Bang for the buck, a photographer’s tool, more than meets the eye, moneys worth of performance – It’s hard not to throw around with clichés you haven’t heard before especially when every now so often there’s actually a product that deserves these high praises. The question is, is the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM as good as the expectations and even better than the predecessor? – Read along and find out.
When I finally got a chance to use and eventually review the lens I immediately grabbed the chance as I used the old and excellent Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG APO HSM without the OS unit and was quite fond of it.
The first thing I noticed was increase in size. Due to the built-in OS unit the lens looks a lot larger, the lens coating is also changed perhaps for the better.
Gone is the trademark sandpaper look from earlier Sigma lenses and in is the new rubberized coating – On distance it could be mistaken for a Nikon lens but get closer and you’ll see a much smoother coating than on Nikon or Canon lenses for that mater.
The coating does not seem thicker than before so time will tell how it fares against regular use. One thing is certain – It has a lovely feel to it and ads a bit of luxury to the lens.
As fine as the lens looks and feels as disappointing is it to see the lens hood is this time made of regular plastic with no apparent coating besides the plastic itself. Sure it does the job just as well and it is better crafted than other plastic lens hoods but on a lens in this price range you’ll expect something else. – The lens hood also received a size increase. The earlier version was very short, too short in my mind to be really useful so almost double the size of the old model is a great improvement. They also increased the width of the lens hood also contributes to an overall larger lens.
As always the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM features the quick HSM focus engine which essentially is the Sigma equivalent to Canon´s USM and likewise from other brands. That means no rotating lens barrel when focusing and a full-time manual focus override is available.
I was anxious to try out the focus speed and tracking ability. A bit disappointing news is yet again no focus limiter. – To be honest it’s not that needed for most applications but in the use of a BIF lens for the Nature Photographer you want to have the absolute quickest focus speed and limiting the focus range helps very much so.
Comparing to the Canon 400mm F5.6 L may at some point seem unfair as the Canon gather a lot less light. But the Canon features a much longer MFD (minimum focusing distance) – Evidently the Sigma focuses closer. Without using the focus limiter on the Canon the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM is close but not quite up to speed with the Canon lens. The Sigma focuses fast, but not instantly as the Canon does especially when using the focus limiter. With a larger range to focus through I think Sigma did a fair job but I would love to see the focus limiter in the next version.
In use the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM is more than a joy. The lens features a large focus ring and huge zoom ring. You handhold the lens by grabbing on the zoom ring. That means the zoom ring is very tight but since you’re holding the lens on the zoom ring the drag is just about right. Adding to the excellent handling is the somewhat narrow turn it takes going from 120mm to 300mm – Super quick in use! If mounted on a tripod the zoom ring to so thick you could use two hands for use it, not that it’s needed anyway.
The same can be said about the focus ring. Although half of the width of the zoom ring the ring turns very easily. Meaning you can actually use your pinky to turn the focus ring while the hand supports the lens under the zoom ring. This technique might sound confusing but it’s a joy to use!
The Optical Stabilization (OS) delivers up to 4 stops worth of performance. While it’s a welcomed change to the earlier version and one that’s hard to miss once you first getting used to it but I couldn’t help thinking it’s not entirely 4 stops but more likely around 3 stops. – With that being said it work and it works well and if you’re in good shape and able to control your breath I reckon you can go down to very slow shutter speed despite the somewhat heavy lens. Compared to the non-OS version it’s night and day.
And then comes one of the key features. – Image quality!
Despite being a zoom lens and featuring a relatively large aperture the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM is sharp wide open (F2.8) from 120 to 300mm. There’s no reason to stop down besides the increase of dept of field. Sure the lens gains a little but unlike most zooms it performs excellently from get go! The contrast is slightly lower than the prime equivalent but overall very impressive.
Adding a 1.4x teleconverter is a bigger task. Wide open it’s usable but not as good as the bare lens itself. Stopping down a stop heightens the performance up to level as without the teleconverter. Focus speed suffers only slightly on a 1D series body as do focus tracking. One thing I did notice was OS behavior. It might be related to what teleconverter you’re using but I noticed a viewfinder jump every time the focus would move one step – A bit annoying especially if you’re tracking fast subjects. I’m using a non-reporting teleconverter so that might have the OS system fooled in some way.
Switching to the 2x teleconverter lowers the overall performance, unsurprisingly. Stop down the lens 2 stop again increases lens performance quite a bit although it never really get to the level the bare lens offers. Auto-focus is somewhat acceptable on a pro series camery body and you’ll need a contrasty subject to get a decent result.
Downloadable samples straight from RAW files (right click and choose save as..) – Note I’m using a non-reporting teleconverter.
Sample 1 (120mm F2.8)
Sample 2 (300mm F2.8)
Sample 3 (300mm F2.8 + 1.4x TC)
Sample 4 (120mm F8 + 1.4x TC)
I had high expectations of the Sigma lens and they were indeed delivered. The Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM is every bit as good as the predecessor and even better in every aspect. I wished they included the focus limiter but that’s about it.
As often with Sigma high-end lenses it stands alone. There’s no other 120-300mm F2.8 lens on the market which makes this Sigma one of a kind. Market price has lowered some compared to the MSRP which makes the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM a bargain for the price – Superb lens!