Experience review Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM

Sigma_120-300_blauThe one or the other may have read my reviews of e.g. the Canon EF 400mm f / 4 DO IS USM of the Canon EOS 1 DX camera. My latest lens now is the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM, the predecessor of the present S (for Sport).

While the Canon EF 400mm f / 4 DO IS USM is the lens of diverse usability – especially when traveling – I was looking for something different now. In preparation of the purchase of the Sigma I searched after a bright lens for the “borderline” situation, for available light photography. I am bird photographer who specializes in photographing as many species of birds for scientific purposes and therefore it is not always sunshine when I am on expedition.

I have checked my needs carefully. In recent times – e.g. during a stay at Ole Martin Dahle near Trondheim in Norway – I had spent many hours in photo hides. Unlike when traveling in the mountains at 2500m above sea level (asl) or in the rainforest weight does not play such a role when you are sitting and waiting for hours in a hide. If you are not arriving by plane, you also have no problems with respect to the flight luggage. An image stabilizer, which extends the capabilities of hand-held photography at some exposure levels down would be nice, but this feature was not a knock-out criterion. After all, the image stabilizer should eliminate the need for a solid tripod or a fixed head. More importantly, the new fast telephoto zoom lens had to have a weather-resistant design in particular on damp days and at low temperatures. It should not “breathe” moisture of condensation (even in heavy snow and rain). The zoom absolutely had to be used in harsh weather conditions.

I then opted for the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM. I refrained from a sigma converter because I own the Canon Extenders EF 1.4x II and EF 2.0x III. These converters should be sufficient in the case of emergency. And after all, the lens was not intended to be used as a substitute for a 600 in the zoo.

After about one months in use and my first stay in a hide over a whole day at Wolf -Dieter Peest ( see report in the blog: ) Common Buzzard feeder at subzero temperatures and decent snow I can draw the following tentative conclusion:

The decision for the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM was perfectly right. Previously I had been sitting with the 600 lens in the hide and asked myself what second lens I should flanged to the second camera . Should I take the Canon 70-200 f/4,0 L IS USM with its excellent resolution or the Canon EF 400mm f/4,0 DO IS USM with its longer focal length but reduced variability? In this conflict the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 fits perfectly with its higher aperture and flexibility. You have the light – when you need it. And you have the flexibility of the zoom to switch from songbird images at the feeder to the fast flying buzzards. Additionally you can still shoot with very good results using the Canon Extender EF 1.4x II behind the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 to change the lens to a Sigma 170-420 f 4,0. In important aspect of a large aperture lens is the quality of the bokeh (out-focus blur). The Sigma does a good job here.

The Sigma seems to have a sturdy, weather- resistant design . Despite I spent in total approx. 8 hours in freezing temperatures on a snowy winter feeder in the hide, I could not detect any optical and / or mechanical malfunction. Quite unlike in the hide in Norway, where a dear Norwegian colleague finally had to unscrew his AF-S NIKKOR 200-400 mm 1:4 G ED VR II from the tripod head because of increasing condensation. This in a situation when you are shooting for Golden Eagles on a fox is certainly the worst case for a professional photographer .

I will skip over the optical performance. To this topic the relevant blogs in the internet has been written more than enough. I have set-up only shots for broadly comparable recording conditions (Common Buzzard ( Buteo buteo) defending his bait) in the gallery . Otherwise, I have not so many images that would show the sharpness of detail of the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM in comparison to other lenses. For more details, I refer here to the compelling Reviews and tests in DFORUM.

Recordings in advanced twilight seem to be quite a domain of the lens. The light intensity makes it possible.

Less than 3 Kg (exactly 2980g) weight , 28.9 cm in length and 105mm front lens diameter are of course characters of a small lens. Really handy is something different – at least when you’re used to the 2 Kg lens of the Canon 400mm f4 DO. In addition, the Sigma seems significantly less favorable balanced, quite front-heavy. Another limitation for easy handheld shooting is the somewhat stiff zoom ring . Handheld shooting are therefore not the domain of the Sigma.

The autofocus in combination with the Canon 1D X , or even the Mk IV convinced me both in terms of  speed and accuracy. The Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM ) called autofocus drive provides a fast and fairly quiet autofocus , which in contrast to the advertising promises ” virtually silent ” is still clearly audible in comparison to the one of the EF lenses of the 2nd generation of Canon. There are many impressive and sharp photos even of flight shots possible. What is missing – that should not be kept secret – is a focus limiter.

One point that has already been discussed is the fact that the focal length is – depending on the shooting distance – not equal the nominal 300mm. While a Canon EF 300mm f / 2,8 L IS USM as a true fix focal length perform its 300mm, the Sigma creates significantly less at the same shooting distance. Whether it is at most 260mm or 280mm I have not yet tested.

As I have already written, this is not really the criterion for me in this lens. When it comes to every millimeter, I’ll take my 600 anyway .

It would be nice if the lens would fit into a manageable backpack, the best with the lens hood attached . This is important if you are hiking with small luggage through the forests and likes to be ready to fire at all times. A combination of the Sigma with the Canon ESO 1 DX fits perfectly in the Lowe Pro Flipside 300 – unfortunately not with the lens hood attached . A similar drawback as with the Canon 400mm f4 DO.

The good thing is that the lens hood still gives access the settings switch in transport mode – and of course – does not hinder the manual focus operation. Now that’s a real advantage over the Canon EF 400mm f / 4 DO IS USM.

The disadvantages which are discussed in the forums refer to the quality in terms of finish and paint. Especially concerning the lens hood (paint peels off in some cases). Maybe this is true to an earlier series. The critics I cannot confirm with my Sigma.

Update 2014-04-19:

One issue, which is debated in the forums, turned to be a problem with my Sigma, too. The Autofocus did have a a focus problem. The real focus point – tested in an distance of 8 meters with my Canon EOS 1 DX – has been approx. 2 cm behind. Shooting birds, this might make the difference between a image and an crisp-sharp image. Thus, I decided to let it repaired at SIGMA Germany (Deutschland) in Roedermark only 40 km south of Frankfurt. The procedure was friendly and very professional. 5 days after delivery at the desk of SIGMA Germany I had the lens back. This was urgently needed because I wanted to go for hide photography on forest birds in Slovakia. I think, the results proof the effort. All photos of the Hazel Grouse were shot with the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM.

As I said above already, I am very satisfied with the Sigma. Second hand, this series is now offered at attractive prices. Whether the value for money fits everyone you must examine by yourself on the basis of your objectives and the financial resources.


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  2. a very good review of the 120-300 2.8. I am wanting to buy the sports version for the customisable settings and focus limiter. I hope it works well with tcs because 300 is a bit short for what I want.

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