Ultra-wide zoom lenses are often described as speciality lenses, but in our experience, they're surprisingly adept as a carry around option for DLSR owners. Versatile for shooting outdoors landscapes to capturing home interiors in full, they're also fun for creating wild angled images unique to this category of photography glass...
Tamron SP AF10-24mm
The distinguishing factor of this Tamron is it comes with an extra 2mm of focal length over most of the competition at the widest end. The 10-24mm looks and feels like a nice piece of kit, yet it's the cheapest of the bunch. The heavy and chunky rubberized focus ring only goes a quarter of a turn between extremes; there no focus distance window, instead, Tamron uses numerals on the MF ring. Focus is snappy, but do not expect the fastest...not usually a concern while using an ultra-wide anyway. Image quality is "decent", suffering from soft corners at the 10mm end with wide apertures, and we found the best performance at 10mm is at f/8-f11. But despite all the trade-offs in performance, the $469 makes the Tamron SP AF10-24mm a solid entry-level ultra-wide option.
Canon EF-S 10-22mm
Now we enter to the realm of the Big Two category of lenses, which often come with a complimentary premium for both the name and quality behind it. The Canon EF-S 10-22mm justifies its price with solid metal construction; a thick, wide zoom ring and smooth zooming action characterize this lens. The one odd quirk is the focus ring is placed behind the zoom ring, slightly bothersome for some users (aka, us), while on the body you'll find a tiny AF/MF switch and the focus distance window. Canon's USM (Ultra Sonic Motor), results in fast and silent operation in any condition. Image wise, we found the best results at 10mm, withe only a small amount of soft edges appearing when pushed beyond. At a price nearing 2x the Tamron, $839, you can feel and see the difference.
Nikon AF-S DX 10-24mm
If you don't mind the "Brand Tax", the Nikon AF-S DX 10-24mm is often marked down as the choice of Nikonians, with a reputation in performance and construction to match the pro-model pricing. A wide rubber grip makes for easy zoom action, while the focus distance window and an AF/MF switch are placedideally for quick glance and adjustment. Focus is fast, silent and performed accurately. The Nikon is a outstanding performer at both ends of the zoom range, with little distortion or softness. The best image was achieved at f/8 and f/11. Start saving up, prices start at $1080.
The Sigma is a mid-price level contender, which is often cited as the price+performance compromise of shooters looking for Nikon or Canon performance without the premium pricing. Featuring a graphite finish instead of black, it surely stands out from the competition. The Sigma features a focus window and a small AF/MF switch right at the bottom of the lens; depending upon how you feel your way on the lens, you may like or dislike Sigma's choice to make the focus and zoom rings the same size, but both are smooth and precise in use, with focusing manually taking about a third of a turn. Using the AF is quick, quiet and precise without any hunting that can often characterized budget priced lenses. At the 10mm end, corners start getting soft at the wide apertures, but is acceptable and fixable in Photoshop or Aperture. Available at $740.
Get wide with these other options: