Late last year we had a chance to play for a few weeks with the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM lens – the following is a review based on our impressions.
A bit of background – The Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM was announced back in 2012 as one of the new lenses belonging to Sigma’s new lineup (it was actually the first lens from Sigma’s contemporary series – marked simply by the latter C – as opposed to the more high-end Art series with the latter A).
The lens is basically a new and improved version of the older 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM from 2009. Both lenses include improved apertures of f/2.8-f/4 over a focal length of 17-70mm and covering an APS-C type sensor.
Build quality – Unlike many Canon and Nikon kit lenses (yes Nikon 18-105mm we are looking at you), the build quality of the Sigma 17-70mm seem to be great. The lens – like all of Sigma’s lenses is manufactured in Japan with very high QC and you can see the results (many Canon and Nikon lenses these days are manufactured outside Japan to save cost).
The lens has a metal mount (some cheap kit lenses tend to have plastic mounts which can break), The zoom ring has a very nice feel with some good friction. The focus ring is narrow but isn’t loose as the one on the 18-105mm. On the other hand it still don’t seem to have the nice friction that you get with higher quality lenses (although lets be fair – for most users – this is going to be a mainly AF only lens).
The lens is quit short – 90mm closed and almost 130mm when open. It includes two switches – one for AF/MF and one for the image stabilizer.
Ergonomics – Although we really liked the build quality of the Sigma 17-70mm, we have a few reservations about some of the design decisions Sigma’s engineers made when they created the lens.
The first issue has to do with the direction in which the zoom ring turns (counter clockwise – and for us – counter intuitive). Some people have remarked that this only boders us since we are used to shoot with Nikon lenses, however our own Sigma 10-20mm lens has a zoom ring which turns clockwise – so why did Sigma choose to have this lens turn the other way around? (we tested it on our D7100 – we will get back to that in a moment) – we have no answer.
The other issue (which is much more annoying in our view) has to do with the focusing ring. Besides the fact that it has very little friction as we mentioned, it also moves externally whenever you AF (see our video for a demo) – if you have large hands (and sometimes even if not) you may accidentally interfere with the movement of the ring if your hand touches it – we see this as a design flaw which should not exist (the Nikon 18-105mm doesn’t have this and nor does the Sigma 10-20mm – both cost about as much – in case Sigma will claim this was done for cost saving reasons…).
Focus and Macro – The Sigma 17-70mm has a pretty fast AF and its also quieter than the noise emitted by other lenses (such as the Nikon 18-105mm). According to our (non laboratory) tests, its also quite accurate. The lens also supports the new Sigma USB calibration unit if you feel that you need to improve the AF accuracy.
The minimum focusing distance is about 22 cm and the max macro magnification is set at 1:2.9 – pretty decent for a non dedicated macro lens. We shot some close ups with it which you can see later on on this review.
Performance – The sharpness of the lens is pretty good – especially in the center of the frame (even wide open) – you can see a 100% crop below.
Vignette is noticeable wide open (more than the 18-105mm – but keep in mind that its a faster lens). Once you stop the lens down – all signs of vignette disappear.
Barrel distortion – the lens does show some distortion at 17mm but it is less pronounced than other similar lenses such as the Nikon 18-105mm (interestingly – the Samyand 16mm f/2 we tested recently has no viable barrel distortion.
Nikon D7100 Issue – Before we go to the conclusion we want to add something about a particular (rather strange) problem we encountered with our Nikon D7100 when using the lens. In the past lenses where manual and there was no real connection between the lens and the camera body (apart from the physical connection of course). However, this hasn’t been the case for many years now. Cameras and lenses “talk” to each other all the time exchanging information and data about AF and more. We usually don’t think about this since typically it just works. However, every now and again there are problems – and as we discovered – the Nikon D7100 and the Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM simply don’t play nice together.
What are we talking about exactly? well, when yo shoot an image with the lens and magnify the image to check for focus (something we do all the time, and we are sure that many of you as well), the movement of the cursors (the camera joystick) isn’t working like it should. It took us several days to even realize this problem and than to figure out online that there are others with the same problem.
We talked to Sigma but the answer we got was not satisfactory and as far as we know, until now – there is no firmware update that resolves this. The only workaround we found was to go to live view and than press play and zoom in – in this way the cursor moves as it should – why – we have no idea.
Bottom line – until this is resolved, if you have (or plan on having) a Nikon D7100 – we can’t really recommend this lens. To be fair, we had no problem with this lens on our old D5000.
Conclusion – When looking at the Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM, you need to think of it in perspective. This is a sort of advanced kit lens – longer than your basic 18-55mm, but shorter than the 18-105mm and the 18-140mm (Nikon) or the 18-135mm (Canon). Its advantage is in its relative wide aperture – f/2.8-f/4 compared to your normal f/3.5-f/5.6 of most other kit lenses, but it is still slower than the more advanced (but shorter) 17-50mm f/2.8 lenses (Sigma/Tamron) or the 17-55mm (Nikon/Canon).
After you get the lens in perspective compared to the competition, its easier to look at its stronger points – improved max aperture, great build quality, pretty usable focal range (although a bit too short for our taste on the telephoto side), good image quality and fairly compact design.
Of course no lens is perfect and the Sigma 17-70mm does have some issues – the focus ring rotates externally (which is a bit annoying and really unnecessary), wide open it has some distortion (vignette – but not too dramatic and nothing that you can’t fix) and of course there is the problem with the Nikon D7100 we mentioned.
Finally we want to make a special plea for Sigma – what is currently missing from the lineup of all manufacturers, seems to be a high-end “kit lens” for APS-C cameras with a fast aperture, good build quality and very high- IQ. Think of this as a APS-C version of the new 24-105mm f/4 – in our mind we see an 18-140mm f/2.8-f/4 or even 16-140mm f/4 or something close to that from the ART series). This lens can be more expensive (say around $1000) but it can be the perfect all around lens for more advanced APS-C cameras (D7100/70D and – hopefully some day – the D400/7D MKII). We believe this kind of lens will sell very well and have no real competition in the market.
What we liked
- Good build quality (manufactured in Japan – like all Sigma lenses – and it shows).
- Aperture: f/2.8-f/4 (instead of the normal f/3.5-f/5.6 – with other advanced kit lenses).
- Good AF speed (and a fairly quiet AF – definitely compared to the Nikon 18-105mm lens).
- Good macro capabilities (for a non-dedicated macro lens).
What we would change
- Focusing ring turns externally.
- Zoom ring turns counter clockwise (counter-intuitive if you are used to Nikon lenses as well as some other Sigma lenses).
- Does not work well with the Nikon D7100 (we are not aware of any firware fix to date).
- A bit soft on the corners wide open.
The 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM is available on B&H for just under $450 (for both Canon/Nikon and Sigma cameras).
Here are some images we took with the lens using the Nikon D7100
We would like to thank SFO for loaning the lens for review.
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