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A Tale of Three Sigma Lenses

Posted by DigitalDarrell, 14 December 2009 · 3661 views

Nikon sigma camera buy should I lens darrell young
A Tale of Three Sigma Lenses

I want to tell you a tale mixed with happiness, aggravation, frustration, and compromise.

I've owned a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens for a couple of years now, and it has performed well and been a reliable lens. So, I figured I'd be safe in buying another Sigma EX pro lens. Maybe I was wrong. The jury is still out. Here's my story:

January 2009

In mid January 2009 I decided to buy a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Macro lens from Amazon.com for 2009's landscape shooting (lens # 1). This is a flagship lens from Sigma® , considered one of their professional models with highest quality, build, and sharpness.

In Amazon's normal excellent fashion they had the lens to me post-haste, and I plugged it into my Nikon D300 camera for happy testing. I went out and shot a couple hundred images and then came home to examine them at pixel peeping levels. Whew, was I disappointed. For a lens advertised as sharp, this one wasn't. I started doing some testing to see why I had sharpness issues and found that the lens has a serious case of "front-focus." If I close-focused on the "K" in my Nikon lens cap, the beginning "N" would be in focus, instead. I used the focus fine tuning in my Nikon D300 to try and push the focus forward to an acceptable level, but after taking the fine tuning adjustment to level 20—the maximum—I could not quite push the focus to where it was supposed to be.

February 2009

Around the first of February I contacted Amazon.com with my painful story. "Ship it back!" was Amazon's kind reply. "Send it to us today, and we'll cross-ship a new one to you. As long as you have the old one to us within thirty days we'll not charge your credit card." What a deal! I love Amazon.com.

So, I shipped the lens back to them that same day, and the cross-shipped replacement arrived a couple of days later (lens # 2). I opened the box and immediately did some testing. This lens focused on the Nikon lens cap "K" after a moment. It took a bit to settle down, like I was using Continuous AF, even though I was using Single. However, it focused on the "K" so I was happy.

May 2009

I used the lens for a month or two, and then had an event to shoot for a school. I shot the graduation ceremony of just under 30 students and during the shooting I had a really hard time getting my Nikon SB-900 to expose properly. I was getting underexposure on one frame, over exposure on the next, and a good exposure on the third. I struggled with this situation for a time, then changed to a Nikkor lens, and the problem went away immediately. At first, I thought that something was wrong with my flash unit, but the Nikkor lens disproved that. The only culprit could be the Sigma. :(

July 2009

"Well," I though to myself, "I want to use this Sigma as a landscape lens, anyway, so I'll leave off using it for events." I shot with the lens all summer in the Great Smoky Mountains and on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, USA. The lens performed very well with excellent sharpness and contrast. The pictures were excellent. I still had a little trouble with the AF system not settling down immediately as if it were seeking a better focus, but when it did, it was nice and sharp. As summer progressed and moved into fall, I started having more problems with the lens' AF system. It was beginning to refuse to focus at infinity between 18 and 20mm. It was sporadic at first, but got progressively worse. Of course, with many months having passed, I knew that Amazon.com would not accept it back, but I wasn't worried, "I have a five-year warranty" I told myself.

October 2009

I got through the fall leaf shooting season by finally resorting to manual focus. I figured I would wait until early December to send it off for repair since winter was coming and I'd be doing much less photography. About that time, a friend decided to get himself hitched to a sweet wife, and asked me to shoot the wedding. I accepted, then realized that I couldn't use the very sharp Sigma, since it wasn't focusing correctly. Then, I had a great idea. "I'll just buy myself another of these incredibly sharp lenses and use it for the wedding. That way, I'll have two of them around, and still have one to use while my other one is off in the Sigma shop." I figured I could give the newest one to my wife as a nice present when my repaired Sigma returned, and get off of washing dishes duty for a couple of weeks. It didn't work out that way!

I ordered a brand new Sigma 18-50 from Adorama.com, and it arrived in a couple of days (lens # 3). I pulled it out of the box and tested it right away. I noticed quickly that I was having problems with it focusing across the room on my Nikon D300, so I switched it to my Nikon D2x. Same results! I even tried it on my wife's Nikon D90. No change. I took some pictures with the lens and found that it didn't seem as sharp as my other Sigma, so I put both of them on a tripod and started testing. The new Sigma was only about 70% as sharp as my other one. So, now I had in my hands the third 18-50mm Sigma with problems in less than one year. I also noticed that the new Sigma's images were not on the same image level as my other Sigma. What I mean is, if I photographed the same object from the same location, the new Sigma's image was lower by a few degrees. I figured that the new Sigma must have a shifted lens element, which may explain the lack of sharpness and the shifted image. So, I called Adorama and returned it the same day.

November 2009

I contacted Sigma through their website and opened a repair ticket on my partially focusing, but sharp Sigma. I got an email giving me the go-ahead to ship the lens, along with a UPS label. I packed it up in its original box, with copies of all the warranty papers and sent it on its way (lens # 2). A couple of weeks later, I get an email telling me that they are ready to repair my lens, but would I please go to their website and pay the $100 that it would take to fix it?

"Huh?" I thought. "Pay to fix a lens under warranty?" I responded to the email that this is a warranty repair, so why were they asking me to go to their website and pay them $100? Here is the reply I got, and it knocked me backwards when I read it:

Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 4:38 PM
To: Darrell Young
Subject: RE: Estimate sb898

Thank you for choosing Sigma products.

I spoke with the repair department and they said it is not covered under
warranty because it is physical damage to the lens and that is why you are
being charged.

Physical damage does not fall under warranty coverage.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Customer Service/Technical Support
Sigma Corporation of America
15 Fleetwood Court
Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
(631)227-2021 (direct)

So, I sit here today, seething with frustration. Sigma is trying to get out of fixing my lens with the claim that I must have damaged it in some way. I am so frustrated right now at the injustice of this situation that I simply don't know what to do. To keep from exploding, I thought I would blog to you about it. I have never dropped this lens, treated it roughly, or ever done anything but carefully use it to take great pictures, yet Sigma is claiming that I have damaged the lens. It has not worked correctly from the day I purchased it, so if it was damaged, I certainly didn't do it. What can I do?

What good is a 5-year warranty, if all a company has to do is claim that the lens is damaged and then not honor it. Honestly, had I damaged this lens I would have owned up to it and paid to get it fixed in the first place. This is simply unfair treatment by a company that should know better.

Today is December 10th, 2009, and this situation is unresolved. I have emailed Sigma explaining that I did not damage the lens, and requesting that they fix it. I'll let you know what happens. Check back soon!

December 14, 2009 - Resolution

Well, I think we have reached the end of the line on this one today. Sigma is adamant that there is damage to the lens. I have no idea where the damage came from, but it must be there. I suppose I should have sent this lens back at the beginning, when I saw that it was slow about focusing. I have learned a lesson here. They are not willing to fix the lens under warranty. However, they have offered to drop the labor charges and fix the lens for $60.00 USD.

I don't think there is any further resolution available on this issue, so I am going to pay the price and get my lens back. Otherwise, it will just remain partially inoperable and crippled. I am disappointed, of course, but understand their limitations. I will never buy another new Sigma lens again. I will buy them used, where warranty does not matter.

I asked Sigma how this affects my warranty, and was told that the rest of the normal warranty still applies, but that the repair only has a 90-day warranty. Why not extend the warranty on the repair out to the end of the main warranty? Do they not have confidence in their repair department? Will the lens break in exactly the same place again? Is there a weak component in this lens that is troublesome? This lack of confidence in their own repair work further erodes my confidence in Sigma.

December 21, 2009 - Aftermath

The UPS man brought me my repaired Sigma (lens # 2). It works perfectly. It focuses at any focal length instantaneously. I've never seen this lens even come close to this type of autofocus performance before today. This tells me something important. When I received the lens from Amazon.com, it already had damage! I highly doubt that it was damaged by Amazon—it may have been dropped by a shipper. However, after my experience with the other two Sigmas in this tale (#1 and #3), I am highly suspicious that this is a Sigma Quality Control (QC) department issue.

Moral of the Story

If you buy a Sigma lens, test it very very well before you decide to keep it. If you detect any flaws, don't do like I did and decide to wait until later in the year expecting the warranty to cover the lens. Sigma is liable to blame it on you, just like they did me! At the beginning the problem was relatively minor and may have been fixed under warranty with no question. My using the lens for several months until partial failure clearly aggravated an already damaged component. This made it look as though I was trying to pull a fast one on Sigma. Clearly, they have little trust in their customers. I feel that they only repaired this lens at such low cost due to this very blog, and your comments underneath. They read it, and immediately offered my the "professional courtesy" (their words) of charging me less for the warranty repair.

If you acquire a Sigma lens and it works well, hang on to it. Sigma makes great lenses if you can find a fully functional one. Mine is sharp as a tack and nice and contrasty too. However, it was a long and rocky road to get a dependable lens. I had to return two, and have one repaired at my expense—while under warranty— to get satisfaction. From now on, I'll only buy new lenses from Nikon. They honor their warranties! Any Sigma lenses I purchase in the future will be used lenses with no warranty to "worry about." Imagine having to say something like that about one of the world's major lens manufacturers. Shameful!

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

I am surprised at Sigma's position and will think long and hard before purchasing from a company that will not honor their warranty. It looks like the Nikon 105 wins in the battle for my next selection of a macro lens.
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no sir mR Darrell, at this point I wouldn't.
I was considering this particular lens but will wait to see how the company treats your problem before I decide on which brand to purchase.

I wonder if it's not very easy for a technician to assertain the fact that somehow the lens took a jolt that's responsible for the trouble but I would ask if that same tech could say with great certainty when and how that occured?
this is where a company steps forward and honors the warranty, taking the customer's word that problems existed from day one and assuming the lens was damaged during shipment at some point and not the fault of the customer. (what good is having a warranty otherwise?)

bottom line, good companies take advantage of these opportunities to create goodwill and gain/maintain a good reputation, bad companies blame it on the customer and lose customer confidence.

I think a Sigma Rep will be at my local camera shop's open house this weekend, since I was considering a purchase I will pose a question to him " how can I be assured if I have a problem that the warranty will actually be honored, vs the problem be made mine and be left out in the cold?"

good luck,
Trey :blink:
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Thank goodness you posted this when you did! As a Christmas present, my wife always tells me to pick out something for my camera and buy it as a gift from her. I was just about to pull the triggger on a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 when I read your blog.

If that is how they treat their customers I want no parts of them. I'll stick to Nikkor lenses even if I have to save longer. At least Nikon stands behind their products.
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I've been looking at Sigma's 150-500 zoom, but if this is what they do to their customers I think I'll go elsewhere! The Tamron 200-500 looks alot better to me now.
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My confidence is quite shaken at this point. Remember, this is the third Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX lens that I have purchased brand new but that came in with problems. The one I sent to Sigma for repair was only the least problematic, the other two were a joke, and were returned quickly to the dealer.

The reason I bought the third Sigma from Adorama, rather than Amazon, is because I was afraid that Amazon was sending me lenses rated as "seconds." So, I ordered one from Adorama and had awful results from there too. I'm sorry I doubted Amazon. They have only treated me very well. I buy a lot of stuff from them, and so do members of my PlanetNikon.com forum through our Amazon.com aStore.

As a writer, if this problem is not resolved satisfactorily, you can bet that my thousands upon thousands of readers worldwide will hear of this. Sigma is already suffering with a weak quality control reputation. I get this from reading forums all over the place. Before my own personal experience, I believed that the problem was simply the result of Sigma selling more lenses than any other manufacturer on this planet, and the resulting complaints from that heavier volume. Now, I'm not so sure! Three lenses in a row with focus problems over a year's time from two separate sales outlets. Something smells bad.

There's an old saying in business, "The customer is always right." I don't fully agree with that but it does have merit. Refusing to fix my lens, with an accusation of lens damage, is just plain nuts. No one has even asked me if I damaged the lens, they just assumed I did. I promise you, there's not a scratch on that lens anywhere. I treated it with kid gloves, as I do all my lenses. I keep them in a $175 Lowepro camera bag. It has never been mistreated in any way. I am very sad and upset about this! :(

One thing about it. I have an author's page on Amazon.com. They pick up my blogs here and post them on all my book sales pages on Amazon.com. This situation will go viral very shortly. In fact, I just checked and it has already shown up on Amazon.com. Google, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeve's bots have already visited this blog. I hope I can report a good outcome. Stay tuned!
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First thank you Darrell.

I sometimess think I should get a 3rd party lens. Then I see things like this. yes, the price is appealing, but there is always two parts to a purchase, price and service. The more technical a device is (cpu and the like), the more prone to errors. So sevice is very important these days. If service is not there, where is the benifit in lower cost? Even if one went to a local shop, the cost will be large. So, now in addiion to the cost of purchase, one has to figure in the cost of service.

Nikon lens maybe expensive, but I get what I pay for. It has been years for some of my Nikors. I had an issue with a lens that I had for 10 years. Nikon fixed it with no question and at a reduced cost. The problem was one of the screws had worn out. It was an internal screw, so it could not have been somehthing I did other than just using the lens. Nikon fixed at 60% off. It was out of warrenty, but they reconised it was a falty screw. Service and standing behind your product. If Sigma wants Nikon people to trust them, it takes two to tango.

I guess I will have to forget about Sigma. Well... I guess I will see out this pans out.

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This is not the support I would expect on Sigma's EX or Pro line lens. I have to say that I have several Tamron SP or their proline lens and have not had any trouble I would expect Sigma to be on par with Tamron, but alas 3 defective EX lens is a very sad state of affairs. I would urge Sigma to live up to its warrenty and fix the lens to function properly. If not I can recommend the much better Tamron 17-50 f2.8 SP DiII LD VC lens DD.

Come on Sigma get with it fix the lens. I am a member of several photography sites trust me when I say fix the lens bad news travels fast on the internet.

Good Luck DD!

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Hmmm, not a good reply from them.

I have the Sigma 17-700mm which was my first lens used with my D50. I have mixed feeling about this lens as when I shoot outside, the lens works great but in halls ( where most of my shooting takes place), the autofocus takes 4ever to focus so I started doing manual focusing when this happens. :angry:

My future lens purchases will have lens with Nikon labels. :rolleyes: Maybe your future purchases should be as well.

Hope all turns out to your benefit.
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I was thinking more about this. If that lens had a bent filter ring, deep scratches, or cracked glass, I would expect a response like I got. However, I guarantee you that you won't find any marks on that lens. It is pristine. I did NOT damage that lens! It is clear to me that Sigma is simply stepping away from their responsibility toward me by using a huge loophole in their warranty. PEOPLE BEWARE!

I have heard nothing back from them, so far. I have little hope. I'll keep you informed!
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Dec 11 2009 10:13 PM
I've been looking quite a bit at the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6, but after reading that, I'm seriously considering sticking with Nikon lenses (even though I have to save longer as tlsmith said. I'm choosing the Nikon 10-24 f/3.5-4.5 over the Sigma. Nikon took me at my word and replaced my 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, no questions asked.
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