Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens review: Make your APS-C dSLR feel like it's full-frame

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens currently occupies a unique spot as a wide-aperture zoom lens built specifically for APS-C mounts. It has a great build quality and delivers excellent photo quality.

The Bad Lacks optical stabilization.

The Bottom Line As long as it stays at a sub-$1,000 price, the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens will be a great deal for photographers using APS-C dSLRs.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 8.0

Fact of life: fast lenses are expensive, and fast zoom lenses are expensive and heavy. While we can't do anything about its bulk, as long as Sigma's $799 price for its 18-35mm f1.8 doesn't rise to the $1,160 currently in strikethrough type on Sigma's Web site, this lens will remain a great bargain for serious photographers shooting with an APS-C camera.

The lens, which bears Sigma's "A" branding for its arty lenses -- marketing-speak for wide-aperture -- has the same excellent build quality as its 35mm f1.4 full-frame lens (which, at a current price of $899, is also a great deal). It uses all-metal construction with well-damped, rubberized focus and zoom rings and an easy-to-feel and operate focus mode switch.

Yes, it's heavy, but I love the feel of Sigma's A series lenses. It overbalances light cameras like the Rebel series a bit, but are a great match for the slightly heftier EOS models like the 60D (and the forthcoming 70D) as well as the 7D.

It's not a particularly feature-rich lens -- aside from the manual/auto focus switch there's a distance readout window for the manual focus and focal-length indicators for the zoom ring, but that's about it. I know it's rare to have optical image stabilization in wide-angle lenses (and many manufacturers will tell you it's unnecessary), but I really would like it. If you shoot video without a rig, it's essential. Of course, this isn't an issue for Sony bodies that use sensor-shift stabilization. It's also supported by Sigma's optional USB dock, which allows you to manage and configure lenses and firmware updates.

My coarse metric for performance when shooting stills is the profanity factor, as in how often I find myself epitheting "Why are you so [expletive deleted] slow??" I don't remember cursing the lens out at all; it kept up with my primary test camera, the 7D, pretty well. This isn't a noisy lens for video autofocus, but it is a slightly slow mover in conjunction with continuous AF. The manual-focus ring has a nice feel for gradual focus, however.

Mounts Canon EF-S (tested), Nikon DX, Sigma, Sony A
Focal range 18-35mm (28.8 - 56 equivalent on Canon; 27 - 52.5 on Nikon and Sigma)
Aperture range f1.8 - f16
Aperture blades 9
Minimum focus distance 11 inches (from focal plane)
Angle of view Approximately 76.5 - 44.2 degrees (depending on focal length)
Elements 17 elements in 12 groups; 1 aspherical with Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass 
Filter diameter 72mm
Minimum length 3.1 inches
Maximum length 4.8 inches
Weight 29.5 ounces
MSRP $799
Availability July 2013

Its image quality is generally excellent. There's some aberration (fringing) on both sides at 18mm and in the center at 35mm f1.8, but at 18mm it's quite sharp in the center from wide open to f11, and as expected gets a little soft at f16; at 35mm it's sharp from f2.0 to just under f16 as well. The edge-to-edge sharpness at both ends looks good, too. Its nine-bladed aperture renders beautiful out-of-focus areas, and I didn't see any vignetting. For 35mm shooting, the company's full-frame 35mm 1.4 DG HSM lens is a little sharper, but if you need the flexibility of a zoom it's worth the convenience trade-off.

Sigma has been producing some really nice lenses, and as its PR folks will attest, they've had to pry this lens out of my possession; I really like almost everything about it. This is the type of lens that makes you feel like your APS-C body has gotten a full-frame upgrade.

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