If you’ve had the pleasure of trying out any of the Sigma Art lenses, then you would have probably found a lot of optical quality for the money. The prime lenses have been whipping up a storm as quality alternatives to the standard fare and now it’s time for the zooms to get a look in. The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art is one such lens, which released back in 2013, has some great features to make it stand out from the rest.
In particular, a constant maximum aperture of f/1.8 and maybe unorthodox for this level of lens, designed specifically for the DX or APS-C format. This makes the focal length an equivalent of 27mm-52.5mm on a full-frame body, but still a very usable range. Lots of potential in this package so let’s dive in and check out the lens more closely.
On its release, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art was the first zoom to feature an aperture of f/1.8. A great feature in itself for those who always wanted that extra bit of lowlight performance from a zoom lens. The Sigma follows the rest of the Arts series having a quick and quiet hypersonic motor (HSM) and a simple and elegant design.
The other specs follow the same high-quality route as the rest of the line, with 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, which include five low-dispersion and four aspherical elements. There are also nine rounded diaphragm blades, which should do a good job of getting quality background blur at that wide aperture.
The construction of the lens barrel is made from thermally stable composite, which may not be as solid feeling as an all-metal barrel, but feels very robust. There’s a metal mount for a solid connection, but no full weatherproofing.
Still, the lens is constructed well enough to handle general use. There’s also a 72mm filter thread which is nonrotating, enabling your favorite filters to be fitted. Everything weighs in at a reasonable 810g. The lens is also compatible with the Sigma USB dock for firmware upgrades.
As for the layout of the lens, everything is simple and straightforward with a smoothly turning manual focus and zoom ring, auto to manual focus switch, and a simple distance scale. The petal-shaped hood finishes off the design and integrates seamlessly into the lens shape.
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art in Use
The Sigma definitely has a feel of quality when first attached to the camera. A step above what you would usually find from cheaper crop sensor lenses. Although the lens isn’t fully weatherproofed, the thermally stable composite material of the lens barrel is sturdy enough to take large differences in hot and cold temperatures. Shame there is no rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep out nasties, but this is similar across the Art range.
Considering the amount of glass in this lens, it doesn’t feel massively heavy nor too light. It actually feels quite light compared to some of the Art series primes, but about right for this type of zoom lens.
The zoom and manual focus rings operate in a smooth fashion, with just the right amount of resistance to feel your way to an ideal setting. The zoom ring also turns in a clockwise rotation, with the focus ring moving anticlockwise. Not a big hurdle, just something to initially get used to.
One thing to mention is that this lens can’t really be used on a full-frame camera, as it will suffer from very heavy vignetting. This can be removed in software, but it’s advisable to stick to using this lens on crop bodies or engaging crop mode if this lens is to be used on the likes of a Nikon D3300.
Autofocus on this lens is quick and quiet, thanks to the hypersonic motor. The lens also has an integrated focus motor, which means that it will work on older, entry-level cameras, making it great for reverse compatibility.
In general, the Sigma would lock into focus just fine when using single-point AF but can trip up from time to time with multipoint focus. The same can be said in low light conditions, which could mean that the lens needs a firmware upgrade and check for each particular camera body. A simple workaround is the focus and recompose method, but it’s not ideal when you accidentally miss a shot.
As for overall sharpness, it was a pleasant surprise to see how sharp this lens is at the widest focal length and aperture. At 18mm and f/1.8 sharpness is a touch softer than at f/2.8, but its at f/2.8 sharpness hits its zenith, which is extremely good as many zooms need f/4 and above for ultimate sharpness.
The same goes in the middle of the range at 24mm, where f/2.8 provides the sharpest results. At 35mm, center sharpness drops a little, but there seems to be an overall balance in sharpness at this end of the focal range. Basically, a very good performer indeed.
Although this is a wide-angle lens, it’s still quite capable of producing nice bokeh with its f/1.8 aperture. This is easier to achieve at the telephoto end of the range, but with close-up subjects, background blur is very acceptable. It’s not going to be to the depths of a longer lens, but it’s there to a reasonable degree.
Other anomalies such as vignetting are kept low at the widest focal length at around 1.39 stops and increase slightly to 35mm. Ghosting and flaring are also kept to a minimum across the range, more noticeable at 35mm. However, in the right conditions, the lens is quite capable of producing 18 point sun stars.
Distortion levels are kept low and easily corrected with a good lens profile in software. Lastly, chromatic aberration can be seen when the lens is wide open but stopping down to f/2 soon gets rid of the effect.
Overall, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art produces highly detailed images with the level of quality you would find from a top end zoom. The level of detail gives lots of scope for post processing and the extra wide aperture of f/1.8 gives so much more range when working in low light. This in itself could be a deciding factor with this lens.
How Does It Compare?
If the Sigma was a straightforward f/2.8 zoom, then competitive lenses would be lining up around the block. However, a zoom with f/1.8 is out of the norm, so it’s more applicable to compare this zoom to the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art prime.
Although the Sigma 30mm has a wider aperture, the zoom is definitely sharper across the frame fully wide open. The zoom hits peak sharpness levels at f/2.8, while prime has to shift up to f/5.6 for its sweet spot. Impressive results for a zoom.
|Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art||Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art|
|Elements||17 elements/ 12 groups||9 elements/ 7 groups|
|Blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
As you can probably tell by now, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art is a great little performer. The extra-wide aperture may have initially felt like compromises had been made in other areas, but the exact opposite was found. The lens produces exceptionally sharp images and you’ll never be disappointed with the results.
It’s not completely without caveats, such as it can miss focus on the odd occasion. It’s also a shame that this lens is optimized for a crop sensor body, but I guess you can’t have everything in life. In total, for a relatively wide-angle zoom, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art is a fantastic performer and at a reasonable price for the optics.