Review: Sigma 17-70 2.8-4 DC Contemporary Lens

April 27, 2014

Sigma lenses are great. I say that unequivocally for two reasons. First, the technology behind their imaging products is top-end and rivals that of Canon, Tamron and most other lens manufacturers. Second, they add receptive, courteous and professional service to an already great product which makes the entire experience of dealing with Sigma Photo a pleasure.

Recently, I was asked to take two of their products for a test drive. I already shoot with a couple Sigma lenses (the 30mm 1.4 and the 150-500 zoom), so I was excited to see how another lens measured up with my experience. Further, the lens I was going to be testing was paired with the Sigma USB dock that allows you to adjust and tweak lens settings…so I’d be able to actually perform technical changes to the lens I was testing during the test.

Might sound like fantasy, but because so many lenses come to market from major manufacturers with slight variations, it’s really cool to be able to adjust a lens right at your desk without sending it back to the company for tweaks.

Canon and its professional services division do this regularly for higher-end shooters who subscribe to the service, but the time lost in fine-tuning a lens amounts to a minimum of 48 hours and sometimes as much as a week. That’s time a pro shooter could be making photos and getting paid.


When the box arrived, I saw that it had in it the dock and the versatile 17-70mm 2.8-4 DC HSM OS Macro Contemporary lens as well as the USB dock. The lens retails for $499 and the dock is a mere $60, but the dock only works with a handful of lenses with more compatibility promised in the future. What this means for Sigma lens lovers is that you will need to swap out older lenses for the new ones moving forward, but the added functionality and personalization offered via the dock is worth it for many pro shooters.

Also, the lens is a DC version, so it’s a crop-sensor lens and will only work on crop-sensor cameras. If you spent $1000 or less on your camera body, you’re likely shooting with a crop sensor.

What did I think of the lens? I loved the macro feature, the range and the crispness and speed. My walking-around lens is a Canon 17-85mm lens with a slower f range of 4-5.6. The faster Sigma made a difference in being able to shoot at dusk and to capture wildlife in early morning and early evening. It also allowed me to shoot indoors without bumping up the ISO too much, and macro shots indoors in low light were easy to do. I got some great shots of my cat’s face using just room light – while keeping the lens speed high so she wouldn’t move and blur the shot.


The lens also felt great on my camera. I was shooting with a Canon 7D and the lens made it feel very balanced, and it had enough heft so the camera was solid. I’ve also done a little shooting with the Canon 24-70 and the Sigma was about half the weight (or less). But if you’re not selling shots and making a living with your camera, you can save yourself $1500 and get the Sigma instead. Wider range, big savings and definitely really nice shots.

What did I think of the dock? That’s a bit more difficult to say. I’m not sure I ever figured out how to correctly modify my sample lens using the dock. Although the instructions are clear, I didn’t fully see the difference made by tweaking the settings. When moving where you lens focuses, you must have a real feel for what’s wrong (or right) with the focus distance at all points in the zoom range.

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Though, this didn’t stop me from completely putting the dock and lens through all the setting possible and then trying to see the differences. Didn’t work for me. Maybe I need to develop a more discerning eye, or maybe I was shooting stuff that wasn’t visually specific enough to see sharpness at all areas. Perhaps the next time I get my hands on a dock and lens combo, I’ll bring a calibration board with me and shoot more dramatic scenes. The cat’s whiskers and the turkeys in the snow didn’t provide a perfect subject for this.

Ultimately – and here are a few shots I took with the Sigma 17-70 – I would buy this lens if I were looking for a solid workhorse to cover that range. Photo quality and lens speed were impressive. I think the only way you could try to do better in this price range is by looking at some of the Canon offerings or a full-frame model…but then you’d be paying a bit more for similar quality.

Read more about the lens on Sigma’s site.

And here are those shots I promised…