One remaining gap in my equipment list is a high-quality tele-zoom lens – in particular one that can capture portraits with a nice blurry background (bokeh). I already have two prime lenses that can be used in this way: the “nifty fifty” Canon 50mm ƒ/1.8 and the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. But for situations like events, where people are moving around, I prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens.
Two types of lenses come into mind: first, the “classic” 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, which is available from Canon, Sigma and Tamron in various different styles. Second, the rather new Sigma 50-100mm ƒ/1.8, which is designed specifically for APS-C Cameras like my Rebel T6s. All these lenses have one thing in common: they are in a price range where you no longer buy one “on a hunch”. Of course there are numerous test reports and reviews online. But there is only one way to find out which glass fits my personal photography style: try it out.
SO TEST THEREFORE, WHO JOIN FOREVER
Only a few of you will be so lucky to have a photographer friend who will happily lend such a lens for some time. Fortunately, there are now quite a number of suppliers who offer to rent photo equipment – not only lenses, but also cameras or entire flash and lighting equipment. I have used such a service twice now, and have had very good experiences doing so.
The company I use is ZoomyRentals.de. They are in Berlin, Germany, and offer a wide variety of camera, lenses and accessories by and for Canon, Sony, and Nikon. They ship only inside Germany of course, but wherever you are – search for “rent camera lens” online, and I am sure you will find a provider in your area. The steps described below will most likely be the same. Here is how it works:
- You register
- When ordering for the very first time, you have to upload a copy of your ID to your user profile for verification. Your name and address have to be clearly visible.
- You select the desired equipment
- You choose the starting date and the term of lease – this can be from 3 days to 4 weeks.
- There you go!
I highly recommend signing up for the option insurance that is offered with each order. With expensive equipment, it is better to go safe than sorry.
A DHL messenger does the delivery. You will receive your equipment on the morning of the first day of the lease, and a messenger will pick it up again on the morning of the last day. This is very reliable; delivery and pickup will be acknowledged with a signature, so you are on the safe side. Most of all, the package won’t accidentally end up on your porch or at a neighbor who might not be there when you need it.
All lenses come with front and back caps, lens hood, protection filter, and a pouch. This all will be safely packed between thick layers of foamed material. The box also contains the delivery slip as well as the return-shipping label.
Now you’re ready to go: you can use the rented equipment whichever way you want as long as you have it. Careful handling of all items is a matter of course.
SIGMA A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8
In December 2016, I rented the “big brother” of my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for one week. I had friends visiting me during that time, and I also attended a festivity, so there were many opportunities to test the lens.
LOOK & FEEL
The lens immediately draws attention: It is big. And it is heavy. Holding the camera leisurely with one hand quickly becomes an athletic challenge; certainly not a lens to carry with you at all times, but only for specific occasions. If you set this in relation to its price tag of around (Dec. 2016) 1,000 €, you’ll quickly realize that this investment had to be thought through thoroughly. There’s a reason for the weight, though: A focal length of 100mm and an aperture of 1.8, as well as the zoom, require a lot of glass. In addition, the lens is made from sturdy metal and manufactured to high standards.
I liked the handling of the zoom as well as the focus ring very much. All in all, the finish, which is similar to my 18-35mm, is very convincing. Also, I didn’t mind the tripod collar, which is criticized in many online reviews, when handling the lens.
CONFIGURATION & OPERATION DOMAIN
This lens serves but one purpose: the creation of professional-looking portraits with beautiful soft backgrounds with an APS-C camera. The constant aperture of ƒ/1.8 is its unique feature. The zoom range is rather limited – just 2x, compared to almost 3x on the classic 70-200. However, especially when taking pictures at an indoor event, I quite liked the zoom range. The extra 20mm at the shorter end definitely are an advantage in this case, and at the long end, you can make up for a lot of the missing focal length by cropping the image. Thanks to the fantastic sharpness this lens renders, this is no problem at all.
One point you will definitely notice is that this lens lacks image stabilization. In a room with lights dimmed for a festive mood, even using an aperture of ƒ/1.8 and ISO 800, I ended up with shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/10 of a second. Even when seeking support on a table or armrest, this makes it difficult to avoid camera shake – especially at 100mm. I could have increased the ISO, but with my Rebel T6s I don’t like to go above 800 when I don’t absolutely have to. The resulting image noise at higher ISO settings becomes too intrusive in my mind.
Consequently, I will definitely also try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization. Even though the shutter speed will become even slower due to the aperture being one and a third stops smaller, the risk for camera shake blurring the image will still become significantly smaller. I will see how this actually turns out in practice.
RELIABILITY & IMAGE QUALITY
The Sigma Art zoom lenses with an aperture of ƒ/1.8 – the 18-35mm as well as the 50-100mm – are famous for their rather ambiguous relationship to autofocus. It seems to depend on the individual lens whether the autofocus works reliably in phase detection mode (through the optical viewfinder) or not. The copy of the 50-100mm I had was exemplary: on every picture I took, the focus was on the spot. With my 18-35mm on the other hand, this is a matter of luck. On about one third of the images, the focus misses completely. Online test reports confirm the impression that this behavior depends on the particular lens; the conclusions for both lenses in this respect range from “hopeless” to “no problems at all”.
The back-up solution is to use the camera’s live view, because the contrast detection autofocus will always work – though slower (if you want to know why this is the case, watch this lecture). If you’re patient enough, you can also focus manually. When taking shots on a tripod, I prefer this option anyway.
The image quality is simply brilliant. Even when shooting wide open, the images are amazingly sharp throughout the frame, with just a touch of softness in the corners. And they have to be, because apertures below 2.8 are this lenses specialty. The blurred backgrounds are nice and soft; only occasionally the bokeh becomes busy when there are lots of little lights in the background. When you stop down, the lens produces beautiful stars around light sources. The images I made, indoors and outdoors, people and cityscapes, consistently enthused me. The image quality is definitely a very strong argument in favor of the Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8.
Recommendation: The Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 occupies are small niche: making professional portraits with an APS-C camera. It occupies this niche very well, though. The outstanding image quality was what excited me the most. The look and feel match the high value. Working with it was definitely very enjoyable!
Given the appropriate occasion, I will definitely try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization for comparison. Based on the experiences gained with both lenses, I will then make my decision. You will read about that here as well.
What I’ve learned: Renting a lens for a week is the perfect way to test it thoroughly and gain an impression whether it fits your imagination and expectations. I will certainly use this option in the future again.
And: it is a lot of fun working with a professional lens like this! The week of testing however also proved the lens’ limitations. As beautiful as the images are, the 50-100’s wide aperture isn’t everything. Before taking a decision, I definitely want to compare, hence renting the lens for a week was the absolute right thing to do.
- Written review by Dustin Abbott
- YouTube-Review by Tony Northrup
- YouTube-Review by Christopher Frost
- Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 on Amazon.com
Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.