The Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is a pro-level do-it-all lens. It’s sharp, fast, compact, and stabilized…not to mention a whole lot of fun!
by David FitzSimmons
The 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is a superb traveler’s lens. Much of my professional work involves shooting scenics for books, magazines, calendars, and postcards. The 17-50mm focal length, approximately equivalent to a 28-80mm in 35mm terms, is a perfect optic for landscapes.
For this review, I packed my new 45 megapixel SD1 and the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM and headed off to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and south Florida. I can say with complete confidence that every time I pulled the 17-50mm lens out of my bag, I knew I was going to get a sharp image.
The 17-50mm’s F2.8 aperture guarantees a bright image in the viewfinder, even at dusk, dawn, or other low-light situations. And focusing is super-fast with the wide F2.8 aperture and the lens’ hyper sonic motor (HSM). Take the photo of the palm trees at sunrise from Key Biscayne. I arose about an hour before sunrise and searched for a signature silhouette. Three palm trees towering over the east-facing beach were perfect. I positioned the focus selector on my SD1 on the palm branches, and I stopped the lens down to f/8 to keep the trees, other foreground foliage, and the background sea and sky in sharp focus. Light was so low that the exposure was 2 seconds. Nonetheless, I could easily view the scene, and the focus is spot-on.
Not all scenics are wide views. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden (one of the finest gardens I’ve visited in North America) includes a beautiful rainforest garden. As you wend your way among towering trees, whispering waterfalls, and lush undergrowth, you feel as if you have been transported to the wet, warm forests of South America. The rainforest garden includes ferns, palms, and spectacular orchids. Just below the sibilant cascade, I zoomed in on riverside vegetation, including a stand of pink orchids. A Sigma 77mm circular polarizer helped reduce reflections and saturated the colors.
The Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is also a great architecture lens. Just south of downtown Miami is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. The exquisitely preserved mansion is surrounded by spectacular sculpted gardens. Vizcaya was the estate of the late James Deering, an early 20th century industrialist, who most notably served as the vice president of International Harvester. Deering’s designer on the project, Paul Chalfin, traveled the world collecting artwork and ideas, eventually crafting an Italian-style estate. Outside stone work adorns nearly every portion of the gardens. The 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM was the perfect lens for capturing aspects of estate.
For the stone archway, which stands on the north side of the front of the house, I positioned my SD1 in the portrait position. By then pointing the camera straight ahead—with the optical axis level to the ground—vertical lines remain parallel. The archway then towers majestically. A Sigma circular polarizing filter helped saturate the sky, highlighting the waxing gibbous moon. The leading line of the driveway wall leads viewers’ eyes to the inviting garden entrance.
Autumn in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado is a canvas of color at the end of September and the beginning of October. The 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM was indispensable in capturing the areas beauty. One of the dangers in shooting mountains is including everything in the frame. If you use a super wide angle lens in these situations, 14,000’ peaks look like mere molehills. Moderate focal lengths allow photographers to slightly compress subjects near to the camera with the most dramatic background peaks.
One morning before presenting at the Telluride Photo Festival, I arose early to photograph sunrise over the mountains. I positioned myself at a roadside overlook just west-southwest of Ridgeway. I arrived minutes before the sun’s first rays hit Mount Sneffels. As the sun rose higher, it began to illuminate the fall foliage sweeping down the slopes. The 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM provided just the right perspective to depict the multicolored shrubs and trees in the foreground while allowing the 14,000’ snow-capped peak behind to look impressive. In addition, the detail resolved by the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is incredible. This image, captured by the Sigma SD1, may be printed extremely large. A 40” x 60” print of “Mount Sneffels—Autumn Sunrise” hung in the Sigma booth at the Consumer Electronics Show trade show in Las Vegas.
Landscape photography requires intimate views of nature. While driving the road from Ouray to Red Mountain Pass, I stopped to photograph a beautiful mountain stream amidst fall foliage colors. A moderate wide angle perspective narrows the view enough to focus on part of the landscape. In this case, I wanted to include the waterfalls and the golden aspens in the background.
Another instance of isolating part of the natural world is focusing in on a portion of the forest. Near Ames, Colorado, a lovely stand of aspens beckoned for an abstract image, framing the white trunks against a background of greens, oranges, yellows, and browns.
While many of the images here were taken with my SD1 mounted to a Gitzo GT2541EX tripod and Manfrotto ball head and fired using mirror lock-up and a Sigma CR 21 cable release, the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is a fast-shooting, spur-of-the-moment lens as well. Switch on the optical stabilization (OS) and use wider apertures—clear up to F2.8—and enjoy the freedom of hand-holding spontaneity.
A few hours after leaving Ouray, I arrived in Silverton under heavy, overcast skies and the beginnings of a rain storm. The famous Durango & Silverton narrow gauge steam engine and its passenger cars sat at rest on the edge of town. As I was grabbing a few hand-held close-ups of the train cars in the low light, the engineer climbed aboard, tooted the whistle, and began pulling away. I raced down the side of the track, firing off a few shots of the historic locomotive gaining speed, heading back toward Durango. The F2.8 zoom focused fast and gave me beautiful shots of the black engine set off against the richly saturated aspens, even in the less-than-ideal conditions.
My hand-held images of the train car numbers were sharp and full of good contrast, even though I shot at F11 at 1/10 second. Back at the studio, I zoomed in to 100%, seeing the true resolving power of the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM (OS on) mounted on my 45 megapixel SD1. You can see minute details of the wood, including pits and grooves. To be sure, the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used. This is, no doubt, in no small part due to the use of FLD glass and Sigma’s excellent lens coatings.
The optical stabilization in the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM makes it great for photographing people. Use the widest angle for family get-togethers, sporting events, or group photos. Or zoom in, and you get an F2.8 portrait lens.
While in Florida, I was invited to share my new children’s picture book, Curious Critters, on WTVJ, Miami’s NBC-TV. While waiting for my interview on “Live Miami at 11,” I enjoyed watching the performances of a classical-hip hop ensemble called “Black Violin.” Using my SD1 and the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM with the OS on, I photographed the innovative musicians. I worked capture the studio scene—namely including a silhouette of the cameraman in the foreground and the NBC monitors in plain view behind—and to depict with light the groups lively, sonorous sound.
Further south, while in Key West, my wife, Olivia, and I consulted online reviews to find a top-rated Cuban restaurant. We found Havana 1, a family-run restaurant. Thanks, Trip Advisor! With only seven tables and a waiting line to get in, we figured we’d be in for a memorable experience. The owner, Juan O’Farrill, is not only a Cuban immigrant entrepreneur but also a painter and movie producer. After an exceptional dinner (seafood paella, black bean soup, and steamed yucca) and lively conversation with Juan, I asked if I could capture his likeness. He and I agreed to set the portrait outside the restaurant with him holding a work in progress, an nearly completed painting of his grandmother. Shot at F2.8 with OS on, the image is tack sharp.
Another local personality is the West Virginia-born turned Key West entrepreneur, Kermit Carpenter. Dressed in a green chef hat, matching leprechaunish shoes, a chef’s double-breasted coat, and black and white checked chef’s pants, Kermit stands outside his Key West Key Lime Shoppe, smiling broadly while hawking his signature Key Lime pies.
With so many professional facets, the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM offers one more plus: macro photography. Focusing down to 11 inches throughout its zoom range, the lens delivers 1:5 reproductions at its long end. Due to excellent image quality, you can shoot at F16 and get remarkable close-up photographs.
I zoomed in on a water-bedecked Voodoo rose, capturing the subtle hues deep with in the flower and depicting razor sharp edges on the flower’s petals and pearl-shaped water droplets. The ability to produce fine close-ups of flowers, butterflies, collectibles, products, and other objects is one more feather in the cap of this remarkably versatile, all-purpose lens.
Having put the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM through it paces, I’d put this zoom up against any other top shelf lenses, including primes—it’s that good. It’s sharp, fast, compact, and stabilized—not to mention affordable. All this makes the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM a whole lot of fun!
To see more of David’s work or to find out more information about upcoming Sigma FitzSimmons Photography presentations and workshops, visit www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.
And check out David’s award-wining children’s picture book, Curious Critters, which features close-ups of animals from across the North America. All photographs in the book were taken with Sigma lenses. Visit www.curious-critters.com.
|Lens Construction||17 Elements in 13 Groups|
|Angle of View||72.4-27.9 degrees|
|Number of Diaphragm Blades||7|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||28 cm / 11 in|
(Diameter x Length)
|83.5×91.8 mm/3.3×3.6 in|
|Weight||565g / 19.9oz.|
|OS- Optical Stabilizer Function, HSM – Hyper-Sonic Motor, DC- DC for digital, EX – EX Lens
* The appearance, specifications, and the like of the product are subject to change for improvement without notice.