It seems that in the world of photography today the demand for lighter, and more versatile, gear is at an all time high. The average photographer (if there is such a thing) wants to be able to cover a huge variety of subjects, and carry as few lenses as possible. Shooting quick and light has become the goal of many. In addition, even the hobbyist photographer has become more knowledgeable and more discerning about what cameras and lenses they choose to use. This has lead to an increased demand for all-in-one lenses that are built to higher performance standards than we’ve saw since, well, ever.
Now, take a mental breath after reading that title and then we’ll continue. Don’t let the name for this lens (which I will shorten to Sigma 18-300mm) trouble you, because we’ll talk more about all those letters and their meanings soon. Sigma has attempted to squeeze a lot of features, versatility, and performance into a lens that won’t break the bank. Let’s see if the good folks over at Sigma have succeeded.
The lengthy title for the Sigma 18-300mm is simply a road map so that you know exactly what the lens brings to the table.
- The DC of course means that it is intended for digital camera bodies.
- OS designates the lens is equipped with image stabilization technology.
- HSM relays that the lens sports a hypersonic motor drive autofocusing mechanism.
- The macro designation means that it has a relatively close minimum focusing distance and is capable of producing macro images (1.0x or 1.1x magnification).
- Lastly, C stands for indicated this lens is part of Sigma’s Contemporary series. This lens is designed to be mounted only to APS-c(cropped) sensor cameras.
Down to business…
Build Quality and Function
The lens arrived well packaged from Sigma. The optics were all clean and free of smudges and dust. First handling of the lens proved to be immediately impressive.
The lens felt very solid but in no way overly heavy. Both the focus and zoom rings are rubberized, and provide a suitable grip for cold or damp fingers. Everything is exceptionally tight and smooth. Some telephoto lenses of this type arrive a little too tight and require some use before the zoom ring operates easily, but the Sigma 18-300mm was just right out of the box. Autofocusing performed very well and was quite fast using my Canon 7D, but the image stabilization was not the best. It became virtually unnoticeable at longer focal lengths, so it remained off for the majority of the test images.
The overall body of the lens is finished with a very understated yet attractive matte black appearance, in case you love form as much as function. Included in the box is quality petal-type lens hood, which fits the lens perfectly and mounts in reverse for storage. Sigma also placed a small rubberized ring at the base of the hood which really helps in the on/off application. It’s a small detail but worth mentioning.
Speaking of details: The effort (or lack thereof) a manufacturer puts towards the little things is of great importance. Here are a few small points that stand out about the Sigma 18-300mm.
- Zoom-Lock: The zoom-lock switch is a great feature for any zoom lens in my opinion, by preventing gravity from gradually extending the lens while carrying your camera on a strap.
- Raised mounting indicators: Attaching your lens to your camera can be difficult in low light or if you’re in a hurry. Sigma has chosen to use a small white bead embedded into the lens body instead of merely paint. It makes lining up the lens much easier, and is longer lasting.
- Lens Hood Indicators: In addition to the rubberized ring, the lens hood also has mounting markings to help mount the hood on the go or in low light.
Sharpness and Distortion
Test images showed that sharpness is acceptable/good across all apertures for a lens in this range, and likewise with contrast. Each of these images were shot at 18mm, at apertures ranging from f/3.5 to f/22. Maximum sharpness seemed to be achieved between f/8 and f/16.
There is some moderate softening at the corners, and minor vignetting at 18mm, but it’s not overly distracting. Very minimal, if any, distortion was encountered even at the shortest focal length.
For comparison, here are two images shot from the previous vantage point, after zooming to 300mm (shot at f/6.3).
Color rendition is very good with the Sigma 18-300mm. Colors came through true to life, and quite crisp across all focal lengths. However, it had a significant amount of chromatic aberration which was quite apparent, and worsened towards the edges of the frame. Fortunately, it was easily removed with one click using Lightroom, so all is not lost.
After-all, this lens bears the designation of a macro lens so let’s talk a little about how it truly performs as such. Dedicated macro lenses produce images with a magnification factor of around 1.0 or 1.1x (meaning the subject is life size on the camera sensor). The Sigma 18-300mm has a maximum magnification factor of 1.3x. Though it may not be considered a true macro lens, it performs astonishing well for a lens with such a large focal range.
Sigma lists the minimum focusing distance at around 15.3 inches (39cm), but in my tests focus was achieved even closer. You can really get up close and personal using this lens. In addition, there is an optional macro adapter (great build also) available for this lens which will further enhance its macro capabilities.
An interesting accessory available for this, and most Sigma glass, is a USB dock which can be used for tweaking the parameters of your particular lens. This could be of some use to the sports and wildlife crowd. Here is a description of the docking station provided by Sigma.
“The Sigma USB dock works in conjunction with Sigma Optimization Pro software in order to connect a photographer’s lens to their personal computer to update firmware, calibrate the lens and other customizations such as the focus parameter. For the Sports category, changes can be made to: Autofocus speed, focus limiters, manual focus override and optical stabilization functionality. Updating the firmware can be done via the internet. Sigma Photo Pro is available for Mac and PC computers.”
Overall, the Sigma 18-300mm lens does a fantastic job of combining high telephoto zoom capabilities with macro functionality. While not perfect, it performs well in many ways.
Here’s what you’ll probably like:
- Great focal range for a multitude of shooting situations.
- Low optical distortion.
- Surprisingly acceptable macro performance.
- Build quality is absolutely fantastic.
- Attention to detail and usability is superb.
- Good sharpness for a lens in this price range.
- Fast autofocus.
- Silky smooth operation of zoom and focusing rings.
- Available USB Calibration Dock.
Here’s what you may not like:
- Moderate but resolvable chromatic aberration.
- Image stabilization performance is questionable.
The Sigma 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM C is a more than capable lens option for those where are seeking to combine the local focal range of a telephoto lens, with the close-up capabilities of a macro.
Does this lens offer the best of both worlds? No.
Does this lens bring you a little bit of both, while offering great image quality at an affordable price? Yes.
Sigma has produced a very capable lens option which will delight those who maintain realistic performance expectations from their gear. It is an impressive lens at a budget price. Give it a try!
Have you tried this lens or any other all-in-one? What are your thoughts?