A Weekend in Chicago with the SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary Lens
Big cities not only fill me with wonder and excitement, but also countless photo ideas. Zipping past Wisconsin farm fields on the Amtrak Hiawatha headed toward Chicago, numerous photographic possibilities kept popping into my mind.
And sitting beside me, locked onto my Sony A9 II, was the new SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary lens. This lens, so small and lightweight, looked as if it was designed for travel. The lens and camera fit easily in my backpack, joining my iPad and a Platypod (a flat tabletop tripod) for an adventure in the the big city.
It was also a change from past trips because even with some Covid-19 restrictions still in place, I could travel from Wisconsin to Chicago. A chance to venture out again, observe, record, and share life.
As the train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station, I made a major change to my shooting game plan. Usually, I like to consider the various aspects of the lens I’m shooting with and take photos that will specifically accentuate them. But now, I just wanted to let my creativity run wild and let the pictures happen, knowing that would be the best way to show you what this little lens is capable of producing.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 28mm, 1/125s, F11, ISO 400.Puddles always catch me eye because you can usually get some interesting reflections of the city if the light is coming from the right direction. And you have the option of zooming in for a cleaner composition, or in this case, zoom out to 28mm to show the edges of the puddle on the sidewalk. A higher f-stop helps ensure that both images are in focus. One thing I’ve learned is that when zooming in on a reflection, autofocus may get fooled, so I always go into manual focus to make sure my reflected building is in focus.
During previous trips to large cities, I would often only take a prime lens. Photographing in a city usually brings out the street photographer in me, pushing my creativity to see life through a single focal length.
But sometimes, traveling opens my creativity to more than what just one prime lens can capture. This time, I wanted flexibility to shoot wide as well as tight, and let my creativity feel unlimited.
The following images show not only what I felt compelled to capture during my brief trip to the city, but also how truly versatile the SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C can be for travel.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 33mm, 1/640s, F2.8, ISO 5000.Iconic landmarks are always fun to photograph when traveling because it offers the challenge to shoot it in a way no one else has (or very few have). Any initial ideas I might have had about photographing the Chicago Theater sign were limited by construction in the area. But I did have a straight on shot. And there was a lot of traffic. And what caught my eye was the edge lighting the sign gave to the top of the cars passing by. I knew shooting wide open with the lens would be sharp, so setting that at F2.8, I played with ISO and shutter speed to capture the highlighting on the cars. In final edit, I decided I liked this one with the cars centered.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 31mm, 1/50s, F2.8, ISO 2000.Shooting wide from the Michigan Avenue bridge, with big, stark buildings contrasting the softer Riverwalk area. If you can shoot with just a little ambient light in the sky, it helps to blend in with the artificial lights. In-camera image stabilization helped me to shoot handheld in low light, while allowing lenses like this one to stay compact and lightweight.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 66mm, 1/2500s, F2.8, ISO 100.The sound of saxophone music led me to a street musician along Michigan Avenue. I took a few portraits, but my eye kept going back to the musician’s fingers on the instrument. I chose a wide open F2.8 shot to keep the background blurred, while only keeping the keys of the saxophone in focus.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 36mm, 1/100s, F2.8, ISO 2000.While checking out the lights at night on Michigan Avenue, I was flooded in blue light from a police car in front of the hotel. Chicago has officers placed in regular intervals, blue lights flashing, to keep things safe downtown. There was an unreal look to one of the officers standing by his squad car, bathed in blue light, so I asked if I could take his portrait. Because the blue light strobe pulses, and my shutter speed didn’t always sync with the light, each image looked a little different as far as light coverage. Which was a happy accident because it gave me a few images where the strobe didn’t burn out the officer’s face.SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 56mm, 1/1250s, F7.1, ISO 1600.The Burberry Building on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago is one place I stop to photograph every time I am in Chicago. There is a graphic appeal with this building no matter where I am standing or what time of day.SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 70mm, 1/30s, F20, ISO 100.A few steps from bustling downtown Chicago and there are expanses of green near the marina. And people walking, running and biking. And a good chance to brush up on my panning technique. The lens had no problem keeping up with 15 fps on my Sony A9M2, locking on in tracking focus and giving me good background blur.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 35mm, 1/60s, F7.1, ISO 3200.One advantage of traveling with a zoom lens is the ability to tweak your focal length when you are limited in your movement. Looking down from the fourth floor of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery filled my mind with all of these graphic lines and colors and so many photo ideas. But there were also tourists looking at the same thing on all of the other floors, and I felt it was distracting to a clean composition. But zooming out a bit to 35mm and holding my camera out over the railing would effectively crop out all of the tourists. Except… for the one I wanted coming up the escalator to add just that one human element to the image. As mom always said… patience, my son. And so I waited. And finally it all came together in this photo.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 59mm, 1/1600s, F2.8, ISO 320.Although I love being on the street with a camera, it always pays to look out the window of your hotel. A little movement caught my eye, then I noticed the window washer. Advantage being able to zoom out to 70mm and capture the graphic element of the building with the small size of the window washer.
SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 59mm, 1/3200s, F2.8, ISO 125.Chicago streets were definitely not as crowded as I have seen them, and on this night, only a few ventured out into the rain. This image was also converted to black and white for that “city” feel. And although I only got a quick burst of images before the composition was gone, I did find one with an active step for each walker.SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 70mm, 1/1600s, F2.8, ISO 3200.Definitely someone who knows what I like… reading the news on my phone and drinking coffee in a coffee shop. And as a photographer, I have always liked silhouettes. In my thinking, these moments happen quickly. A few seconds later, the man gets up and leaves, or a group of people come in and block your shot. Having a lens that is fast to focus and easy to carry around with you all the time makes for a great travel companion.SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 28mm, 1/640s, F7.1, ISO 400.Looking like a huge colorful break from the gray and browns of the building was a mural with the word “Dream”. If that hadn’t caught my eye, the mottled lighting from the fading sun made sure I became aware there was an image waiting to be taken. I backed up to the edge of the sidewalk, zoomed out to 28mm, and waited for the human element to walk into the image. When photographing something like this, I’m waiting for a moment. One that I can’t describe beforehand, but know it when it happens, And it happened with this couple, seeming to walk in step with each other.SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | C on Sony A9 II. 70mm, 1/40s, F5, ISO 2000.I’ve still yet to ride the “L” elevated trains, but a nice station manager offer to let me in to get a better photo. This is when I’m glad I brought the zoom instead of a prime lens. Wide, medium and tight shots as the train pulled in, giving me options to share what it was like.
Heading back home, and reviewing my photos on the back of the camera, I was happy with what I saw and was able to capture. The real truth, however, is reviewing them on the computer at full size. And that displayed the sharpness of the little SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary. Not only small and light, but fast to focus and very sharp images. Oh, and did I mention easy on my budget? I think I have met my new travel companion.
Jim Koepnick is one of the leading aviation photographers today, photographing for Cirrus Aircraft, Flying Magazine, Plane and Pilot, Air and Space Smithsonian, AOPA and EAA. He also shoots for the USA Today Network - Wisconsin in the Oshkosh area, specializing in sports and action. His freelance clients include Ripon College, AACD and Our Wisconsin Magazine. Previously, Jim was Chief Photographer at the Experimental Aviation Association for 28 years. In that role, he photographed over 1000 aircraft while on air-to-air missions and supplied over 500 cover images for EAA Publications. His photography has been a consistent winner of awards from Aviation Week and Space Technology, Wisconsin Imaging Photographers Association, American Advertising Federation and Calendar Marketing Association. His photojournalism has received awards from Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Press Photographers Association and Inland Press.