Photography News | Issue 34 | absolutephoto.com
Sigma Want to know what makes Sigma lenses special, and how the new Global Vision range will revolutionise your photography? Find out all about it as we sit down with Sigma’s top man in the UK… Lens special
150-600mmf/5-6.3DGOS HSMContemporary/Sport £750/£1200 The perfect partner for sports, action or wildlife photography, the 150-600mm gives you bags of reach in a versatile package, while the built-in OS keeps images free from camera shake. Using a built- in Hyper Sonic Motor, AF speed is improved, and image quality is first class.
Words by Kingsley Singleton
Starting out as a small ‘third- party’ lens manufacturer, Sigma is now, in no uncertain terms, part of the mainstream. The company has an amazingly rich heritage of innovationandperformance – in fact it’s the world’s largest independent lens manufacturer. Sigma was founded in 1961 by Michihiro Yamaki and continues as a family-owned business to this day under the present CEO, his son, Kazuto Yamaki. The company started as a research institute, but quickly moved into manufacturing and, to this day, its lenses are produced in the company’s own Aizu factory in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. “That’s actually one of the many things that makes Sigma special,” says Graham Armitage, general manager of Sigma Imaging (UK) Ltd; “the fact that it’s a family owned business with a true understanding and love of photography. It’s not simply a consumer electronics company, and while many firms have outsourced production, Sigma believes in the quality that’s ensured by its Japanese designers and engineers. It’s also about social conscience and environmental issues, as Sigma is the largest employer in the area and many families depend on us.” Graham cites Sigma’s spirit of innovation as being writ large across the company’s history, dating back to Michihiro’s invention of the modern teleconverter and the company launching its very first ‘standard zoom’ lens in 1975, a 39- 80mm model that’s the precursor of all those 18-55mm kit lenses that photographers now start on. This was followed by a 21-35mm in 1985, and 18-35mm and 17-35mm zooms in 2003. “Those latter lenses,” says Graham, “show how Sigma embraced the digital age, developing DSLR specific models while the main camera manufacturers were still concentrating on older lenses designed for 35mm film cameras. We saw the potential of digital and invested in it, creating a line of lenses designed specifically for cropped sensors and giving DSLR users what they wanted.” This trend continued through revolutionary lenses like the 10-
20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM wide- angle zoom, whichwas an instant hit among landscape photographers, the 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC, at the time the only affordable option for those who wanted a fast standard zoom, and the 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM, a telephoto zoom that bought professional sports and wildlife focal lengths into the reach of enthusiasts. Today, nothing has changed when it comes to that innovative approach, and Sigma’s range glitters with what Graham calls “a combination of unique focal lengths and specifications. We look for gaps in the market and make them our own, rather than duplicating what others are doing – although there are the standards that we also cover. Innovation can be seen in the likes of the 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art, 18- 35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art, 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art, 8-16mm f/4.5- 5.6 DC HSM, 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art, and 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM, which comes in both Contemporary and Sport versions.” Those Art, Contemporary and Sport designations mean the lenses are part of the Sigma Global Vision (SGV) range, something that is very much at the core of the company’s output in 2016 and beyond. So, why was the decision made to create these different kinds of lenses, some of which have the same focal lengths? “It’s part of Yamaki- san’s influence since taking over the CEO role in 2012,” Graham explains, “firstly he believed that lenses are actually more important to photographers than cameras, for instance because people tend to change camera bodies more often than lenses, preferring to stick to tried-and-tested glass; you’ll find many eulogise on particular lenses far more than they do cameras. To back this up, each SGV lens has its birthdate engraved on the barrel to define its importance.” Yamaki-san also saw confusion in the lens market, so the decision was made to divide Sigma’s models into categories based on their usage. The newly designed range was launched at Photokina in 2012 and now forms about a third of Sigma’s catalogue: the Art lenses prioritise optical performance above all else, so as Graham says, “they may be
105mmf/2.8Macro EXDGOS HSM£319 A classic in its own right, the 105mmmacro is equally at home on full-frame and cropped- sensor DSLRs, giving a full 1:1 reproduction ratio for stunning close-ups, whatever the subject. The Optical Stabilizer allows easy handheld shooting, too, so it’s also a great portrait option.
Lenses are actually more important to photographers than cameras… because people tend to change camera bodies more often than lenses, preferring to stick to tried and tested glass
see through the viewfinder can be tailored to prevent it interferingwith composition, or, as Graham puts it “making you feel seasick, as some brands do. It’s really a matter of giving photographers more choice.” On some of the longer telephoto lenses you can even limit the AF distance depending on what you’re shooting and preferences can be kept in separate sets, so different users can enjoy the same lens, or use it for disparate purposes, “just like having memory seats and mirrors in a car”. Lenses can be converted to different mounts, too, so you can keep your glass if you swap bodies. “We’re very proud of the SGV range,” finishes Graham, “and especially facets of it such as the way each lens is individually tested with our A1 Micro Four Thirds machine, rather than in batches. It’s part of a commitment to quality that’s bringing the very best young designers to Sigma – people who are passionate about optical development. In the past, theymight have gone to bigger companies, but now they come to us.” And the future? “We’ll continue to expand the SGV range. There are four new lenses to be revealed at Photokina this year, and more new products at CP+ in January. Plus, there’s a very confidential project in the pipeline which you will find out about in September.”
big, heavy and more expensive, but they guarantee the ultimate in image quality for artists.” Sports lenses on the other hand, “while still offering great optical performance, and durability, balance this with keeping the weight and dimensions at a level where they can be used more easily by wildlife and action photographers”. Finally, the Contemporary range is aimed at “balancing size, performance and price. These lenses are really at home for travel and everyday use; if you’re backpacking or climbing mountains you have to make some sacrifices to aid mobility,” Graham says. The Sigma Global Vision line provides further innovation with its unique USB dock. This allows easy upgrades to a lens’s firmware, but that’s not all; there are also methods of fine-tuning performance, such as altering the AF speed. “Everyone thinks that lenses come out of the factory at maximum AF speed; that’s not the case with Sigma,”explainsGraham.“Basically, there’s a debate between designers and managers over maximum speed or maximum smoothness; different users have different preferences, so for example, videographers might want smoothness whereas sports photographers might rather have speed. Now they have the choice.” The OS function (Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer) can also be adjusted, so that the amount of steadying you
Sigma 35mmf/1.4DGHSM Art £599
Fast becoming a favourite of fine-art photographers around the world, the 35mm f/1.4 Art lens sits perfectly with a range of subjects. The ultra-wide maximum aperture lets you generate a very shallow depth-of-field, as well as enjoy low-light subjects like astrophotography or gigs.
18-300mmf/3.5-6.3 CDCMacro OSHSM£336 The versatility of this lens makes it excellent for travel, and you can shoot an amazing range with its 16.6x zoom range. Backing that up is Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer, which compensates for camera shake, and at 585g and just over 10cm long it’s highly portable.
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