Lens Guides

Traveling light with the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM

There are times when packing light really is what matters most for photo adventures. And on those occasions when hauling a big camera bag with a bunch of specialty lenses isn’t an option for one reason or another, a multi-purpose superzoom lens such as the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM is a great choice.

This lens is an impressive combination of reach, range and versatility in a single multi-tasking piece of glass that can do just about everything from wide landscapes, to telephoto wildlife, close-ups (1:3.4 max magnification), short tele portraiture, and help make a strong shot of most situations you’ll want to shoot on your adventures, without ever having to swap lenses.  And it does all this at a very attractive street price, I might add!

18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM

The Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM is available in Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony/Minolta mounts for APS-C cameras.

This APS-C specific lens is a 13.8x optically stabilized zoomer that weighs in at just over a pound and a half with a field of view range comparable to about a 28-400mm on a full-frame camera. That’s a whole lot of lens in a compact four-inch long package! You can check out the full product specs, including SLD and Aspherical lens element construction that help keep shots sharp and crisp through the full focal range here.

A wild dunes landscape made at North Beach, Sandy Hook, NJ with the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM at 18mm on a Canon EOS Rebel XTi (1/400 f6.3 ISO 100) shows the widest field of view of this 13.8x zoomer. Notice the redwing blackbird atop the bush? And past that, can you see the Lighthouse just above the horizon in the middle of the frame?
Now, here we have zoomed all the way to 250mm and recomposed slightly to frame the image horizontally (again at 1/400 f6.3 ISO 100.) That’s a lot of reach and range for a compact SLR lens! My plans for the day, as you’ll see soon, included hoofing to the top of that lighthouse.
Here’s another wide/zoomed image pair to give you a feel for the overall reach and range of this 13.8x zoomer. These shots of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston were made at the South Carolina Aquarium as a thunderstorm approached. I was at the aquarium with my wife and young daughter on a rainy day, and packing light in the camera department was a necessity!

There are many reasons why photographers might and should consider an multi-purpose zoom lens with optical stabilization as the one lens to bring on photo adventures. Here’s just a few reasons to think about packing the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM as your lens of choice for your next outing.

  • A bag full of specialty lenses can, in fact, be quite heavy to lug around all day, day after day on a trip, and gear that’s going to stay in the hotel safe because it gets tiring to lug around isn’t making any photos!
  • When travelling with young children and all the gear kids require, there’s just not room for a big, dedicated camera bag any more (this is very true for me these days!)
  • Swapping lenses in rough weather conditions can lead to camera damage. If you don’t have to swap from a wide to tele lens on the beach, there’s no chance of getting sand inside the camera! (Same goes for rain, ocean spray, snow, and dirt!)
  • Security: Digging into a stuffed camera bag to swap lenses in tourist hotspots can make you an easy target for petty thieves, as you are distracted from the surroundings and carrying potentially valuable loot to be grabbed.
  • Maximum versatility in tight quarters. Helicopter tours, and lighthouse climbs are but two examples of tourist activities that can be amazingly “cozy” situations where it isn’t necessarily possible or practical to try to switch lenses to make different shots. 

It is 94 steps up an cast iron spiral staircase, then a 10-rung ladder up to the light room of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. I was part of an 8-person tour up the Lighthouse, which was built in 1764. It was very crowded up there! You can see Brooklyn on the horizon, over the dunes of Sandy Hook and the outer railing of the lighthouse in the foreground, captured at the 18mm widest focal range of the 18-250mm zoom. I used a circular polarizer to make the clouds pop and cut some of the glare on the glass windows of the lighthouse. Tours at this lighthouse run from 1:00PM-4:00PM daily, which can be a tough time to make nice photos, especially in the summer when atmospheric haze is high! (1/125 f6.3 ISO100)
And here is another view towards New York City at 150mm. You can see the ruins of military armaments in the lower left of the frame, and in the distance, just make out some of the skyscrapers of Manhattan through the midday haze (the Empire State Building is just to the right of the red buoy.) The thick glass of the lighthouse and a heavy, humid atmosphere at midday make for a lot of atmospheric interference in this telephoto frame. In the early morning, this view would be a lot different, with more directional light and potentially much less haze, but these were the conditions when I was there–when the lighthouse was open for visitors! (1/250 f6.3 ISO 100)
Here is a view from the top of the lighthouse looking in a different direction out one of the other windows in the small octagonal room. This image presented a series of challenges: The framing I wanted didn’t allow me to press my lens parallel to the glass, and the position of the sun meant that the best polarizer position to make the clouds pop and deepen the blue sky was also the worst position for cutting through the window reflections! So, I shot a couple of variations with the polarizer spinning a bit each time, and picked this one, where there’s just a shadowed suggestion of the fresnel lenses, the light, and a fellow tourist in this birds-eye view frame. (1/250 f6.3 ISO 100)

As you’re seeing, multi-zooms like the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM do a lot of types of photography very well.  But as with every lens, there are certain tradeoffs to be made.

There are ultrawide zoom lenses that can take in even more sweeping angles of view.  And some telephoto zoom lenses have maximum zoomed apertures that are a couple of stops quicker than the the f6.3 @ 250mm, or that have longer reach at a faster constant aperture. And there are many dedicated macro lenses in the Sigma stable that will capture images at 1:1 magnification as I discuss here, compared to the maximum 1:3.4 setting at full zoom on the 18-250mm.

But this multitasker makes some smart tradeoffs to be very adept in many types of photography in its small, economical package. And when you bump the street price of the 18-250mm up against some of the more specialized lenses, you start to realize that it’s a very capable tool that can be put on your SLR and be ready to capture great photos of pretty much anything you can see through that viewfinder, from sweeping vistas to to distant sports and wildlife action in one easy-to-handle lens.

Here we are at the widest setting on the Sigma 18-250mm. I’m tossing that flexible flying dog toy from about 10 yards distance with my Rebel XTi triggered automatically at 1 second intervals by a Promote Control remote camera controller. (1/400 @ f6.3 ISO 100)

And here I’m zoomed the lens in to 63mm, while keeping my throwing spot the same as in the above widest frame. Notice how much more prominent I am in this frame. (1/400 @ f6.3 ISO 100)

And here’s a supertelephoto shot at 250mm of that boat from the above frisbee shot cruising along the patch of water where the Bays meet the Atlantic Ocean. The Verranzano Bridge in the background is just about nine and a half miles distant. We used a polarizer to help cut through some of the midday haze.

The O and S in the name of the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM stands for “Optical Stabilization,” indicating that this lens features floating lens elements that sense camera motion and react in the opposite direction to dampen and counteract slight camera movements–meaning that you can very often safely hand-hold shots at shutter speeds slower the the inverse of the shutter speed (1/250 for a 250mm focal length, for example) and still achieve sharp shots. I’ll be posting a long blog posting digging into this topic next month, so I’ll leave the long technical explanations and OS tips and tricks for then.

Briefly, in practice, Optical Stabilization lets you make sharper shots at slower shutter speeds without always having to anchor your camera on a tripod or monopod. So, even though the maximum aperture at 250mm is a bit on the slow side at f/6.3, you can switch OS on, and slow down the shutter speed to get a properly exposed frame, instead of having to crank the ISO way, way, high in dim lighting conditions.

As we climbed the steep spiral back down the lighthouse, I spied this one window that was positioned perfectly for an inside-outside shot. I exposed for the exterior scene, and let the incoming rays light up the interior bricks. I cranked my ISO up to 800 for potential interior shots, and let it ride at 800 for this view, captured at 1/800 f6.3 at 24mm to give some deeper depth of field. Since my shutter speed was much faster than my focal length, there was no need to employ OS for this shot. But that being said, there was absolutely nowhere to set up a tripod for the frame–so a multiple shot sequence for HDRI photography was totally out of the question!
Now here, we’re exposing for the interior of the lighthouse, using only the light streaming in through those few small windows in the thick brick walls. Even at ISO 800, my shutter speed at f/6.3 (for more depth of field in the frame) at 18mm was 1/10 second–so I turned Optical Stabilization on to ensure a few sharp frames as a fellow tour attended descended the spiral stairs above my shooting position. Without OS, I’d be risking having the image show some camera movement, resulting in a less sharp frame.

And now, completely inside the brick silo, shooting straight up the stair support pole, we’ve got even less available light! At 18mm ISO 800, at f6.3 (for more depth of field), our shutter speed was ⅓ second–much slower than the handholding rule allows without OS, and we’ve got a sharp frame, showing just some subject movement as another lighthouse climber descends the stairs. Without OS, this frame would’ve been a blurry mess!

The Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM captures small objects at a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:3.4 at full 250mm zoom. This means that a 1 centimeter object captured at highest magnification will be recorded across a patch of the the sensor just a hair bigger than a third of a centimeter. This is a very respectable macro magnification for a multi-tasker, and means that it’s very reasonable to leave a dedicated macro out of the bag when traveling light with maximum versatility is the plan for the day. OS is a very welcome feature for macro shoots due to the long focal length for maximum magnification.

Right now my backyard is littered with molted exoskeletons of cicadas! I made this macro shot at 250mm f6.3 at ISO 800. Zooming to 250mm with this lens give the maximum 1:3.4 reproduction ratio with this lens.

Back in 1999, I travelled across Ireland and England with a much earlier version of a Sigma superzoom attached to my Canon EOS Elan II film camera. I was backpacking all over those islands over 10 days, and traveling light with maximum versatility mattered a lot! Twelve years on, some of the shots I made on this trip are still among my favorite personal photos.

And as I write this article, close to 75 shots made with the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM mounted on my Canon EOS Rebel XTi from my recent family vacation to Isle of Palms, South Carolina are being processed at my local photo lab. We’ve got everything from wide angle beach scenes, to telephoto action shots of my wife and daughter playing in the surf, and a whole lot more, all made with one lens mounted on this camera for almost all of the trip. And when I look at the frames we brought home, I see these great photos of an amazing family trip–all made with one compact multi-talented superzoom lens.

The Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM is a very talented multi-tasker, as the reach and range of the images shown in the story illustrate. It’s a long walk from water’s edge to the beach parking lot past those distant dunes. And it’s 94 steps plus a ladder up that distant lighthouse. I was able to lighten my bag significantly by choosing to shoot with a multi-zoom on this photo adventure. Packing a bunch of different lenses may have given me a bit wider view here or there, or a touch more reach with a faster aperture, or a bit higher macro magnification, but each of those lenses adds weight, and cost, to your camera bag. When versatility, flexibility, and even economy matter most, there’s a whole lot to like about a multi-zoom lens like the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM!

And check out this time lapse waterfall video captured with the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM!

Have any questions for Jack about this lens? Leave a comment below or drop him an email at Photoworld@Sigmaphoto.com Got photos made with this lens? Share them on ourFacebook wall!

Comments (6)
  1. Veo unos resultados excelentes que animan a comprarlo

  2. Emilio vaxelaire says:

    Excelente la domostraccion de la calidad del lente 18/250.-

    Buscare comprarlo.- (Poseo el 28/200 Sigma.-)

    Gracias por vuestro envio.-

    Emilio Vaxelaire (Australia).-

  3. David Kay says:

    I own one of these too, and I have got to say that it really is a versatile and quality lens. I love this lens as well as my other Sigma lenses.

  4. Bob Templeton says:

    Hi, I have the discontinued 17-300 Sigma lens. I use it for the very same reasons mentioned here. i simply love it on my Canon EOS 55D.

    Bob Templeton Australia

  5. Mike says:

    I just got the lens after reading your review and also talking to another friend and prod owner of the Sigma 18-250mm lens.
    I love it! It’s just so convenient …

    BTW, I was just at Long Branch and Sandy Hook. Nice place! Will go again…

  6. I love your products!! I own the 30mm 1.4 lens. I can only imagine what I could do with an amazing lens like the 18-250mm lens. What is the f stop on this one? I was suprised you were able to get a snap of the spiral stair in such close quarters. Then again the focal range does start at 18mm. I can’t wait to save up for this awesome lens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *