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Review: Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro

Published: 2011.02.18

Copyright 2011 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Updated 2014.12.06

All images in this entry are Copyright 2014 by Wil C. Fry.
Some rights are reserved.

Recently I filled the gaping hole in my lens lineup by purchasing the Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro lens. For a couple of years, I've been wanting a wide-angle prime lens, and this is the one I chose.

(Copyright 2011 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)

Like most Sigma lenses, this one came with the lens hood and a padded lens pouch included in the box, and a center-pinch lens cap. All three are things that you won't get with most Canon lens purchases.

After a few days of use, my overall impression is very good. The lens is sharp, focuses quickly, has great color, and feels well-built.

How Did I Choose This Lens?

First, I had a very specific need: a wide-angle prime. That helped to narrow things down. Second, I had a very specific budget: $500 or less (and anything left over got to be spent on more camera gear). The budget automatically disqualified Canon's high-priced "L" primes like the 35mm f/1.4L or 24mm f/1.4L. Even a few of Sigma's wide primes were over-budget.

For my purposes, I defined "wide-angle" as somewhere between 20mm and 35mm. I have a 50mm f/1.8 so I didn't need anything approaching that focal length. I also have a 10-20mm ultra-wide zoom that does very well, and previously owned a 20mm f/1.8 which was just a little wider than what I wanted. I needed a lens that would function well enough in low-light (indoors, dusk, etc.) to use it without a flash. I regularly use bounce flash and off-camera flash, but sometimes it's handy to have a lens that doesn't need that extra light.

I narrowed down my choices to the Canon 35mm f/2, Canon 24mm f/2.8, Canon 28mm f/1.8, Sigma 28mm f/1.8, and Sigma 30mm f/1.4.

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 looked the most appealing at first. It had the widest aperture of the bunch, uses HSM focusing, and produces some spectacular images. Its price was a little steep ($439), but what disqualified it for me was the minimum focus distance of 16 inches. That doesn't seem like a lot until you're shooting wide-angle shots of a wiggling infant.

I know several people who recommended the Canon 35mm f/2, and it had the best price of my short list ($299). It also had a close minimum focus distance of 9.6 inches. But after testing with my zoom lenses, 35mm just wasn't quite "wide" on a cropped sensor camera.

The 24mm f/2.8's aperture isn't wide enough. Most prime lens shooters don't consider f/2.8 to be "fast". After shooting high school basketball for a living, I can assure you this is true. In fact, to a low-light shooter, f/2.8 is considered daylight speed.

That left only the two 28mm f/1.8 lenses. Canon's comes with USM focusing, which is quiet and fast, but is $135 more than the Sigma version. Sigma's comes with the lens hood and pouch, and has very similar reviews to Canon's model. Sigma's can focus as close as 7.9 inches, compared to 9.6 inches for Canon's.

So I went with the Sigma based on price and accessories, leaving enough money in my budget to buy a manual flash unit.

Focus Speed

Since I opted out of the USM and HSM options, focus speed is a concern. But so far, I've not experienced any significant delay in focus speed. It's not fast enough to shoot sports or birds in flight, but who would use a 28mm lens for that anyway? For normally moving subjects such as people in every day life, it works fine.

One quirk is the two-switch AF/MF system on these older Sigma lenses. Instead of just a simple switch to move from autofocus to manual focus, there are two switches. There's the normal one, plus a sheath around the lens that you must snap forward or backward. In the image above, the first switch is barely visible at lower left, while the entire focusing ring is the second switch.

For the user who's going to switch back and forth often, this will get frustrating.

Image Quality

I do not normally do standard "image quality" tests with my lenses. I don't shoot charts or "pixel peep". I make images under expected conditions and compare them to similar images taken with other lenses. In the case of the example below, it's an image I could not have made with my other lenses.

f/1.8, 1/60 sec., ISO800
(Copyright 2011 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)

Because of the low light (window only), I used the lens' maximum aperture (f/1.8) which gave a narrow depth of focus, and relatively high ISO (800), which left a bit of grain in the original size of this image. At viewing size, the grain is nonexistent. What makes this image possible is the close focusing distance of the lens. The wall of the baby's crib is just behind the camera. Without this minimum focus distance, the crib wall would have been in the way.

Even when zooming in to view these images at 100% size, the image quality (very good, not superb) is what I would expect from a $350 lens.

Size / Weight

In diameter (3.3"), length (3.1"), and weight (1.06 lbs.), the Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro is almost identical to my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM, so the heft of it felt very normal to me. It's heavier than your average consumer zoom, and heavier than many small prime lenses.

But fixed to a Canon 400D camera with battery grip installed, the balance feels very good — only slightly front-heavy, which is something I'm used to after shooting with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM (2.8 lbs.!) for a couple of years.

Build Quality

As mentioned above, this lens feels well built. It's not plastic like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/2. Unlike many photographers, I take very good care of my equipment, so this isn't quite as important to me. Even my cheaply built lenses and accessories are still scratch free and going strong after years of steady use.

But I believe this Sigma will stand up to the wear and tear of most photographic situations.

Addendum, 2014.12.06: After nearly four years of almost daily use, this lens is still going strong. There are no rattles or loose pieces. I can confirm everything I said previously in this years-old review. Additionally, there have been many vacations when I could only take one lens; I chose this one.


The Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro appears to be exactly what I was looking for. It's wide. It's fast. And it didn't break my budget. If something goes wrong or I discover more quirks or problems, I'll edit this post to reflect that.

Should You Get It?

Though I'm often asked for lens recommendations, I almost never give them anymore. You'll know when/if you need a lens like this. If you have specific questions or concerns, leave a comment below and I'll attempt to address them.

(This review was originally published on my blog, here. You can still read the original comments on that page.)

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