The Sigma 12-24mm HSM II sits at the widest end of Sigma’s DG lens range and is designed for full-frame cameras, though it will fit APS-C D-SLRs, too (with a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor taken into account it’s equivalent to a 18-36mm or 19.2-38.4mm lens). Despite its super-wide 12mm focal length this isn’t a fisheye but a rectilinear lens (real to life reproduction, as free from distortion as possible) that gives a whopping 1220 angle of view, making it a great lens when you want to fill the frame with an expansive landscape.
Features & build
Available for Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax mounts the current incarnation has been redeveloped to include four FLD (‘F’ Low Dispersion) glass elements and one SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass element rather than the four SLD glass elements of the previous model. The aim? To improve on and reduce the presence of lens aberrations of all kinds and to provide the clearest and sharpest images possible. Look to the curved front element and you’ll find Sigma’s multi-layer coating; this helps maximise sharpness and contrast by working to reduce flare and ghosting, aided by the familiar petal-type lens hood, permanently fixed in place to further stop lens flare and reduce the chance of internal reflections spoiling your shot.
These extra optics do come at a price, though: the lens is fairly hefty, weighing in at 670g compared to 600g for the older lens and while thinner, it’s also longer at 85x120mm compared to 87x102.5mm. Like its predecessor, the new 12-24mm has Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) included to allow for quick and silent AF, even on Nikon cameras without an in-built autofocus motor, such as the D3100 or D5100. Combine this with its internal focusing system, stopping the front lens element rotating during focusing, and it offers even faster AF making the lens ideal for fast-moving subjects. The 12-24mm has also retained the f/4-5.6 aperture range of the original, giving a wide aperture of f/4 at 12mm down to f/5.6 at its 24mm setting.
Performance & handling
The 12-24mm feels weighty and solid, due in part to its metal shell, yet it feels balanced on the front of all but the lightest D-SLR bodies. The finish is smooth and refined and you’ll find rubber grips on both the focus and zoom rings that each have a different spacing between ridges – handy, as it makes it easier to tell them apart when framing up.
The zoom ring itself, while slightly stiff, provides consistent resistance all the way through its range. By contrast, the manual focus ring is much easier to move without feeling slippery or loose. To enable the manual focus ring there’s a switch on the side of the lens, or alternatively it can be done through the camera body.
Switch back to Autofocus and you can take advantage of the HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) to give relatively fast and near-silent focusing. We got a slight rumble and faint whirr when pressing the shutter as the lens elements quickly shifted position to offer up wonderfully sharp focus. Given that the lens is a wide-angle zoom, we found our images were pin sharp almost throughout the entire range of apertures, struggling a little towards the wider end. It even controlled sharpness well out to the edges and corners of the frame where, thanks to the FLD glass, there were minimal signs of softness. The inclusion of the FLD elements even help reduce vignetting, with our images displaying little to none at all at 24mm and only some creeping in at apertures wider than f/5.6 when shooting at 12mm.
There was some yellow/blue chromatic aberration creeping in at the edges of the frame towards the smaller aperture end. We checked results with the Nikon 14-24mm to see how the Sigma performed comparatively and found it really held its own. Equally as sharp, we noticed a fraction more vignetting and the aforementioned chromatic aberration as the only culprits.
We really put the 12-24mm through its paces, testing it both outside in real world conditions and on our lens test chart in the controlled environment of the studio. Looking at image sharpness we found it performed brilliantly, maintaining sharp edges throughout the aperture range – even out to the edges of the frame.
The lens did display some darker corners (vignetting) at wider focal lengths when shooting on apertures larger than f/5.6, but chromatic aberration was the lens’s only real problem, with marked yellow/blue fringeing appearing at the smaller apertures when shooting at 12mm. We found this was easily fixed in the Lens Corrections tab in Adobe Camera Raw, however. Overall, this is a great lens and there’s very little to complain about.
For those using APS-C sensors the crop factor rather defeats the object of having this lens and you’d be better off looking at something like the Sigma 10-20mm. For full-frame users, although it isn’t the cheapest lens on the market, you’ll struggle to find a better price for a super wide zoom with as much coverage. Flawless construction and great performance make it a beauty to use, and it offers a great value alternative to Nikon’s 14-24mm, and also fills a gap in Canon’s lens range, which currently doesn’t offer a zoom wider than 16mm for its full-frame users. All in all, this is a real corker of a lens!
- Price: £480 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Lens mount: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax
- Lens Construction: 17 elements in 13 groups
- Number of Diaphragm Blades: 6
- Max Aperture: f/4.5-5.6
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 28cm
- Autofocus Motor: Yes (HSM)
- Filter Size: Rear Type
- (Gelatin Filter)
- Dimensions (DxL): 85x120.2mm
- Weight: 670g
- Visit: www.sigma-imaging-uk.com
his review was first published in the March 2012 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.