With my photographic focus now changing more into the relationship between wildlife and wilderness I have been forced to get some new kit. Specifically this has been a selection of wider angle lenses that allow me to capture the stunning landscapes that I see. Of course I have the standard wide angles from 17mm up to 70mm but I wanted to try something a little bit more extreme. So I decided to test the Sigma 12-24mm lens, which on my full frame Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II and Canon EOS 5D bodies would give me an extremely wide and potentially very interesting angle of view.
The first thing to realise with this kind of wide angle lens is that it is not a fish eye, i.e. it does not warp and distort the image. It simply gives a much wider angle of view. Lenses of this sort have come on a long way but it is important to recognize that you will ALWAYS get some vignetting and ALWAYS get some chromatic aberration. The final point is that all zoom lenses are generally a little ropey at their extremes and offer the best performance within 90% of the zoom range.
I tested the Sigma lens primarily from the helicopter in South Georgia and immediately liked the versatility. If the ultra wide was on then I could use the 12mm setting and for the usual landscapes I could use the 24mm setting. Although a little heavier than I would have liked I found the lens responsive with decent autofocus throughout the entire range.
The ultimate test of course is one of final image quality. I had read many reports of this lens online and they seemed to be patchy; one photographer loved it whilst another said that theirs was not the sharpest lens they had ever used. I began to dig a little deeper and found that most pros who used this kind of lens had opted for the Sigma and seemed to be generally pleased with it. When I looked at the resultant images I was pleased to see the overall sharpness, which compared to my other wide-angles and that the vignetting was only apparent in extreme cases. I did however notice some chromatic aberration (mainly when I shot with the 1Ds MK2 for some reason) but this was not excessive and could easily be removed using CS2’s lens distortion filter. All in all the lens seemed to live up to the expectation and at present it is the only player in the park for this kind of extreme range zoom if you do not use a Nikon system. The Nikon 12-24 is undoubtedly a superb lens with a high price tag to match that may be beyond the reach of most amateurs so the Sigma 12-24 offers you a great alternative too. My lens has now been returned to Sigma as it was just on loan for the trip but I can honestly say that images taken with it are as decent as with anything else that I used on the trip.