Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Two days with the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM super wide angle zoom lens

Test subject one: My son playing Club Penguin. He is not sad, just focused on the game, and a little bit annoyed with me removing framed photos from the wall, clearing off the table, and moving the computer to get just the right angle. The wide angle lens distorts perspective, creating the illusion of an enormous computer and a rather small boy.
 I bought a Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 lens recently, and decided to spend a a couple of days getting acquainted with it. It turned put to be quite an adventure. I learned quite a bit. The very first thing I learned:
Do not wear a hat while shooting with a super wide angle lens!
If you wear a hat while taking a shot like this, your hat will fall off.
Working with a 10mm lens is a lot different from working with a 30mm or longer lens. With a longer lens, you usually want straight lines to be straight. With a super wide angle, the whole point is to have a lens that can distort perspective. To do this, you will need to tilt the camera up or down while shooting. If you tilt the camera up, for example while shooting a tall building, your hat will fall off!

Extreme angles – high or low, and strong leading lines are important when using a super wide angle lens.
The first day I did not really have time to do much testing. Work and playing with my son had priority.

The day after, I decided to take a long photo walk, and put the lens to the test.

High angle, with a slight downwards tilt – you can make even dull, ordinary things look interesting by distorting the perspective. I got the shot by putting the camera on a monopod and raising it as high as I could.
My first stop was at the Gardening Association in Gothenburg. No flowers to shoot there this time of year, but there are other things, like this lift.

When I bought the lens, I also bought an important accessory: A monopod!

Why on Earth would I want a monopod for a wide angle lens? Aren't monopods for tele lenses? Well, yes, but I did not buy the monopod to reduce camera shake. I bought it to extend my reach, so I can shoot from interesting angles.

I shot the lift by putting the camera on the monopod, so I could lift the camera high in the air. My Canon 60D has an LCD screen that can be angled, so I see what the camera is pointing at, even when it is two meters above my head. (I bought the 60D because the LCD screen makes it eminently useful for trick shots of various kinds.)

I used the self-timer on the camera, and focused manually. Autofocus does not work well when the camera is wobbling on a long pole.

Here is a thoroughly conventional wide angle shot.
 There is a spot in the park where you can see two buildings with reflections in the water, if the day is calm. Well, I was lucky. It wasn't windy, and thanks to the wide angle lens, I could get both buildings and the reflections in a single shot.

This is a thoroughly conventional shot, but there are still some things to take note of. In particular, take care with the edges of your shot. There are trees in the park, and some of them have rather long branches. I had to compose the shot carefully to avoid branches poking in at the edges.


When I had left the park I saw some divers in the canal. It turned out to be the Gårda Fire Department that was out practicing.


With a 10-20mm lens you need to get close, so I simply asked if it was ok to shoot while they were practicing. It was. I got some nice shots.

I made a mistake though. I should have lain down flat on the ground and shot slightly upwards, to get a more interesting angle for the shot of the diver.

Well, the next time I shoot a diver, I know what to do.

I met an interesting character while visiting the Science-Fiction Bookstore.
In this shot, you can see the difference it makes when you shoot from a low angle and tilt the camera up.

In Sweden, there is a yearly book sale that is quite an event. Lots of people who don't normally read books rush out and buy them, in order to not read them.

I usually do not participate in the frenzy, because I am stocked with books that I do read all year round. However, you can sometimes find a gem or two at the sale, so I sometimes do visit a bookstore or two.

I got the alien shot at the Science-Fiction Bookstore. My favorite bookstore in Gothenburg.

I went to Domkyrkan, the largest church in Gothenburg, to take panorama shots. The plan fell through because of the church is undergoing quite extensive restauration.

I settled for a less exiting shot of a candle, and decided to save the panorama shots for another day, and another blog post.

My son was happy to see me when I turned up at his school.
A basic rule of child photography says never, ever, shoot downwards! In most cases, it's a good rule. If you shoot downwards, you will shoot at the same angle you normally see children, and you will get boring shots.

However, with a wide angle lens, you can break the rule with good results. The perspective distortion lends interest to the shot. Even more important, if you can catch a great expression like the one my son has in this shot, you can get away with almost anything.


If you want to go a bit artsy, and focus on form, a wide angle lens is great. The most difficult part was keeping my own feet out of the picture. I used a filter built into my camera to turn the photo black and white.

The public library in Partille
One more example of going high and tilting down to distort lines and lending visual interest to a photo.


In the evening, I went to a meeting with the Lerum photography club. I took this shot on my way to the train. The lens makes the bridge look a lot longer than it really is.

When I got to the meeting, I took a shot of the building before going in. I placed the camera at ground level, and tilted it a bit. 
The 10-20mm range is more versatile than you might think. At 10mm I can cover most of a large room in a single shot. At 20mm I can get a fairly close shot without standing nose-to-nose with my subject.
The shots from the meeting are interesting only if you were at the meeting, so I'll be brief. After two days of thoroughly enjoyable testing, I am quite smitten with the lens. I like it a lot, and I know I can get great shots with it.

You might be interested to know that I lit the photos in the collage with a single Nissin Di866 Mk II flash. Thanks to the white walls, that was all the light that was needed.

Sigma has two 10-20mm lenses. The one I bought is the f/3.5 version, which is slightly more expensive than the other f/4-f/5.6 variable aperture version. In my opinion, getting the f/3.5 lens is worth it. I know I will be shooting indoors in less than ideal lighting conditions, so I need that extra bit of light sensitivity.

After two days, I have just begun to put the lens through its paces, so I have more fun testing to do in the near future.