The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO (OS) HSM Contemporary Lens

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Intro

Earlier this fall, Sigma introduced us to the versatile new 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO (OS) HSM Contemporary lens for APS-C-format shooters. The company currently offers five unique versions, for Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony A, and Sigma SA mount cameras. Branded as a true all-in-one zoom, this lens has a 35mm focal length equivalency of approximately 27-450mm. Whether you're after landscapes, portraits, wildlife, or even close-up photography, the 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 appears to be well suited for the job.

Handling

Fully compact, this lens sits about 4" tall. That hardly requires much space in a camera bag, and at just 1.3 lb, it's no problem to carry. It feels solid and durable to the touch, though it probably shouldn’t be treated as indestructible. Fully extended with the hood in place, it reaches 9" in length. As far as space is concerned, it would easily make the perfect walkaround or travel lens. If you want to pack light without missing out on different types of photography, a lens much like this would be a good choice. This is undoubtedly a major selling point for Sigma’s Contemporary series. Compactness and versatility are given top priority, in addition to quality.

ISO 1250, 95mm, f/5.6. 1/200

Included in the box are a secure, pinch-style lens cap and a petal-shaped hood that twists on and off smoothly. The hood doesn't “grip” in place; if you bump it just right while you're shooting, just be aware it can fall off easily. The front element has a 72mm thread for any filter accessories you might pick up down the line.

ISO 800, 300mm, F/14, 1/50

The lens barrel is sleek and intuitively labeled, engraved with a “C” to designate its Contemporary lineage. When you zoom in and out, you’ll notice markers indicating the maximum magnification ratio capable at whatever focal length you’re using. A few well-placed switches are also present. One is a zoom lock, which is a great feature for storage. Being locked in its most compact state prevents lens creep and helps protect it from wear, and will only engage when the lens is fully zoomed out. Next to that is the toggle between Auto and Manual focus. The 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 has no manual override, so you’ll have to settle on one or the other. With Autofocus selected, the focus ring locks in place for the lens to decide. Finally, there’s a toggle to turn OS image stabilization on or off. Note that Sony A and Pentax K mounts don’t have an OS switch, since image stabilization is instead built right into the compatible camera bodies.

Performance

Tested on a Canon 60D, the 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM was used to tackle some wildlife, nature, macro, and low-light portrait photography. It’s being billed as a jack-of-all-trades, and it lives up to the expectation. Across the board, color rendition was vivid and true to life. While shooting some late-fall foliage, it was evident even on the small LCD screen that the brilliant reds, a notoriously finicky color, were being reproduced nicely.            

ISO 800, 142mm, f/6.3, 1/100

The rounded, 7-bladed diaphragm creates really attractive bokeh in shallow depths of field, and is perhaps one of the major perks of this particular lens. The dreamy, painterly effect is reminiscent of lenses much more expensive than this little zoom. Subject matter stands out beautifully from a background of smooth, natural blur. This also makes its macro feature especially appealing. Selective focus can be used for some truly surreal and creative images.

ISO 800, 260mm, f/8, 1/100

As for the macro feature itself, it’s pretty impressive for a lens of this class and price point. Though not a “true” macro (which would require a magnification ratio of 1:1), few would complain. It held up wonderfully shooting some tiny flowers and toys, replicating everything with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3 at 200 or 300mm. You can get nice and close, too; its minimum focusing distance is just 15.4". Macro photography loses its effectiveness if it isn't sharp and, here, that wasn't much of a problem. Even wide open, minuscule subject matter stayed nice and print-worthy sharp. If macro is your thing, you can bump your magnification ratio up to 1:2 with the optional AML72-01 Close-Up Lens. This accessory is made specifically for this lens, and screws into the 72mm filter thread.

ISO 1000, 300mm, f/8, 1/60

Autofocus had few to no problems locking onto subject matter, whether stationary or in motion. Powered by a newly designed Hyper Sonic Motor, AF is near silent and very quick, with little instance of hunting. One thing worth noting is this lens’s compatibility with Sigma’s USB Dock, which is a tool that pairs with Sigma’s Optimization Pro software for Mac and PC. Apart from firmware updates, Optimization Pro allows you to customize and fine tune your autofocus speed. If you’re interested in this type of customization, it might be worth looking into.  

ISO 1000, 28mm, f/8, 1/125

Consistency is also apparent in the 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3. No notable increase or decrease in sharpness was noticed at either end of the zoom range. Shots taken on the wide end were easily as sharp as photos taken at the longer end of the zoom, and close-ups showed admirable clarity. At the wide end, the maximum aperture is f/3.5, which is a nice feature for low-light shooting. At the long end, you lose some speed with a maximum aperture of f/6.3. No matter where you are in the zoom range, the lens seems to favor f/8. Even though sharp images are obtainable wide open, this appeared to be a real sweet spot. There was also pleasantly little aberration, which can perhaps be accredited to the inclusion of two types of low-dispersion glass elements.

This Canon EF version of the lens, which also holds true for Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts, has built-in Optical Stabilization. This compensates for camera shake at slower shutter speeds or when shooting with the longer end of the zoom range. It proved to be a helpful feature during some handheld low-light portrait testing. If you’re using a tripod, however, just toggle the switch off on the barrel.

Conclusion

The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM is a great lens. It might lack some of the edge that professionals look for, but hobbyists and amateurs alike should be very happy adding this piece of glass to their collection. There’s hardly a need that isn’t met, and its impressive versatility justifies its place as the perfect walkaround, travel, or exploring lens.