dream come true.

    Unfortunately camera mounts are not, in most cases, open source and buying a lens from a third party still involves some risk regarding compatibility with future cameras but I agree we are seeing more and more unique options being offered by third parties. And, even if third party prices eventually rise a bit, I think this extended diversity is, “per se”, very exciting.

  23. 23) HomoSapiensWannaBe
    May 2, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Yes, 3rd party makers are increasing the competition, which is a good thing. I am very happy with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 on the D600. I eagerly await more from them, perhaps a 24mm f1.4 next? Meanwhile, due to an upcoming trip to the Smokey Mountains, I got the Nikon 70-200/4G, though I had intended to wait and get it with a rebate. Dang, this is a great lens, and the VR is amazing! The new 18-35G would make a great hiking companion for it. So many choices, not enough cash…..

  24. 24) Larry Redmon
    May 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I’ve never been real big on third-party lenses. I owned a cheap Tamron several years ago that was just horrible . A while back I was considering a Nikon 70-300 VR when a local camera store salesman recommended the Tamron 70-300 VC instead. He told me that Tamron had come a long way over the last few years. After reading many positive reviews online, I went back and took a chance on the Tamron. I have used it several months and am truly stunned at the quality I have achieved. The color, contrast, and sharpness is amazing, especially considering the price I paid. I can’t say how long it will hold up, but it does seem to be well built, and comes with a six year warranty.

    • 24.1) MartinG
      May 3, 2013 at 2:13 am

      Great to hear. The Nikon 70-300 is a very good lens right up to 200, after that you need to stop down and put up with reduced resolution etc. I have moved on from the 70-300. Sounds like it was a good decision.

      • 24.1.1) Larry Redmon
        May 3, 2013 at 7:44 am

        I am sure the Nikon version would not have disappointed me either. But due to a limited budget and the fact that Tamron was offering a rebate, I decided to give the Tamron a shot. What really was a pleasant surprise was the Tamron’s sharpness and quality wide open at 300mm. No regrets so far.

  25. May 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Romanas, its interesting to see that you are considering the fuji of the mirrorless systems out there .. waiting to see what Nassim’s new thoughts are about the fuji now that the RAW conversion issues have been somewhat sorted out and having improved their AF as seen in the x100s.. especially that Nassim had already went with the olympus system… cheers..

  26. May 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Sigma has been catching up, and in some instances, surpassing Nikon lenses for about 10 years. I use the 300-800 on a D300 for surfing, the non-OS 120-300 on a D700 for night time football, the non-OS 50-150 F2.8 on a D7000 for portraits, and the 17-70 OS micro and 8-16 on a D7000 for close-up scenics. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this. Once exception, I do use a D800 with Nikon 24-70 for scenics in Yosemite and Yellowstone. Notice that most of the bodies on which I use Sigma lenses are discontinued. However, the bodies continue to perform to my expectations even after they have been discontinued. (humor)

  27. 27) David Ahn
    May 12, 2013 at 2:04 am

    I was super excited about this lens. The versatility of a wide to long normal zoom lens with f/1.8 is very promising. Three problems:

    1. It’s crop body only; the best crop sensors still don’t do nearly as well with high ISO as FX.
    2. It’s only available in NON-stabilized bodies, not for Sony Alphas. A non-stabilized lens begs for a stabilized body.
    3. Even if it were available for the Sony Alpha, you would gain 1.25 stop of speed over an f/2.8 but lose 1/3 stop due to the translucent mirror. This leaves you quite a bit worse off than an FX with an f/2.8 (assuming an f/2.8 on a crop sensor is equivalent to an f/4 on an FX).

    I guess I’m stuck with either the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC and correct for vignetting and busy bokeh, or the Nikon 24-120 f/4G VR and live with slightly slower glass and still fix busy bokeh.

  28. Profile photo of Richard Viray 28) Richard Viray
    September 18, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Hi Nassim do you advise this Sigma 18-35mm for full frame user? will it have vignetting effect if I use in fullframe? thanks

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