Review: Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM

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Sigma Corporation of USA sent me one of their Optical Stabilizer versions of their 70-200mm 2.8 DG HSM to review for this site and for the Fred Miranda website.  Let me start off by saying, I am not a pixel peeper.  I typically do not pull down an image and zoom in to 100% to check focus or quality of lenses.  I zoom in to about 50% and if a image looks bad I delete it.  This is going to be more of a real world test of the lens.

Pulling the 70-200 2.8 OS out of the shipping box the first thing that hit me was that it was really light.  I had the original Sigma 70-200 non OS, but this lens seems to be lighter, or at lease balanced better.  My second thought is the lens has a different feel to it than the other Sigma Lenses I have used.  The finish on this lens is smoother than the other Sigmas.  My old 70-200 and my 120-300 2.8 non OS lens have a textured coating on the outside of the lens, where this one has a smooth finish.  I like the smooth finish.  On my old lens and my 120-300 the textured finish has started to chip off, and I do not think this finish will chip off as easily.  The lens hood has a nice grippy ring cut into it, and seems a tad longer than I remember.  Comparing this lens to my current Canon 70-200 non IS, it seems lighter, and a tad shorter, but with the lens hoods off, and the lenses sitting right next to each other, they seem to be the exact same size.  The lens cap is the center pinch type.  I really do not care if it is center pinch or outer pinch to remove.  But it looks nice.  It comes with the TS-21 tripod collar and is a necessity.  Any lens this size or larger, if you use a monopod or a tripod or any other sort of mount that requires use of the tripod socket, you do not want to use the one on the camera.  If you do, you risk shearing the lens off of the lens mount.  I personally like the larger TS-41 and would probably replace the TS-21 with the larger tripod ring.  Also, if this was my lens, I would put gaffer tape the switches for manual focus and OS.  The location of these switches is not ideal and I think without the tripod collar I would keep hitting them.  In fact I did find that I was constantly hitting the switch housing and I kept worrying that I would hit one of the switches for either the OS or the manual focus.  I would really like these switched in a different location, or recessed a bit to avoid accidentally hitting them.  When hand holding this lens, putting the tripod collar foot in the palm of your hand does help this some.  Other things to look at, the zoom ring on the Sigma is opposite of the Canon.  On the Canon, the zoom is the ring closest to the camera, and the focus near the front element.  On the Sigma, this is reversed.  So, if you have a lot of Canon zooms, this could take you a while to get use to.  I found myself quickly making the adjustments because I had the non OS version of this lens about 5 or 6 years ago, and I have Sigma’s 120-300 2.8 which is set up the same.  But I did find myself grabbing the focus ring a couple times to zoom.

So the first thing I had to shoot with this lens was a high school wrestling meet between to 4A schools in Arvada, Colorado.  I headed over to Arvada High School and was greeted by a nice red influenced gym.  Red wrestling mats, red uniforms on one team.  White walls with red banners, and they turned off all the lights and used a giant spot light over the center of the mat.  Because I was shooting this meet for Maxpreps, I was using strobes.  I used the OS on setting one for this meet, and with wrestling a not super fast sport, this would be a good way to get use to the lens.

For wrestling, this lens seemed to shine.  It grabbed focus and tracked focus really well, and images seemed very sharp.  I had it mounted on my Canon 7D to start with, but found that was a little too tight for wresting with the 1.6x crop, so I moved the Sigma over to my Canon 1D Mark II, and with the 1.3x crop of this camera body, the 70-200 was perfect.

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As you can see the images above look pretty darn sharp.  Good sign for a lens.

My feeling on Optical Stabilization/Image Stabilization is a bit jaded.  I do not really care for it for sports.  My thought on it was it uses more battery power than it should.  I feel it is more of a tool that has it’s specific uses.  Low light like a museum or a concert, but for everyday shooting or sports/action, I just did not see it.  Now, I know in mode 2, it is great for panning stuff like runners or cars at slower shutter speeds, and I know when you get up to 400mm or longer it can help, but overall, I just do not care for it.  Or I should say, I did not care for it.  I use to have a Canon 100-400 with IS, and I used it when shooting some photojournalistic stuff, but never used it for sports.

However, here I am, shooting wrestling with the OS of the Sigma on in mode 1.  Since I was strobing I was shooting at 1/250th of a second and letting the strobes freeze the image, but, even with the best strobe set up, I have seen some motion blur from longer lenses, and it was a new toy to play with.  I remember with my 100-400 I could hear and actually feel the lens moving in my hand when the IS was on and visibly see it through the viewfinder.  The Sigma, I never really noticed it through the viewfinder, but did feel it working.  But this was not really a good OS test.

Overall for my first outing, it seemed to be a pretty good little lens.

My next two outings with the lens was more strobed high school sports.  Hockey and boys basketball.  On my 7D I really like the 70-200mm focal length for both sports.  Where I shoot hockey from it lets me cover half of the ice, and shooting from the corner of the basketball court I can shoot almost the whole court.  When strobed though, for Basketball, it is stellar for shooting from center court to the baseline.  I was worried with all the ice and white in the arena that the lens might search quite a bit for focus.  The Sigma seemed to do ok.  I did not see much more focus searching than I did with my Canon 70-200.  However, when it did search, the lack of a focus limiter switch, it did take a tad longer to reacquire lock.  But tracking wise, it seemed ok.

For high school basketball, I found it not locking focus as well as the Canon.  This may have been due to my error, or it could have been because of higher contrast backgrounds.  Either way, missed focus only slightly more than I have seen with my Canon lens.  But when it was tracking focus, the images seemed nice and sharp.

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So, I had given the Sigma a good little workout with strobed sports, but how was it going to handle non strobed stuff.  My one shoot with this lens that was not sports related was one I chose specifically for this lens.  Over Christmas a church nearby had a living nativity.  I decided to go out and shoot this to test the Optical Stabilization of the lens.  This is where this lens really shined for me.  I was shooting around 1/160th of a second at f2.8 and ISO 2500.  It was dark out (go figure, 7pm in December in Colorado), and the side of the church building where the nativity was set up was lit by some flood spots, but it gave lots of shadows, and would be pretty good taxing the Optical Stabilization of the lens.  The Sigma handled it nicely.  I feel like I could have easily shot another stop lower on the shutter if I needed to, but as I shot it, it seemed to work great.  No need for a tripod or monopod.

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This shoot really opened my eyes to this lens.  While it is missing key features like a focus limiter, for a all around lens that can shoot sports, feature, and spot news, this is a good little work horse.  It is far from the perfect lens, but it is growing on me.

My next outing with the Sigma was a NCAA basketball game at the University of Colorado.  The lens suffered a little more here with focusing.  May have been due to the dark backgrounds and the faster moving subjects.  I would say my missed shots due to focus tracking or errors locking on were up between 5-10 percent.  Not the best performance from the lens, but still provided some exceptional results.

2012 NCAA Basketball - University of Hartford Hawks vs Colorado Buffaloes DEC 29

NCAA Basketball 2012: Hartford vs Colorado DEC 29Now, throw this lens on a newer 1D Mark IV or a 5D Mark III, my focusing issues would probably be much less.  But when you are on deadline, trying to pull 10-15 sharp images out to send to a wire, you want as many sharp images as possible, so the Sigma may not be the best tool for this job.

One of the last things I photographed before packing this lens up to send back to Canon was the return of Missy Franklin to competition for her high school.  No flash or strobes allowed, so I shot at ISO 2500 with the Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 OS on my 7D.  This was a great combo for swimming.  Even with water splashing all around the swimmers, the focus tracked well and stayed locked on for the most part.  I was really pleased with how the lens handled this sport.

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So, how do I feel about this lens?  It is a good little lens.  It is not a Canon/Nikon, but it is still a good lens.  I would recommend the lens to anyone who is starting out to shoot low light sports but can not quite afford the Canon or Nikon versions.  I do not think this is a lens for established pros working on deadline, but for students, student newspapers, advanced amateurs, and hobby shooters, this is a great little lens, especially if you need some sort of image stabilizing.  Sigma’s Optical Stabilization may not be up to Canon’s IS or Nikon’s VR, but it still performed very good.  If you are finding that you need a 2.8 lens and just can not justify buying the Canon version, look very closely at the Sigma.

Moderating the Sports Corner at Fred Miranda’s Digital Darkroom, I always hear people put third party lenses down, but honestly, the Sigma is a good 70-200 2.8 option.  In fact, you could step up to it for less than the Canon version, then move to the Canon version when you could afford it or find that the Sigma is not giving you enough.  And that could be many, many years!

 

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