Preliminary Sigma 18-35/1.8 thoughts (on D7100)
First off, huge apologies in how massively incomplete this post will be for many of you. I'm in fairly busy "season" so to speak, and there is no way I have the time now to completely and fully test a zoom lens as deeply as I think they need to be tested. So this is one of those "take it or leave it - it ain't costin' ya anything" kind of reviews - I seriously doubt I'll have the time to add anything beyond what I say here for a few months, if that.
I did a couple of rounds of initial testing just to make sure the lens I picked up wasn't a bummer, and thus I tested it for things *I* (and that means probably not everyone) intend to use it for. While I am a D800E shooter for my primary camera, I do intend to put some usage on my backup body (the D7100) from time to time, and for what I do (landscape or studio), this lenses focal length (even in terms of full frame equivalency) is appealing. However, I am NOT a "wide open" or near wide open type of wedding or event shooter, so I did not go into a lot of time looking at how it performs at those first apertures - hence the first paragraph of this post. (And yea, I know that means this post is severely lacking because many are curious how it performs at those early apertures, which is why this post is not going to be for everyone)
We will handle that first though: A ran a few frames at 24mm straight out wide open at F/1.8, and with LIVE VIEW focusing, the result was simply incredible in the central region of the frame. Traditional focusing method of AF-S was fairly close, but not quite as good. However, still very very good given it's at F/1.8. Definitely and clearly better than any current 24mm lens I know of from F/1.4 to F/2.8, which is saying something. My gut feeling - gut because I simply don't have the time to research this further right now - is that the AF system of the D7100 won't really be up to extracting what this lens can do wide open unless you venture into live view. Others will have to play more within this area as I won't be. Again, I have a sneaky feeling focus accuracy will determine how people feel about this lens at those wide apertures, and live view may be necessary.
Most of what I ran were series of shots at pretty close, moderate-far, and far (infinity) distances at the studio/landscape apertures, generally F/5.6 - F/10 or so. I did not test the intermediate apertures F/2.8 or F/4 at all - again, see the first paragraph.
That being said:
At 35mm, it's pretty good, but not spectacular, at all distances. At 35mm, it likes longer/far distances more than close, but it's never bad. It always loses to the 35/1.4 Sigma prime at the apertures I mentioned I test at, so the Sigma 35/1.4 is the easy winner here. However, the 18-35 isn't bad at all, far from it. Perhaps it tests stronger at the earlier apertures - didn't go there, others will have to do that.
At 28mm, it's very close to a prime replacement for the 28/1.8G, but not quite. Here it's more down to the distance to the subject that decides which lens is the "winner". Again, noting, at the apertures I mention, not the wide open stuff. Short/close range, the 28/1.8G wins slightly, with better corners/edges. Moderate distances to far distances, particularly the further distances, the 18-35 might notch out a slight win. This is, I think, influenced by the simpler field curvature of the 18-35, which tends to a moderately gentle forward favoring field curvature that doesn't seem anywhere as complex as the 28/1.8G. Close call here, so the closer in I am (event, studio), the more I prefer the 28/1.8G, further out, I might pick the 18-35.
At 24mm things get interesting. Close range, it's a stunning performer, simply stunning, beaten only by a properly focused 24/1.4G at F/7.1 (again, repeating, tests only at the apertures mentioned, not wide open stuff). Ties the legendary 14-24 at close range performance, corners and edges, with some field curvature giving the 18-35 better near corners. Medium far to far distances, it's just a slight nidge of a notch better than the 14-24 zoom, but the 24/1.4G still holds another slight edge over it. Tough to tel here. 24mm is the last focal length where the 18-35 is really performing - this is a zoom that seems to be optimized for the wider stuff. Overall, a damned fine 24mm option for a DX user, perhaps the best, given it's an easier lens to get in focus than the pesky 24/1.4G, and probably better at the earlier apertures as well, but I didn't spend time there. Very nice at 24, for sure.
At 20mm, this lens can get downright spectacular. In the close ranges, it ties the legendary 14-24, which is operating in that lenses "strength" at that focal length. Impressive. At long/far distances, it's actually a bit *better* than the 14-24 zoom. And at moderate/medium-far distances, it's quite possibly the best 20mm option you can mount on a DX camera. Definitely a sweet spot. I think those who shoot this lens at these moderate distances at 18 to 20mm are in for a real, real treat - it's spectacular in this range/distance.
At 18mm, similar to the above. Moderate to moderate/far is the sweet zone, where it is damned impressive. A bit more field curvature down here, near corners favored, so you have to make sure you've got the DOF to cover the negative effect of the curvature for infinity if you don't place your focus just so. The 14-24 does quite well, but the further away the subject is, the more I like the 18-35 over the 14-24, but don't misunderstand me, the 14-24 is not "losing badly" by any means here either.
Sweet spot seems around that 18-24 region, probably 18-20mm.
Flare control is not that amazing - lotta elements in this sucker. Build quality similar to 35/1.4 Sigma.
Overall, a really nice choice on a DX body for the 18-28 end; probably better choices for 35mm, but given it's wide open aperture, an impressive lens. I wish I had more time to look at it's performance at the wide apertures - hopefully some dpreview reader will do just that since I won't get to it. Definitely continuing Sigmas trend with the new Art lenses.
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