Monday, December 21, 2009

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 - Lens # 1

In mid January 2009 I decided to buy a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Macro lens from 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 had 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 - Lens # 2

Around the first of February I contacted 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

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. Evidently, due to a flaw in the lens it was not sending good distance information to my camera and flash unit. So, in addition to the slow focus, it had another rather serious problem, too.

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 would not accept it back, but I wasn't worried, "I have a five-year warranty" I told myself. As it turned out it is only a 4-year warranty, but, on with the tale.

October 2009 - Lens # 3

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, 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 (lens # 3) 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 4-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, 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.  Why?  Have you ever seen how well packaged lenses are when they are shipped?  This Sigma was inside a zipper case, inside a lens box with styrofoam, and inside a bigger box well wrapped with air-pocketed plastic.  In other words, the lens was inside of three packages.  It would have taken a fall from an airplane at 30,000 feet to damage the lens.  Yet, it came to me damaged.  Quality control if you ask me.

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 reading the progression of this very blog. After reading it, they immediately offered me 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


  1. This situation conjures up this thought. Nikon raising prices in a down economy made no sense to me, now it is becoming clearer why they did and with such confidence.

  2. Darrell,

    What ever happened to companies caring about their customers? I'm just talking about doing the right thing. Which is replacing the lens. If there is no mark on the outside, the lens was not abused, therefore any damage to the inside was not from abuse.

    Even if shipping the lens from the dealer to Darrell was the cause of the damage (and therefore not Sigma's fault) the right thing to do is fix or replace the lens. Not from a legal standpoint, but from a "I'd really like to sell more lenses to this person" standpoint. Better companies do things like this. They have the resources to swap the innards of a lens at minimal cost which would reap them huge benefits in customer loyalty.

    Just think if they had said "We think the lens was damaged somewhere along the line which would void the warranty but since we don't know where, we'll replace it no charge." Instead of all this animosity toward Sigma, Darrell would have been singing their praises and I would probably have not been scared off from buying the 70-200 I was looking at. Yes they are making $100 on the repair. They also lost $800 in sales just from me. That doesn't really seem worth it.


  3. 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.


  4. My confidence in Sigma is quite shaken at this point. Remember, this is the third Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Macro 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 forum through our 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 under warranty, 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 They pick up my blogs here and post them on all my book sales pages on This situation will go viral very shortly. In fact, I just checked and it has already shown up on Google, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeve's bots have already visited this blog. I wish I could report a better outcome.

    -Darrell Young

  5. Sigma claiming user damage is very common. There are a LOT of posts about that on various forums. found Sigma lenses to be among the most unreliable lenses of everything they rent. When they sent them to Sigma for repair, they got the exact same excuse, and that was even for some lenses that had arrived damaged, brand new, never rented to anyone.

    Lensrentals had a whole page about problems they had with Sigma lenses and their repair, but apparently they took it down. However, their lens reliability survey is still there and it's scary, with Sigma holding the top five most unreliable lenses, with #1 at an 84.6% failure rate.

  6. I have been reading P Net for years and 98% of defective lens complaints are for Sigma lenses.
    What does that tell you?

    My local Nikon -Canon dealer does not like them either and they are a super shop who have been in business for three decades. They also run into electronics that are not compatable when a new body is purchased. It is not economical to upgrade either. Therefore they become landfill. This does not save you money in the long run.

    My advice is to get a quality Nikkor lens.

    My guess is the AF motor was defective from the factory. That or the shipping protection is insufficient. Third possibility is the lens was returned previously and really was not new.

    I think you are lucky and escaped for $60 - for now.

    I never buy extended warrantees either. There seems to be an escape clause in them all.

    I can relate the Sony mini disc players. They first was an expensive model and it would turn on by itself after warrantee. I took it back to Best Buy with the extended warrantee. They claim they can not reproduce the problem. Sorry. It still does it. I put black tape over the IR remote control port and that worked for a while. Then I swapped the one in my darkroom for the better one. That worked a bit longer. I now have to unplug it from the main power. That works.

    The second one failed under warrantee and Sony repaired it without question in a week. Still works fine.

    My advice is a Nikkor lens, not the best out there but pretty decent. I have never had to have anything done to a Nikkor lens except relube a few old ones from 1965 and they work fine on my D700.

  7. I find it quite interesting to read this thread I found on the forums. It is from a lens rental company, and their experiences with renting Sigma lenses. Quite revealing:

    - Darrell

  8. It's over two years later and I still have the Sigma 10-50mm and it still works fine. I have not purchased another Sigma lens since this debacle and won't. I would consider a Tamron before a Sigma.

    I am using Nikkors as always. Interestingly, a few months after this article, I dropped a new Nikkor lens and damaged it internally. It was clearly dropped because it had a very rough spot during focus and damage to the front filter mount. I sent it off to Nikon and they fixed it AT NO COST! Nikon is a good company. If you want reliability, use them for your lens purchases.