The world of wide angle zooms, which includes the best 18-35mm lenses, opens up many possibilities for creativity, not just for those who predominantly shoot landscapes. Wide-angle lenses can provide unique viewpoints, especially when you shoot your main subject close up and have a background falling off to infinity, all in sharp detail.
The focal range of 18-35mm is also very useful for vloggers and the like, allowing the camera to get up close and personal to the presenter. Plus, it can give scope to work in small spaces, while still providing very good image quality. The 18-35mm bracket of zoom lenses also provides just enough width to not distort the edges of the frame, while also providing a panoramic view when needed.
Admittedly, th bracket of 18-35mm lenses is thin on the ground with examples. So, we will also give you examples of zoom lenses which are just a touch outside the 18-35mm realm which you may also want to consider. This will provide a few other choices for if your needs are more on the wide-angle or telephoto sides.
1. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art (Overall Winner)
Saying that the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art has cornered the 18-35mm market is an understatement, as the company has ticked all the boxes for reasonable price, great image quality, and solid functionality. The lens looks and feels like a rock solid Art series prime lens and also feels like one coming in at 810g in weight.
The overall size and weight of this lens is respectable compared to Art series prime lenses, making working with this lens all day long not as tiring as you would think. All the focusing is done internally, which means the lens stays the same size at all times and the constant f/1.8 aperture, especially at this price point, is one of the reasons why this lens is so popular.
As for specifications, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art lens is specifically for the APS-C format, which provides an equivalent focal length of 28.8 to 56mm, with a 76.5 to 44.2 degree angle of view. The minimum focusing distance is 28cm, wrapped around a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) lens barrel, which may not be fully weatherproofed, but it does have a brass bayonet fitting and rubber gasket.
Internally, the lens features 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, with five Special Low Dispersion (SLD) and four aspherical elements for improving sharpness and reducing aberrations. Plus a Super Multi-Layer coating applied to all lens elements to reduce the effects of ghosting and flaring. A nine-blade rounded diaphragm is provided for those smooth and creamy background blur effects, while an Integrated HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) and AF algorithm handles precise autofocusing. Any updates to the lens can be used with the optional Sigma USB Dock for aspects such as firmware updates and fine tuning of the lens system.
When the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art is released into the wild, sharpness is very good at f/1.8, but really hits its stride at f/5.6. Just a little stopping down to f/2.8 tightens up the sharpness very nicely, which is still slightly softer than the equivalent prime lenses in this bracket, but still the results are far better than zoom lenses in this price bracket. In other words, if you need to the best results across the frame time after time, it’s best to stick within the f/5.6-f/8 range to be on the safe side.
As for overall lens anomalies, there is a touch of chromatic aberration and vignetting at f/1.8, but the effects vastly reduce when stopped down to f/2.8. The lens is also rapid to focus, with only minor hiccups found when the light levels drop past twilight. There may be no image stabilization on the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art, but the f/1.8 aperture more than makes up for this point, especially with the low shutter speeds achieved from a wide angle zoom.
In total, the Sigma 18-35mm hits the mark, providing the main selling point of a f/1.8 aperture in a cost-effective zoom lens. While other zooms on the market only go as wide as f/2.8, the Sigma also provides very good image quality, which can fit a wide variety of applications. Plus, it’s available for the most popular of camera makes, including Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Sigma mounts.
2. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
For the Nikon owners out there, the company have made a dedicated 18-35mm option in the form of the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED. Working equally well on both the FX and DX formats (equivalent focal length of 27-52.5mm), this lens brings versatility and great image quality in a convenient package.
The lens consists of 12 elements arranged in eight groups, with three aspherical and two extra-low dispersion elements, along with a Super Integrated coating to reduce internal reflections and improving color and contrast. A Silent wave motor handles autofocusing duties, while the seven-blade rounded diaphragm adds to the overall package, which weighs in at a very reasonable weight of 385g.
This lens is respectively sharp at its widest aperture, with the sharpest results coming in at f/8. One benefit is that sharpness levels are kept constant throughout the zoom range, from the widest to the most telephoto and while not producing the super fine detail of a prime lens, the results are very respectable for this price point of zoom lens.
The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED may be a pricier solution than the Sigma, but as a native Nikon lens, the overall image quality is very good, with plenty of color saturation and contrast.
Slightly Outside the 18-35mm Range
There is clearly not a huge variety of 18-35mm lenses on the market, but at least on the flip side, this means the decision-making is a lot quicker. The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art is a simple winner for its wider than normal f/1.8 aperture, plus great resolution, but if you want to a few millimeters out of the realm of 18-35mm, then more options open up.
For Canon users, there is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, while the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM is another possible option. For third-party zoom variety, there’s the Tokina AT-X 17-35mm f/4 PRO FX which is great value for money, while also providing a constant f/4 aperture and good sharpness levels throughout the range. Or there’s the Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD.
You can also check out our guide on the 10 Best Lenses for Architecture Photography, which lists some of the best wide-angle lenses around, including primes and zooms.
Unless you’re on the Nikon platform, the rest of us have a limited choice in this area. But, with a great solution in the form of the Sigma 18-35mm, you don’t really have to look much further.