Sigma 8-16mm F/4-5.6 DC HSM Review

203_8-16mm_f45-56_DC_HSMIf you are a photographer that is using an APS-C sized sensor like the Canon 50D, 60D, or 7D you may suffer from wide-angle envy compared to photographers who have full-frame sensors like the Canon 5D Mark II. The smaller APS-C sensor create a zoom effect on regular lenses giving them a longer effective focal length by a factor of 1.6x. So a regular wide angle lens like a 12-24mm on a Full Frame becomes a 19.2-38.4mm which is still wide, but not super-wide. Sigma has addressed this issue with the Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM. The DC in the name denotes that this is actually designed for APS-C sensors giving photographers a truly super-wide lens.

How wide is wide?

With the 8mm designation and the large bulb-like front element you might think at first that you will be getting a fish-eye effect but while the perspective is quite exaggerated it isn’t as bad as a fisheye, and the image fills the entire frame. You do get an amazing 121.2 degrees of viewing angle which can create some very cool images.

The 8-16mm DC HSM is still a rectilinear lens meaning that it creates images where straight features, such as walls or trees, appear straight instead of being curved. A fisheye, on the other hand, is a curvilinear lens which will bend and distort straight lines.

Lens Construction

While most wide angle lenses are rather short, the Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM is surprisingly long. This length is due to the lens having 15 different lens elements inside. Four of the elements have “FLD” coating, which is similar to flourite glass, to reduce color aberrations.

A petal lens hood is built into the end of the lens which not only cuts down on glare but also does a pretty good job of protecting the lens.  The zoom and focus rings a have very smooth feel to them without being too loose or too tight.

The HSM in the name stands for Hyper Sonic Motor which is the drive mechanism for the autofocus. It might as well stand for Hyper Silent Motor as it is one of the quietest lenses I have tested.

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Specifications
Optical construction 15 elements in 11 groups
Number of aperture blades 7
min. focus distance 9.4in
Dimensions 75x106mm
Weight 19.6oz
Hood fixed, petal shaped

Using the Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM

The Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM is classified as an ultra-wide lens and this actually means some strange things can happen when using it that usually won’t happen with other lenses. This isn’t to say you get the fisheye effect as mentioned before, but there is a very unique distortion that occurs. In a shot of a room the ultra-wide will work to make a room seem much larger than it really is. The two images below were taken from the same exact location but one was shot at 16mm and the other at 8mm.

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Shot at 16mm
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Shot at 8mm

While I am not generally a fan of Ken Rockwell (and he obviously got a bad version of this lens because I completely disagree with him on the quality), Ken does have an article on using ultra-wide angles lenses to their advantage. To briefly quote from Ken:

Distortion

  • Ultrawides are not fisheyes. Fisheyes distort and curve everything. Ultrawides keep straight lines straight.
  • Ultrawides don’t distort technically, but they distort artistically. This is why we use them.
  • Ultrawides exaggerate the relationship between near and far.
  • Ultrawides stretch out objects on the sides and the corners.
  • Ultrawides exaggerate any slight misalignment of your subject and camera.
  • They do all this while keeping straight lines straight.
  • This is why we love them! We exploit these distortions to our advantage.

For his complete article,  visit: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/how-to-use-ultra-wide-lenses.htm

Just for the width

One of the things I agree with Ken about on the use of ultra-wide lenses is that they aren’t actually that great at simply being used to “get more into the frame. In the following images this is exactly what I went for. I wanted to see how much of the shopping center across the street I could get into the frame. The result was a lot, the problem is that the picture actually loses something from a composition point of view since it also pickes up so much more on the top and bottom.

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That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to this but, generally speaking, the closer you are to the subject, the more dramatic of an effect you will get from the lens. The following example could actually play well to show off a particular venue.

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Get Close

The real beauty of this and other ultra wide angle lenses happens when you get closer to an object. Being able to use some of the inherent distortion and unique characteristics of a lens this wide can result in some interesting images. Here are a few fun shots that I took while trying to learn how to exploit the characteristics of the 8mm range.

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Summary

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There are certain lenses I can recommend for different types of photography very easily. For example, if you want to shoot weddings, you could get a really nice Canon or Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS and actually be able to do quite well with just those two lenses. Nature/landscape photographers generally have some wide angle glass and some long focal length glass without much in the middle. The Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM isn’t the absolute, one lens that rules them all, in any given category but it is a great go-to lens to get some interesting effects and extra wide angle shots that aren’t all fisheye distorted. I can see nature, landscape, wedding, product, architecture, and real estate photographers all grabbing for the 8-16mm once in a while. Although if you only do portraits and headshots, this probably shouldn’t be real high on your “must have” list. At Amazon, the Sigma 8-16mm DC HSM isn’t a horribly expensive lens but its in the price range where it isn’t an impulse purchase for most people. For me its going to be more like my Lensbaby lenses where it won’t be used all the time but will be pulled out for a short time at pretty much every event for some specific shots. The only downside for me is that I don’t actually own this lens yet. Sigma loaned me this lens to check out for a while and its one of the few times I wish I didn’t have to send a lens back.

KerryG

Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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3 Responses

  1. Howard says:

    Nice review Kerry, I've heard a lot about this lens lately on a few different podcasts and was interested in some hands on review. I love the example shots you shared and how adjusting your distance to an object affects the quality of the shot, closer seems better, an interesting concept as you'd think logically that a wide angle would be more about getting it all in to the frame and you would therefore keep your distance. Your sample images show that's not necessarily the case at least at 8mm.

  2. Thanks for the review! Very useful stuff!

  1. March 18, 2011

    […] a Tamron 17-35mm that does the trick for me right now, but I’d really like to go even wider. CameraDojo.com offers a review. I haven’t viewed the video yet, but it looks like Kerry has invested in a green […]

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