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07.06.2011

120-300mm f2.8 EX DG OS HSM Features:

  • Designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras. May also be used with smaller APS-c size sensors
  • Splash-proof feature protects the lens from the effects of harsh weather conditions
  • Offers Sigma’s OS System (Optical Stabilization) allowing handheld photography even in low-light situation
  • HSM (Hyper-Sonic Motor) ensures a quiet & high-speed auto focus
  • FLD glass elements with performance equal to fluorite glass for compensate for color aberration

by Lindsay Adler

When shooting portraits, I consider a number of elements when selecting a lens. For my lens choice I consider depth of field and bokeh, its focal length and compression, and also its ability to shoot in various lighting conditions (aperture or optical stabilization).

Typically I utilize prime lenses for most of my portrait work. My favorite prime lenses are the 50mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.4. I recently got my hands on the 120-300mm 2.8 OS lens and decided to test it out and see how I liked it for my portrait (or fashion) work. I have frequently utilized a 70-200mm lens for portraits in the past, so I thought it might be an interesting challenge to test out the 120-300mm lens.

Focal Length: 300mm, Aperture: f2.8, ISO 100, Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec

The first image (shown above) was of the VERY first time I tested out the 120-300mm 2.8 OS lens. Setting: 300mm, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/320 sec. The bokeh (discussed below) is very pleasing and the compression to the background makes for and elegant portrait. If you zoom in on the eyes of the subject, the focus is extremely sharp while the background is soft and beautiful.

Focal length: 300mm, Aperture: f2.8, ISO 100, Shutter speed: 1/320 sec

In my career as a fashion photographer I frequently photograph beautiful women as well as portraits of athletes, singers and more. I also tried my hand at a beauty shot (below) using the 120-300mm lens to test out the compression. Generally I like to utilize the compression for a long lens in a portrait if someone has more pronounced features. In the shot below this was a beauty test with a model from a major NYC modeling agency.

Focal length: 200mm, Aperture: f9, ISO 100, Shutter speed: 1/125 sec

I really liked the look of these first head shots, so I set up a portrait session with an acquaintance named Sarah (below) to test out the different elements I typically consider for lens choice.

I. Depth of Field, Bokeh:

Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur (or out of focus area) of a photograph. I love the bokeh of the 85mm 1.4 and wanted to test out the bokeh at 120mm on this lens. Here you can see the results. The background here was hideous. We were on a street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There were garbage bins, parked cars, dumpster sand much more cluttering the background. By shooting at aperture f/2.8 I was able to almost completely eliminate this background distraction. The blurred quality of the lens here is beautiful and it creates a very quiet portrait of this girl.

Focal Length: 120mm, Aperture: f2.8, ISO 640, Shutter speed: 1/160 sec

II. Zoom

I almost always shoot with prime (aka “Fixed”) lenses for portraits. In the past I’ve only used zoom lenses for portraits when the subject has been hard to reach physically. For an example, in a wedding during the ceremony I’d need to utilize a 70-200mm lens to get a nice headshot of the bride saying her vows. Now I realize that the 300mm 2.8 would be fantastic for this also! Sometimes that 200mm reach just isn’t enough!

Here is a portrait shot at 120mm, 200mm, and 300mm. Personally, I really like the compression of the images shot at 300mm. The background is almost completely eliminated to a blur, and she is compressed with the beautiful background.

In this instance the portrait client is posed up on a little hill. There could easily be ‘obstacles’ between her and I (like a little pond, a ditch, etc) and I will still be able to achieve this photo. The low angle that I am shooting at gives a more regal quality to the photo by elevating her via camera-angle.

Focal length: 120mm, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 1000, Shutter speed: 1/30 sec

Focal length: 200mm, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 1000, Shutter speed: 1/40 sec

Focal length: 300mm, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 1000, Shutter speed: 1/50 sec

III. Compression, Field of View

Compression is an important element of selection a lens. For example, when doing closeup head shots I usually select a 85mm lens over a 50mm lens because it has a different compression on the face. The focal length of the lens also effects the compression of the background. You can see that in the sample images for “zoom” (above).

In the shots here, I kept the subject size constant in the frame, but one image was shot at 250mm and the other at 120mm. I physically moved my body in close for the 120mm image, and further back for the 250mm.

Here you can see that you have a wider field of view (aka there is more visible in the background) when you shoot a wider focal length. At 120mm you can see much more of the leading line of the fence in the background. At 250mm less of the fence is visible, but she is more compressed to the background and the background is more out of focus.

Your lens choice is purely subjective in this case, and it depends on which effect you prefer. If you want much more of the background showing, then perhaps the 120mm would be the lens of choice. If the background is too distracting, then a longer lens with compression would make more sense.

Focal length: 120mm, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 1000, Shutter speed: 1/60 sec

Focal length: 250mm, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 1000, Shutter speed: 1/50 sec

IV. Optical Stabilization, Low Light

Focal length: 235mm, Aperture: f/3.5, ISO 2500, Shutter speed: 1/15 sec

One of the reasons I’ve always liked shooting my prime lenses is because they are fast. I usually shoot around f/1.4, which allows me to shoot in most lighting conditions and avoid camera shake. With this large lens, optical stabilization would be very important.

Typical the rule for hand-holing a lens is that you shouldn’t hand-hold beyond 1/focal length of the lens. In other words, if shooting at 300mm, you should NOT hand-hold slower than 1/300 sec. Optically stabilized lenses, however, really help you push the limits of this rule. I decided to test the OS of this lens in ‘extreme’ conditions.

I decided to take this portrait of Sarah right at sunset. By shooting at sunset (not before) I had about 15 minutes of sunlight and then a LOT of time at twilight where the light drops off quickly. Typically for a portrait session I begin the hour or two hours before sunset so I can get that rich tonality and angle of light. In this case, however, I wanted to test the limits of the lens.

To test out the lens I put myself in an ‘impossible’ lighting situation for portraits. My exposure was ISO 2500, F 3.5, Shutter 1/15 sec– in other words there was almost no light. To make it even more difficult, I shot the lens at 235mm, where lens shake becomes even more apparent.

Above is one of the resulting images using OS. Even in such poor conditions and shooting a 1/15 sec (with a heavier lens) the image is sharp. She is posed at twilight beneath the shade of a tree lying out on the branch.

After the portrait session I thought that I might push the OS a bit more, and decided to step outside my comfort zone of portraits. I went to the park and decided to try my hand at some panning of runners, cyclists and other athletes in the park.

I found an area with many cyclists, and tried my hand at panning. I would follow the cyclists as they came around a large curved corner in the road, and have a slow shutter speed so that the background behind them would blur as I moved the camera to follow them. The tracking of the lens was also extremely important because the cyclists were not riding in front of me on a straight line… it was a curved surface so the lens needed to track their distance as well as stabilize as I moved the lens side to side. I haven’t really shot a panned image in 3-4 years (no need in my type photography really) and I was amazed how quickly I was able to get a stable, tack sharp image especially at 1/25 second with a 300mm lens.

Focal length: 300mm, Aperture: f/7.1, ISO 400, Shutter speed: 1/25 sec


SPECIFICATIONS:

120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM

This latest version of the Sigma APO 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM is pleased to announce the inclusion of Optical Stablization(OS) which is critical to equipment sporting this focal range allowing for hand-held tele-photography and the use of shutter speeds approximately 4 stops slower than would otherwise be possible. Sigma’s new splash-proof feature is also included preventing dust and precipitation from getting inside the lens. One SLD and two FLD glass elements provides maximum correction of chromatic aberrations. The super multi-layer coating reduces flare and ghosting, and the lens design incorporates an inner focusing and inner zooming system to ensure sharp images throughout the entire zoom range. Improved optical performance provides excellent correction of sagittal coma flare and ensures ultra-high resolution, comparable to a fixed focal length lens. The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor ensures quiet and high speed AF, while allowing full-time manual focus override. A truly unique product which is a rarity in the photo industry, this lens is the only lens of its kind on the market; a professional zoom lens that also features a fast aperture. Most professionals own the standard 300mm 2.8, but they also have to carry a shorter zoom lens for those times when the subjects move closer. That means fumbling around switching lenses or carrying a second camera body. The amazing Sigma zoom lens let you instantly determine the picture composition you want without having to change your vantage point. Imagine photographing courtside at a college basketball game and having the versatility to zoom in on a player’s face or hand and then instantly zoom back to capture the entire player making his shot. You can do it with the Sigma APO 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM. The aperture remains constant at F2.8 throughout the entire zoom range. The addition of the optional APO tele converter produces an ultra telephoto zoom lens with AF.

Lens Construction23 Elements in 18 Groups
Angle of View20.4-8.2 degrees
Number of Diaphragm Blades9
Mininum Aperturef22
Minimum Focusing Distance150-250cm cm / 59.1-98.4in in
Filter Size (mm)105mm
Maximum Magnifications1:8.1 (at 200mm focal length)
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
114.4mm x 289.2mm mm/4.5in. x 11.4in. in
Weight2950g / 104oz.
Corresponding Mounts
SigmaOS, HSM, APO, EX, DG
NikonOS, HSM, APO, EX, DG
CanonOS, HSM, APO, EX, DG
OS – Optical Stabilizer Function
HSM – Hyper-Sonic Motor
APO – Apochromatic
EX – EX Lens
DG – DG for Digital* The appearance, specifications, and the like of the product are subject to change for improvement without notice.

LENS CONSTRUCTION

LENS CONSTRUCTION

MTF CHART

MTF CHART

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  1. Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since Im more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful well let me know how it turns out! I love what you guys are always up too. Such clever work and reporting! Keep up the great works guys Ive added you guys to my blogroll. This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information.. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.

  2. I have just taken ownership of what I am told is the first 120-300 OS in Australia. The quality of photographs is really impressive. I have 7D and @ 300mm it is the equivalent of 480mm. Using the OS hand held at 300/480 is pin sharp. Cropping and enlarging still give exceptional imagery and detail. Bokeh is soft and even. Using a 2x convertor definately needs a monopod. Not wanting to sound emotive!! This is definately the best lens I have ever owned, worth every cent. If you need Telephoto versatility and want value for money, I would recommend it. Cost comparison with Canon/Nikon makes it a no-brainer. I don’t think it will come off my camera!

  3. Hi Lindsay!

    Your review of this lens is AWESOME! I seriously want to run out the door and go buy it right now, you make it look so great! I can’t afford this lens at the moment, but if I could I would have it by now! I’m sold already!!

    I own a Sigma 150-500mm OS HSM lens, use it for birding mostly and I love it. However, I’ve been wanting to add a 40-200mm f2.8 with VR or OS to my collection, but now I would just skip that and get myself this Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM lens!

    Thank you for the review, and for going out of your comfort zonen to offer a variety of views on it!

    Cindy Bryant