Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS

Posted on 26 February 2012, 10:51

At the beginning of January I was lucky enough to win a couple of grand (£2006, to be precise) on the Lottery.

Obviously I could have made good use of this by getting a new (and, in truth, much-needed!) new central heating boiler; or perhaps getting the roof retiled.

So of course, I bought a new lens! The Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS was soon in my hands, thanks to the good people at Harrison Cameras who actually had one in stock (they’re thin on the ground!) at a good price, and who got the lens to me within a day of me placing the order.

I’ve not had as many opportunities as I’d have liked to test it out (I’ve noted before that the Winter’s a bloody silly time to buy new kit!), but I’ve had enough time with it to have drawn some pretty firm initial conclusions.

I like it. A lot.

Compared to the 100-400mm, the weight difference is stark. It’s a heavy lens (twice the heft of the Canon, at 61/2 lbs). Initially this was a worry – I have no problem with waving the 100-400mm around all day, but the first couple of times with the Siggy, the weight difference was very obvious. But having been out a few times now, I’m noticing that I’m not noticing the lens’ weight – I’m already getting accustomed to it. Let’s face it, we’re only talking about another three pounds.

I’m taking longer to get used to the zoom: I have actively to remember to ensure that the twist zoom hasn’t zoomed out simply because of how I hold it (it’s pretty much unavoidable that this will happen – my left hand is directly under the zoom), but it’s just a matter of getting used to it, and I’m confident that I will.

OK, that’s the handling touched on.

Early testing resulted in some inconclusive – and worrying – AF results (note that from Day One the lens has had a 1.4x TC behind it: either my Kenko or Canon 1.4x initially, and eventually a Sigma 1.4x): some close-up images wide open at f/4 were inexplicably soft and OOF.

However, this seems to have been down to a combination of not being used to f/4 on very close subjects (yes, I know that the DOF on say, a swan at around MFD, 420mm and f/4 is going to be tiny – as I say, I’m not used to it!); and a simple lack of contrast for the AF to lock onto in the grey dull conditions these results were happening in.

Suffice to say, this is much more typical of the results in those circumstances… Not exactly horrible, is it?

But the Siggy’s AF is noticeably faster than the 100-400’s, even with a 1.4x TC – and in fact, it pretty much maintains that speed when used with a Sigma 2x.

I’d read a review of the Sigma 300mm f/2.8 prime a while ago suggesting that this might be the case, which encouraged me to track down the Sigma 2x (I got it, and the Sigma 1.4x I use now, from MPB Photographic – £109 each, which is a very good price for as-new converters) and – so far – my findings would support the idea that in AF speed terms, the Sigma TCs are almost “invisible”.

And – so far – I haven’t missed the Sigma’s lack of a focus limiter switch at all.

One of the big things about this lens was the introduction of Sigma’s Optical Stabilisation (“OS”) – their version of Canon’s IS – and it’s fantastic. I can easily believe, in direct comparision with the two stop stabilisation quoted for the 100-400mm, that the Sigma’s stated four stops is right.

Something else I’m really appreciating about the Sigma is that the contrast and colour in images from it are much better than I’ve seen from the Canon: there’s a richness and depth to the files I simply don’t see from the 100-400mm, and I’m extremely pleased about this completely unanticipated benefit.

And of course, f/2.8 (or more likely f/4) means a lot more light reaching the sensor, so – if I want – I can use lower ISOs than I might otherwise have needed.

All in all then, so far so good – it’s a sharp, responsive, flexible, and genuinely high quality piece of kit, capable of excellent results hand-held.

As I suggest, I’m still testing it out, but I’m really encouraged by results so far.

For example…

Short eared owl, Cramlington. 420mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 800

Stonechat, Blyth. 420mm, f/4, 1/5000s, ISO 800. Heavy crop

Carrion crow, North Shields. 420mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 400

Carrion crow, North Shields. 308mm, f/5, 1/320s, ISO 400

Muscovy duck, Bolam Lake. 420mm, f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 400

Moorhen, Blyth. 588mm (2 1.4x converters stacked – it’s like this with a 2x too), f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 400

And finally, an example of one of the main reasons I wanted a faster lens – lots of foreground/background blur:

Rock Pipit, Tynemouth. 420mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 400

To finish, I’ll just mention that the new lens needed a new bag.

It didn’t take long for me to settle on the LowePro Flipside 400.

This bag comfortably takes the lens with gripped 7D and TC (yes, the 2x if you want) attached, with room to spare and without being too big and bulky – much more manageable than my relatively enormous Photo Trekker Classic for example.

It’s a nice bag, the Flipside…

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