Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

A lens such as the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM is quite the investment, and it took me a while to come to my purchasing decision.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that the value and flexibility afforded by this lens put it in a class of its own.

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

Technical Analysis

This blog post is intended to provide my real-world experience with this lens. If you’re looking for technical data (i.e. pertaining to chromatic aberration, sharpness), there is content online that provides a far more extensive analysis than I ever could:

Comparable Lenses

My initial reason for wanting to purchase this lens was simple: there was virtually nothing comparable. This lens stands in a class of its own with regard to its flexible low-light telephoto capabilities. As a Canon shooter, the closest two alternatives included:

  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
    • This is a viable and cheaper alternative for most shooters. There are two scenarios under which it should be considered:
      1. You’re willing to sacrifice reach. If hitting 300mm isn’t important to you, this is your lens.
      2. You’re shooting on a APS-C (cropped) sensor, and you’re willing to sacrifice the optics of a ‘true’ 300mm telephoto. The 1.6x crop factor will turn this into a 112-320mm f/2.8 – almost the exact same thing.
  • Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
    • This lens is perhaps the most direct comparison, and the trade-offs are extremely clear:
      1. The Canon is sharper and faster to focus. It is also 2 lbs. lighter.
      2. The Sigma is cheaper and more flexible with regard to focal length.

First Impressions

When I first picked up the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, I was quite shocked. It’s one thing to know the exact size and weight specifications, but another to actually see them firsthand.

This lens is big, sturdy, and extremely slick. The all-black exterior holds up well under the elements, and has a professional feel and grip. There is no doubt that this is well-constructed.

At 7.47 lbs., and just under a foot in length at 11.46″ (without the hood), this lens is not intended for portability. Add a full-frame camera body with a battery grip, and you’re looking at close to 10 lbs., so a monopod is a requirement when holding this for extended periods of time.

The good thing about the size of this lens – people will get out of your way when they see it, and nobody will question what you’re doing!

First Use

I started by taking this lens to two soccer games and a rugby match. Paired with a Canon 7D (Mark II), I had an effective reach of 192-480mm – extremely useful when shooting on a massive pitch.

On a cloudy October afternoon, I hovered at around 1/1600, f/2.8-3.5, and ISO 1000 – good conditions for a first use.

My immediate reaction was that for a zoom lens, this was extremely sharp, and fairly quick to focus. Not as sharp or as quick to focus as a prime lens, but pretty close.

I’ve included some samples below, at varying focal lengths:

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

252mm – 1/1250, f/2.8, ISO 1000

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

120mm – 1/1600, f/2.8, ISO 1000

While my initial results were extremely impressive, I felt that the lens was going to require some calibration with the Sigma USB Dock.

I had several shots at 300mm which were back-focusing, consistently hitting anywhere between 1-4″ behind the subject. I also had a few shots at 120mm that were front-focusing by about the same distance.

I pulled out the test charts, and spent several hours ensuring that critical focus was being met consistently at all focal lengths.

Throughout this process, I also assigned custom functions to the C1 and C2 slider on the lens. C1 became my ‘focus speed priority‘ function, and C2 became my ‘focus accuracy priority‘ function.

Second and Third Use

Now satisfied with the calibration settings of my lens, and with my custom function slider set to ‘focus speed priority‘, I brought the lens back out for a second and third test at soccer and rugby matches.

The lighting conditions were favorable – bright sunlight for the first afternoon, and a beautiful golden sunset for the second afternoon.

I found that I was not only hitting focus quicker, but also retaining more shots. The results were significantly better:

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/4000, f/2.8, ISO 200

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/4000, f/2.8, ISO 200

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 160

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 160

There was no question for me after the second and third use – this was a professional-grade product, capable of capturing beautiful images under quality lighting.

Fourth, Low-Light Use

With all of my usage to this point having been outdoors, I wanted to put the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM through more challenging conditions.

I brought the lens into the gymnasium, and prepared for two volleyball games. The artificial lighting in the room was good, allowing me to maintain a 1/1000 shutter speed at f/2.8, and still hover around ISO 8000.

I’ve included some of the results below:

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens ReviewSigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

206mm – 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 8000

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 160

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

220mm – 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 8000

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

300mm – 1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 160

Again, I found that the results were impressive. With focus-speed priority set, the images were sharp and the lens was fairly quick to focus, even in the challenging conditions.

Concluding Thoughts

There is no doubt in my mind that the value and flexibility afforded by this lens put it in a class of its own.

If you’re looking to purchase this lens, you’ve likely compared it already to something such as the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself if the difference in quality is worth spending an additional $3000, and losing the ability to zoom out when necessary.

On the other hand, you need to be willing to compromise a little bit on sharpness and focusing speed with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM.

Make no doubt – this a professional lens capable of consistently professional results.

If you’re on the fence, rent this incredible lens and test it out for yourself!

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