Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Review

The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens features a nice range of focal lengths, a wide f/2.8 aperture, HSM autofocus and OS (optical stabilization) in a well-built and reasonably-priced lens.

Most of us need at least one general purpose lens - and the focal length range is usually my primary qualification for such a lens. The 17-50mm focal length range falls squarely in the recommended general purpose lens focal length range for the APS-C sensor format DSLRs it is compatible with.

This focal length range delivers that same angle of view that a 27.2-80mm lens on a full frame DSLR would deliver, but again, this APS-C-only lens is not compatible with the larger format SLRs. Here is an example of what this focal length range looks like.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Focal Length Range Example

My field work for the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens review was done in early spring. After a long, cold winter, the bright new growth on the trees was looking gorgeous to me. The 17-50mm focal length range is nice. It works great for around-the-house shots (inside and out), for landscapes, for full body and head-and-shoulders portraits, for close sports and for a huge range of other uses.

For many, their first general purpose lens is the one available in-the-box with their first DSLR. While the kit lens is very economical, it is also the source of many emails I receive - especially when being used indoors without a flash. If there is any subject movement, the max aperture available on these lenses is not wide enough to allow the action to be stopped - resulting in motion-blurred images.

The Sigma 17-50 OS' fixed f/2.8 max aperture across the entire focal length range provides 4x as much light to the sensor (2 stops) as most kit lenses offer at their longest focal length (f/5.6). This aperture difference can translate into a big difference in your image quality.

There are many lenses with longer focal length ranges available. The longer focal length lenses frequently sacrifice image quality to obtain their range and most do not offer the fixed f/2.8 max aperture across the entire range. There are, however, many 17 to 50mm (or 55mm) f/2.8 lenses available from other manufacturers - I'll reference some of these later in this review.

As I indicated already, a wide aperture is a great advantage for a lens to have. Use the wide aperture to stop action (or camera motion) in low light by allowing a faster/shorter shutting speed and/or to blur the background. (a wider aperture results in a shallower depth of field - all other factors remaining equal). At 17mm, you are going to need a close subject to generate any significant background blur at 17mm f/2.8, but, at 50mm, blurring the background becomes an easier accomplishment.

If your subject is not moving, the Sigma 17-50's 4-stop-rated OS (optical stabilization) will be a great help in achieving sharp handheld shots in low light, in the wind, on unstable footing, on a boat ... and in other situations where holding a camera steady is difficult and a tripod is not being used.

At 17mm, I am getting a good rate of sharp images from the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens at 1/4 sec exposures for a net 3-stops of assistance from OS. I have some sharp shots taken at .6 and .8 seconds, but the keeper rate is very, very low at these exposure durations. At 50mm, 1/10 or 1/8 seems to be my shutter speed limit for sharp images. This is, again, a net 3-stops of assistance from OS. I have a couple of sharp images made at 50mm and 1/5 sec, but the keeper rate is very low.

On Canon EOS 60D - Top View with Hood

The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens is shown mounted on a Canon EOS 60D above.

With a wide open f/2.8 aperture, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens is impressively sharp in the center throughout the focal length range with 50mm showing very slightly reduced sharpness. The corners are soft at f/2.8 with the 50mm corners looking the best. Stopping down does not significantly affect the center of the frame image quality - nor does it need to.

By f/5.6, corners show a little improvement overall and improvements are again realized at f/8. Stopping down at 50mm, the center shows slightly more improvement and the corners show somewhat less improvement than the rest of the range - due to the slightly worse/better 50mm f/2.8 center/corner sharpness. At f/11, diffraction begins to show - reducing image sharpness over most of the frame (though corners continue to improve).

The Sigma 17-50 OS controls vignetting quite well. With a wide open aperture, expect to see about 1.5 stops of peripheral shading in the corners at the two focal length extremes with noticeably less in the mid focal lengths. Stopping down to f/4 reduces the corner shading to about 1 stop at 17mm and about .8 stops remain at 17mm even at f/11. Note that a normal thickness circular polarizer filter will add a small amount of mechanical vignetting at 17mm - even at f/11.

Some chromatic aberration is noticeable in the corners in the wider half of the focal length range. As a generalization, CA is worst at 17mm and slowly improves through the balance of the focal length range. The amount of CA exhibited is not unusual for a lens in this class.

The Sigma 17-50 OS shows varying amounts of flare over the focal length and aperture ranges, but overall, it is a decent performer in this regard. Bokeh (background blur quality) generated by the 7-blade aperture appears to be mid-grade. The odd number aperture blade count will create 2x the number of light rays as aperture blades (14) from points of light when a narrow aperture is used (even blade counts deliver 1x light rays).

At 17mm, the Sigma 17-50 exhibits a noticeable bulge-in-the-middle barrel distortion. This distortion smoothly transitions to mild pincushion distortion at 50mm with approximately 25mm being the near-distortion-free transition focal length.

Overall, I'm pleased with the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens' image quality, though the corner sharpness is the most lacking piece of the overall image quality puzzle.

The Sigma 17-50 OS incorporates Sigma's (Hypersonic Motor) for moderately fast autofocusing. Though reasonably quietly, the 17-50 generates some gear noise during AF. Focus accuracy has been the biggest issue I've encountered with this lens. I've had many shots misautofocused for no apparent reason - especially in AI Servo mode.

Focusing is internal - the front element does not extend or rotate. Expect a relatively small amount of focus breathing from this lens - the subject/framing changes size a small amount when focusing.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is not featured in this HSM AF implementation - the focus ring turns during AF. A printed-on-the-MF-ring focus distance scale is provided - and reveals the lack of FTM.

The focus ring is nicely sized and in the position I prefer - as the front-most ring. The Sigma 17-50 focuses smoothly, but with a relatively short 42° rotation and low rotation resistance, precise focusing is touchy.

The table below reviews a large number of general purpose lenses' minimum focus distances and maximum magnifications.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.21x
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.16x
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens11.8"(300mm)0.20x
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens9.8"(250mm)0.34x
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens19.3"(490mm)0.21x
Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens17.7"(450mm)0.24x
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.20x
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS Lens8.7"(220mm)0.37x
Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.26x
Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS Lens17.7"(450mm)0.26x
Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.29x
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens10.6"(270mm)0.22x
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC Lens11.4"(290mm)0.21x
Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di II Lens17.7"(450mm)0.27x
Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Lens19.3"(490mm)0.29x

With an 11" (280mm) MFD and a .2x MM spec, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens is not a strong contender in the close-up competition. But, these specs are in line with the other 17-fiftysomething f/2.8 lenses. And, these figures are good enough for many close subject needs.

However, that is not the end of the close-up story. The tested MFD for this lens is 9.17” (233mm) which should equate to about .24x MM. MFD testing uses manual focusing - and this lens indeed manually focuses closer than it will autofocus.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens has very good build quality. I have not been a big fan of Sigma's matte finish - especially because it readily shows fingerprints and dust. The good news is that only the edges of the zoom and focus rings retain the conventional Sigma finish. The hood and mount areas, the main lens areas not covered by rubber zoom or focus ring, are a much nicer (my opinion of course) smooth finish.

The focus and zoom rings are very smooth with no play. The zoom ring has an ideal amount of resistance while, as I indicated earlier in the review, the focus ring is slightly too easy to rotate.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare >

Like all other zoom lenses in its class, the Sigma 17-50 OS extends when zoomed to its longest focal length. There is very little play in the extending portion of the barrel.

My purchased-retail copy of this lens does not exhibit gravity-zooming behavior, but a lock switch is provided to assure the lens stays retracted at 17mm. The other two switches - AF/M and OS On/Off are noticeably raised from the lens barrel. These switches are located close enough to the lens mount that they are not uncomfortable during use, but they are easy to find with your left thumb.

The relatively small lens hood is large enough to help keep fingers and other objects from touching the front element. The Sigma center-and-side-pinch lens cap is very nice and is easy to install or remove with the hood in place.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens20.3 oz(575g)3.2 x 3.4"(81.6 x 87.5mm)72mm2009
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens22.8 oz(645g)3.3 x 4.4"(83.5 x 110.6mm)77mm2006
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens16.8 oz(475g)3.1 x 3.6"(79 x 92mm)67mm2004
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens7.1 oz(200g)2.7 x 3.3"(68.5 x 84.5mm)58mm2011
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens16.1 oz(455g)3 x 4"(75.4 x 101mm)67mm2009
Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens21 oz(595g)3.1 x 4"(78.6 x 102mm)72mm2008
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens19.9 oz(565g)3.3 x 3.6"(83.5 x 91.8mm)77mm2010
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS Lens18.9 oz(535g)3.1 x 3.5"(79 x 88.9mm)72mm2010
Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM Lens17.8 oz(505g)2.9 x 3.5"(74 x 88.5mm)67mm2008
Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS Lens21.5 oz(610g)3.1 x 3.9"(79 x 100mm)72mm
Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM Lens22.2 oz(630g)3.1 x 4"(79 x 101mm)72mm2009
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens15.3 oz(434g)3.2 x 2.9"(81.7 x 74mm)67mm2006
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC Lens20.1 oz(570g)3.1 x 3.7"(79.6 x 94.5mm)72mm2009
Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di II Lens14 oz(398g)2.9 x 3.3"(73.8 x 83.7mm)62mm
Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Lens19.4 oz(550g)3.1 x 4"(79.6 x 101mm)72mm2008

For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

The Sigma 17-50 OS is in the middle of its class in the size and weight categories. I find a lens with this size and weight to be easy to take with you, comfortable to use and to have enough mass to be stable.

The 77mm filter size is not small, but it is very common - making the sharing of certain filters easy (no step-up rings required).

Here is a visual look at some of the above-referenced lenses.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Compared to Similar 17-50mm Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC Lens
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Compared to Similar 17-50mm Lenses with Hoods

You can create your own comparisons using the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Image Comparison. Here is one more comparison – click on the image below to compare the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens to other lens models with and without hoods (opens in new window to save your place in this review).

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens on Camera Comparison

Let's review some outdoor results from a selection of similar lenses. To comparison test outdoors, a clear day is the first requirement. Any clouds in the sky, even if they appear to be even, can change the lighting between shots and cause one lens to appear better or worse than it is.

The first comparison test results I am sharing are from the absolute top left corner of the frame out of a Canon EOS 60D using the Standard Picture Style and a sharpness setting of "1" (very low). Lenses were set to approximately 28mm. The same tripod-mounted camera position was used, but this does not mean identical corner framing due to lens focal length marking discrepancies and my guess at the focal length setting on lenses not having 28mm marked.

Specific image content aside, I think that you will be able to discern a reasonable difference between the lenses in this example. These 28mm results are generally indicative of the performance of these lenses over their entire focal length range.

Note that, to reduce page load time (especially for mobile users), this comparison is being hosted on a separate page. Click on the image below to open this comparison in a new window. Read the comparison discussion on that page.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Image Quality Comparison - 17mm Corner

If you read the discussion on the comparison page, skip down to the "mounts" paragraph.

With wide open apertures, the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens and the impressive-for-the-price Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens (non-VC) turn in the best corner performance.

The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens indeed turned in better corner performance at a wide open aperture than stopped down one or perhaps even two stops in this test. This of course means the other lenses are better performers at f/4 and f/5.6 with the Sigma 17-70 being a possible exception.

The Sigma 17-70 would better fit in a difference class of lenses due to its narrower aperture and longer focal length range, but including it here shows me what it can do as I prepare to write the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS Lens review.

With light being least redirected in the center of their image circles, most lenses perform best in the center of the frame. As I said earlier in this review, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens turns in very impressive center-of-the-frame performance. Even at its center image quality weakest focal length, 50mm, the Sigma performs on par with the Canon 17-55 (which is set to 55mm in the following comparison). Again, click on the image to see the comparison.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Image Quality Comparison - 50mm Center

The above comparison images were shots with the Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D using the Standard Picture Style and a sharpness setting of "1" (very low). The Sigma 17-50 shows a more-clear advantage in the center of the frame at the lower end of its focal length range.

One difference I've noticed in the various comparison tests I've shot is that the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens consistently produces warmer image colors than the Canon 17-55. I've actually preferred the warmer image in the majority of comparisons I've noticed this difference in.

From a flare standpoint, the Sigma 17-50 OS compares favorably to the rest of these lenses. Perhaps slightly better overall than the Canon 17-55 and the Tamron 17-50 non-VC. The Tamron 17-50 VC is the clear loser in the flare competition.

The Sigma 17-50 OS and the Tamron 17-50 non-VC lenses exhibit the least vignetting with the Canon 17-55 and the Tamron 17-50 VC showing the most.

The Canon EF-S 17-55 has less barrel distortion at 17mm than the other lenses, but more pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. The other lenses are similar in their distortion amounts. I didn't see any significant differentiators from a CA standpoint - these lenses are all similar in this regard.

The Canon 17-55 wins the AF performance category - this is a big advantage in my opinion. The Canon 17-55, however, is the loser in the price comparison. It costs far more than the Sigma 17-50. The Sigma 17-50 is slightly more expensive than the Tamron 17-50 VC, but the better-optically-performing Tamron 17-50 non-VC is considerably less expensive. It, of course, lacks image stabilization - another big advantage in my opinion.

The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Pentax, Sony/Minolta and Sigma mounts. My standard disclaimer: There are some potential issues with third party lenses. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF routines, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Sigma USA's 4-year warranty is far superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (Sigma's international warranty is also 1 year).

If you don't need sharp corners (except at f/11) and you don't need every shot focused perfectly, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens is a great lens for the price. This is a good upgrade-to-the-kit-lens option.

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