I’ve been a proud owner of a Sigma 10-20 f3,5 for a few months now. Have been using it almost exclusively on my SD1 in January. I‘ve taken hundreds of photos with the ultra-wide-angle lense since then and it’s about time to share my experience with you.
Quality and Handling
The 10-20 f3,5 belongs to the upscale Sigma EX-series (the name of the series will no longer be in use due to changes in company’s product philosophy). Up till now I have tested various Sigma lenses, including some EX-lenses and I can assure you that they’re really high quality. The 10-20 f3.5 is no exception here; it is as “solid as a rock”, you could say. Is it possible to knock a nail with it? I can’t really tell, as I haven’t tried it and to be honest, I don’t intend to; but considering its sturdy construction I could definitely see it happening.
The 10-20mm has typical EX-series raw finish; for those who are less experienced with EX-lenses – the finish is “wrinkly” and matt. Finger prints, handling it like a soap bar or constant slipping out of your hand? Not here. The EX-lenses are manufactured strictly for pros who need looking for a photographic tool. Those who want a “cool” toy (piano gloss style exterior known from other “cool” gadgets…) which they mean to wear as a piece of jewelry around their neck in order to make an impression (“Hey babe, I’m gonna hype you up!”), are definitely going to be disappointed. The 10-20 is plain, has a heft one associates with quality to it and feels good in the hand. Form follows function.
The major feature of this lens is clearly its focal length. When coupled with an APS-C sensor the 10-20mm focal length is the equivalent of 15-30mm on full format. Only the Sigma 8-16mm and fisheye lenses have a wider field of view, although the latter may not be for everyone.
The 10-20 f3,5 doesn’t have an optical stabilizer, but in my opinion it’s for the best! I hate to pay for features which only make sense from a marketing standpoint, though it doesn’t mean that I’m completely against OS; my experience shows that this technology is very useful in regards to telephoto lenses, but for focal lengths of 50mm and less (KB) I find it as good as useless. In case of the 10-20 you would notice it only on the bill (a few extra hundred euros).
Autofocus might not be super-fast but it doesn’t get in the way. Maybe it’s typical for ultrawides or it might depend on the motives you intend to capture. In practice you actually never think about AF. You take your time, place the tripod, ponder about framing, etc. The fraction of a seconds which the AF needs (or not, if you adjust to hyper focal distance manually) have little significance.
When judging image quality of the ultra-wide-angle lenses, you need to consider how hard it is to design them. And it’s even harder to do it keeping the product in a reasonable price range. Unlike standard primes, which have a symmetrical design, the ultrawides can be pretty tricky. Trying to bend the light and bypass the mirror box is one thing are some of the tricks being employed, however laws of physics just can’t be bent. These lenses cannot achieve a homogenous resolution (from edge to edge) of a standard lens. Of course you can try out a sophisticated design, but it’ll only make the lenses more expensive. Even hypothetical ultrawides for 2,000 euros wouldn’t be able to compete with a cheap 50mm f1.8 (150 euros).
I’ve found the above to be a fact, after I checking Photozone.de for the first time, a long time ago. At the time I was considering different ultrawides, the 10-20 f3,5 and the f4-5,6 were on the top of my list. According to Photozone, the f3,5 had low resolution in the corners. As I wanted to be flexible – sometime in the future I intend to shoot landscapes in the starry nights, but avoiding the star streaks effect – I went for the faster of the two.
Now, that I’ve been shooting a lot, I am sure it was a good decision. The output on the edges is much better than the Photozone test shows. Despite the SD1 being very demanding, the image quality this lens produces is great. Look for yourself:
The Sigma 10-20 f3,5 is a very well manufactured and robust lenses with great feel in the hand. It’s so much fun testing the extraordinary angle of view of this particular ultra wide. In my opinion the image quality is much better than some tests actually show. The question whether it is worth the 200 euros extra than a 10-20 f4-5,6 depends on individual projects and preferences.
You can finde more shots with the 10-20 f3,5 in the corresponding Flickr set.