Sigma 24-35mm f/2 ‘Art’ Lens Review: How does the world’s fastest full-frame zoom perform?

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Need a fast prime lens? How about three of them? And don’t want to swap lenses? Well now that far-fetched idea is a reality thanks to the new Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2.0 Art lens. This full-frame DSLR lens is the world’s first zoom lens for full-frame cameras with a constant ƒ/2.0 aperture. Providing three versatile prime lens focal lengths — 24mm, 28mm and 35mm, plus all focal lengths in-between of course — the new Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2 aims to offer the convenience of a zoom lens with the optical quality and fast aperture shooting qualities of a prime lens.

Mirroring the same construction and aesthetic design characteristics as Sigma’s other recent Global Vision Art-series lenses, Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2.0’s build quality and styling is top notch. The lens will be offered for Canon, Nikon and Sigma lens mounts, though it’s compatible with Sigma’s mount-swapping service should the need arise. It also works with Sigma’s USB Dock configuration tool. At the time of this review, the date of availability and price has not yet been released.

Sharpness

Sigma is on a roll when it comes to sharp lenses. Like other recent Global Vision lenses we’ve tested, the Sigma 24-35mm certainly does not disappoint in this area!

On full-frame cameras, even wide-open, the Sigma 24-35mm produces sharp, very sharp, images. At 24mm ƒ/2.0, we must concede that while the center region is nearly tack-sharp, there is some softness in the corners, which isn’t all that surprising to be honest. Stopping down a bit sharpens thing up considerably in the corners, and by ƒ/4.0, things are practically razor sharp across the whole frame.

At the other focal lengths, we measured similarly sharp centers and slightly softer corners at ƒ/2.0, though the center region at 24mm measured sharper over a wider area of the frame compared to the other focal lengths. Overall, though, wide-open performance is great at all focal lengths, which is what we were hoping for.

Stopped down, the Sigma 24-35mm also displays impressive performance when it comes to sharpness. We found ƒ/4.0-5.6 to be the “sweet spot” for critical sharpness at all focal lengths we tested, with the most corner to corner sharpness. We did measure a slight increase in softness as you stop down past this point, but the impact on image sharpness is very minor. Even diffraction-related softness is extremely minor by the time the lens is stopped down to its smallest aperture of ƒ/16.

When mounted to a sub-frame camera, we also found excellent sharp results, even wide-open. As expected, though, the wide-open corner softness experienced when using a full-frame camera is significantly reduced when using a sub-frame — there’s still some corner softness at ƒ/2.0, but it’s very minor. Sharpness overall, however, throughout the focal length range is very impressive, with nearly tack-sharp images at practically all apertures, especially between ƒ/4.0-ƒ/8.0. Diffraction barely takes a toll on image sharpness at the very small apertures, either.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration, on both full- and sub-frame cameras, is very low — and very consistent — at all apertures and throughout the zoom range. On average, measured CA averages below 300ths of a percent of frame height at all times; that is to say, very low. In tests shots, upon close inspection, we can see some very minor green and purple fringing along high contrast edges out in the corners of the frame — at both f/2.0 and at ƒ/8.0. Overall, though, it’s very minor and could be cleaned up easily with a little post-processing.

Shading (”Vignetting”)

Being a wide-angle, wide-aperture lens, it’s not surprising to find some vignetting characteristics, especially in full-frame images. Indeed, on a full-frame camera, the Sigma 24-35mm displays noticeable vignetting, particularly at ƒ/2.0. The level of vignetting is remarkably consistent at all focal lengths, though. At ƒ/2.0, vignetting nearly climbs off our charts, however, with light falloff measuring around 1.25EVs on the full-frame camera. Stopping down to ƒ/2.8 reduces vignetting significantly to around 0.75EVs, but once the lens hits ƒ/5.6, vignetting hovers just above 0.25EVs of shading for the rest of the aperture range.

On a sub-frame camera, vignetting is much less of an issue. At ƒ/2.0, vignetting measures between 0.25EVs and 0.5EVs (though it never reaches as high as 0.5EVs). Stopping the lens down to ƒ/2.8 drops vignetting well below 0.25EVs, and it remains at that low level from here on out at all focal lengths and apertures.

Distortion

Like vignetting, we weren’t surprised to see some barrel distortion on this wide-angle lens, however, it’s rather well-controlled at all focal lengths. At 24mm, on average, barrel distortion hits just under +5% on a full-frame camera (maximum distortion still measured well under +1%). At the longer focal lengths, average distortion hits just above the zero mark.

For sub-frame cameras, the distortion graph closely mirrors what we found with full-frame cameras, though to a lesser magnitude. At 30-35mm, average distortion is practically nonexistent.

Focusing Operation

Like many recent Sigma lenses, the 24-35mm ƒ/2.0 uses their Hyper Sonic Motor drive, with an updated AF algorithm according to Sigma for smooth, quick and quiet autofocus operation. The Sigma 24-35mm does indeed focus very quickly, taking only about one second to rack focus from the minimum distance out to infinity. The AF motor is also nearly silent, with our lens technician even stating, “you feel it more than here it.”

Of course, manual focusing is also available, with the lens having a large rubbery focus ring, focus distance scale, and a dedicated AF/MF switch on the side of the barrel. The HSM autofocus system also provides full-time manual focus override of autofocus. The focus ring provides about 90-degrees of rotation and has soft stops at close-focus and infinity distances (the ring will continue to rotate indefinitely past these soft-stops).

Macro

Like the Sigma 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 DC HSM “A”, the new 24-35mm has a nearly identical close-focusing distance of just 11 inches (0.28cm) with a 1:4.4 (0.23x) magnification ratio. The lens isn’t designed for true macro photography by any means, however, it’s not bad for close-up shooting.

Build Quality and Handling

The Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2.0 Art lens follows other recent Sigma lenses in terms of build quality, construction and design. Part of their Global Vision design strategy, the Sigma 24-35 features their characteristic sleek, matte black finish and thickly gripped zoom and focus rings. The barrel itself is constructed out of Sigma’s proprietary Thermally Stable Composite material, which, due to its similar thermal properties to aluminum, allows for much tighter manufacturing precision compared to standard polycarbonate plastics. The lens, therefore, feels great in the hand. The build quality is excellent and feels very solid.

Now, with this solid build comes a slight downside: weight. As we’ve experienced with some of Sigma’s other recent zoom lenses, this Sigma 24-35mm is a hefty lens. Tipping the scales at just over two pounds — similar to Canon’s original 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L lens — the Sigma 24-35mm has a lot of glass inside that barrel, which was needed in order to make a constant ƒ/2.0 full-frame zoom lens possible. The lens does feel a little heavy and bulky mounted to a camera body. However, the lens itself is not too long, and overall, it balances nicely in the hand. The simplicity of having a prime-like fast aperture zoom lens combined with the reduction in overall weight from not having to carry around multiple prime lenses, we feel, more than makes up for the heftiness of this single optic.

As for the optical construction itself, the Sigma 24-35mm is comprised 18 total lens elements situated in 13 groups with a 9-bladed, circular aperture diaphragm. The lens makes use of a single Fluorite-like premium FLD glass element, seven SLD elements as well as one or two large aspherical elements (Sigma’s website lists one aspherical lens, while their original press release info states two).

On the exterior, the styling and features are more or less standard fare for a Sigma Global Vision zoom lens. Both the zoom and focus ring have thick, coarsely-ridged rubbery coatings for a comfortable and secure grip. The focus ring out toward the end of the lens has a lighter amount of rotational resistance; just enough to prevent accidental changes to manual focus, but light and smooth enough to move with one or two fingers. The zoom ring on the other hand is much stiffer and heavier feeling, even though it only has a small amount of rotational travel (with only four marked focal lengths). Nevertheless, the ring rotates very smoothly and only takes a thumb and forefinger to rotate easily.

The lens ships with a petal-shaped bayonet-mount lens hood and soft case and is compatible with 82mm filters (the front element does not rotate nor extend during focusing or zooming).

 

Alternatives

The Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2.0 Art is pretty much in a league of its own at this point in time, as neither Canon nor Nikon offer a similar “prime-like” zoom with an aperture faster than ƒ/2.8. Canon offers a 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II and a 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L IIzoom lens, which — in a way — would provide the 24-35mm focal length range of the Sigma. However, it’s split between two lenses and you’d have to carry both of them around. Plus, the smaller ƒ/2.8 aperture is at a disadvantage when it comes to low-light shooting. Nikon, similarly, offers a pair of wide-angle zooms: the 17–35mm ƒ/2.8D and 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G. Again, like the Canon alternative here, you’re left with two lenses and ƒ/2.8 apertures. Plus, both options here are altogether quite expensive (though you do end up with more all-around versatility with a longer focal length range using this two-lens alternative).

The other alternative would be to go the prime route. Both Canon and Nikon offer 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm fast aperture primes. Canon and Nikon offer ƒ/1.4 versions of 24mm (C, N) and 35mm (C, N) lenses, and ƒ/1.8 versions of a 28mm lens (C,N). Going this route, you do gain some low-light shooting capabilities with faster apertures. The individual lenses themselves arealso smaller (and some are weather sealed — no such luck with the Sigma here), however the overall weight of your gear bag (not to mention the price tag) would be way more than just carrying the Sigma 24-35mm.

Conclusion

We think Sigma has done it again! Sigma once again dares to be different and builds a unique lens not offered by the major manufacturers. In what is essentially a range of fast prime lenses built into a single zoom lens, the new Sigma 24-35mm is stunning with super-sharp images, even when shot wide open. Combined with its fantastic build quality and excellent AF performance, the Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2.0 Art lens is a great option for street shooters, concert and event photographers, even landscape and astrophotographers; or just about any full-frame DSLR owner looking for stunning sharpness and excellent low-light performance.

Product Photos

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Sample Photos

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

Still Life tests, Canon 7D body (sub-frame sensor)

24mm f/2.0
24mm f/8
30mm f/2.0
30mm f/8
35mm f/2.0
35mm f/8

Still Life tests, Canon 1Ds Mark III body (full-frame sensor)

24mm f/2.0
24mm f/8
30mm f/2.0
30mm f/8
35mm f/2.0
35mm f/8

 

VFA Target, Canon 7D body (sub-frame sensor)

24mm f/2.0

Upper Left

Center
24mm f/8

Upper Left

Center
30mm f/2.0

Upper Left

Center
30mm f/8

Upper Left

Center
35mm f/2.0

Upper Left

Center
35mm f/8

Upper Left

Center

VFA Target, Canon 1Ds Mark III body (full-frame sensor)

24mm f/2.0

Upper Left

Center
24mm f/8

Upper Left

Center
30mm f/2.0

Upper Left

Center
30mm f/8

Upper Left

Center
 

35mm f/2.0


Upper Left

Center
35mm f/8

Upper Left

Center

We’ve been salivating over the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM “A” since its announcement a month ago. Fortunately, Sigma gave us a chance — albeit a brief one — to get our hands on one of the new lenses and run it through our SLRgear test lab!As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ”VFA” target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

This new zoom is the world’s first constant-aperture f/2.0 zoom lens for full-frame DSLRs, which basically means you get three sharp f/2.0 primes — 24mm, 28mm and 35mm — in a single lens. Sigma is, once again, offering a unique lens that the major manufacturers simply do not offer!

So, the big question is: How does it stack up?

Very, very well.

We’ve been thoroughly impressed with Sigma’s lens performance of late, including their Otus-level 50mm f/1.4 lens and groundbreaking18-35mm f/1.8 (on which this lens is based). Sigma’s newest addition of the 24-35mm f/2 Artdoes not disappoint. The lens offers excellent sharpness, solid build quality and the inherent convenience of a zoom.

For all the details, though, including analysis of image quality characteristics on both full-frame and APS-C cameras, as well as handling observations and autofocus performance.

Canon 1Ds Mark III: 35mm, f/2, 1/640, ISO 100

The lens will be offered for Canon, Nikon and Sigma lens mounts, though it’s compatible with Sigma’s mount-swapping service should the need arise. It also works with Sigma’s USB Dock configuration tool. At the time of this review, availability and price have not been released. Check out B&H or Adorama (Canon, Nikon) for more info on pre-ordering and to sign up for availability notifications. Buying this lens, or any other item, at one of these trusted affiliates helps to support the site and keep the reviews coming!

In the meantime, check out some sample photos shot by lens technician Rob Murray on our Canon 1Ds Mark III test camera.

Canon 1Ds Mark III: 35mm, f/2, 1/1000, ISO 200, +0.3EV

Canon 1Ds Mark III: 24mm, f/10, 1/100, ISO 200, +0.6EV

(imaging-resource.com & slrgear.com)

 

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