Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Lens Review
The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is the world’s first constant aperture f/1.8 zoom lens. In this review of the revolutionary Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 crop sensor lens, we’ll cover its real world performance, along with a number of sample photos, and a recommendation for the types of photographers for whom this lens might suit best. This lens is part of Sigma’s new “Art” line, which is one of Sigma’s upper end lines introduced as part of Sigma’s reinvention. The class-leading Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is also part of the “Art” line, so right from the get-go, the bar is high.
Before getting started with the review, I think it’s worth taking a step back. Starting the review with phrases like “world’s first” and “revolutionary” alone implies something about this lens. These buzzwords have been thrown around since the lens was announced, and obviously the hype machine is in full force with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.
First order of business: design and build. Much like the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, this lens is built incredibly well. The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is built of “Thermally Stable Composite,” which is fancy Sigma-talk that essentially means plastic. However, it doesn’t feel like a plastic lens. Sigma states that this material has a “high affinity to metal parts,” and while this might just seem like marketing fluff, I think it’s true.
The lens has great heft to it, and if I didn’t know otherwise, I’d think it were a metal lens. The zoom and focus rings also move smoothly with just the right amount of resistance. In terms of design, everything about this lens is nice. I really hope Sigma sticks with this style, as I think it’s excellent. Those used to kit lenses might be taken aback at first, because this lens is significantly larger than those (and larger than its closest competitors).
In terms of performance, let’s start with autofocus. The autofocus here is lightning fast, quiet, and accurate. I was actually shocked by this at first, and there were a couple of occasions I thought my autofocus must have not been working because I didn’t hear it at work. In fairness, this was partly due to the exceptional autofocus on the Canon 7D I was using (I love Nikon, but that camera has better autofocus than any Nikon I’ve ever used), but a big part of the equation was the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. The 11″ minimum focus distance is also a nice feature, and one I found myself using when it came to food photos.
Given Sigma’s past infamy with the issue, I think every review from now until the end of time concerning a Sigma lens will address whether it has front or back-focus issues. My copy of this lens did not, and I have not heard widespread reports of others having issues, either. Of course, even the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (and any lens ever made, for that matter), has had reports of focus issues.
As long as focus issues are the rare exception and not the rule, they shouldn’t be too concerning. Focus accuracy does not seem to be an issue with this lens (update: DPReview seems to disagree, but I didn’t have any such problems and I’ve read several other reviews, none of which mention the “issue”). Hopefully that’s a chapter of Sigma’s history that is forever closed.
In terms of sharpness, I was surprised by the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. It’s very sharp at f/1.8 (not as sharp as a flagship prime lens, but still very sharp), and becomes tack sharp by f/2.8. It seemed sharp to me edge to edge at all apertures, but there is a slight amount of natural vignetting at f/1.8. Pretty normal for an f/1.8 lens, but worth mentioning.
In terms of real world performance, the lens is great. The colors and contrast are great, and images pop right out of the camera. More importantly, the bokeh is smooth and buttery at f/1.8, and has the same quality you’d expect from a nice prime lens. I was surprised by this, thinking it might be f/1.8, but not be able to deliver the out of focus area “quality” that other lenses can. Again, I was wrong.
As an additional plus, at f/16 it has a nice starburst, which is great for those like me who enjoy shooting into the sun. I shot with it in a number of challenging situations, namely at the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and it handled that deep lighting very well.
I found that f/1.8 in a zoom lens is a great thing to have, and I tried a lot of creative approaches to shallow depth of field shots. Many of these turned out to be duds, but it was nice to have a lens that made these duds possible in the first place. I suspect using the lens more will make me more comfortable with the f/1.8 zoom.
Now, what about real world application…is an 18-35mm f/1.8 lens really needed? It depends. For Disney photographers (the focus of this blog..apologies if you stumbled upon this from somewhere else and have no interest in Disney; scroll down about three paragraphs), it absolutely does.
The greatest benefit of this lens will be zooming on dark rides, which I found to be huge. For example, as I started getting closer to Jack Skellington, I simply zoomed out, rather than trying to scoot back in my DoomBuggy (I know I can’t be the only one who has done that).
In the parks, with the exception of times when I want to use an ultra-wide for dramatic architecture shots or a telephoto lens for whatever reason, this focal range covered me in most situations. It was great for fireworks, worked well for the Boo to You Parade (zooming here was very helpful!), and was generally excellent for night landscapes.
When photographing parades, there were times when I wanted a bit more zoom, but for all three of these big categories in terms of Disney photography, this lens pretty much hit the sweet spot. I could get by with only it and an ultra wide in my bag.
The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 also worked well for photographing food and in-park portraits. I lump these two categories together because the amount of “working room” can vary in Disney restaurants, queues, and other such places, and the combination of zoom (for “creating” distance) and f/1.8 (for subject separation) was great to have in that situation.
I still prefer using something more discreet for photographing food in the real world, but I don’t mind looking like a dorky tourist with my DSLR at Disney restaurants.
The big question for most photographers considering this lens will probably be whether 18-35mm is a useful focal range for them. Honestly, in my experience, this range seemed to have the most utility in the Disney theme parks. I also used it a bit around Indianapolis and when we visited Acadia National Park, and in both situations, I got a lot of use out of it, but I noticed that it was less useful.
I’m an ultra wide angle fiend, so in pretty much every situation I was wishing it were wider (an unrealistic wish), but in those places, I also found myself wishing it had just a tad more reach. Given the 17-50mm and 17-55mm lenses that the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens will undoubtedly be “competing” against, for lack of a better category, I think this is a realistic wish.
It thus becomes a question of whether the trade-off in gaining a constant f/1.8 is worth losing 15-20mm of zoom on the long end and 1mm on the wide end (the 1mm of widenss is more important to me than the 15mm of reach). This is a personal decision. For me, it unquestionably is worth it. I love buttery bokeh, but I’m not big on prime lenses, mostly because I don’t subscribe to the belief that they’re good because they force you to get creative with composition (or maybe I’m just not creative…who knows).
By giving me flexibility in focal range but still allowing me to have that buttery bokeh of f/1.8, this lens is a huge winner for me. The biggest disappointment (for me) is actually that it’s only for crop sensor cameras, which means I have to make a tough decision when it’s finally released for Nikon.
Image stabilization is also missing from this lens. Sigma has already stated that adding stabilization to this lens is its next goal, but it was too challenging at this time given the f/1.8 aperture. If present, stabilization would make this the ultimate low-light, handheld lens. As it stands, if you’re only looking at this “category” of lenses for use in low light, handheld situations (besides dark rides, where stabilization obviously does nothing since YOU are moving), the presence of stabilization in an f/2.8 lens would negate the f/1.8 in this lens. The true value here is in terms of depth of field, and stabilization plays no part in that.
With all of that said, if a constant f/1.8 aperture doesn’t matter to you, don’t get this lens. You can find cheaper lenses that offer more zoom and are just as sharp.
Overall, I think it is fair to call the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is a game-changer. The f/1.8 aperture is not just a gimmick that Sigma managed to toss into a lens. When it was initially announced, I was really excited about its potential, but concerned that its constant f/1.8 aperture would mean sacrifice after sacrifice in other areas. I was shocked by how sharp and nice the bokeh looked, and at the lens’ overall construction and design. About the only sacrifice that Sigma made with this lens is its focal range, and given that the range is clearly marked on the box, it’s patently obvious, and shouldn’t surprise any buyers. The only surprises those who purchase this lens will be in store for are how good Sigma has made a first-of-its-kind lens. If this lens has the type of “growing pains” normally associated with first-gen tech, I can’t find them…and I really can’t wait to see the second-gen f/1.8 zoom!
For most photographers, this lens becomes our recommended DSLR “first upgrade” replacing the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 (read our review) and Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 (read our review) that previously occupied that position. It also replaces the recommended Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (read our review) for all but those who are super-serious about an f/1.4 aperture. Some may balk at the $800 MSRP on this lens, but it’s a very good deal relative to what it can do and considering that it should replace two lenses in your bag. Don’t expect a price drop on it anytime soon, as this lens remains a hot item in 2016, some 3 years after its release. If you really want it, we recommend just biting the bullet and placing a backorder-order on it now. Much like the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 that was difficult to find at MSRP for years after its release, this lens is going to be a hot commodity.
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Do you think this lens will be a game-changer for your photography? Are you planning on buying this lens or do you think it won’t suit your style? Have you seen it in stock anywhere? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!
I am a newbie who just bought a Sony a6000. I also purchased the Sigma Trio (16mm 1.4, 30mm 1.4, 56mm 1.4 lenses). We are taking the girls to Disney World in Orlando. I am second guessing the Sigma 30mm 1.4 in exchange for the Sigma 18-35mm 1.8. I want to be able to zoom in and have a lens that can be versatile. I will be using the 16mm for video both outside and inside the dark rides. I want to know is it worthwhile to get the 18-35mm instead of the 30mm? I planned on using the 56mm 1.4 for photos but wondering in the theme park would the 18-35 be a better option? Again, you are talking to a newbie here so go easy 🙂
I’m wondering how your trip/photos turned out? Did you use a full frame or a crop sensor? I used a 50mm on a crop sensor, and found that it was a little too close, so I’m wondering if you ended up getting the 18-35 or did you use your 56mm, and if so, how did it turn out?
So I have been back and forth the past couple weeks on camera and lens upgrades. Years ago I found your website prior to purchasing the Nikon D5200 and included kits lenses, Nikon 18-55mm & 55-200mm. I must confess I am fascinated when it comes to Disney photography and this is the main reason I will be upgrading to the Sigma 18-35mm.
What about the second lens? I am torn on getting another lens to cover the lower wider end, something like Tokina 11-16 or 11-20 or should I go with a lens to cover the mid & higher focal length like Tamron 28-70 or even the Tamron/Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8? A couple of things. I love taking photos of my family and portrait shots are something I enjoy but have really done on the 55-200 kit because I despise the Nikon 18-55 kit lens. So I need something for portraits but I really want to take Ultra Wide landscape shots.
Note: FroKnowsPhoto seems to disagree with you in the fact that the Sigma 18-35mm should be the first lens upgrade. He puts it down to the 3rd or 4th. I thought this was interesting seeing that two very experienced pros had very different perspectives.
Thanks for this review. I am deciding on renting either this Sigma and a Canon 16-35 mm 2.8 III for our upcoming trip. I have used the Canon and love it but the 1.8 on the Sigma is attractive. I have a crop sensor. Both of those lack IS but I’m not sure if I need it or not. I know my way around a camera but I am very much an amateur. I just like good pictures of my kid lol….
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I am super considering the Sigma 18-35. I rented it to go to Disney in the fall and now want to buy it! I’m just a little hesitant buying it from buydig. Have you purchased from them before? The price is awesome but I’m just a little gun shy…
Buydig is reputable.
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Hello Tom, love your websites they’re full of useful information. Anyways, I’m no where near a professional photographer and just really do it to enjoy myself and my trips to Disney World. I’ve been on the hunt for a new lens since coming back from Disney World in January. Currently I carry the 18-55 crappy kit lens that came with my Canon T3i, and also an upgraded Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. The 18-135 is great for those areas I need a bit more zoom for (Fantasmic, Kiliminjaro Safari etc) But, I’m looking to get something a little bit sharper.
I know that the Sigma 18-35mm lens is very sharp as is he Tamron 17-50mm. The price point of the Tamron is obviously much more appealing, as is the extra zoom range. Though the Sigma with the constant 1.8 is an amazing feat.. My real question here is I know at a short focal length having a lens with no stabilization should be okay. I tend to shake like a leaf though and I’m worried with no VC/IS I’ll produce some crappy pictures. I’d hate to have to go through hundreds of pictures to find only 1 useable photo. As we all know the Canon equivalent with IS also comes with a high pice point….
Thank for your help!
i cant tell you enough how much I love the site. After returning from our 2013 trip i found your site and have been hooked ever since. We have an upcoming trip in February for tens days! I am looking to replace my kit lens that came with my nikon D3200, given the cost difference between the tamron and the sigma, and knowing that the photos are going to be taken at WDW, you would lean towards the sigma ? I am also considering renting the sigma for the trip along with maybe a prime, and purchasing the other missing pieces in my bag, to make the most out of this trip and the cost of renting seems to be worthwhile. (last time i took 1400 photos lol, made a great album.) Thanks for your opinion & advise, and keep up the awesome work here, and on travelcaffeine.
I just got this Sigma after much debate since I doubted a zoom could get so wide at all lengths and not have image quality suffer, and I already had an assortment of prime lenses that I used when I wanted a nice bokeh. Since I am not a fan of constantly changing lenses for every single shot but still wanted something that would preform better than a “jack of all trades” lens, I started considering it, and after reading your glowing review decided to take the plunge. I am so glad that I did. The first thing I thought when taking it out of the box was “this thing feels nice!” Something about it just feels solid and great in your hand. And then when I put it on my D3100 it was fantastic. I just couldn’t believe the quality of images I could take. I can’t wait to take it with me into the parks next January. Thanks you so much for your great advice!
Thanks for the review and making specific suggestions/references to shooting at Disney. Every time I read one of your articles, it gets expensive for me. Based on your description of the versatility of the lens and its application at Disney, I think I’m going to have to make the purchase. I think it will go nicely in my bag with my Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 and my Nikkor 55-200mm. I’m going to really enjoy having the constant f1.8 on the low light moving attractions.
Now I just need to figure out if it is available for the Nikon D7100.
Thanks again for the write up.
Sorry! I meant to say my Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5 zoom
Hi Tom –
I’ve been following your site for months and really admire your work and your love for all things Disney! Thank you for maintaining such a great place to visit, and for all your advice for aspiring photographers!
I’ve decided to comment here because I’m really stuck on this topic. I want to buy a new lens that would be appropriate for our upcoming trip to Disney World in December. I’d like the ability to take photos on dark rides, which is what led me to this post. I have a Canon 70D, so a crop-sensor lens is what I need. Now, in your expert opinion, should I get this lens, or save $300 and just get the new 30mm 1.4 Art lens? Outside of using it at Disney, I would probably only use it in low light situations or when I want a shallow DOF. At Disney, the dark rides as mentioned before and since we’re going in December, lots of night time shots of the lights throughout the parks.
Please help me out, because I keep changing my mind and maybe you can make the decision a little clearer for me. I would greatly appreciate it!!
Given everything you describe wanting to use the lens for, I’d go with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. It just has a lot more versatility and will work in more circumstances. If you have the extra $300, that’s the route I’d recommend.
Thank you, Tom! I really appreciate the advice. Now, just have to find it in stock somewhere!!
Hi Patrick – I also have the Canon 70D. I’ve been greatly inspired by reading Tom’s (and Sarah’s) blog posts and viewing their AMAZING pictures! My family will be taking a short trip to Disney in a few days, where I plan to give the camera a big workout!
We ended up buying the Sigma 18-35 based on a number of reviews, including Tom’s. It was out of stock in July, but B&H was able to ship after being back ordered for only one week.
I’m very happy with the lens so far, even though it’s a little bit slower to focus than the STM lenses (i.e. the 18-135 STM kit lens). The image quality is fantastic!
I still have some focus misses on wide-open apertures, but this seems to be consistent with the other fast lens I own (Canon 50mm f/1.4). I’m sure it’s partially a characteristic of the camera and MOSTLY a result of my bad technique.
Nevertheless, the lens is spectacular and worth every penny!!
Wonderful post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject?
I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
First of all what a great website you have. I stumbled upon this blog while searching…what else taking better pictures at Disney World. 🙂
I will be taking the family to Disney World this coming September. (we have been to Disneyland and Disney World several times)
I own a Nikon D5100 along with this lens line-up…
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX
Nikon 17-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6F VR (FX)
I was only planning on taking the the 35mm & 17-85. Leaving the 70-300 at home.(yes I know the extra reach would be nice at Animal Kingdom, but my family already visits many zoos. I have enough animal shots).
So my question is this…. what general advice can you provide for general picture taking for the electric parade, inside with character meals, at night. What settings do you most commonly use? Aperature Priority? Full Manual? Good starting poiont for increasing the ISO. I have some great shot at Cars Land (California Adventure Park) where I had to increase the ISO to 3200 & 6400. Is that a good starting point for the parades? My newest lens is the 35mm f/1.8. I really looked hard at the Sigma 30mm and 18-30 but, due to other home costs, those lens jsut were not in the budget for right now. Yet I knew I needed a big aperature for Disney for the reasons a mentioned above. Hence the purchase of the 35mm prime. (which I know is a faboulous lens in itself).
Any general setting guidelines would be most helpful. thanks you in advance. You have some amazing pictures for which you gave me some ideas what I want to shoot this fall besides the stand family with kids pictures.
with my regards