Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S lens Review

 

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, ISO 12,800 @ 420mm, 1/2000, ƒ/4

As promised and after shooting with the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game this is my opinion of the lens.

Remember to read my earlier post about calibrating this lens HERE. If you don’t calibrate you will not see how incredibly sharp this lens can be.

Build

I need to agree with almost all other reviews of the lens when it comes to your first impression of the lens. It is well built and I love the new black matte finish as compared to the earlier finishes that Sigma used on their lenses.

Unlike the predecessors this lens comes with a lens cap, which I prefer over the fabric one.

The lens hood is longer and better built with ridges inside, which help, keep light from bouncing around and giving you lens flair.  The attachment to the lens seems much more sturdy.

The good news is you do not need to buy another 1.4 or 2x converter if have one of the Sigma ones already. My earlier 1.4 converter worked just great with the lens.

The tripod mount is larger and more substantial than earlier model.

This is really about comparing a tank to a truck if you compare the current model to earlier Sigma 120-300mm lenses.

Bokeh

The Bokeh on this lens is much silkier than what I had with the early version. When shooting wide open and close the background of clutter goes to a smooth silky tone.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, ISO 11,400 @ 420mm, 1/2000, ƒ/4

Color/Contrast

I think the color and contrast is also an improvement over the previous model.

 

 

 

Focus

The four photos above are all part of a series I shot of a long touchdown run. There were more than 30 images and all of them were in focus. So the lens and the camera combination kept up with the play. Not always possible with lenses.

I know this is quicker than the earlier version and faster than the first Nikon 200-400mm ƒ/4 lens. Due to it being one stop brighter than the Nikon 200-400mm it may actually perform a little better with the Nikon D4 in low light, which was the case at the Georgia Dome.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, ISO 12,800 @ 570mm, 1/1000, ƒ/4

Sharpness

Since photographers tend to talk about how sharp a lens is by something like you can see the sweat bead on the face, I chose to show you can count the threads in the patch on the end zone for my comparison.

Cropped version of the photo above.

I think this is extremely sharp and especially so after calibrating the lens with the USB docking station that Sigma sells.

This lens also has Optical Stabilization, which helps keep those images sharp when the action is way down the field and I am using a 1.4 converter and using the 2X crop mode on the Nikon D4. I was optically shooting at 840mm ƒ/4 during much of the game. At that distance just small vibrations affect the sharpness of the photo. The OS helped me get sharper images than I have in the past.

 

Bottom Line

For my Pixel Peeping skills this lens rocks. For $3,599.00 this is a no brainer for me to buy over the Nikon 200-400mm, which sells for $6,500.00. I am not even going to consider the pain for the Canon shooters looking to the new Canon 200-400mm ƒ/4 for $11,799.00. Anyone putting out $8,200.00 more for the Canon lens had better be selling a lot of photos for that price.

This is not really comparing apples at all and for this reason it has it over the Nikon for me.

With a 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 starting point I can easily just put on the Sigma 1.4 and now have a 168-420 ƒ/4 lens. Instead of the 1.4 I could stick on the 2x converter and have a 240-600mm ƒ/5.6.

This makes the lens really three lenses that are practical for different venues. I have used my Sigma 120-300mm in the past for meetings where the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 was just not enough reach. Actually I put my 70-200mm on the shelf for the past 10 years due to owning the Sigma 120-300mm.  On a rare occasion did I think the 70-200 was more warranted than the 120-300mm and that was more due to weight issue.

My recommendation is if you are in the market for a lens in this range, then this would be a great lens even if it was the same price at the Nikon 200-400mm, because it is more versatile and making it more useful. Being $3,000 less in price makes this a no brainer decision for me.

For the Prime Lens Lover

Rumor has it that Sigma is coming out with a new 300mm, 400mm and 600mm to be announced shortly. So if you like primes then one is on the way that will be custom calibrate-able with the USB Dock.

Photo by Dorie Griggs

Last shot is made by my wife when I was in the press box shooting some shots with the lens of the field.

26 thoughts on “Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S lens Review”

  1. Great review Stanley!
    I have just sold my 400mm f/2.8 VR as it is a bit overkill for Ice Hockey. I was thinking of buying the Nikon 300mm f/2,8 VR instead but now I've started thinking about buying Sigma 120-300.

    Regards,
    Peter Skaugvold
    Sweden

  2. Great review Stanley!
    I have just sold my 400mm f/2.8 VR as it is a bit overkill for Ice Hockey. I was thinking of buying the Nikon 300mm f/2,8 VR instead but now I've started thinking about buying Sigma 120-300.

    Regards,
    Peter Skaugvold
    Sweden

  3. Stanley,

    I know you had the older version of this lens. In your opinion this new version is a lot better? Af is much improved in tracking speed and sharpness at 2.8 is better? I also have the old version and have been considering this one if it really is substantially better.

    I finally got the old one calibrated so that it works very well on my cameras, before calibration it was not sharp at all. You posted something on Sports Shooter, I think, about calibrating. I did that and it made all the difference in the world.

    Thanks!

  4. Stanley,

    I know you had the older version of this lens. In your opinion this new version is a lot better? Af is much improved in tracking speed and sharpness at 2.8 is better? I also have the old version and have been considering this one if it really is substantially better.

    I finally got the old one calibrated so that it works very well on my cameras, before calibration it was not sharp at all. You posted something on Sports Shooter, I think, about calibrating. I did that and it made all the difference in the world.

    Thanks!

  5. Harrison

    The post just before this one is where I explain the major difference between this lens and not just the older version but everyone else's zoom lenses.

    http://blog.stanleyleary.com/2013/08/sports-photographythe-day-before-game.html

    The big difference is you can calibrate 16 different points on the lens rather than only just one. This alone would make even your older lens sharper, but you cannot do that with the older lens.

    Besides the multiple calibration points, this lens has a newer and more advanced lens coating which gives you better contrast and color.

    The speed of the motor locking in and holding focus is far superior to the older lens.

  6. Harrison

    The post just before this one is where I explain the major difference between this lens and not just the older version but everyone else's zoom lenses.

    http://blog.stanleyleary.com/2013/08/sports-photographythe-day-before-game.html

    The big difference is you can calibrate 16 different points on the lens rather than only just one. This alone would make even your older lens sharper, but you cannot do that with the older lens.

    Besides the multiple calibration points, this lens has a newer and more advanced lens coating which gives you better contrast and color.

    The speed of the motor locking in and holding focus is far superior to the older lens.

  7. Wow! Amazing shots! I hope I can capture pictures like this one day! I just started shooting High School football. I currently have a 70-200 Nikon 2.8 and D7000 body. I was thinking about getting a teleconverter for that lens for more focal length, but now I'm confused! I may just need to rent this first! Thanks for sharing! Any tips you can share on football photography would be greatly appreciated! Chris Wissell

  8. Wow! Amazing shots! I hope I can capture pictures like this one day! I just started shooting High School football. I currently have a 70-200 Nikon 2.8 and D7000 body. I was thinking about getting a teleconverter for that lens for more focal length, but now I'm confused! I may just need to rent this first! Thanks for sharing! Any tips you can share on football photography would be greatly appreciated! Chris Wissell

  9. I also had a chance to use my new Sigma 120-300mm “S” lens at a college game. I first took it to a night high school to give it a try with a Canon 7D. Good thing, as it was back focusing. I was nervous to mess with changing any setting on the new lens with the USB dock. The next day I just happen to see Stanley's post on adjusting the lens with the USB dock. So as with Stanley, I had little time left before Saturdays game to make the adjustments that were needed. I didn't have the same tools listed in the blog, so i used a drywall square with a printed ruler on it. I placed it similar to how it was in the blog laying it a 45degree angle. I did what i though were the right adjustments in the short amount of sunlight that was left. Most of the photos from Saturdays game were spot on and the color was stunning. I am still a little off on the back focusing at the 300mm focusing greater then 100ft. Thanks Stanley for the tip on making the adjustments. It made a difference in my photos from the college game. ( I also posted this on the Sigma Facebook that referenced Stanley's article)

  10. I also had a chance to use my new Sigma 120-300mm “S” lens at a college game. I first took it to a night high school to give it a try with a Canon 7D. Good thing, as it was back focusing. I was nervous to mess with changing any setting on the new lens with the USB dock. The next day I just happen to see Stanley's post on adjusting the lens with the USB dock. So as with Stanley, I had little time left before Saturdays game to make the adjustments that were needed. I didn't have the same tools listed in the blog, so i used a drywall square with a printed ruler on it. I placed it similar to how it was in the blog laying it a 45degree angle. I did what i though were the right adjustments in the short amount of sunlight that was left. Most of the photos from Saturdays game were spot on and the color was stunning. I am still a little off on the back focusing at the 300mm focusing greater then 100ft. Thanks Stanley for the tip on making the adjustments. It made a difference in my photos from the college game. ( I also posted this on the Sigma Facebook that referenced Stanley's article)

  11. Thanks Stanley. A great article. My friend has just bought one of these but is disappointed with the AF. During calibration he found the AF repeat ability was all over the place. One time it was perfect next time back focusing then forward focusing. He has had to return it to Sigma. Does your lens AF tend to move around at all?

  12. Thanks Stanley. A great article. My friend has just bought one of these but is disappointed with the AF. During calibration he found the AF repeat ability was all over the place. One time it was perfect next time back focusing then forward focusing. He has had to return it to Sigma. Does your lens AF tend to move around at all?

  13. Hello Stanley,
    many thank's for your review!
    Was seeking the net for see if this lens can fit my needing(primary fashion show and some sport events)as replacement for my old and beloved 80-200 afs + 1.4x. Here is my question: after some months of use.. what about robustness? It's a reliable lens? You know, we arent so “gentle” with ours gears when on the filed.. 😉
    Thank's in advance for your help,
    Davide

  14. Hello Stanley,
    many thank's for your review!
    Was seeking the net for see if this lens can fit my needing(primary fashion show and some sport events)as replacement for my old and beloved 80-200 afs + 1.4x. Here is my question: after some months of use.. what about robustness? It's a reliable lens? You know, we arent so “gentle” with ours gears when on the filed.. 😉
    Thank's in advance for your help,
    Davide

  15. Stanley,

    I have the S and was wondering what focus you have set on your lens using the dock.
    I have it on a Canon !D mk4. The AF speed and tracking isn't as fast as my other Canon lens. Seems to miss the focus a lot more then the Canon's.

    Thanks,

    eric

  16. Stanley,

    I have the S and was wondering what focus you have set on your lens using the dock.
    I have it on a Canon !D mk4. The AF speed and tracking isn't as fast as my other Canon lens. Seems to miss the focus a lot more then the Canon's.

    Thanks,

    eric

  17. Eric

    It really doesn't matter what my setting was for the Nikon D4 if you are shooting Canon Mk4. If I had the same camera you might get similar results.

    I do know that each of the Nikon cameras would get different results, especially when comparing older models to newer ones. I say this because the results I was getting out of all my lenses change every time I upgraded from a Nikon D100 to the Nikon D2X then on to the D3 and the D3s and finally the D4.

    Another MAJOR factor is the settings on your camera. With the Nikon you have multiple settings that in any combination give you different results. I found that certain sports you wanted a very quick change in focus and other not as quick since players of referees would get in the shot and have the camera hunting.

    If you had the Nikon D4 I could be more help. I am not familiar with the settings of the Mk4 to help guide you.

  18. Eric

    It really doesn't matter what my setting was for the Nikon D4 if you are shooting Canon Mk4. If I had the same camera you might get similar results.

    I do know that each of the Nikon cameras would get different results, especially when comparing older models to newer ones. I say this because the results I was getting out of all my lenses change every time I upgraded from a Nikon D100 to the Nikon D2X then on to the D3 and the D3s and finally the D4.

    Another MAJOR factor is the settings on your camera. With the Nikon you have multiple settings that in any combination give you different results. I found that certain sports you wanted a very quick change in focus and other not as quick since players of referees would get in the shot and have the camera hunting.

    If you had the Nikon D4 I could be more help. I am not familiar with the settings of the Mk4 to help guide you.

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