Small town Wisconsin on the Fourth of July. It sounded like a great idea for not just a photo assignment, but also a great way to put the new Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Art lens through its paces.
Along with a lot of my social media photographer friends, I’ve waited with great anticipation for this lens. For a professional photographer, it’s one of the holy trinity of lenses- the wide, medium and telephoto professional zoom. In my case, the 24-70 by far gets the most use. It’s the perfect range for just about every event, group photo, wedding, as well as air to air photography. In the past there was always a Sigma 24-105 f4 Art lens on one camera body in my bag. From this day forward, it’s the new Sigma 24-70 f2.8 Art.
I am at a loss, however, with the first words I want to use to describe this lens. It’s a piece of art to look at (sorry for the pun). It’s incredibly sharp, it’s incredibly versatile and it focuses quickly. And at f2.8, I can use it in so many more dimly lit environments than other lenses. And…it has optical stabilization! But after using it, my mind keeps going back to the phrase “it just feels right.” It just belongs. I know it will do the job for me with either an assignment for the newspaper, a freelance job, or at 10,000 feet photographing an airplane.
No sooner had the lens arrived than I had it mounted on a Canon 1DX full frame camera and headed off to a newspaper assignment. It was a good first test of the lens because evening was approaching and having a lens that opened to f2.8 would be an asset. The action was also in a small area, so the 24-70mm range would be perfect for what I wanted to capture.
I should point out that I am a pretty technical kind of guy. I’ve even been known to pixel-peek. But as much as I want the best equipment for the job, I don’t obsess about MTF charts and a lot of the technical data that fills up the online forums. I really care about the moment I am trying to capture and the feeling I’m trying to convey. And I trust my Sigma lenses to do their part in this creative process. So the most technical comment I’m going to make about the lens is that after I took my first photos with it and zoomed in on the rear LCD image to check focus, I could count the hairs on the subjects head. Enough said. Let’s start capturing moments.
My first assignment was at a small festival in Oshkosh. To show some diversity between the amusement rides, I shot some with a high shutter speed and OS off. Focus tracking and focus speed were right on. Then I turned OS on and dropped the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second to track and pan along with some of the riders. I also focused on a stationary subject in the background for one series and let the riders blur as they went past me to give the feeling of speed and movement. Then zooming out to 70mm, a portrait of a happy couple listening to a band. Since the light was dropping off, f2.8 with OS on did the job perfectly.
I was able to use the 24-70 f2.8 Art with OS on at slow shutter speeds, fast amusement rides that let me know the focus was fast, and low light portraits at 2.8 that were tack sharp. A quick edit and the photos were off for a newspaper gallery.
My next assignments were traveling to several outlying towns to capture the flavor of July 4th events. After shooting a still life of flowers and a flag sitting on an old chair outside a second hand shop, I was amazed at how the cracked paint of the chair looked so sharp and realistic.
Next stop was the popular July 4th parade in Omro, Wisconsin. Following the old adage that I should eat my dessert first, I headed to the Omro Historical Society Ice Cream Social to see what photos I could find. It was a good chance to show that shallow depth of field that the 24-70 could produce. A quick check on the back of the camera let me know the depth of field is very shallow at f2.8, so I bracketed up to f6.3 to assure there was a good share of the pie in focus. I used the same technique when a young friend sat down at my table. By using the Optical Stabilizer, it was easy to not worry about a lower shutter speed as I increased the f stop.
After photographing some of the parade, I decided to follow John Vonderloh, a retired police chief from the city, as he finished marching. I posed John with the flag he was carrying, hoping to catch the flag in a pleasing position as it blew in the wind.
Several small cities later, I was in Green Lake, Wisconsin in time for their fireworks. As I set up my tripod, I notice a man fishing nearby. He made a nice silhouette against the setting sun. I shot between f2.8 and f4 in manual mode to get a slight underexposure and keep fisherman in silhouette. As it got darker out, and closer to the time the fireworks would light up the sky, I saw a photo of a friends daughter lighting sparklers with her older sister. This was a quick shot because the sparklers kept burning out too quickly.
The 24-70mm had no problem focusing in the near darkness at f2.8, which was good because it was time for the big fireworks show and the only way to lock my focus on the scene was to autofocus on the distant boat lights. I photographed a few bursts to tweak my shutter speed and f stop settings. Then I just hit the shutter every time I saw the colorful bursts. I was tying to get a sailboat in the foreground of my composition, which didn’t show up the best when I looked at the photos afterwards. But the surrounding water did have some colorful reflections. The fireworks bursts all drifted a bit to the right because of the wind, so I felt my best image was a bit lopsided.
To make my final photo look a bit more balanced and dramatic, I picked another photo, layered it over my first photo in Photoshop, and then used the layer style “lighten” to just keep the second colorful burst. Sometimes with fireworks photos this is the only way to really fill the frame with what your eye and imagination saw. I just make a point to put it in the caption on social media so people understand there was a bit of manipulation.
Small town Wisconsin July 4th drew to a close. But not my respect for this Sigma 24-70 f2.8 Art lens. It’s razor sharp, it’s fast to focus and it’s got Optical Stabilization. It’s now in my camera bag for all future assignments.