Wide-angle, wide-aperture lenses tend to be oversized — the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary narrows the iris to create a highly portable and more affordable wide-angle lens. Available in E-Mount and L-Mount, the lens sports a metal build and the classic look of the Contemporary series. While some photographers will quickly dismiss the lens at the f4 in the name, that’s the key to the lens’ size and ability to capture close-ups.
I spent some time with the $599 lens — and found some surprisingly lovable quirks.
The Big Picture
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is a refreshingly quirky lens with an ideal balance between character and technical greatness. The wide view, close minimum focusing distance, flare, and colors work together to create photographs with character. The lens also has a nice metal construction and a classic look.
While the lens is easily loveable, it’s not perfect. The weather-sealing is just at the mount. And while sufficient, the autofocus isn’t ideal for fast action. Other photographers will simply skip it just because of the narrower f4 aperture.
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is a highly portable lens that’s dripping with character. I’m giving the lens four out of five stars. Want one? Check them out at Amazon.
- Classic metal design
- Compact size
- The close focus capabilities are great
- Beautiful bokeh, surprising for a 17mm f4 lens
- Great colors
- Lots of character and fun lens flare
- Weather sealing is only at the mount
- Autofocus has occasional misses for action
I tested the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary with the Leica SL2. Both the lens and camera body were a short-term review generously provided by LensRentals.
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary captures ultra-wide views without lugging around a large lens. It’s designed to stay small. Of course, this isn’t the only compact wide-angle lens around — it’s made unique by a close 12 cm minimum focusing distance, an all-metal build, and a third-party price.
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is a metal barrel lens with a lovely compact and minimalist design. The lens weighs about half a pound. It only takes up a 2.5-inch slot in a camera bag, and the front accepts 55mm filters.
There are just three controls on the Sigma 17mm f4 — a clicking, labeled aperture lens, a focus ring, and an AF to MF switch. That’s it, but that’s enough. It has everything I needed, yet wasn’t overly complicated.
The only thing I occasionally missed is a focal distance scale for manual focus. With the metal design, a scale would have given it an even more classic look, along with aiding in zone focusing. But this also would have made the little lens feel more cluttered.
The included hood is metal, just like the lens. It even has a texture similar to the focus and aperture rings.
Metal lenses have a luxurious, sturdy feel, and the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is no exception. It feels really great to use. While there’s a considerable price difference between the lens and the Leica body I tested it with, I didn’t feel like I was pairing a luxury handbag with a dollar store wallet. No, it doesn’t have the same feel as a Leica lens. But it still feels great.
However, the only sealing is at the mount of the lens. The lens lacks seals to keep dust and moisture from getting in other areas, such as under the focus and aperture rings. Without full weather-sealing, I couldn’t test the weather-sealing and wouldn’t recommend using the lens in rainy or dusty environments.
Besides the metal design, my favorite feature of the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is the ability to focus on objects roughly five inches from the front of the lens. That’s a .28x reproduction ratio which, of course, isn’t a macro designation. But it is pretty flexible for a non-macro lens. The perspective distortion of a wide angle mixed with the up-close focus creates a lot of character. The close focus is also where the most bokeh will come from.
A 17mm f4 lens, even wide open, leaves more room for error than most lenses. As such, most of the action shots captured with this lens were in focus. At the fastest speeds with the subject heading towards the lens — such as a dog running or a child on a bike — the lens missed a few shots in the series but still got enough usable sharp images. I don’t recommend the lens specifically for action photographers, but the hit rate is high enough that using it for an occasional action series isn’t an issue.
In dark or underexposed shots, the lens could still lock focus rather quickly. Make sure that the focal point is placed on an edge with contrast rather than a solid color.
Ease of Use
The minimalist design makes the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary simple to use. It’s not hard for new photographers to learn the controls. With a classic look, the lens is easy for new users to jump into right out of the box.
The Sigma 17mm f4 is not a stabilized lens. That’s unsurprising, considering the lens’ main goal is to serve as a compact lens. The lack of stabilization isn’t a big issue for such a wide lens — shooting handheld long exposures is the only time stabilization becomes really nice on wide angles. I could shoot at 1/10 of a second handheld and get some nice motion blur without camera shake.
The close focusing capabilities, wide-angle view, colors, and ability to create flare allow the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary to create lovely images. The 17mm focal length is less common than a 14mm or 20mm. Keeping with that theme, the colors, and character help build a look that’s a bit outside the norm — and that’s a good thing.
I had to double-check the metadata, I was so surprised that a 17mm f4 could create this much bokeh. As an f4, photographers need to use the lens’s minimum focusing distance to get that bokeh. But, when you do, the blur meshes with the wide-angle distortion. At times, the background felt almost like a zoom burst because of how the perspective distortion mixed with the background blur.
Bokeh balls are not only possible but lovely when using this lens up close to the subject. Points of light are rendered into smooth bokeh without any hard edges. While circular in the center, the bokeh takes on a more elongated shape towards the edges.
I really love the colors coming from mixing the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary with the Leica SL2. The colors were soft and muted but not overly so. If you pixel peep, you can spot occasional purple fringing in RAW files, but it’s minimal and easily edited out. The JPEG files were clean of this aberration.
The character from this lens comes largely from that wide-angle view meshed with the ability to focus up close. The lens has some character stemming from some barrel distortion, though vignetting is minimal.
But there’s a bit more to be had with some direct sunlight. Block the sun halfway with an object, and the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary creates some beautiful streaky flare with a few spots of color. This lens does not make the same typical photos you see everywhere, but you have to know how to squeeze out the most character possible.
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary is sharp without overdoing it. The subjects are nicely crisp but without being painfully so. The edges do have a bit more softness than the center. But unless you are cutting off the subject on the edge or extreme corner, it’s still plenty sharp.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
The Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary lens is a great choice for photographers looking for lots of character and unique images coming from a compact, affordable optic. The wide-angle view, colors, flare, and close focusing capability, enable photographers to add a bit of unordinary quirk to their work.
The lens isn’t the best choice for shooting in the dark with the narrower f4 aperture. The occasional autofocus miss may also discourage action photographers. And the lack of multiple weather-sealing points is also a disadvantage for shooting in rainy or dusty environments.
Photographers eyeing the 17mm f4 may also want to consider the Sigma 20mm f2.8 Contemporary, which has a similar metal build. The 20mm option has a brighter aperture ideal for genres like astrophotography and night photography. It’s a little bit larger and doesn’t focus quite as close as the 17mm.
LensRentals lists the following specifications for the Sigma 17mm f4 Contemporary (L-Mount version):
- Angle of View: 103.7°
- Autofocus: Autofocus
- Brand: Sigma
- Filter Size: 55.0mm
- Focal Length: 17.0-17.0
- Hood Included: Yes
- Image Stabilization: No
- Item Type: Lens
- Macro Reproduction Ratio: 1:3.6
- Max Aperture: 4.0
- Maximum Magnification: 0.28x
- Mfr. Model Number: 415969
- Minimum Aperture: 22.0
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.4’
- Mount: L Mount
- Optical Design
- Groups/Elements: 8/9
- Special Low-Dispersion Elements: 1
- Aspherical Elements: 3
- Diaphragm Blades: 7, Rounded
- Physical Dimensions (ø x L) – lens only: 2.5 × 2.0″
- Weight – lens only: 0.5 lb.
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