Last month, DIYP made the visit to NAB 2019 in Las Vegas. While I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to head to Arizona for a couple of weeks after the show ended. I’ve always wanted to explore the desert, and this was my chance!
With me, I took Sigma’s “Big Three” f/2.8 Pro zoom lenses – the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art and Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports. These were the only lenses I took with me and shot with during the trip, and here are some of my thoughts.
While I’ve used a number of Sigma’s Art series prime lenses over the last couple of years including the beautiful Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art lens, this is the first time I’ve really had the opportunity to have a good play with their modern f/2.8 pro zooms. I have used some of Sigma’s older f/2.8 zooms, and actually own the 28-70mm f/2.8 EX DG, but they always left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
Sigma offered to loan me the current Holy Trinity set of zoom lenses, what they call the “Big Three”, to take on the trip so that I could see for myself if they’ve changed. I took them up on their offer and well… Oh boy, have they!
The Holy Trinity, from all manufacturers, is hailed as the only three lenses you need to shoot just about anything. And for the majority of photographers, that’s possibly true. Of course, there will be exceptions to that rule. Wildlife and sports shooters may need those super long lenses, for example. Portrait photographers might want that shallow depth of field that only f/1.4 primes can offer.
But when you’ve got lenses that cover a massive 14mm to 200mm range at an f/2.8 aperture, you really can shoot almost everything with just three lenses.
Of the three, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art was my go-to lens for much of this trip. It covers the focal lengths of most of what I needed to shoot. Occasionally I’d switch over to the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art for some wide shots with a close-up subject, though.
Now, I don’t profess to be any kind of landscape photographer, but I did find the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art to be very useful for location scouting. During a day spent scouting for locations for an upcoming shoot I had planned in the desert, I used the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art almost exclusively – at least for most of the day. It allowed me to capture a lot of the environment quickly and easily – as one would expect from a wide lens. This is valuable for me when location scouting so that I can see more of my potential options when I revisit for an actual shoot.
I did shoot a vlog of that day, and here it is. I don’t talk about the lenses much in the video, but I do show off some of the images that I shot with the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, as well as a couple with the 24-70mm f/2.8 Art.
The 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, while a wonderful lens, was a little wide for my needs most of the time, though. For me, it’s the kind of lens where I want to get low down to the ground, focus on some close-up detail, and then get a wide slightly out of focus scene behind. But in the Arizona desert, getting down on your knees or lying down on the ground isn’t exactly easy. There’s just too much sharp and spikey ground cover.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 Art, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely. This was by far the most useful and versatile lens of the three during the whole trip for me. It did feel a little soft at times, though, even when stopped down a little, especially as you went towards the edges. But overall, it was a pleasant lens to use, with extremely fast autofocus, and the one I used most often, especially for landscapes and as a walkaround lens, where I sometimes felt that the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art was just a little too wide.
Even though it doesn’t go quite as wide as the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, or offer as much close-up detail as zooming in on the 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports, the 24-70mm f/2.8 Art can make for some nice stitched panoramics, too.
What really surprised me, though, is how much I liked the 24-70mm f/2.8 Art for portraits. Typically, my go-to for location portraits is either the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8VR or Nikon 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor (although the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art and Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art are both on my list). So, I’m not normally shooting this wide, particularly on full frame.
While I was there, I got to meet up with a couple of Arizona natives that I’ve wanted to hang out with for a long time and, naturally, forced them to stand in front of the camera.
First up, Don Giannatti, a very accomplished photographer, teacher and mentor who is the perfect combination of charm, experience and grumpy old man. Lunch is on me next time, Don!
The other was timelapse photographer Jesse Watson. Jesse probably has more timelapse experience than any other photographer I’ve met. You might remember that we featured Jesse here on DIYP towards the end of last year for his epic timelapse of the Space X launch in the skies over Yuma, Arizona.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 Art also worked very well for late night shots on the tripod, too. The tripod I was using for this trip, was the Manfrotto 190X Video and 500 fluid head (review coming soon). I find that video tripods are the best for shooting landscapes with because they’re so quick and easy to work with. They’re also usually very stable.
This shot wasn’t a particularly long exposure, lasting 0.6 seconds, but I did shoot quite a few longer ones during a couple of nighttime trips out into the desert. Those images are for another post, though!
I didn’t get to use the 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports as much as I would have liked on this trip. I had planned to use it more for portraits, but the shoot I’d arranged ended up having to be cancelled. I did shoot a few images with it while I was out there, though.
I was very pleased with the flare control on such a backlit shot as the one above. And the colour and contrast is just beautiful. Sure, it’s mostly to do with those gorgeous sunsets Arizona sees, but I have other lenses that I know would have definitely struggled with these conditions.
For stitched panoramics, I’d also switch to the 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports lens. This might seem like an odd choice, but I prefer longer lenses for this sort of thing so that you can make big images, big prints, and really pick out some of that distant detail. I orient the camera vertically when shooting images for stitched panoramics from the tripod.
This shot was 12 images from the Nikon D800 and 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports resulting in a 260-megapixel panoramic shot.
The build quality on all three lenses feels very solid, as one would expect from lenses of this calibre. This wasn’t a standout feature, it was simply what I expected and they didn’t disappoint.
What really stood out to me, though, were two features in particular. The speed of autofocus on all three lenses was extremely fast and snappy, particularly the 24-70mm f/2.8 Art, even on my ageing Nikon D800 DSLR (I did also have a Nikon D750 with me, but it was just a backup). At first, it felt so quick that I wasn’t sure if it actually had refocused or not. And it was quiet, too. Very quiet.
The other feature, of the 24-70mm and 70-200mm, was the capability of the image stabilisation. With my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8VR, when I half-press the shutter to focus, you see a noticeable “wandering” of the lens until it locks onto its target a brief moment later. With the Sigma 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses, though, the stabilisation was almost instantaneous. As soon as I half-pressed, the stabilisation would kick into life, and the image would stay fixed even if I wasn’t taking much care to hold the camera all that steady.
Ultimately, for most consumers, the only two things that matter are price and performance. Is the performance good enough? Well, it’s mostly going to depend on you, your needs and your budget.
They open up as wide as their Nikon and Canon counterparts, the AF is quick and snappy, and stabilisation on the two lenses that have it is very impressive. Are they going to be overall as good as the vastly more expensive OEM alternatives in every single situation? Possibly not. Will they suffice for 99% of what you might need to shoot? More than likely (but, again, depends on your needs). Are they going to be better than OEM for some people? I have no doubt that they will, especially when it comes to price. For that, the Sigma trio is a pretty clear winner.
The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, 24-70mm f/2.8 Art and 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports series lenses come in at a total of around $4,100 (according to B&H prices at the time of writing). The Canon versions of those lenses come to a few cents shy of $5,000. The Nikon versions are a whopping $7,100, which is one heck of a difference.
Will I make the switch to Sigma zooms now that I’ve had a good play with them? Well, I think the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art might find its way onto my shopping list. I don’t have a full frame ultra wide zoom lens. It’s not a focal length range that I find myself requiring often, but it is a gap that I need to fill in my arsenal.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 Art is one I’ll have to think about. I never really liked the Nikon one (the version without VR), as it just felt too much like a toy, so I went the primes route. I’ve briefly played with the newer Nikon VR version and it’s definitely an improvement over its predecessor, but even that wasn’t enough to make me ditch my short primes and go back to a zoom.
Making the switch from 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 58mm primes to a 24-70 zoom, for me, wouldn’t really offer any extra benefit. The fact that I have so many primes isn’t a “prime snob” thing. It just ended up working out that way after the disappointment I’d felt with the feel of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. I’d already got a couple of primes in that range, so I figured why not just carry on? Especially if I’m sometimes going to have several cameras shooting timelapse or video simultaneously?
There’s certainly more versatility with a zoom than a stack of primes. You don’t have to swap lenses every couple of minutes for a start. But I personally don’t tend to change focal lengths that often when I’m shooting those shorter focal lengths anyway. If I didn’t already own a bunch of primes, and were shopping now for the first time, or if I shot weddings & events where being able to change focal length at the flick of a dial is important, then I wouldn’t hesitate to consider the 24-70mm f/2.8 Art.
The big question for me is whether or not I’d swap my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8VR for the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports. There is no doubt that the AF and stabilisation is quicker than my Nikon. And my 70-200 f/2.8VR is getting a little long in the tooth now (it’s the original one, which I purchased a little over a decade ago). If I’m honest with myself, and not just lusting for gear, I’m not sure that the performance increase over my current 70-200mm f/2.8VR would genuinely provide me with any benefit for my own shooting workflow.
Having said that, it is still a very tempting lens. Having that speed and stability offers a lot more shooting options, and for the price, I don’t think there’s much out there can beat it. If I ever feel that my 70-200mm f/2.8VR can no longer keep up with my needs and I absolutely have to replace it, then right now I’m fairly certain that this is what I’d replace it with. And if I didn’t already own a 70-200 f/2.8 lens, then the Sigma would definitely be my first choice.
Overall, all three lenses are excellent, especially for what they cost. They were a pleasure to shoot with and I think many photographers would be quite satisfied with them. They’ve certainly come a very long way since Sigma’s pre-Art/Sports days.
Do Sigma’s f/2.8 zooms still leave me feeling underwhelmed? Most definitely not. Are they the only three lenses you ever need, though? No, I don’t think so. You still need a good macro. There were a few occasions during this trip where I wished I’d had one with me.