Photography / Hands-on Review

Hands-On Review: Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens

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You have to give it to Sigma, the company is making some superb, unique lens options for all types of cameras. The 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art for Nikon F, Canon EF, and Sigma SA APS-C cameras is one of the oddest, with a fast constant aperture and a short telephoto to medium telephoto range equivalent to 75-150mm. Designed as an ideal complement to the 18-35mm f/1.8, this lens is designed to replace three primes with 35mm equivalents of 85mm, 100mm, and 135mm without sacrificing a fast aperture. Fortunately, Sigma was able to really come through with outstanding performance, even wide open, with crisp details and few to no aberrations.



 

I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I was given this lens; a zoom lens with a constant f/1.8 aperture seems like a fantasy, and had the skeptic in me ready to pounce. In order to test it, I put it on my a7R II with an electronic adapter and set it to APS-C mode. Besides the convenience of being able to shoot this lens with my regular camera, this configuration also offers the advantage of letting me try the lens in full-frame mode—a common question nowadays, since many users are adapting lenses to multiple formats. Luckily, the lens functioned nearly perfectly with the adapter, allowing for fast, accurate autofocus. The focusing system did make more noise than many of its contemporaries and seemed to “hit” the ends when reaching minimum and maximum focusing distances. No cause for alarm, but just lacking the finesse of a native Canon zoom.

A hefty lens

One other thing to note is the size. Photography and physics have always gone head-to-head when it comes to lens design. You can only make a lens so small before you seriously compromise on performance. Sigma went the less compromising route and, as a result, you have a hefty lens. It weighs 3.3 pounds and measures 6.7" long, so it's not exactly a lens you just toss in your bag for a day out. This also means it weighs more than a couple of primes in the same range, so you are really going to need to justify having a zoom for this purpose. A more conventional 70-200mm f/2.8 would be similar to this lens in size and weight, but with double the range. Sure, you may lose a stop of light, but if you are looking for a telephoto zoom the extra reach can be extremely helpful. A bonus is that most 70-200mm lenses are compatible with full-frame cameras, should you upgrade later.



 

Anyway, back to the optics. Sigma did nail this lens design, making performance a top concern, and threw in all of the company’s bells and whistles, including a series of low dispersion glass elements, a high refractive index element, and Sigma's Super Multi-Layer Coating. Also, the f/1.8 aperture will be greatly appreciated for its ability to throw backgrounds beautifully out of focus with an exceptionally sharp center frame. At f/1.8, there is a small amount of vignetting, which is not surprising, given the design, but worth mentioning. Flare is well controlled and it doesn't seem like there are any significant advantages or disadvantages to either the 50mm or 100mm ends.


100mm at f/2.2; 1/640 second; ISO 100


 


Fast focusing and sharp performance

The lens is sharp, which seems to be a major focus of Sigma's revamped Global Vision lineup. It is fully compatible with the USB Dock for firmware updates and focus adjustment. I didn't need to use it with the α7R II's on-sensor focusing, but having used the software in the past, I can say it is worth having. As you stop down, performance obviously improves by increasing sharpness and decreasing vignetting. Distortion is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent, which makes sense considering the focal length. Normal to medium telephoto lenses are generally quite good when it comes to minimizing distortion.


100mm at f/1.8; 1/200 second; ISO 100


 

Now, one omission of the lens is image stabilization. This isn’t a huge concern, since many primes in this range wouldn't have it, but many users would have likely appreciated it for a 75-150mm equivalent zoom because the obvious comparison would be a 70-200mm f/2.8. The tripod foot, much like the 150-600mm Contemporary lens, is extremely small. It may work, but it is tougher to fiddle with, and the smaller fit would be less effective at steadying the lens. A nice feature of the tripod collar, however, is the stops every 90 degrees, so you can lock-in the proper positions easily.

The rest of the lens feels solid. It feels good in the hand, has decent balance, and the focus and zoom rings are quite smooth. It is a bit large for the limited range, but it does the job well. Sigma doesn't state that there is any significant weather sealing, which I find to be a major weakness for this type of lens. Users are going to have to be cautious if they decide to pull it out on a rainy day.


50mm at f/4; 1/125 second; ISO 100


 


Where the image circle ends

And, for those who are curious, here are some samples of what the image circle looks like on a full-frame body. At 50mm there is strong vignetting where the image circle ends, but there is a good bit of workable space vertically, making it useful for getting a little extra height in some images. At 100mm, it will cover the entire frame with some noticeable vignetting in the corners, but nothing Photoshop can’t help fix. It is nice to know that if you need a little extra on the edges you can use a larger area of the sensor. The corners do fall off pretty badly on full frame but, for a little extra space, the extra pixels can be extremely useful.

Full frame at 50mm shows very apparent vignetting.
Full frame at 100mm has more coverage, less vignetting.

A note for video shooters: the lens is not perfectly parfocal, but comes very close. I could see this being used for documentaries quite often. Videographers will likely greatly appreciate this lens because it covers Super35 and provides additional depth-of-field control.

After using the 50-100mm, I was pleasantly surprised by the sharpness and control over aberrations. However, I struggle to see where many photographers would need a single large zoom over two or three compact primes. Photographers working in environments where lens changes are dangerous to the camera or where speed is critical may find this to be a lifesaver, but otherwise I personally feel a couple of nice primes would be a much better, and lighter, option. As a companion to the company’s 18-35mm f/1.8, it is a great choice, and it makes sense for users looking for a two-lens setup to fill all their basic needs.

100mm at f/1.8; 1/1250 sec.; ISO 100
93mm at f/3.5; 1/800 sec.; ISO 100
93mm at f/2; 1/160 sec.; ISO 100
100mm at f/2.2; 1/400 sec.; ISO 100

26 Comments

Anyone here using it for concert photography? I'm considering this lens to shoot concerts due to the low light levels of the current LED lighting many smaller venues are moving to. Looking for input.

I wish you would have shown this len's "depth of field" photographic ability on a "crop sensor" camera. After all, that is what 80%+ of your readers (and high persentage buyers) would be interested in. Many photographers use crop sensors at events, etc., and having the speed with the short depth of field is what they are after (let them choose whether they want the extra weight in their hand or wallet). The Nikon 2.8 24-70mm and 2.8 70-200 are pushing $4k (over $4k with stabization), but this 1.8 lens and the 1.8 18-35 lens are the answer to saving around $1,500-2,000, and STILL producing professional results. With the D500 coming out and now these 1.8 constant aperture lens here, most of the professional market, in my opinion, is saying, "Ok. okay, you have speed, more select depth of field, quality, and they're zooms and they're not 'full frame', and the Pro's ARE using them more and more." And that's what's all about, which you didn't cover. And I wish you had listed what F/Stop the lens "is on a crop sensor" camera (2.8, etc.). You should have also covered the USB port for this lens which connects it to the computer for adjusting the focus exactly — NOT only at one focus length — but many different focus lengths to MAXIMIZE focus at many different zoomed in lengths. This is serious business when a lens is getting over a grand, and I believe you should have covered it much better. Thanks...

Hi Craig,

If you look at the apertures of the images, you will see that there are images at f/1.8 and other near wide open apertures that have a shallow depth of field. Also, since these images were taken with the APS-C image area, the depth of field compared to say a 80D or a6000 will be exactly the same. There are samples that show it off, and it is quite shallow.

As for the aperture in "crop sensor equivalents" for a depth of field comparison, I personally don't find this extremely helpful and it tends to become confusing for many individuals. Shooters who are in the know, like yourself, can easily do the conversion themselves if they want, and individuals who are not aware of it can just look at the image and judge for themselves. Also, light transmission doesn't change if the format changes, so in terms of exposure the aperture should still be listed as it was shot as it is a mathematically determined figure.

I do mention the USB Dock at one point and link to it, but it is not a new product. Perhaps I could've gone more in depth with it, but there is plenty of information already available on the web.

Sorry this did not live up to your expectations, I hope this response helps clarify why I approached the review in the ways that I did. Please feel free to ask any more questions.

There is no conversion. A 1.8 is a 1.8. The camera does not change that anymore than cropping a photo at 1.8 changes it to 2.8.

Two photos, taken from the same spot with the same lens but one a ff and one a crop camera will yield the SAME dof. Crop the full frame shot and you will see this.

Can you get closer with a FF to get the same framing as in the scenario above? Yes! You now have less dof but not because of the lens. It's less dof because YOU moved.

Hi Rudy,

Thanks for diving further into the topic. This is exactly right, but many people try to relate the same framing when doing the comparison. It helps some people if they came from film or full-frame cameras, but it is a very difficult topic for most, which is why we tend to avoid this level of depth in our reviews.

For video shooters looking to add a follow focus gear to this lens, the Lux Gear 90-91 fits nicely, gives 360 degree rotation and is easy to get on and off the lens without tools.

This lens does NOT come in the Pentax k mount. I've tried multiple times to get it or to get one converted but sigma says it's not going to be making it for Pentax. It does however seem like it would based on the listing on B&H. If maybe you know where I could get one I would really love to know because I'm in desperate need for this lens. Thanks

Hi Will,

You are correct. It does not appear that Sigma has made this lens available in Pentax K mount. We have revised the article to correct this as we have no word on whether this option will ever be available.

Thanks, I wish I was wrong but believe me I've tried getting this a few times and they've told me they will be moving away from Pentax APSC completely. Do you know if any adapters will let me use this in a Pentax? Also what would be the downside of using an adapter just slower focusing? I know there is a 1.4x teleconvertor/adapter for Nikon to canon or maybe the other way around that would be perfect for this if they made a Pentax version 

The only adapter B&H carries that would enable the use of one of the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 lenses, would be the FotodioX Pro Lens Mount Adapter for Nikon F Lens to Pentax K Mount Camera.  The adapter does have an optic so that the lens can retain focus at infinity, which would act as a 1.4X teleconverter, though this optic can have a negative impact on the image quality achieved from the lens.  The lens would not allow for electronic communication between the camera and lens, so auto functions such as auto focus would not be retained.

I used this lens on a documentary shoot where the idea of having one lens to get a couple of different sizes during an interview with a shallow depth of field was quite appealing. The lens did pretty well in this application, but it has one serious drawback: it breathes like crazy during focus pulls.  Not an issue for stills shooters, but it can cheapen what would be a very elegant shot otherwise...

About 45 years ago, I added a 75~150mm Hexanon to my Konica kit. I loved it and it was an excellent lens at the time! I still have it! I may need to check out this Sigma. I love the range, in general, and my other Sigmas perform well on PK bodies; both film & digital. My wife will be thrilled that we need another lens! ;-)

I have the Sigma 50-100 1.8 for Nikon and use it on my D7200 (DX) camera. I love it, it's big and heavy but you can't beat that 1.8 aperture when you need it, there's simply nothing comparable to a 1.8 zoom in this range.

The zoom range is ideal for portraits, which is what I use it for, being able to go from waist-up to a tight head shot without changing lenses is nice, especially if you're not in a controlled studio setting. The lack of image stabilization doesn't matter to me since I use flash for 99% of my portrait shots, and the IS just isn't needed.

The ability to not change lenses is a great feature, not having to swap out primes and still get awesome quality is a big win in my book.

Bravo, Sigma, keep 'em coming!

Why didn't you test this on an APS-C camera body like the a6300?  That would've made more sense since this isn't a full frame lens.

Also, why didn't you use the MC-11 adapter for it?

Thanks.

Hi Aiden,

The answer to both questions is that I did not have one available at the time we had the lens. The adapter I used performed very well though with fast focus so it turned out to not be a handicap. Also, judging optical quality and performance is very doable using APS-C crop modes on a FF body as things such as sharpness fall off and vignetting are constant as long as you are looking at the same area. Additionally, many full-frame shooters are curious about whether some crop lenses can work with FF sensors due to their design, which this one pleasantly can at 100mm. Especially useful information for shooters who happen to switch between the two and are looking for lenses to fulfill needs with both sizes.

Very strange that this person would review an APS-C lens on a full frame camera and then complain constantly that it's a not full frame lens.

Hi Mark,

I'm not quite sure where you got the impression that I didn't like the lens because it wasn't full frame. Also, many FF cameras have APS-C modes so that you can make use of APS-C lenses. To further clarify my opinions, I thought that the lens performed admirably, though it has a unique range that some people won't find perfectly fits their needs. And, for those curious about FF performance, I included a couple images, where it actually performed much better than expected at 100mm.

Is the focus fast enough for sports? I shoot a Canon 7D/7DMii (crop) I shot high school and college sports

Hi TJ,

The focus should be plenty fast enough for sports, especially if you are using a 7D or 7D Mark II.

Why did they make this lense?

Hi Jacob,

The ideal scenario for this lens is someone looking for fast 85mm, 100mm, and 135mm lens but without needing to purchase 2-3 different lenses and without needing to constantly switch between them. Also, video shooters, especially documentary/photojournalism, will love the prime-level image quality and speed with the speed and convenience of a zoom. However, if you are simply looking for a fast portrait lens, a single prime will likely do the trick. Also, many lens manufacturers, especially Sigma lately, are creating unique lenses to take a stance as innovators and to fill very niche needs that camera manufacturers don't offer.

There another serious reason to want this lens as well. Constant focus! For a video shooter specifically. You can change the zoom and NOT lose exact focus. Having owned the 18-35mm f/1.8 for a good bit this my next purchase! On a full frame camera this is not a good choice! For a cropped sensor shooter this is your best shot at shallow DOF.

The crop factor applies to the aperture just as it does to the focal length! Focal length and "reach" get all the attention but it's not the whole story. Getting the full frame 70-200mm f/2.8 lens won't cut it for aperture on a crop sensor camera. You lose light transmission proportional to the crop factor! The smaller sensor just throws the extra light away! Nikon APS-C factor is less than Canon APS-C :) So you multiply FX aperture times the crop factor to get the FX aperture similar aperture for light transmission on a crop sensor camera.

Canon and Nikon will never make great pro quality crop sensor lenses. They don't now! It's not because they couldn't! Guess why?

You lose zero light using a FF lens on APS-C. Light is a constant. All you lose is some field of view and depth of field from cropping the frame. I've used crop and full frame lenses on both Nikon DSLRs and Sony mirrorless cameras, both crop sensors , with zero impact on light transmission. The same holds true with putting crop lenses in full frame.

Hello Everyone,

This is a confusing area for many. The light transmission does not change correct. An image will be exposed the same way with a Full-Frame camera and an APS-C camera if the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on both cameras are all the same. Now, an increasingly common thought in the comparison is that an APS-C sensor and Full-Frame sensor of the same resolution the FF sensor will have an improvement in noise and low-light performance of about 1.5x or 1 stop, meaning that in terms of noise equivalence the APS-C sensor "loses" light. This isn't really true these days as sensor development has resulted in APS-C and other crop sensors with comparable quality to that of full-frame sensors. Also, an older full-frame sensor may not perform as well as a modern APS-C sensor. So, there is not extra stop of light being thrown away with the APS-C sensor. It is still receiving, in terms of relative area, the same amount of light.

There is no light loss when using a FF lens on APS-C. What happens is a different focal length and depth of field, both due to the different geometry of the light path relative to the camera sensor. That's just physics. As you have a crop factor to the focal length, you also have to apply a crop factor to the depth of field, but the amount of light reaching the sensor area is the same. You only loose light if add a dark filter like a polarizer or a ND, or sunglasses to the lens :)

I shoot a lot of video interviews with Sony cameras (mainly the FS5 and A7R2 in crop mode) and this lens is far and away the best for tight closeups or medium shots. I was wary when I first bought it but one day of multiple interviews eased my mind quickly. Super sharp wide open, don't have to change lenses or move my camera and lights setup. This lens is amazing for video shooters since most dedicated video cameras are crop sensors anyways. 

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