Going Wide With The Sigma 10-20 Lens

I previously wrote about purchasing the Nikon 18-70mm lens for my D50. That is a great combination for day-to-day shooting, but it doesn’t go very far in getting wide shots. To get really wide shots, one needs a dedicated wide angle lens.

Just a few months after the latest lens, I started shopping for a suitable wide angle lens to add to my camera kit. There are a number of choices available, and the final selection can be very subjective based on your needs. I spent time in local camera stores, examining the contenders. These are the ones I saw:

  • Nikon 12-24
  • Sigma 10-20
  • Tamron 11-18

The Nikon, naturally, is the most expensive, and seemed to generally get the best quality shots. The Sigma is somewhat less expensive, still has great quality, with some tendency to barrel distortion at the wide end. And the Tamron was the least expensive, but had a kind of cheap-feeling build. Those shots looked all right as well.

After much research and experimenting and pestering the local camera stores*, I decided that the Nikon cost too much for my taste, and that I didn’t necessarily need to buy first party lenses. I also decided I wanted to get a lens with a good build quality and that took great photos, so that ruled out the Tamron, leaving just the Sigma. It helped that the Sigma seemed to have the best range of focal lengths, and the widest wide end of the bunch.

(* I’ll wager that the people working the stores started thinking, “Oh no, it’s him again!” whenever I walked in :P)

Naturally, being a like a kid with a new toy, I couldn’t wait to get home and open the box. I was rather surprised to see that inside the box was a nice padded carrying case that fit the lens. In my experience, you don’t get that with Nikon lenses. Also included was the lens (naturally!), front and rear caps, the hood, and some papers (not shown).

Unboxing the lens
Unboxing the lens

Following is a photo that shows the Sigma 10-20 standing next to the Nikon 18-70. Being a wide lens, the Sigma is a bit wider, but about the same height. The next picture has the same two lenses with their hoods on. A shade/hood is a good thing to have, but especially so with a wide lens as the chance is greater that some pesky stray light will get into the frame while shooting.

Comparing Nikon 18-70 and Sigma 10-20
Comparing Nikon 18-70 and Sigma 10-20
Nikon 18-70 and Sigma 10-20, with hoods
Nikon 18-70 and Sigma 10-20, with hoods

The build of the Sigma is great. It doesn’t feel cheap, and is very sturdy. It has a metal lens mount. There is a small zoom range, which provides some flexibility for taking photos.

I took some photos for comparing different focal lengths of the Sigma 10-20. The subject being the park across the road. The first photo below was shot at 18mm, equivalent to the wide end of my Nikon 18-70. The next is the same scene shot with the Sigma at 10mm. The difference is striking!

Beacon Hill Park at 18mm
Beacon Hill Park at 18mm
Beacon Hill Park at 10mm
Beacon Hill Park at 10mm

Another example, this time of the Empress Hotel at the Inner Harbour. Again, the first one is at 18mm, and the second is at 10mm.

The Empress Hotel at 18mm
The Empress Hotel at 18mm
The Empress Hotel at 10mm
The Empress Hotel at 10mm

Having this lens allows me to take pictures that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to capture without it! And it can help me to get some dramatic photos, even if a wide lens wasn’t strictly necessary. Just to show this, I’ve included a few other photos that I got with this lens.

The Belvedere
The Belvedere
The Maritime Museum - because of the width of the walkway, one needs a wide lens to get this shot!
The Maritime Museum
The front of the Provincial Legislature
Front of the Provincial Legislature
The Chikoro Marimba band performs on Canada Day
Chikoro Marimba band
Aboard a ferry approaching Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island
Approaching Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island

One thing to be careful of with this lens is barrel distortion. This can happen when you are using the wide end of the lens to take photos. Lines that are normally straight will be curved slightly, more so near the center of the image. This isn’t much of a problem unless you normally take pictures of horizons, brick walls, picket fences, or architecture – anything with a lot of straight edges. You can reduce the occurrence of barrel distortion by using the wide end only when absolutely necessary. It helps to zoom a little bit to about 12mm. In my experience, this focal length removes most distortion, and is still plenty wide.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a big lens, and it can block part of the built-in flash. When you take a picture, using the built-in flash and this lens, the bottom-center of the image will be darker than the rest. This is because the bulk of the lens prevents the built-in flash from illuminating that area. The solution is to use an external flash unit. I have done this with the Nikon SB-400, and it works like a charm. This is not an issue if you are shooting outdoors in broad daylight, but will come up when shooting in low light or indoors.

It would be a good idea to put a filter on the front of this lens. The front element bulges outwards, and comes to about the same level as the filter thread. So it would not take much of an impact to damage that front element. An inexpensive UV filter would be a smart investment.

Pros:

  • sturdy construction
  • good price point
  • overall good quality

Cons:

  • barrel distortion at 10mm
  • slow to focus in dark
  • blocks built-in flash

The bottom line: if cost is an issue, and you are not worried about having first-party lenses, or the absolute best photos, the Sigma 10-20mm will suit you fine. Get it!