Sigma Resurrection

Posted on 29th September 2018 by Admin under Adapted lens, Comment, Equipment
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Sigma 18-35 @ 35

My local woods, taken at the long end of a vintage Sigma 18-35 lens set to f/8.  I rescued the lens from obscurity in a cupboard where it had languished for 14 years after becoming incompatible with Canon’s newst cameras.

 

A New Era

With Canon’s and Nikon’s recent announcements of their new full frame mirrorless camera systems, complete with new mounts, adapted lenses are in vogue.  It is the only solution which the two companies can offer in an attempt to retain existing DSLR customers as they transition over the next few years.  It is a journey I have recently started, although in my case I am adapting my EF lenses onto a Sony A7 II.  Not, I dare say, something which Canon had in mind.  The irony is that for years I used the lenses on crop sensor cameras and always thought I would eventually switch to full frame.  I just never imagined that the camera concerned would not be manufactured by Canon.

The Sony A7 II is a recent acquisition.  My main intention being to use it with my manual focus lenses, many of which are at least 30-40 years old.  I do not intend to purchase any native Sony lenses but with a purely electronic interface between camera and lens, it is possible to mount EF lenses via an adapter.  The one I chose is a Sigma MC-11 which seems to work reasonably well with my Canon lenses.  Officially, it is only compatible with a specified selection of Sigma’s own offerings but that does not appear to matter.  In theory, Sigma could disable compatibility with other manufacturers’ lenses via a firmware upgrade.  That would be a counterintuitive measure which would only serve to deprive them of an income stream.  This way, they are making sales without any responsibility should a particular lens not work properly.

An Old Lens

Many years ago, 1999 to be precise and when everyone was still shooting with film, I bought a Sigma 18-35 f/3.5-4.5 Aspherical zoom with a Canon EF mount.  At the time, it was well regarded.  There were a number of positive reviews and the price was relatively modest for such a lens.  The shop I bought it from was Vic Odden’s at London Bridge, which closed in 2005.  I have fond memories of Vic.  He was a true gentleman and sold me the first camera I bought with my own money.  His advice was always reliable and his sudden death in 1997 during a holiday in New Zealand had saddened many.

In those days, Canon and Sigma were locked in a game of cat and mouse.  Canon never released the specification of the EF mount and Sigma had reverse engineered it.  For whatever reason, they had not implemented the interface between lens and camera in full.  Possibly to avoid patent infringement, but I do not really know.  At the time I acquired the lens, Canon had just released its EOS 3 camera and it was known that the two were incompatible.  Sigma’s solution was to offer a new chip and, as a condition of sale, I had the lens upgraded.  The staff at Vic Odden’s were a bit aggrieved as I did not own the EOS 3.  I considered it a sensible precaution although I never did buy that camera.

Roll forward a few years and in 2004 I purchased my first DSLR, a Canon 300D.  I had a number of Canon lenses which all worked properly, but not the Sigma.  Canon had again changed something.  While Sigma had replacement chips for most of their lenses, there were none available for the 18-35.  I ended up packing it back into its box, vowing never again to buy a Sigma lens.  A win for Canon, certainly.

Resurrection

With my Sony A7 II now in hand and thinking about possibilities of shooting with a wide-angle, I remembered the long forgotten Sigma.  It took a while to find and dig out from the cubby hole where it had ended up.  Eventually, there it was.  A remarkably bulbous front element, 82 mm filter ring and surprisingly light, which suggests there is a lot of plastic in its construction.  In other respects, the build is solid and it came complete with a lens hood and leather case.  I even still had the 82 mm Skylight filter I purchased at the time tucked away in the carrier bag.

The important question.  Does it work?  Yes, it does.  This post would not have much point otherwise.  I have taken photos with the lens for the first time in 14 years.  I could not change the aperture on the 300D and autofocus did not work either, but at least I could take a shot.  Intrigued, I mounted it on my EOS 7D Mk 1.  It was possible to adjust the aperture, but focus remained non operational.  On powering up the camera, the focus ring turns but settles at infinity.  Taking a picture resulted in a message stating there was a communication error between camera and lens.  Strangely, that occurred after the shutter had closed.  No option to focus manually, then.

An early test shot pointing towards the sun revealed a propensity to veiling flare, but that is hardly unusual for a wide lens.  Especially of this vintage.  The centre is reasonably sharp with the edges some way behind.  Personally, I am never too concerned about the edges being sharp for a wide-angle; it is often not critical to the final image.  In any event, stopping down to f/11 largely resolves the problem.  More seriously, the outer regions show a tendency to chromatic aberration and colour fringing.  Unfortunately, the latter can be purple in one place and more blue in another.  That can make it difficult to eradicate using Lightroom’s Defringe tool.  Maybe contrast is a bit on the low side, but that can be altered in post.

 

Colour fringing

An example of colour fringing.  The lighter areas on the left and at the top between the trees have a colour cast which Lightroom’s Defringe tool could not fully remove.

 

Used within its limitations and stopped down a bit, it is a competent lens.  At present, if I want to go wide with my Sony A7 I have no other option.  Undoubtedly, I would look for alternatives for anything critical.  It is not a lens to pack for that photographic trip of a lifetime.  Recently, I have become enamoured by the way that Zeiss lenses render.  Taking everything into account, my preference would probably be a Distagon 21 f/2.8.  Performance wise, that lens is in a totally different league, not to mention price.  Particularly when compared to an already sunk investment which would show little return if I were to sell it.

 

Veiling flare example

An example of veiling flare, which occurred although the lens hood was fitted and the sun was out of shot.

 

The greater question is what has changed? Why is the lens working again?  At the time, I did not really understand why I could change the aperture on a lens which would focus automatically on a film camera but not have it function on a digital body.  Was Canon playing games to deter people from buying Sigma lenses in preference to its own?  Take Canon out of the equation and the answer becomes clearer.  These days, it is possible to upgrade the firmware in Sigma’s lenses.  Which is just as well, as it is not in anyone’s interest to go back to the way things were as the photography world migrates to the latest technology.  Well, I say “latest technology”.  Canon and Nikon have waited ten years since Panasonic launched the first mirrorless camera to get serious about launching their own models.

A Couple More Examples

Most of the images in this post, including those below, were taken in my local woods to assess its performance.  In every instance, the aperture was f/8.

 

Sigma 18-35 @ 18

Sigma 18-35 set to 18 and f/8.

 

 

Sigma 18-35 @ 18

Another taken at the widest focal length.

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