Wide: A Tale of Two Lenses

Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:06pm photography, photo gear Comments (0) »
A Tale of Two Lenses Sigma 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM and Canon 14mm f2.8L II
Sigma 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM and Canon 14mm f2.8L II

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

For some time, I've been wanting to add a nice wide or ultra-wide angle lens to my camera kit.  Usually, I look up what I want, do quite a bit of research, read reviews, examine user images, etc and then choose what seems like the best option for me.  This one, however, has been much more difficult, because what I want doesn't seem to exist.

I've mentioned this before.  What I would really like is a professional grade ultra-wide prime made for a crop-frame camera.  Something like a EF-S 10mm f2.8L.  Sorry, no dice.  Basically, what exists is a high-end canon 14mm prime (that would be "ultra-wide" on a full frame camera, but equivalent to about a 23mm on my camera body), and a plethora of "ok" ultra-wide-angle zooms (by Canon and various other manufacturers) made for crop bodies.

I'd previously been uninterested in most of the zooms.  For one, they're zooms.  I really want a prime.  For two, they all have various short-comings that bothered me: Canon's 10-22 doesn't have the best build quality, and a lot of others' offerings (Sigma, Tokina, etc) had optical issues to some greater or lesser extent.  When I discovered the Sigma 8-16, however, the reviews and user-shots seemed pretty impressive.

Compare and Contrast

I'd already planned to rent the 14mm f2.8L (if i'm going to spend the money on something that pricey, i'd better be pretty sure it's what i want), and so decided to add this Sigma lens as something to compare it to.

I realize that's a bit of an unfair - possibly "apples and oranges" - trial: one lens is a professional-grade ultrawide designed for full frame cameras, and the other is a high-end consumer grade lens designed for crop frame bodies.  Still, I feel I can fairly evaluate them on "fitness for my use".

Pros and Cons

Since the perfect lens doesn't exist, each of these has some good points and bad points:

Canon 14mm f2.8L II

Pros:

- Is a prime lens (quality)

- Is L quality optics, sharpness, contrast, clarity

- Fast glass: max f2.8 aperture

- Solid construction

- Has dust/weather sealing

- Virtually no wide-angle distortions

- For full frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")

- Quieter/Smoother focusing

Cons:

- On crop body, not quite as wide: ~23mm equivalent

- Pricey

Sigma 8-16 f4.5-5.6 DC HSM

Pros:

- Ultra-wide: ~13mm equivalent

- Good reported optical quality

- Solid construction

- Very affordable

- zoom flexibility

Cons:

- Is a zoom lens (quality sacrifice)

- Some noticeable (but not terrible) distortion at the wide end (it's 8mm, what do you want!?)

- Slower than christmas (max f4.5 aperture, and that's only at 8mm)

- No/poorer sealing

- Vignetting or otherwise poor usability on full-frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")

- Louder/rougher zoom/focusing

In The Field

So I received these two rental lenses yesterday.  (As an aside, I'll give a shout-out to LensRentals.com who, when they noticed I'd missed the attempted delivery, actually contacted Fed-Ex on their own and arranged for me to be able to pick up the package that same day and contacted me to let me know. Kudos for good customer service.)  I played with both of them for quite a while yesterday evening, and, I gotta say, the jury's still out.  My gut still says I like the Canon 14mm better optically, but the Sigma looks pretty darn good - I was actually pretty impressed with how sharp it could be.  Also, I like the ultra-wide abilities - 8mm is ridiculously wide.  Really lets you do some interesting things with perspective. 

If I like the Canon lens more, I'll really have to consider whether I like it $1600 more - that's about the price difference.  Usually my concern is quality rather than price, but if they're really neck-and-neck in terms of usability and results, it might become relvant.  Especially at that scale - i mean, i could get the Sigma and another L lens or possibly a new camera body for about the same price as the Canon 14mm.

This weekend is our annual Trogland Meetup, and I intend to put both of these through their paces at this event - we'll see what I think in a few hundred more shots.

~PS