New Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 OS HSM

Joined
Feb 9, 2006
Messages
618
Location
Riverside, CA
It might sound like heresy to suggest that a third party lens (Sigma) actually rivals Nikon's excellent 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX in terms of sharpness and overall image quality, comes very close to it in build quality, and might be a better, slightly less expensive alternative for some users who are looking for a top-notch walkaround zoom. However, that is definitely the case with Sigma's new 17-70 f/2.8-4 OS HSM lens.

I purchased this new Sigma, which is currently priced everywhere at $449 (compared to $629.95 for the 16-85 Nikon from B&H), on February 6 and held off on posting any discussion about it here until I had the opportunity to field test it quite thoroughly on my D90.

I must say that is has been a very long time since I have been so favorably impressed by a new lens. I bought it specifically hoping for a sharper, faster lens with better closeup capability to replace the Nikon 18-200 VR I've been using for four years, to be used as my primary walkaround lens in conjunction with my outstanding Nikon 70-300 VR.

The Sigma has exceeded my highest expectations in every respect, and my venerable, creepy old 18-200 VR (which I'll probably never sell) has been relegated to a desk drawer. First of all, I should probably post a link to a very thorough, unbiased review of the Sigma that was posted on 02/02/10 by LensTip.com. Forgive the occasionally fractured English in the review, it's a translation from Polish. Nonetheless, the review is excellent and very complete.

http://www.lenstip.com/index.php?test=obiektywu&test_ob=223

What, specifically, makes it a viable alternative to Nikon's 16-85 for some people considering an upgrade from their kit lens to a walkaround zoom?

1. Sharpness and overall image quality of the two lenses is comparable. At some focal lengths and apertures the Sigma even has the edge.

2. The Sigma's zoom range is a bit more restricted than the Nikon's, but the Sigma is substantially faster.

3. While it's not a true 1:1 macro, the Sigma's closeup capability far exceeds the Nikon 16-85 (1:2.7 vs. 1:4.6).

4. Although it's impossible to objectively quantify or compare, the Sigma's OS (optical stabilization) seems to work just as effectively as Nikon's VR function. Sigma's addition of OS in a completely redesigned version of their very good previous 17-70 lens, along with improved image quality, puts Sigma back in strong contention in this very competitive niche.

5. The AF speed and accuracy (with no hunting in low light) of Sigma's HSM is virtually equivalent to the Nikon or any other HSM or SWM lens I've ever used. Any differences in AF speed are so small as to be insignificant on my D90.

6. Size and weight of the Sigma and Nikon lenses are very similar. Both lenses are very compact and lightweight, and balance well on any DSLR body.

7. The bokeh of the Sigma at any focal length and aperture is as pleasant and smooth as I've ever seen with any lens.

So, for prospective buyers looking for an excellent walkaround zoom, the choice boils down to focal length range, where the Nikon has the advantage, versus the speed and macro/closeup capability of the Sigma. They are both excellent lenses, representing the best consumer lenses in terms of quality and features in this focal length range. The Nikon is already well known and highly regarded. The Sigma is a very new lens on the market. As often happens with third party lenses, it debuted with a paucity of marketing hype and hoopla, and the internet sources that I generally rely on for product reviews have yet to mention it. Nonetheless, having field tested the new Sigma quite thoroughly, I regard it as a very strong new contender in this very popular market niche.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't conclude this post with some sample shots I've taken with the Sigma.

First of all, I always check a new lens for AF front and backfocusing errors. On my D90, the copy of the Sigma I received is as close to perfect as you can get.

4358868852_ab566cc4ed.jpg
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Beginning with a photo that is a modest crop from the original full frame, no problems at all with flare or artifacts, and excellent detail.

35mm, 1/1250 @ f/8, -0.3 EV, ISO 200
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And you can read the signs in a very extreme crop from the bottom of the frame.

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Detail and bokeh? Here is a backlit Bird of Paradise flower that illustrates both.

1/250 @ f/5.6, ISO 200
4400573612_e962537ac6.jpg
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Close crops? I'm not a "pixel peeper," but I definitely judge the sharpness of a lens by how well an image holds together with extreme cropping. I couldn't get any closer to these flowers with the bees buzzing on them because they were on a hill. This is the SOOC full frame shot.

70mm, 1/320 @ f/5.6, ISO 200
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And my final crop of the photo above.

4400573904_cab2550c83.jpg
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Turn a pedestrian photo like this:

70mm, 1/800 @ f/8, -0.3 EV, ISO 200
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Into a heavily cropped minimalist quasi-artistic photo with no worries about losing sharpness (and yes, this final result was in my mind when I took the original photo).

4399803391_f56c09a218.jpg
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Or take a quick grab shot of Prince the cat like this one:

28mm. 1/60 @ f/3.5, ISO 1250
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Crop it down to this with only minor levels and sharpness adjustments:

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And finalize it with a clarified B&W conversion to simulate Tri-X:

4472526290_c775dc904a.jpg
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Rendering of accurate highlight and shadow detail in an extremely contrasty scene?

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Detail and color in routine scenic photos?

35mm, 1/100 @ f/16, -0.3 EV, ISO 200
4358873130_d395846ba2.jpg
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17mm, 1/60 @ f/8, -0.7 EV, ISO 360
4358866874_6b32d0d418.jpg
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In summary, there is nothing I don't like about this new Sigma lens. It's a stellar performer at a very reasonable price in a very popular category of walkaround zoom lenses. It is very new, and I've not seen it mentioned before in the Nikon Cafe, so I thought it was time to bring it to everyone's attention.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Joined
Dec 4, 2007
Messages
383
Location
Toulouse, FRANCE
Thanks for the review Bob
That's definitely useful for many of us who still shooting dx.
You've got yourself one nice copy. Conglat!!
Hopefully there won't be much of sample variation.
 
Joined
Mar 14, 2009
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Location
Cambria, CA
Bob, excellent review. You covered all the relevant points and underscored each of them with some sterling captures.
 
Joined
Apr 21, 2009
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Boston, MA
Joined
Feb 5, 2009
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Could be sample variation of the testers also.

http://www.lenstip.com/223.11-Lens_review-Sigma_17-70_mm_f_2.8-4.0_DC_Macro_OS_HSM_Summary.html

Their opinion of corner sharpness and this model being as sharp as the 16-85vr also shows the sample variation of opinion.

I have the new 18-50 os, it's much better than my 18-55vr. I plan on upgrading to this lens, or the 17-50 OS 2.8 yet to be released. I like the smooth rich film look of the Sigma's compared to the contrasty nikons. I have a little of both.
 
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