A Surprising Sigma

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Nov 14, 2021.

  1. Here's a chunk of Sigma history, a lens one doesn't come across very often, especially in the company of it's rather unusual designated lens hood. It's the Sigma 28mm Widemax YS f/2.8.

    Lens Main Pnet.jpg
    When this lens appeared on our local auction amid a conglomeration of other photographic detritus, I was quick to recognise it and pay the very low "Buy Now" price. It has seen quite a bit of use, judging by it's cosmetic condition, but the glass is in reasonable condition. This lens belongs in an era when Sigma was building very high quality lenses; towards the end of the 1900's the marque seems to have suffered a decline in quality and reputation, which it has redeemed over the last decade or so with the production of the great "Art" series. However, in the seventies and eighties some very innovative lens bore the Sigma name, and this was one of them.

    The Widemax was Sigmas first 28mm lens, and internationally one of the first to feature a maximum f/2.8 aperture. Hence, the "max" designation, I suspect... Released around 1970, the lens sold very well, with photographers attracted to the speed of the lens and the quality of it's images. According to the one-time Sigma product development executive Yasuhiro Ohsone, writing in his fascinating "Oshone's Anecdotes" series, Sigma's then CEO issued a directive that all future prime Sigma lenses should feature a f/2.8 aperture or larger, such was the perceived marketing power of larger apertures. The "YS" designation indicated that the lens was constructed with the Sigma interchangeable mount, not unlike the T-mount system, with individual mounts held in place with three tiny grub screws. The lenses came equipped with a little screwdriver, to facilitate attachment and removal. This example had a M42 mount fitted, and as I have a small collection of Sigma YS lenses I also have mounts for Nikon and Pentax K.

    Sigma produced "The Perfect Hood" for their wide-angle lenses, and I was fortunate enough to obtain one along with the lens. These are exceedingly rare items and very attractive and well-made, with a flocked interior surface and clamp fittings to fit snugly around the exterior of the lens.

    The lens is of very heavy all-metal construction, beautifully smooth in all movements and with a very long focusing helical that allows great precision when focusing.

    Lens twin Pnet.jpg

    The optics were a retrofocus design, in itself a challenge in the 1960's when it came to constructing wide aperture lenses. Here is a diagram, credits to Yasuhiro Ohsone. This formula was repeated in subsequent lens series, right up until the launch of the very successful Miniwide lenses in 1978.


    I tested the lens on a walk around town with a M42 Adapter on a full-frame Sony A7R camera, a platform guaranteed to expose any faults or weaknesses in a lens's performances. Not many 28mm lens from this era have met my usability standards on the Sony, many of the Big Names falling by the wayside with poor corner sharpness, image stretching or other distortions, but this Sigma performed surprisingly well, especially considering that it's now around 50 years old and definitely in the vintage class. I'll post some samples below. I hope you'll find something of interest.

    Garden Pnet.jpg

    Crossing Pnet.jpg

    Jaguar Pnet.jpg

    Sidewalk Pnet.jpg


    Panhead Pnet.jpg

    Juke Pnet.jpg
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2021
  2. Great series, Rick. Sigma's fixed focal length lenses and some of their later manual focus zooms were quite good. When my family had a camera shop we stocked the last version of the manual focus 28mm f 2.8- the Mini Wide. I think somewhere I have one in Olympus OM mount. I also have a 24mm f 2.8 Mini Wide which is a good performer. I often pair it with my 135mm f 3.5 Mini Tele for traveling light. The Mini Wides also will focus to 1:4.5 magnification.
  3. Really nice.

    Here's a later variant of the lens in Sigma's attempt at an EOS mount

    Kodak DCS ProSLRc w Sigma 28mm EOS lens.jpg
    Kodak DCS ProSLRc w Sigma 28mm EOS
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2021
  4. m42dave

    m42dave Dave E.

    Very good results indeed. YS lenses are not very common now, though were once sold under several other brand names including Sun, Aetna, Accura, and Spriatone. I've come across Miranda YS mounts as well.
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    An interesting , and quite a capable lens. Always appreciate arcane photography info!
  6. The YS interchangeable mount has never crossed my radar until now. I wonder if it was limited to the US and Japanese markets?

    It's a shame that Sigma got lazy about the same time they introduced their icky 'Zen' finish. It tarnished their reputation a lot in the eyes of old-timers like me. There's a limited number of badly de-centred, quickly worn-out and just plain awful optical designs you can encounter from a company without writing them off completely as a serious contender. Whereas Tamron has definitely stayed the course.
  7. Yes, Sigma had a bad name as lenses in the late 70s. All "flash and no finish" is how I thought of them. All their lenses seemed to be labeled APO this and APO that, and yet they were very middling in performance. Now they are a completely different company. This earlier-still lens I have never seen.
  8. Ahh, there was at least one exception. Their 'Apo' (red ring) version of 70-300mm f/5.6 zoom was optically miles better than the non-apo version. Unfortunately the easily-broken plastic barrels of both versions were the same.
    However, it remains the one 'old school' (Borstal?) Sigma lens that I'd recommend to someone looking for a dirt-cheap tele zoom.
    gary green likes this.
  9. When I first bought into the Nikon system I found myself in need of an 80-200 as a versatile lens and Sigmas f/3.5 was what I could afford. Wasn’t the best but not the worst and covered a lot of news events with it. If I ran across a decent one now I’d probably take it home.

    Rick H.
  10. I want to second rodeo_joe's opinion. I've had my Sigma "APO Macro Super II" 70-300 f4-5.6 (red ring) zoom for over 10 years and while it feels plastic and cheap, has a sticky zoom collar, and noisy autofocus, the optics are great.

Share This Page