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Sigma 18-300mm 3.5-6.3 DC HSM OS Macro

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday May 5, 2016

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Pro Photo Daily’s latest newsletter Street Tests. Each week our contributing editor, photographer and writer Jeff Wignall, will take the latest in pro and prosumer photo gear into the streets (or just as likely the rivers, beaches and forests) to see how the equipment performs in the real world. The reviews are unbiased, unsponsored and probably a bit unlike most of the reviews you’ve seen in the past. And if you know anything about Wignall, you know there are going to be a lot of sideways references to music, art and whatever else comes to mind as he asks one simple question each week: Why should you want (or not want) this piece of equipment in your life?Also, please scroll to the bottom of this review for the latest new-product news! Street Tests welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions for equipment reviews. 

Sigma 18-300mm 3.5-6.3 DC HSM OS Macro

I found that at the middle of the Sigma’s range (in this case 165mm or 247mm in 35mm equivalent), the lens was blazingly sharp and that even when shooting directly into the sun, the lens was completely glare free. Exposure was 1/250 second at f/6.0.At 18mm (27mm with a Nikon crop) the lens was, as you might expect, nearly as sharp as a prime wide-angle lens. This was shot at 1/250 second at f/10 and the depth of field is nearly infinite.

Snapshot

  • All-in-one super-zoom lens with a 16.6x zoom ratio
  • 27-450mm in 35mm equivalent
  • Available in Sigma, Nikon, Canon, Sony/Minolta and Pentax mounts
  • Included in the Sigma mount-conversion service
  • Maximum magnification: 1:3
  • Minimum focusing distance: 39 cm / 15.3 in
  • Weighs 585g / 20.6oz.
  • Dimensions: 79x101.5mm / 3.1x4.0 inches
  • Filter size: 72mm
  • Available accessories: Close-up Lens AML72-01
The extreme versatility of this lens is pretty evident in this series of three shots made at an architectural park near my home. All three were shot on a tripod from the exact same position. The wide shot was made at 18mm (1/60 second at f/10), the clock face at 250mm (1/30 second at f/10) and the weather vane at 300mm (1/125 second  at f/10). You have to love being able to make three such extreme shots without having to reach into the camera bag for another lens, no?

Street Tests: Hes got the whole world, in his hands

There’s a kind of strange irony to the fact that lens makers seem to be in a competition to make wider and wider zoom ranges because the big draw of owning an SLR, of course, is that you buy lots of lenses for it. Isn’t owning one lens that does it all, from wide-angle to super telephoto, a bit counter productive if you’re trying to sell lenses? In fact, owning such a wide-ranging zoom would seem to kind of erode the purpose of owning an interchangeable-lens camera at least a wee bit, no? Wouldn’t I be better off just carrying a super-zoom camera?

With those questions and more humming around in my head, and the old gospel song (speaking of humming) “He’s got the whole world in his hands…” also in my head, I was excited to give this Sigma 18-300mm 3.5-6.3 DC HSM OSlens a try. You have to admit, there is a fun (not to mention convenience) factor going on here: you can go from 27mm to 450mm (in 35mm equivalent), at the twist of your wrist. That capability enables you to go from shooting a spacious landscape to a close-up of a distant figure without changing lenses. Take a look at the two photos of the photographer on the jetty at sunset that I shot from the exact same spot. In one frame he’s a tiny figure, in the other he’s the dominant subject. Normally I carry two zooms with me all the time: an 18-70mm and a 70-300mm (both Nikkor) and I would have had to stop and changes lenses to make those two shots—or carry two bodies. Or, heaven forbid, walk closer to my subject.

With a permanent groove in my left shoulder from too many years of carrying too many lenses around, I was pretty psyched to see if this lens could live up to it’s promise—or even anything close. So into the old van I hopped to take this thing on a shakedown cruise.

Lens build:
Here are some of the things I like about the lens build:

  • Nice wide zoom ring, plus a front focus ring
  • Lens feels solid, very rugged feeling
  • Front lens element doesn’t rotate, so you can use filters in one orientation—polarizing filters, for example.
  • Very quiet focus.
  • The manual-focus ring has a short throw (but it’s not “always on”—you can’t override AF)
  • Very good close-focusing 


Handling, Focus & Sharpness

Again, the lens’ extreme focal-length range is its selling point. I shot both of these photos of a photographer on a breakwater from the same position—the first at 50mm (1/160 second at f/6.3) and the second full out at 300mm (1/50 second at f/6.3). Curiously, even though wide open, I didn’t get vignetting in either shot—due, I think, to the brightness of the sky.

In order to give this lens a fair test, I emptied my camera bag of all my others lenses and for the several weeks that I was shooting with this lens it was the only lens in my now almost-vacant shoulder bag. I have to admit that I felt a bit naked wandering through the world with just a single lens at my side.

Handling:  While it takes a hefty clockwise twist to go from wide-angle to telephoto, I quickly got used to the oomph required for the change. It does take a little bit of forethought to go from ultra-wide angle to long telephoto though and so you have to know it’s going to take a few quick seconds to make the change. Even while photographing wider shots of a river, however, I was able to zoom in fast on a mute swan preening (at 250mm, for that shot) and focus fast enough to catch them at peak action. Focusing speed was surprisingly fast and very accurate. And yes, this is also a pretty slow lens (in terms of maximum aperture) at the longer focal lengths—f/6.3 is a small aperture, but even in relatively dark situations, I had no problems composing.

 Sharpness:  The whole time I was out shooting and marveling at zoom capability, there was a persistent skeptic in my head saying, “Yeah but you know the shots are not going to be sharp enough, so what’s the point?” This is, after all, a lens largely aimed at consumers right? What if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards walked up to me on the street (this happened to me in LAX one Sunday night) and this was the only lens I had? Would my classic snapshot of the Glimmer Twins out and about be sharp enough for the cover of Rolling Stone? A major concern—you just never know.

 In reality, however, this is generally a very sharp lens at virtually all focal lengths and at most apertures, but like all lenses it has its sweet spot in the middle of the aperture range—from f/8 to f/11. (None of the sample photos here, other than the close-up shot of daffodils, have had any sharpening in post, by the way, but normally I do sharpen almost every shot I take in Photoshop.)

The close-focusing capability of the lens was very impressive. I shot these daffodils at 70mm from just over a foot away. (1/200 second at f/8.)

Is this one lens as sharp as either of my trusted go-to everyday Nikkor lenses separately? No, it’s probably not—and at the price and considering the range, who would expect it to be? At its widest focal-length setting (see the shot of the boardwalk), however, I would put this up against much more expensive lenses. It’s certainly not as sharp as a prime wide-angle—but that is why you own an SLR (answering one of my own questions from above): because it lets you use prime lenses when ultimate sharpness is a factor. But for pure convenience sake, if you’re traveling or shooting one of your kid’s sporting events, or just kicking around the beach on a Sunday afternoon, you will get very sharp images in most situations. Stop down a bit, hold the camera steady and you’ll get very sharp photos.

Carpel Tunnel Vision

Well, there’s always a slight catch, right? In this case the one serious annoyance I found with the lens was its propensity to vignette with plain backgrounds at wide apertures. You can see the dark corners in this shot of a gull made at 1/640 second at f/6.3), with the lens set at 230mm. Pretty simple to fix in edit, but annoying nonetheless.

Here we come to the one flaw that I found genuinely annoying: this lens has a definite vignetting issue at certain focal-length and aperture combinations. It’s worst (as are all lenses that vignette) at wider apertures. It gets better as you stop down—by f/8 it is improved, by f/11 it’s pretty much gone—with most subjects. I noticed the vignetting was worse with plain backgrounds—primarily the sky. If you look at the upper corners of the seagull shot here, for example, you can clearly see the darkened corners.

Is it a flaw? You betcha. Can you get around it? Yes, pretty easily. In addition to stopping down, you can always do a little cropping and a little dodging in editing. But still, it can be bothersome at times—and I found myself cursing it during editing. I was kind of expecting it at wider focal lengths and at wider apertures, but was surprised to see it still there in the middle of the focal-length range (the gull was shot at 230mm and it’s quite obvious—though that was shot at f/6.3).

Conclusion

My favorite shot with the lens—a set of swings at the beach. Why? The excellent sharpness and very true colors—this frame is straight out of the camera, not even a curves correction for exposure (1/200 second at f/8). The soft quality of the out-of-focus areas (not sure you’d call it bokeh in this case since it’s not very busy) really won me over. Again, the color accuracy was perfect.

Ultimately, yes, I had a blast shooting with this lens. Let’s face it, I’m as lazy as the next photographer when it comes to carrying lenses around. But really it’s the funandconvenience factors that make this lens worth owning. At times when I was out shooting I nearly forgot that I had such an incredible range. I’d be shooting a wide-angle scene like the tree in silhouette at sunset and then instantly be able to fill the frame with the ball of the sun. Cool.

As my friend, travel shooter Stephanie Albanese said when I posted a photo from this lens on my Facebook page, “I love that lens! It is my favorite lens for travel…the only one I use along with my cell phone.”

Come on, sing along, you know you want to…

He's got the whole world in his hands,
hes got the rivers and the mountains in his hands,
He's got swans and the seagulls in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands…“



New
Product News

SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive. There you are in the African veld when suddenly an ultra-rare six-legged albino elephant appears and you whip out your trusty iPhone to capture it and….you’re out of memory. Drat! SanDisk has introduced a clever device called the iXpand Flash Drive (an updated version of their 2014 device) that will help solve the problem. Available in sizes from 16 to 128GB it has a lightning connection at one end and a USB 3.0 at the other for quick transfer of images/video from your iPhone/iPad to your computer and vice versa providing instant storage space.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. For those shooting where speed is of the essence, Canon’s new flagship DSLR EOS-1D Mark II offers some stellar stats: in still mode it shoots at 14fps (16fps in LiveView mode) with a super-fast burst rate of 170 RAW files (with a CFast™ card). It features a 20.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, 61-point focusing and an ISO range of 100-51,200 (expandable to a cool 409,600). You can also shoot 4K video at 60 fps and it’s the first EOS camera to capture HD video at 120 fps for crystal clear slow-motion recording.

Sigma Mount Converter MC-11. The new MC-11 mount converter from Sigma enables you to mount 15 different full-frame and APS-C Sigma Canon Mount or Sigma SA mount lenses to the Sony FE system. The converter’s software controls autofocus, aperture, image stabilization as well as correcting for chromatic aberrations and distortion. Also cool: as new lenses are introduced you can update the converter via your computer (an LED on the lens barrel lets you know if the lens is compatible or if the software needs updating). MSRP is $249.00.

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