There are several ultra-wide zoom lenses available on the market today. I remember this group of lenses catching my eye when Tamron announced a 15-30mm f/2.8 lens in early 2015. At the time, this lens was somewhat revolutionary when it was released as it was the widest zoom lens available that could be classified as ‘rectilinear’.
Rectilinear lenses are those which minimise barrel distortion (that classic fisheye perspective), even at ultra-wide focal lengths. This kind of lens is of particular value to landscape and architectural photographers who can take advantage of a very wide field of view, without subjecting their images to distortion.
Here’s a list of some ultra-wide zooms currently available from the more well-known manufacturers, including their current approximate price tag. Note that all of these lenses are designed for full-frame cameras, although they will also work with crop-sensor cameras.
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM – R10 000
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM – R15 000
- Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD – R18 000
- Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art – R26 000
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM – R29 000
- Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED – R32 000
- Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L – R40 000
I use the 17-40mm f/4 lens from Canon fairly often. The cheapest on the list, the Canon 17-40mm L lens still delivers great image quality. I’ve also used the Canon 11-24mm f/4L lens, which tips the scale as the widest lens available, but also as the most expensive. I was curious to see how the new Sigma 12-24mm Art lens would fair, especially considering that it’s basically as wide as the Canon 11-24mm L lens, but is also 25% cheaper.
I only had the lens for a short time for testing, so this is by no means an in-depth review. Rather, this is more of a ‘first impressions’ review. It’s also not a lens I would use often as a sports and action photographer. However, a lens like this can add a unique and interesting perspective on a genre of photography dominated by super telephoto primes and zooms. So, I challenged myself to capture aspects of my usual subject matter from a very different perspective using this lens.
The South African men’s national hockey team huddle before a game against Belgium: just before the game started I quickly made my way over to the team in the middle of the field, squeezed in-between two of the players and snapped this shot. As a matter of courtesy, I cleared this with the captain (Tim Drummond) beforehand. 1/250th at f/8.0, ISO 800 (12mm).
As far as build-quality, handling and aesthetics go there isn’t anything surprising to note about this lens. As with all of Sigma’s Global Vision series lenses, the 12-24mm Art lens is beautifully and robustly constructed. Of course, it’s big and heavy – but that’s the price you pay for a lens of this specification. It’s also not something that really bothers me that much.
The lens focusses quietly and quickly, and as far as I could tell, quite accurately as well. Acquiring focus with this lens is hardly a challenge, however, as the ultra-wide focal length results in a wide depth-of-field (even at f/4).
In terms of image quality, I was sufficiently impressed by the Sigma 12-24mm Art lens. Wide open at f/4, the centre of the frame is quite sharp and the corners are a little softer. However, that’s hardly unexpected for a lens this wide. Stopping the lens down improves the sharpness from the centre right through to the corners of the image. All in all, the lens is impressively sharp.
The astroturf at Bishops Diocesan College. I’ve been wanting to get a good wide-angle shot of this turf with the sun setting behind the mountain for a while, and this was the perfect chance. I lined up the bottom edge of the frame with the near-side sideline to check distortion. As you can see, the image remains relatively undistorted even at 12mm. 1/160 sec at f/10, ISO 100 (12mm).
From 12mm the lens obviously has some distortion, but it’s a minor amount considering the focal length. It does have a significant vignette, especially at wider focal lengths. However, this is easily corrected in post-production. I was impressed by how little chromatic aberration the lens creates, while still delivering good contrast.
Belgian national player Gauthier Boccard warming up with his team before the game. I intentionally shot this directly into the sun to get an idea of how this lens would handle sun flare, chromatic aberrations and render contrast. I was also interested to see how the grandstands and floodlight poles might distort. 1/1000 sec at f/8.0, ISO 500 (14mm).
In summary, I wish I had more time with this lens. It opens up a whole new world of perspective for a photographer like myself, and at a comparatively tempting price when positioned against its Canon and Nikon competitors. My guess is that, for photographers who specialise in landscape or architecture, this lens does exactly what Sigma have been praised for doing of late – producing competitively priced lenses that meet (if not exceed) the performance of the Canon and Nikon equivalent professional-series lenses.