Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Lens Review

Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Lens Review

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203_bigReleased earlier this year, the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM is a mouthful to say but a true pleasure to work with.  I begrudgingly write this review because it means I have to send the test lens back to Sigma….

…and I really don’t want to!

I had the task of testing this lens on a recent trip through the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Canada and would like to relate my findings ‘in the real world’.

But first, some of stats for those that thrive on numbers.

This lens has 13 elements in 10 groups.  If that doesn’t wow you, then maybe the fact that it has seven diaphragm blades will!  It weighs in at just over a lb/half kilo (18.3oz or 520g) and is 3.4″x3.5″ (87.3mmx88.2mm) small.  It uses an 82mm filter and comes with a petal-type hood.  Minimum focus distance is 9.4″/24cm and the field of view is an astounding 63.8-102.4 degrees.

Oh!  And to decipher the lens’ name:

  • 10-20mm – This lens zooms from 10-20mm.  That’s the easy one.
  • f/3.5 – This lens has a maximum aperture of 3.5 across the entire zoom range.
  • EX – Sigma has a special external coating showing its superior build.
  • DC – This is a lens intended for digital cameras with an APS-C size sensor.
  • HSM – Hyper-Sonic Motor.  While not silent, this motor is quieter than a standard zoom motor.

All of these stats can be had on Sigma’s website.  I hope I didn’t bore those of your not into stats.  If you’re still reading, let’s take a look at some photos!  WARNING: Images are 15MP large.  Clicking on each picture will download a full sized image.  All images are copyrighted by Hidden Creek Photography.

Pender Island

1/250 - f/10 - ISO 100 - 10mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography

Blood Star

1/160 - f/7.1 - ISO 100 - 20mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography

Sun and a BC Ferry

1/60 - f/22 - ISO 100 - 10mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography

All photos were taken with a Canon Rebel T1i.   All images are unedited directly from the camera.  Shot in JPG format, Adobe RGB, they have been converted for web viewing using Photoshop, while the JPG quality has been kept at maximum.

Image Quality

Overall, I find the image quality what I expected.  Being this large of a zoom, the corners will fall victim to flaring when the lens is pushed (both close and distant subject matter).  Even in the most extreme examples, I noticed very little chromatic aberration at the corners.  That being said, there is faint fringing (that slight ‘halo’ like effect) at the images outer edges.  Take a look at the first photo at top, specifically where the rocks meet the right edge of the frame.  Or the next photo below which was shot with the aperture nearly wide open.  It is slight, but it is there when zoomed close.

Gripes aside, I really enjoyed the image quality of this lens.  I am used to shooting with Canon L series lenses and yet I’m still very satisfied with this lens’ image quality.  As stated before, I enjoyed the quality enough to want to purchase this lens.  Knowing its limits is important and I think that is where an L series lens, with its substantial price premium, shines.  But directly comparing a $640 lens to a $1600 lens isn’t a fair comparison.  Also, Canon doesn’t make an L lens in this range. 🙂

The third photo above shows the lens’ response to direct sun light.  I was pleased with the burst of the sun and minor streaks (with just a couple noticeable flares, one from dust).  I know everyone has their preference on sun bursts and what should and shouldn’t a lens do.  My goal is to present you with what I found and let you decide if it works for you.

Operation

The lens is a breeze to operate.  One switch on the side for auto/manual focus keeps it uncluttered and easy.  Focus is indeed quiet, close to the sound a cell phone makes while vibrating.  It’s an ‘in the background’ type of noise.  While it is noticeable when using the video feature of the T1i, standard operation is not so obvious.

Focus is quick and accurate.  The lens is quick to lock on, helped in part by the fact most shots are taken a fair distance from the subject matter.  Having a f/3.5 aperture across the entire range of zoom makes estimating lighting situations simpler.  The lens does not get noticeably darker when zoomed in, thanks to the constant aperture.

Manual focus and zoom is smooth across the entire range.  Of course, I had a newer lens so I can’t speak to wear over time.  But when new, the unit has just the right amount of tactile feedback while performing both of these functions.

Rural Postboxes

1/50 - f/4 - ISO 100 - 10mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography

Lunch!
1/25 – f/3.5 – ISO 800 – 18mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography
Sturdies Bay Bakery
1/13 – f/3.5 – ISO 200 – 10mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography
Glass Wall In Nanaimo
1/200 – f/8 – ISO 100 – 10mm Copyright Hidden Creek Photography

Overall Impressions

This lens is a keeper.  Except for the fact that Sigma wants theirs back and I can’t keep it.  I’m going to sorely miss this lens on my next trip and will likely purchase one before the month is out.  The ability to go this wide on an APS-C (1.6-Canon/1.5-Nikon crop factor) lens opens up a whole different realm of looking at the world.  Good work, Sigma.

Buy it Here

This 10-20mm Sigma lens comes for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony DSLRs. Get your variety at Amazon below:

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • mike January 1, 2013 08:22 am

    so this lens will work for both full frame and aps-c sensor ? thks.

  • Cool November 28, 2011 08:47 am

    Hi, i'd like to now it the DC lens will give me a 10 mm angle? or it will crop to 16mm (10*1.6) in an APS-c sensor?
    thanks

  • Cool November 28, 2011 08:38 am

    I have a question please,
    this lens is a DC lens, that mean it's for APS-c sensor, my question is
    is this lens give me the whole 10mm on aps-c sensor (like canon 7d ) or it will be 10*1.6=16 mm?
    this question for all DC lenses.

    thanks in advance

  • SilentBob June 14, 2011 09:06 am

    i have a nikon d5000 and i was wondering if the auto focus will work on my camera? Im looking into getting this or the Tokina 11-16mm. i kow the tokina wont auto focus on mine because my camera dont have “screwdriver" focus motor but i dont mind not having auto focus. I just wanted it because my wife dont like useing manual focus. Any suggestions on which of the 2 i should get? (price and wife suffecient wise)

  • Noel Gabriel March 25, 2011 04:34 am

    I bought the Tokina 11-16/2.8 after reading tons of review. Sad to say it went back to B&H after a week. It was making an error after a few days of use. My camera was on one-shot mode and it was recording 3 images of the same shot with consecutive file names. I double checked by putting on my other Canon lenses and they weren't giving me that error. I would have been willing to put in extra time on post because of the color cast but the error was unacceptable. Looking at the sample images here, I'm really impressed at how the Sigma handles lens flare (after my experience with the Tokina), and I love the colors too. Really close to my other L lenses.

  • Kenji January 25, 2011 06:15 pm

    I am using Sony alpha a380 and really look forward to buy a super wide angle lens. 1 is Sony 11-18mm f4 and 2 is Sigma 10-20mm lens. Please give me some advice to choose a right one.

    Cheers

  • Kenji January 25, 2011 06:13 pm

    I am a beginner in this beautiful photography world. I am using Sony Alpha a380 and I wanting to buy a Sigma 10-20mm lens but i'm not sure the difference between the f3.5 and the f4 version of the sigma 10-20mm lens. Advices will be really appreciated :)

  • biskandar October 18, 2010 03:40 pm

    I just bought this superb lens , it has good built blade lens and body quality , nice and gentle zoom ring , and also it's not that heavy .

    I decided to take this one , because i need UWA lens for my canon 7d body and this one has better aperture size than canon ef-s 10-22mm , even the comparable price is that high between the others .

  • Adrian August 5, 2010 12:59 am

    I have the f/4-5.6 version, very please with sigma lens, i am not a professional so the 3.5 is like too much money for what i am going to use it for... now, can anyone tell me what is the wider lens you can find for APC sensor cameras? thx!

  • khairul July 7, 2010 06:45 am

    really nice result from this wide lens...its big diferent with 10-20 f4 sigma...

  • steve May 6, 2010 08:31 pm

    will the sigma 10-20mm f3.5 EX DC HSM LENSE work ok with my Nikon 80

    THANKING YOU STEVE.......

  • Rainer January 12, 2010 08:55 am

    I need to provide some important feed back. This Lens is NOT designed for a full Frame Lens. It is designed for Cameras with APC Sensors

  • Rainer January 12, 2010 08:52 am

    All the images look too soft for me. I am used to cleare and sharper more bity Photos minus enhancements of course.
    Looking at these I am not convinced yet to purchase one. I need to check out test done based on stats and samples.

  • Wayne H November 12, 2009 01:34 am

    Anton I have not tried the sigma 10-20, but can tell you from user experience at least on my Nikon D300 and D300s bodies the Tokina 11-16 2.8 is tack sharp throughout it's operating range. Also it is under $600.00 on the street and has a superior look and feel to even Nikon's entry into the market.

    I would search away in your area to rent or at least take a few images of this lens. I have nothing to gain from this endorsement, only trying to help another photographer avoid the pit falls of making a decision without having hands on experience with a product.

  • anton November 11, 2009 05:04 pm

    Peter, thank sfor the review, i have been trying to decide for ultra wide lense between canon 10-20mm, sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 and tokina 11-16 f/2.8 for the last three month to now.
    I almost bought it last week but need to compare with canon for prove it that the pic is more sharp, unfortunately the canon is out of stock, therefore i pending my decision sighhh..
    I really need ultra wide lense by end of this month before going travelling in Dec09.
    It seem new sigma will be my next gear in this month. It would be nice if there is sample in low light with this lense.

    note: for new comer like me this website is very helpfull. well done..

    anton
    canon rebel 500D/T1i

  • Don Bird from Michigan November 2, 2009 03:02 am

    I would to see how this lens would do in low light concert type setings.

  • Paulo Sacramento October 20, 2009 04:21 am

    These are already inside my Wishlist at amazon!

  • Wayne H October 7, 2009 02:12 am

    I'm sure this is an adequate lens, but my choice is still the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 for under $600.00 street price. It is a near perfect, Japanese made lens. So while Sigma, I own a 70-200 f2.8 Sigma, is OK the Tokina is a superior lens in this focal and price range.

  • Jennifer M. October 4, 2009 06:05 am

    Wow I love the starfish photo!

  • erwin October 3, 2009 02:45 am

    hey!!! amazing post!!! :D i didn't know this lens... i do now!
    there's just something i don't get... how can you have that DOF with just 3.5, i mean it's not that opened and you still have that nice and incredible "blur" effect? with other lens you don't get that blur effect at f/3.5

  • Jason Collin Photography October 2, 2009 05:42 am

    I have been wanting to add an ultra-wide lens to my collection, and heard good things about the Tokina 11-16mm, but I like the range that Sigma is offering in this 10-20mm lens. I am glad it was released and reviewed before Christmas!

  • Steve Gray October 2, 2009 02:45 am

    Thanks for the review, Peter. I've been avoiding this lens, since I'm trying to stick to the ones that will work on both my crop-sensor body and my full-frame body. But your review makes a strong case for picking this lens up to be part of my crop arsenal.

    (And in your review, I think you meant "tactile feedback," rather than "textile.")

  • robb October 2, 2009 02:29 am

    based on reviews, it seems that this is quite a good one.
    now if only there is a direct comparison with it's tamron rival.

  • João October 2, 2009 02:29 am

    I will gladly trade my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM for one of these!

  • Ahmed Sharif October 1, 2009 03:14 pm

    read a lotta review before I bought my f4-5.6 version...... was pretty happy with that one until I moved to full-frame..... I expect this f3.5 version to be better than the earlier version...... but the question remains whether it can equal or surpass the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 as they now compete within a similar price range...... no low-price advantage now........ the 10-20 had one edge over the earlier Tokina, the 12-24 in being 2mm wider... but against the 11-16, 1mm difference isn't really that big an edge it seems......

  • Mei Teng October 1, 2009 02:16 pm

    Thanks for the review and the images. Looks like this lens is a good buy. Will consider.

  • Dave9191 October 1, 2009 07:31 am

    Hey,

    Just a quick note about the EX in the name. In addition to the coating, and more importantly its Sigmas brand of excellence - better build and optics. But recently they have also reserved it only for lenses with a constant aperture through all focal lengths.

  • Grant Palin October 1, 2009 06:38 am

    Nice of you to share some of your photos from exploring the islands. Being a Vancouver Island resident I am too well aware of the natural beauty of the coast region.

    I have the older version of the lens, with variable aperture. Great lens. Nice to see that Sigma are keeping up with improving already fine products.

  • Tim A. October 1, 2009 05:18 am

    I have the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 which they made only for APS-C cameras and many people consider that close to L quality and it's quite good. However, since it's only for APS-C if I go full frame I can't use it...which is unfortunate. But it's good to see that the quality of the Sigma is good since I love the wide angle lens and will miss it when I eventually (or ever) upgrade.

  • Peter Carey October 1, 2009 05:14 am

    Ah yes, I did have the price wrong. I apologize. $640 is more in the range and I've updated the post. Thanks, all.

    Dave, we hit Galiano, Pender and Vancouver. Loved them all! The biggest difference between this and the other Sigma lens is indeed the aperture and it being constant.

  • Anders C. Madsen October 1, 2009 05:07 am

    Dave, you can handhold this lens at 1/15 of a second so adding another 3 stops with IS/OS doesn't really make sense unless you are shooting stationary objects - and then you might as well use a monopod or a tripod.

    Also, I'm not sure how efficient IS can be made in the lens with UWA-type lenses - optically I think you're in for a challenge.

    Image quality of the original 10-20 mm is reported to be on par with this lens but like you said, you will lose more than a stop at the long end.

  • Dave October 1, 2009 04:41 am

    Is the only difference the maximum aperture (and the fact that it remains constant across the zoom range)?

    Also, are there no image stabilized (or OS in Sigma's case) ultra wide lenses?

  • Gavin October 1, 2009 04:37 am

    He might be confused on the price. This guy's little brother, the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM, goes for $480. This one is about $640.

  • Vlad October 1, 2009 02:26 am

    $480 is a list price for 4-5.6 version of the lens, 3.5 version is $950. So, it would be indirectly comparing $950 lens to a $1600 lens. I've had the 4-5.6 version for couple years and I am quite happy with it. I bet the 3.5 would be even better :)

  • Dave October 1, 2009 02:18 am

    And which islands did you go to? I'm from Vancouver Island :)

  • Dave October 1, 2009 02:15 am

    great review! I've been looking at ultra-wide angle lenses for a couple of weeks now. This one is definitely on my radar. I have to ask where you found it for $480 though. Best price I've found so far is $649.

  • ora October 1, 2009 01:35 am

    love to see a comparison with the Tokina 11-16 2.8, a lot of people claim it is the better lens - maybe Sigma will let you keep it a bit longer to do that!

  • Luke Addison October 1, 2009 01:22 am

    I have one of these lenses and it is very good. The image quality isn't as good as with other lenses I use but you can get some very interesting shots. Feel free to browse my Flickr photos - a lot of photos on there have been taken using this lens: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1uk3

  • Marios Tziortzis October 1, 2009 12:44 am

    Great review, thanks! I've had this lens for a while now. It got a little expensive lately but other than that, it's an awesome lens for cameras with a 'smaller' sensor. Highly recommended lens! On a full frame camera you get some vignetting but that is expected since this is a DC lens.