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Sigma 12-24mm F4 DG HSM Art review

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Review of the Sigma 12-24mm F4 DG HSM Art lens

Looking at the 12-24mm ultra wide angle zoom


Looking at Sigma’s ultra wide zoom lens, the 12-24mm F4 DG HSM Art.

The review covers some aspects of image quality, but concentrates more on how you make use of such a lens at the wider end, and how its performance affects day to day use.

It’s a hefty, well built lens, but why would you choose it?

sigma 12-14mm f4 lens and bag

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The Sigma 12-24mm f/4

The 12-24mm lens is a hefty lens, at 1.15kg (~2.5 pounds) and immediately invites comparison with the much more expensive (~$1600 vs ~$2700) Canon EF11-24mm F4L – partly because I already have one of those…

I’ve a few comparisons towards the end of the article, but this is not one of those lens reviews with masses of measurements, tables and charts. I don’t have the equipment to include such detail, nor do I have multiple copies of the lens to test for variation – perhaps more importantly, I just don’t have the patience…

Key features

  • Full-Frame Format (Mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sigma)
  • Aperture Range: f/4 to 22
  • FLD and Aspherical Elements
  • Super Multi-Layer Coating
  • Hyper Sonic AF Motor, Manual Override
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • TSC Material, Brass Bayonet Mount
  • Dust- and Splash-Proof Construction
  • Compatible with Sigma USB Dock

I’m testing the lens on my 50MP Canon 5Ds. The lens was kindly lent to me by Sigma UK.

lens testing sigma

The camera is on my Induro PHQ3 head and I’m taking some shots of houses in the street where I live …boring, but a scene I regularly use for new lenses.

The lens comes with a well constructed padded case.

sigma 12-14mm f4 lens and bag

The bag keeps the lens firmly in place.

lens in bag

The lens cap slides over the front of the lens and is long enough that I don’t think there is much chance of it sliding off in time.

lens cap 12-24mm

The lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB dock for adjustment and firmware update, but I didn’t have this at hand.

Lens specifications
Lens type Zoom lens
Max Format size 35mm FF
Focal length 12–24 mm
Image stabilization No
Lens mount Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Sigma SA Bayonet
Aperture
Maximum aperture F4
Aperture ring No
Optics
Focus
Minimum focus 0.24 m (9.45″)
Autofocus Yes
Motor type Ring-type ultrasonic
Full time manual Yes
Focus method Internal
Distance scale Yes
DoF scale No
Physical
Sealing No
Colour Black
Zoom method Rotary (extending)
Hood supplied Yes

The lens has numerous aspheric surfaces and uses a fair bit of exotic glass – This is another example of just how far lens design and manufacturing has come over the last few years.

12-24 internal

Lens controls are easy to reach – stiff enough to make it unlikely you’d turn off AF by mistake.

lens controls

The ‘A’ signifies this as one of Sigma’s top ‘Art’ category lenses.

The lens has a window showing focus details (goes beyond infinity – as with many lenses with more exotic glasses).

distance scale

Note how close the 1 metre mark is to infinity – this distance is covered by around a centimetre’s movement of the focus ring. It takes around a quarter turn more to go right down to the close focus distance.

Auto focus is silent and rapid, so much in fact that coupled with the short throw for normal working distances, I had to check a few times to see if anything had happened.

Although the zoom is listed as ‘extending’, the amount of movement at the front is small as these two shots show.

extension 12mm

extension 24mm

At the rear end, there is rather more movement (note too the rear sealing ring at the outer edge of the chromed lens mount)

rear 12mm

rear 24mm

Lens Performance

A few tests of the view outside of my front door give a realistic feel for how this lens is going to perform in the types of photos I’m most likely to use it for. If you look for some other reviews of this lens, you’ll find lots of graphs and charts – read several to get a feel for the performance of the lens, if this stuff matters to you, and remember that poring over such numbers rarely makes much real difference to most people’s photography ;-)

The lens is admirably sharp at the wide end – this shot looking down a nearby street is shot at f/4 (using autofocus)

street f4

Now for a 100% crop from the edge of the frame.

street edge f4

100% crop from the centre of the frame – the distant houses are about 200 metres away.

Now go back and put this crop in context…

street centre f4

I also tried processing this image in DxO Optics Pro V11, which easily fixed slight softness and lens aberrations. Not enough to show much difference in a web image.

It’s a superb lens wide open at 12mm – slightly sharper at f/5.6 and all over best around f/6.3.

How about at other focal lengths and apertures? – no I’m not now going to include dozens of examples…

Here are 3 sets of images focal length going from 12mm to 24mm in 2mm steps.

Apertures are f/4, f/5.6 and f/8.

multiple photos

So, for a shot with flat areas, you need to go to f/8 to reduce vignetting to negligible values. However a bit of vignetting often aids composition and anyway, I can easily fix it when processing the RAW files, if I want.

Chromatic aberration is small across the image range – impressively slight, and easily fixed in RAW processing.

Here’s the view at 12mm @f/5.6

12mm streetview

a 100% crop shows some CA (this is 100% from a 50MP sensor)

with ca

The auto-fix option with ACR easily corrects it.

ca fixed

The grey sky was typical of most time I had the lens so no star shots I’m afraid.

So, what do I take away from this… (remember, just one lens tested).

The lens is definitely sharper at wider focal lengths, not by a lot, but  moving to f/7.1 or f/8 shows more overall benefit at 22-24mm than at shorter focal lengths, where you can get excellent results at f/5.6 (and smaller apertures  only start to soften the image slightly through diffraction).

At 12-14mm the lens is fine for much use fully open at f/4.

I’m not doing detailed comparisons with my EF11-24, but at the wider end, the differences are small. Enough that going out for some ‘real’ photos I’m just thinking of what I’m photographing, not fretting over lens performance.

Lens flare

Two photos with the sun shaded and in shot show that the lens is quite resistant to flaring (@24mm).

no sun

sun

A 100% crop shows a few rays.

At f/6.3 these are quite faint – if you go to f/11 they become more prominent with 18 points (from the 9 blade aperture).

sunburst

These two shots at Peterborough cathedral (@12mm) show how sunlight from out of the frame catches the front element.

flare

The second shot has my hand shading the lens.

shaded

At 12mm, the front element is further forward, so more likely to be caught by off-axis sunlight.

Working with wide angles

You don’t get a lens like this for use as a 20-24mm zoom – far more likely is 12-16mm.

I’m looking at the lens for a short period in February in the UK, so fine weather was at a premium, especially since I have paying work to do that needed good weather too…

That said, I paid a visit to the splendid cathedral at Peterborough – one of the best examples of Norman cathedral architecture in the country, and pleasantly unspoilt by Victorian ‘improvement’. I also looked around the new Vijay Patel building at the nearby De Montfort university here in Leicester.

The entrance to the cathedral precincts shows the typical problem with wide views. If you don’t want to converge verticals, you need to keep the horizon running through the centre of the frame.

cathedral gateway

The shot is hand held (12mm) and I’ve not got it quite right.

With no horizon, it’s the plane from the camera to the horizon – in this case I’m aiming low by a small amount and the verticals show it.

If you’ve not shot with very wide lenses before, be aware that they exaggerate this effect.

On (paying) architectural work, I usually have my tripod with me and take quite a bit of care in levelling the camera. The camera has a built in level, but I find it clumsy to work with – I prefer the bubble level on my tripod head.

If you are going to make verticals lean, be aware that a small lean looks careless whilst a ‘big’ lean looks deliberate.

vijay patel entrance

I’ve noticed that web designers like stuff like this, but architects generally dislike it (i.e. know your client!)

It’s also what non-specialist pro photographers are inclined to include on their web sites when the say they ‘do architecture’  ;-)

With a 50MP camera, I can crop quite heavily, so verticals are ‘fixed’, but once again note the right edge of the image. I was concentrating on the front of the cathedral.

not tilting upwards

BTW I’m happy to include less than ‘perfect’ shots in a review, since this is the sort of things you will do – just because I do photography for a living, doesn’t mean I don’t mess up the occasional shot. I just don’t send them to clients ;-)

I’m opening up a shot from right in front of the entrance with the DxO ViewPoint lens correction plugin (I’m in Photoshop, but it works with DxO Optics Pro and stand-alone too)

open in viewpoint

ViewPoint makes use of the DxO lens correction modules to handle distortions

lens module needed

Applying the corrections show how the slight barrel distortion at 12mm is less at the sides of the frame

12mm distortion

Looking at corrected shots taken at other focal lengths show this small distortion diminishing towards ~17mm and then turning into slight barrel distortion towards 24mm. On a full frame camera this level of distortion won’t show on many subjects, and when it does is easily corrected in software.

Applying the transform tools, the slight forward extension of the middle section of the building shows quite noticeably.

verticals fixed

I’ve left off any cropping, to show how the image is being warped to ‘fix’ it.

Here is the cropped shot and for comparison, one taken further back with my TS-E17mm shift lens – one of my ‘standard’ lenses for architectural shots.

fix or shift

Inside the cathedral, there are a number of ways I can show the space – I’ll just show examples with the 12-24mm

Unless noted, all shots are at 12mm

The solidity of the Norman stonework is clear to see.

peterborough cathedral

Looking upwards, I can see a ceiling pretty much as it has been for the last 800 years

peterborough looking up

It’s easy to stitch multiple overlapping shots – I’m using Autopano Giga – my panoramic stitching tool of choice.

This shot from roughly the same location gives a feel for looking upwards

looking upwards

That said, it feels too ‘curvy’ to fit in with the style of architecture and the sense of space.

Two hand-held shots of the choir area have only needed a tiny bit of correction in ACR/Photoshop to get them looking OK

I’d just note that one of the ‘downsides’ of using shift lenses a lot for architecture is that you develop a heightened dislike for verticals being ‘slightly off’. I need to remind myself every so often of this not being remotely important in many other subjects…

choir 1

choir 2

Going to the far end of the view above, I take this single shot looking back.

12mm wide shot

It’s OK, but by combining several shots and going for a style of cylindrical projection, I get this shot that combines the strong verticals with a massive sense of space

ultrawide

Back to the 21st century and the recently finished Vijay Patel building not far from where I live.

Heading in via doors shown earlier.

doorway shadows

There is a meeting area nearby (left of this shot) and you can see the piano in the gallery

Keeping the camera level helps, but notice how nearby objects such as the light appears – this is the full frame, but remember that with 50MP, cropping is not the threat to image quality it once was.

ground floor

Moving into the gallery, there is this player piano.

piano

I’m not overly concerned with lens flare, but partly obscuring the sun helps.

lone piano

The outside view shows the leaning front of the gallery (16mm)

gallery light

Going back in, you can see the multiple flying staircases that are a feature of this space.

stairs

There are meeting and work areas at all levels, as well as access to the main building.

midway stairs

Further up, the strong lines and geometry of the space make for some quite strong compositions.

If you are ‘just experimenting’ like I am here, take lots of shots and look carefully at what works and don’t be constrained by the frame.

Note the slight crop of the last but one shot – I just removed the extreme edges. Just because your sensor is 3:2 aspect ratio doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think of 5:4 or square.

Looking downwards I waited some time to get people into the space in places that helped the composition (24mm)

split levels 2

All the images here have been processed with ACR in Photoshop CS6, with a bit of curves and contrast adjustment to taste.

Heading back home and crossing the bridge, I remembered that I was testing a 12-24 lens, not a 12-15mm

Sometimes extra wide loses the subject…

12mm view

16mm view

24mm view

Of course, under the bridge, the lure of the wide returned…

bridge structure

bridge view

feeding time

Conclusions – a lens for you?

What a nice lens to use – the last Sigma lens I purchased myself was  a 70-150mm f/3.5 to go with my Olympus OM2 in the early 1980’s. They have come on a lot.

Autofocus and handling were excellent – on a par with some of my Canon ‘L’ series lenses.

The lens is solidly built, with smooth manual focus and zoom… and comes with a good case.

I didn’t get a chance to try out the USB dock for the lens, and a few tests at 24mm suggested that the AF accuracy was not quite as close as it could have been – these conclusions come from looking at 300% crops of several images from a 50MP sensor, so are going to be pretty insignificant in day to day use. If I had the lens myself, any adjustments would be a bored Sunday afternoon activity rather than a must-do one…

Hopefully the examples I’ve shown give a feel for using a lens like this? In particular, I found it very good for stitching multiple shots, giving huge files that you could bend the projection geometry to get the view you wanted.

The elephant in my room

If I didn’t already have the Canon EF11-24mm F4L in my bag, I’d seriously look at getting this lens to go with my Canon 5Ds

That extra 1mm of the Canon is noticeable – not a lot, but there (mouse over the image below to see).

The Sigma focuses an inch or so closer and both need some external mount contraption if you want to use (huge) filters, although the Canon does have a slot for mounting rear gel filters (not something I’ve ever used). The Canon also claims ‘full weather sealing’, but it isn’t a lens I’ve yet taken out in particularly harsh conditions (it’s more weather sealed than I am…)

sigma canon

I’m loath to directly compare single examples of lenses in any detail, but the Canon certainly has the edge in longer focal lengths (17-24mm) in terms of overall image sharpness.

At the wide end, the differences between these two examples were small enough to make the Sigma quite a bargain (relatively!). In the 11/12 comparison shot above (at f/4) the vignetting of the 11-24 is more widespread and its CA is higher in the corners, but remove the CA and the sharpness in the corners at f/4 is superb – move to f/5.6 or 6.3 and the differences even out (this is at the wide end remember).

Looking at my own use of the 11-24 since I’ve had it, I’ve found that I’ve used it predominantly at the wider end, and at 24mm only when I didn’t have my TS-E24mm with me.

What’s it good for

This is the question you need to ask yourself.

If you’ve experience at say 14mm and like wide powerful compositions, then the challenges of those extra 2mm will be welcome. If your idea of wide angle is 24mm, then expect a very steep learning curve.

Images that work at such extreme wide angles are nowhere as common as you might think. Small movements of the camera have a dramatic effect on the final image and a 100% viewfinder is essential.

One reason I like getting lenses like this to test is that it makes me go out and think about how I’d use them. My EF11-24 has got me some very striking industrial shots of equipment and products – but take plenty, since what seemed a great idea on the factory floor may not quite work when on the editing screen or in the eyes of a client.

Having people in your shots, anywhere close, will soon show the interesting/flattering dichotomy (see my ViewPoint review for more about using UWA lenses with groups of people)

You could use the lens on a crop sensor camera, but I’d wonder why (particularly having used Canon’s wider EF-S10-18mm on Karen’s 100D). Not having used the Nikon 14-24mm lens I can’t make any comparisons, but would note that 14mm to 12mm is a fair step.

Overall

If you have a use for a lens like this, the Sigma represents very good value. It’s a lens that really shines at the wider end, which after all is the reason I think most people would look at getting one.

If you’d like to explore some more of my reviews of wide lenses and their use, check the Lens articles category.

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