The Blog: See what
Sigma is saying.

10.26.2011

by Jack Howard

The re-engineered Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II is a fantastic rectilinear full-frame ultawide zoom lens with edge to edge sharpness. One SLD and four FLD lens elements yields the excellent image quality pro photographers expect from their lenses.

Ultrawides zooms are an amazing tool for tight squeezes and also taking in sweeping angles of view. I packed this lens in my bag for a few recent adventures, and it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite tools on the full-frame Canon EOS 5D.  This lens saves on bulk by going with a slightly slow maximum aperture F4.5-5.6 that loses a bit of a stop over the 2x focal range, but when it comes to ultrawides, I am totally okay with that.

12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II

This is a super-sharp ultrawide zoom that isn’t jumbo-sized due to a very fast constant aperture: it’s just about five inches long and weighs just shy of one and half pound. When you think about the very short focal range of ultrawides, and the  very deep depth of field even at very wide apertures, that’s some bulk that can very easily be spared in exchange for portability and ease of use for adventures both indoors and out.  

For more great advice on working with rectilinear ultrawide zoom lenses, check out this blog posting which offers tons of advice for this breed of lens.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve climbed my local lighthouse, and brought this lens along on a muddy biking adventure in my photo backpack. We’re just now approaching peak foliage here in New Jersey, and I can’t wait to take it out for some fall landscapes in the next week or so!

I climbed the lighthouse at the tip of Sandy Hook again recently. This time I packed the Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II in my bag to demonstrate both how wide a view this lens can capture, and just how tight a squeeze it is at the top of this working lighthouse. Both photos are shot from the Light room at 12mm on the Canon EOD 5D. The arm’s length self-portrait is made at 1/60 F16, ISO 100, and the view showing the Fresnel lenses and walkway is made at 1/320 F10 ISO 100. This lens is great for punctuating foreground features. That Fresnel lens is pretty big in its own right and in its own room, but by no means is it bigger than the houses in the distance!

One of the most interesting things about the Sandy Hook lighthouse is its distance from shore. In the years since it was built in the 1700s, the shoreline of the Hook has experienced steady accretion–a buildup of the shoreline–so it is now almost a half a mile from the tip of the Hook, framed nicely by grass and trees.  I tried to illustrate this unique-to-Lighthouses feature of the Sandy Hook light with two exteriors from two different angles. And because of the very wide field of view at 12mm on a fullframe camera, I was able to take in all of the tall structure and its surroundings from close enough to avoid power lines and other distracting elements in the frame.

I shot this straight from the edge of the Lighthouse lawn, with my tripod fully extended to minimize any keystoning of the tall structure. But despite checking and double-checking my tripod’s spirit level, I still need to do a tiny bit of perspective fix for the final image here. I cropped out some of the lawn to go for an HD ratio crop in this shot, which was captured at 1/160 F13 at ISO as part of a time lapse capture sequence.

And here is an alternate view, using the sidewalk leading up to the keepers quarters and Lighthouse. 1/160 F13 at ISO 100. This is straight from camera, with no post-production perspective adjustments. These two images have very different overall feels, despite being shot only moments apart, at the same focal length, at the same distance from the Lighthouse. Do you prefer one over the other for one reason or another?

As I was wandering around Sandy Hook waiting for the Lighthouse to open for its daily tours, I came upon this patch of wildflowers blowing in the wind. I zoomed in to 24mm to make the focal point flower as large as possible in the frame right near the close-focusing point of 11 inches on this lens.

After my lighthouse adventure, I tossed the Sigma 12-24mm and my 5D in my backpack, along with a very flexible tripod and headed out on my mountain bike to get some very low-angle action shots along a muddy leaf-strewn trail. My intent was to shoot very wide, but once I got there, and took some test shots, I decided to zoom all the way in and again take advantage of that very close focusing at all focal lengths.

When close-focused, the background is nicely softened, but still completely identifiable at f5.6–the maximum aperture at the fully zoomed 24mm. 1/200 F5.6 ISO 1000. This was a test shot for the exposure and background framing for my fast passes right on the edge of the mud and grass in the foreground. Notice how the blade of grass in the foreground is bigger in the frame than both my foot and head!

I set my camera up on Manfrotto tripod just inches above the muddy trail and used a remote cable to fire the shutter continuously as I biked the trail right on the focal plane. I had a lot of empty and mis-framed shots in my folder after a few passes, but I was able to get the timing of my pass just right for one of the shots.

For this shot, I chose to frame it tight at 24mm to crop in on both wheels and the upper body of the subject to give a sense of the energy happening at the muddy ground level. Do you think sharp focus right on the wheel path, along with the motion-blur on the bike and rider, and the exposure decision to expose for the earth tones and blow out the sky work for you? Does this shot give you a sense of being there? Would you have framed looser? Tighter? Horizontal? 1/200 F5.6 ISO 1000, triggered by remote cable on burst-fire mode.

I’ve only spent a little time with the Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II so far, but I’ve now got big plans for this lens in the near future for all sorts of time lapse and still photography shoots that I’m even more excited about after seeing just how sharp and crisp this new lens is. From what I’ve seen so far, this full-frame ultrawide zoom is a real keeper!

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