Vintage Sigma Zooms
Recently, a friend of mine lent me two, vintage, Sigma zooms to evaluate before he started using them on his film bodies. Joe (the friend) knew that zooms of a certain era can be hit or miss (some still are, in my opinion), and he didn’t want to waste the film testing them. Well, I am happy to report that both zooms are functional, and neither appear to have noticeable mold growth. This means that I was able to use and test the lenses without worrying about superficial factors intervening. There were some caveats though, but I will get to them a bit later.
Note, all of the shots featuring either lens were taken with the other. Reviews after the jump–>
The 28-85mm range has always been popular among photographers because it packages together a semi-wide angle lens, a normal lens, and a popular portrait lens. Generally, these zoom lenses (see one that I love here) are pretty compact which benefits the versatility of their use as an all-in-one, walk-around lens choice. On the downside, these lenses tend to become a bit sluggish at the long end, and the complexity of their design means that distortion can be a problem at either end. They are usually decent at the normal focal length, but usually cost more than intro, normal primes, which are are also much faster and smaller still. In any case, the point that I am trying to make is that versatility is key here, and that brings me to talking about this old Sigma.
First of all, there is not much surface area to this lens that isn’t a part of either the focusing ring (biggest, as it should be), the zoom ring (a bit too small), or the aperture ring. This means that putting this lens on the camera body, and taking it off, can be a bit clumsy. Zoom creep is present, although dampened and unpronounced (I never really cared too much about this, to be honest). Build quality is quite good, and indicative of the era (my guess is late 1970’s-early 1980’s). To be more specific, everything is metal, including the mount, and all of the grips are rubberized and tacky, easy to rotate. Focusing is smooth.
The first caveat that I have with this lens, which affects its versatility, is with the zoom limiter. To explain, this is a variable aperture lens, meaning that at 28mm it can be shot wide open at f/3.5, while at 80mm, its widest aperture is at f/4.5. This is cumbersome if you’ve been shooting at 28mm at f/3.5, and you want to zoom in, because you have to be mindful of the adjusting the aperture to access the full zoom range (not dissimilar to other manual zoom ranges, but this lens makes you fiddle around a bit more than normal with the aperture ring before the 80mm focal length is “unlocked”).
The second caveat has to do with Joe’s lens in particular, but might suggest something about Sigma’s quality control from the era. There is a small bubble in the multi-coating, which is visible to the naked eye, but invisible in the photos. I don’t know how much this effects some of the features of the lens, but did note some vignetting, some hazing (probably do to the aging multi-coating or to some fungal growth that you cannot yet see), some softness wide open, and some severe chromatic aberrations. These deficiencies might be characteristic to the copy that Joe is using or might be more widespread. If you plan to use this with a digital camera, I would suggest looking to other lenses, however, on a film body, with a fast enough film, the problems might not be extremely noticeable. Stopped down to f/8, this lens makes tremendous improvements to sharpness, and chromatic aberrations decrease.
Full Name: Sigma Zoom 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 Multi-Coated
Max/Min. Aperture: 3.5-4.5/22
Diaphragm Blades: 6
Lens Configuration: Unknown
Filter Size: 62mm
Magnification Ratio: 1:5.3
Focuses beyond: about 16”
The 100-200mm was a common walk-around medium telephoto to telephoto lens for many photographers. The constant minimum aperture of this lens, f/4.5, might make it very useful as an available light portrait lens, but probably is not fast enough for most sports (nor is the zoom range ideal for this). The downside to how this lens is constructed is that it is long and very narrow, which makes it awkward to balance while hand-holding (especially in the portrait position). A tripod or monopod would eliminate this, but you will need a rotating head since this lens does not feature a tripod collar. However, if the light is there to increase your shutter speeds sufficiently, then this lens could easily be used handheld (note, I can regularly take sharp, handheld shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/20th with the right lenses, but I was hit-or-miss handholding at shutter speeds less than 1/60th with this lens; it is just an odd shape).
That said, Joe, this one is a definite winner, optically, and should be fantastic for film or digital. At its minimum aperture, this lens is sharp across its focal length (which is a good thing because, unfortunately, this lens will not stop down; should be an inexpensive fix), and the macro function is extremely handy. The focus ring is a good size and comfortable (although, if it had been placed closer to the front of this lens, then the balancing issues might have been greatly solved), and I have always been a big fan of the “push-pull” zooming mechanism. Zoom creep will occur with this lens, but who cares? The metal, built-in hood is a nice feature, and should be sufficient at preventing flares (not a huge issue for these focal lengths anyway) or bumps. Incidently, if you have the hood extended, the space left behind makes a great spot to grip it when attaching the lens to a camera, otherwise, the macro ring grip is a good place to grasp, if it is in the locked position. This lens looks to be mostly metal, with maybe a few, hard plastic components mixed into some of the collars/rings. For this reason, I expect that this lens is probably a couple of years newer than the other Sigma, and very comparable, build-wise, to Nikon’s late ’80’s AF lenses (see this). My bet is that this lens was originally purchased between 1980-1985.
Full Name: Sigma Zoom 100-200mm f/4.5 Multi-Coated
Max/Min. Aperture: 4.5/22
Diaphragm Blades: 6 or 8 (educated guess)
Lens Configuration: 9 Elements in 9 Groups (another educated guess, based upon similar designs)
Filter Size: 52mm
Magnification Ratio: Unknown
Focuses Beyond: 3′ (1′ on Macro Setting)
All photos taken with either of the above-mentioned lenses mounted to the Nikon D300.