12-24mm F4 DG HSM | Art Impression
This is the third generation of SIGMA’s 12-24mm ultra-wide-angle zoom lens. While the first two generations released in 2003 and 2011 had a F4.5-5.6 maximum aperture, this 2016 version is F4 constant. Because the second generation employed the refined optics based on the first generation, we can say this 2016 version is the first with new optics in 13 years. It feels big and hefty. I do admit the benefit of being “small and light,” but the size and weight of a lens provides evidence of high optical performance. In a nutshell, we use the right lens for the right assignment.
While a high range lens is like an all-purpose army knife, this 12-24mm is like a kitchen knife exclusively for sashimi (raw fish). If you know the recipe, you choose the most appropriate knife. Because the use is limited, it feels great in hand and promises the best result. However, such knife is not for everyone, and the same goes for this lens.
Here, I’m not talking about photographic skill. You’re qualified to get this lens if you want to face the scene in front of you using only a 12-24mm zoom lens which isn’t always versatile and want the very best result no matter how big or heavy it is. And, this lens always brings the best outcome.
First subject: waterside
It’s human nature to head for waterside with an ultra-wide-angle lens because it frees us to capture the open view including a horizontal line which divides it, the look of the sky, the distant view, and the nearby objects and people. So, I started with shooting wide scenes widely.
Two female high-school students were talking to each other sitting on the artificial sand shore in the midst of the city. I don’t know if they were talking about their future or opposite sex, but I know they were enjoying their youth. Although they put their handkerchiefs under their bottoms, they seem to be almost of no use and I think it’s funny. I shot it wide open at the 12mm wide-end. Deformation in the peripheral area is inevitable for a lens like this, but it’s still minimal.
I zoomed in slightly to 15mm to shoot a bridge of the Metropolitan Express Way. Although I wanted to shoot at the 12mm wide-end, I couldn’t make the slightest move I would have needed to so had to rotate the zoom ring to 15mm until unnecessary structures get out from the frame. A zoom lens is more than “all-purpose.” To be exact, it can “change focal length steplessly.” If you want the perfect composition, you should pick a zoom lens.
An evening scene of a river running through the capital city of Japan. The evening sun sets faster than we imagine, and the same is true for clouds. If you want to shoot instantly, just go for a small and light lens. But, I stood by at the location for many minutes in order to shoot this scene. I just wanted to shoot at the right moment while checking the change in the subject. If you wish the best outcome, you need a lens at this level.
The Kanto region was rainy or cloudy for the entire period I was there. Of course, we just shoot rainy scenes when it rains or cloudy scenes when it’s cloudy. But, I was depressed because I couldn’t see the sun for such a long time. So, I decided to shoot in an early morning when we often see different looks of the sky. Speaking of ultra-wide-angle lenses, we’re most interested in how well the distortion is corrected, and I know it’s an important factor. However, we should also know the quality of tone reproduction because most of the shots taken by such lenses include sky and cloud. So, I checked how this lens renders the sky and clouds as well as how they are influenced by the sun’s rays.
According to the weather forecast, it would be rainy or cloudy even after the deadline of my location in most regions in Japan because of typhoons. The only place predicted to be sunny was Niigata, and I had to go there. Even considering that I stopped it down to F8, I’m impressed by the straightness of the horizontal line and the detailed depictions of the town in the distant subjects. I see no distracting distortion despite the direct backlight.
Surrounded by structures
I suppose many readers of this article are interested in shooting structures and they want no distortion. This is a lens for SIGMA’s “Art” product line, and you never have to worry about it. The only thing you should worry about is what and how you shoot with this lens.
Because images become impressive just by being dynamic in compositions, optical performance of a lens may not always matter. However, I want to object this argument by going back to the example of knives. We can make sashimi with an army knife. As long as the fish is fresh, it must be delicious enough. However, how would it taste if it were made with a sharp kitchen knife? If you insist that there’s no difference, then you’re denying all recipes ever created in all cultures.
All structures are built with some purpose. While some of them are built to symbolize prosperity or to display architectural technologies, most of them are built to support human living. Just like Christo’s art, a thin veil called living covers a giant structure completely. Personally, I’m interested in subjects as long as they show traces of human living. Take a look at this image shot at F11 as the corners are completely free from disintegration.
Just by shooting vertically, the world changes dramatically and it’s particularly true for an ultra-wide-angle lens. This image speaks eloquently about the tranquility, coldness and solemnity of the location, but we shouldn’t take it for granted. If the windows and poles were distorted, it wouldn’t look realistic to this extent.
See how well the distortion is controlled in this typical shot. It does what it says it does: “zero distortion.” Only one question remains unsolved: how do we apply this lens?
This stereotypical composition for an ultra-wide-angle lens best demonstrates the excellence of this lens. Image quality is perfect to the corners and to infinity even at wide open. Take a look at the pipes on the footbridge, too. If you’re attracted by the gradation, you’re heavily addicted to photography and you can never overcome it as long as you have this lens.
Street photography is another main field for an ultra-wide-angle lens. While we want a smaller lens for this purpose, it’s often effective to shoot with a large camera and a lens looking professional in a stately manner.
I must behave well every day to be lucky to have such a nice subject to appear in the frame as soon as I look into the viewfinder. Thank God. Because of the natural rendition without distortion, deformation resulting from the ultra-wide-angle is completely cancelled. Even if I say I shot it with a 35mm or 50mm lens, you may believe me.
Vertical shot at the 12mm wide-end. I feel like I’m floating around 1m away from my feet or feeling dizzy to be more exact. This shot is meant to exaggerate deformation. The streetlight which stands up straight further emphasizes the mysterious feeling. Everything gets spoiled if it were barrel-shaped or pincushion-shaped.
Shooting “signs of life” stimulates imagination. We live in a real world, but all our joy, interest, and even anxiety stem from “our imagination of something we really don’t know.” The same goes for love and growth of children. More casually, it can be “what we will eat for dinner tonight.” This one was shot at the 24mm end. Natural rendition never interrupts imagination.
Chinese restaurant at 12:20. Since I moved, I cannot go there as often as I used to. When I went there after a while, the master neither welcomed me nor had a surly attitude. He just said “Oh,” and I liked it. I already had this composition in mind before I went there. A super-natural angle of view changes an ordinary scene into a special space. Even the stained oil seems to have some visual effect…not.
SIGMA’s power of imagination
This is an amazing lens and I thank SIGMA to make it. Once I experienced the image quality, I’m fully convinced of the size and weight which are in fact not overly big and heavy. It’s just that I’m a little picky.
The giant front element with a high curvature looks more than mysterious. When it moves forward and backward behind the built-in hood in accordance with the movements of the zoom ring, it looks like an unknown creature living in the deep sea. The large focus ring facilitates precise manual focusing. Because it’s also thick, it’s easy to operate with fingers and it moves smoothly. SIGMA makes no compromises in realizing operation that appeals to our sense. The same goes for the zoom ring. It has a nice torque and enables accurate operation.
As I demonstrated, image quality is just about perfect as I could want (even considering the fact this article is published in SIGMA’s website). To learn about the new technologies and challenges to create this lens, please go to the product introduction page. However, I think it misses something important.
When we express the performance of a lens, we often say “it shoots just like we see.” In other words, manufacturers try to minimize the gap between “what we see in the naked eye” and “what is captured in the image.” In the case of an ultra-wide-angle lens, however, we have nothing to compare with because the angle of view is far wider than human vision. We want to say “just like what we see,” but nobody has seen it. So, what do manufacturers compare with? I believe it’s their imagination, and their success depends on how users evaluate it. In this regard, I think SIGMA’s best technology is their “power of imagination.”