With the release of the Nikon 18-200mm VR in 2005, there were many a jealous Canon shooter. After waiting two years for the release of a stabilized zoom for the Canon mount, one finally arrived from Sigma. I purchased it upon release in summer of 2007, and have been shooting with it ever since, so it’s due time for a review. I also have a Canon 18-200 IS in my hands, so that will be used for comparison.
Build and Handling
I’ve always had a good impression of Sigma lens build quality, and the 18-200mm OS is no exception. It’s heavy, solid, and feels like a brick. The finish is standard Sigma black matte, which feels better to my hands than the slippery surface of Nikon and Canons at this level. The zoom action is a bit stiff, but the inner barrel doesn’t feel loose; there is minimal wobble. It doesn’t feel fragile when you handle it with authority, and this inspires confidence in the field. For comparison, zoom the Canon in and out, and notice the difference. The zoom and the focus ring are about the same size. In fact, many people who use my camera try to rotate the focus ring in order to zoom. So this was an obvious design mistake. The new Sigma 18-250 OS does remedy this problem with a larger zoom ring. The rubberized grip around the zoom is soft, but over the years has come loose. It’s not falling off by any means, but I could easily pull it off if I wanted to. This does not affect handling in general, though. The OS and AF switches are easy to locate and adjust, while the lock switch is not quite as good. Overall, build and handling are pretty good for a lens of this class. It feels better and stronger than pretty much all of its rivals.
Image quality is of course a mixed bag. You don’t but a superzoom to get L quality results at 100%, astounding corner sharpness, or fast shutter speeds to freeze action at the long end of the zoom. The compromise you make in IQ pays off in the convenience of the range you are able to cover. At 200mm, you are limited by an aperture of f/6.3 (as opposed to f/5.6 like many others) but this is actually not much of a difference – only 1/3 stop. Many people complain about softness in the 35-80mm range. Although this may be true, I have never really noticed, or even suffered from it. And this includes making 8×10″ prints for art fairs from photos made in this focal range. To me, this proves the difference between the real world and pixel-peeping on monitors. One thing I really like about this lens’ performance is the lack of barrel distortion at 18mm. There is some, but it is not very problematic (in contrast to the Canon). I’ve found that while autofocus can be a bit loud, it is quick to lock on, even in low light. Bokeh is not the prettiest of the pack, but at 200mm with the right background, you can get something smooth and creamy. I also really enjoy the minimum focusing distance of less than half a meter, meaning this lens can get some pretty decent macro shots. Of course you’ll want a dedicated macro lens for real macro work. It’s definitely a bit soft at the long end of the zoom, as you would expect. My own personal testing of the OS mechanism found at least a 3 stop advantage (not quite as good as the Canon).
After four years of heavy use and several drops to the pavement, this lens is still trucking. It may not provide the best image quality on the market, but it gives you a durable lens with a versatile zoom range. While working for a newspaper, this was one of my go-to lenses; you can cover just about anything with it. I pushed this lens to the limit, shooting 200mm indoors in low light, and still came away with usable results. But in some situations, such as surf shots, there is no substitute for a longer lens, and you’ll do well with extra range. The market has come a long way since the introduction of the Nikon, and now there are many to choose from. The Canon provides better image quality, and the Sigma 18-250 OS provides better range. Tamron has the longest range of all in the 18-270 VC. When I bought this lens in 2007, I paid a premium price of $550. Since then, it has dropped nearly $200 in value, and sells for $369 in most places nowadays. For that kind of price, this lens is a bargain (the Canon sells for $200 more). You can get everything from wide angles, compressed landscapes, tight portraits, macro shots, and more, all in one affordable, durable package (with compromises). Although I have become a prime lens kind of guy, there are times I will walk out the door with only the Sigma superzoom on my camera, and then I realize how much fun it really is to shoot with.
Here are a few shots to demonstrate what the Sigma 18-200mm OS can and cannot do, with comments and exif data below each image. All are JPGs straight from the camera (various XXD models). Click the image to view the full size resolution.
The wide range allowed a number of framing options during this family photo shoot.
Putting the .45 meter minimum focusing distance to work on a bee.
Handheld at 1 second! How’s that for some stabilization?
Who says you need an f/2.8L zoom for indoor theatre work?
Showing it’s soft spot at 50mm.
Tight head shots are often possible with such an extended range.
Shooting wildlife really leaves something to be desired with this lens.
The same can be said for surf shots. But in good light, close to the shoreline, you’re in good hands.
Not the best lens for action at night, but some results are passable.
“Overall, then, this isn’t a lens for pixel-peepers who above all else demand critical corner-to-corner sharpness in every shot. But for more normal users looking for a versatile, all-in-one travel lens within a budget, and who’d prefer to while away their evenings looking at and sharing their images rather than post-processing them, it fits the bill just fine.”
“To be fair the lens is capable to provide a decent quality if you avoid large aperture settings and stick to ~f/9 regardless of the zoom position. On the positive side vignetting and CAs are quite well controlled and distortions may be a problem at 18mm only. The quality of the bokeh (out-of-focus blur) is sometimes less than stellar though. The AF speed and accuracy is pretty fine and the image stabilizer can give you an advantage equivalent to about 3 f-stops in field conditions. The build quality of the Sigma is surprisingly good and above average for a lens in this class.”
“Our original review in 2008 for this lens was quite critical, especially wide open at 35mm, where image sharpness was all over the place. The latest sample of the lens has improved somewhat, but is by no means perfect.”
“If you like fast glass with fast AF, this ISN’T the lens for you or your walkaround needs. The VF gets DARK VERY QUICKLY as you move toward the tele end. This lens loves light (similar to the Bigma). But if you want something with INCOMPARABLE RANGE mated to an EXCELLENT OS device, it’s HARD TO BEAT this new Sigma offering. It can deliver crisp images with nice contrast. It’s the perfect answer for the common “What lens for Disneyland?!” question that is asked on every forum, everyday.”
“There are several flaws but few people expected that a megazoom of the 11X class with such dimensions wouldn’t show vignetting or distinct distortion – it’s against the laws of physics so there’s hardly anything to discuss here. An open question was whether the Sigma would spread its wings in areas where the physics allows it to do so. According to our tests the lens’s constructors did their best. The 18-50 mm range is just excellent and it can substitute any kit lens for sure.”
An Amazon reviewer writes:
“I’d say this Sigma makes a great choice for amateur photographers like us looking for a single lens option on Canon digital SLR cameras. The only dissuading factor ‘might’ be the motor noise if you hope to match Canon’s silent motor system. Until Canon produces the same class of lens at a competitive price, Sigma has this round sown up.”
Fred Miranda users have given the following ratings:
Build quality: 8.67 – Price: 8.4 – Overall: 7.8
About the author: Jesse Warren is a Sigma super-zooming photographer based in Shenzhen, China, where he also works for Aputure.