Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II: The Widest of Them All

Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II

Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II

The Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II is the widest ever lens for full frame cameras. Raj Lalwani checks if this third-party lens beats the proprietary manufacturers at their own game.

Wide angle lenses are a lot of fun. The whole charm of interacting with the subject on a one-on-one level is something that cannot be replicated in any other way. You look through the lens and see a magical vista in a way that your eye does not. That was exactly what was going on in my mind as I saw the world through the Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II.

Mind you, this is no ordinary wide angle lens, but actually, an updated version of what is the widest rectilinear lens ever produced for a full frame camera. Wider than Canon’s proprietary 14mm f/2.8, wider than the Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8 and Nikkor 14mm f/2.8, this Sigma piece of optics is a pathbreaking specialist product that is bound to attract a huge fan following because of its sheer nature.
The long, complicated name of this lens indicates that it has a lot of interesting technologies behind it. Besides the use of a Special Low Dispersion glass element, it also uses four of the company’s new ‘F’ Low Dispersion FLD elements. According to Sigma, FLD glass provides superior light transmission and minimises the aberrations that are typical to lenses of this class.
In addition to this, the lens also uses three glass mould elements, one hybrid aspherical lens and a Super Multi-layer Coating to improve the overall optical performance. The use of these specialised components also means that the lens is actually quite compact and lightweight, especially considering the ultrawide nature of this 12–24mm.
The minimum focusing distance of this lens is 0.28m, which is similar to other ultrawide lenses available. The ability to get this close at 12mm means that you can shoot some greatly exaggerated perspectives, either for effect or just to have a laugh. Unlike competing lenses like the Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8, this Sigma lens can be used with filters. Gel filters can be attached at the rear of the lens, while the lens cap holder itself can mount filters too.
The lens is available for the Sigma, Nikon and Canon mounts. I tested the Canon mount-version on an EOS 5D Mark II.

As mentioned earlier, the lens is actually quite small. Despite that, the build quality is quite good. The first thing you notice about the lens is its bulging exterior element that is slightly protected by an inbuilt lens hood. I appreciated the way Sigma has designed the lens cap. There is a special lens cap holder that slips on to the hood, and to this, you can attach a regular lens cap of 82mm.
Not only is this convenient—you rarely worry about losing the cap, it also produces an interesting effect. If you remove the cap, but leave the cap holder on, there is a lot of mechanical vignetting that is caused, almost making the image circular! This makes it look as if the image has been shot with a circular fisheye or a quirky Lomo camera. I personally had a lot of fun with this, while shooting at a local amusement park.

While ultrawide lenses are rarely used in situations wherein you need to use quick autofocus, the Hyper Sonic Motor of the lens does work well. I preferred to use manual focus most of the time, making use of the efficient focusing ring and the large depth-of-field offered at the 12mm end.
The corner sharpness at 12mm is not class leading, but one rarely notices the loss of sharpness in real-world photos. The control over flare and distortion is extraordinary. Apart from the Nikkor 14–24mm lens, I cannot think of a lens of a similar focal length that has such fantastic control over distortion… and this lens is almost half the price. Fringing, though, is quite noticeable, especially at the wide end.

Should you buy this lens? I must caution you that very few people really need a focal length that is so wide. In fact, even if you enjoy wide-angle photography, a 12mm focal length can be disconcerting. It takes discipline to get good photos with it. That said, the Sigma 12–24mm gets most things right. Most importantly, it costs only Rs. 59,900, which is significantly lower than ultrawide lenses produced by Nikon and Canon. If you really know what you wish to use it for, it is great a lens to have!

Despite its ultrawide nature, the Sigma 12–24mm exhibits good control over distortion. Exposure: 1/30sec at f/5.6 (ISO 1600) Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Despite its ultrawide nature, the Sigma 12–24mm exhibits good control over distortion. Exposure: 1/30sec at f/5.6 (ISO 1600) Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Final Ratings
Widest focal length in the market, slow aperture, Hyper Sonic Motor

Great distortion control, visible fringing

Build Quality
Solid construction

Not too heavy, well thought out lens hood

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty

Value For Money: 4/5 stars


Tags: Raj Lalwani, January 2012, Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM II, widest ever lens for full frame cameras