If you were to think of the new Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM as a splash-proof super-sized version of the APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM , that makes a lot of sense.
And if you were to think of it as a zoomable and optically stabilized variation of the 300mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM prime telephoto lens, that also makes a lot of sense.
APO 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM
And if you were to look at this lens, and simply say: “Wow–that’s a great combination of reach and zoom range at a pretty amazing price!” Yes, that too makes a lot of sense. Key items in the feature set, including optical stabilization, and lens element configuration is very similar to the 70-200 F2.8, while the overall size and weight is comparable to its Prime 300mm stablemate.
But any way you want to slice it, what it really comes does is simply this: the Sigma 120-300 F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM is a fantastic, fast constant aperture telephoto zoom lens, with a great feature set at a very reasonable price. FLD and SLD lens elements, along with nine rounded aperture blades make for sharp focus with lovely bokeh, while optical stabilization, and a splashproof build will help to keep you to shooting in all but the craziest conditions for sports, wildlife, and other out-in-the-elements photo adventures.
I’ve spent the past few days shooting with this lens on the full-frame Nikon D3, and really don’t want to sign it back into inventory just yet! This is a lens that makes you want to get outside and explore the world again and again.
The ability to recompose a shot without changing position offered by a zoom lens such as the 120-300mm F2.8 is great for photographers when there are serious obstacles in the way of repositioning. Whether it’s a baseline of a sporting event, the edge of dry land, or a thicket of brush, there’s often times when it simply is not possible to get closer to (or farther from) your framed composition.
At left is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, shot at 1/500 @ f/8 ISO 200 at 120mm. At right the tech specs are the same, but we are zoomed all the way to 300mm. That’s quite a nice combination of range and reach, isn’t it? (All images in this story, unless otherwise noted, are full-frame capture, Nikon NEF Raw files processed through Adobe Camera RAW and scaled to fit the screen. You can click on any image to have it enlarged, and also scroll through a fullscreen slideshow of all the shots)
Here’s another widest-most zoomed comparison pair of windsurfers and kiteboarders in Raritan Bay. I was right at the edge of dry land, so this seriously limited my ability to get closer to the scene on foot! Both shots 1/3200 f2.8 ISO 200.
This prickly pear cactus was hanging over the edge of a steep dune and there was no way to physically get closer and keep the direction of the lighting I wanted. The long 300mm focal length and fast f2.8 aperture makes the focus crisp and super-shallow right on the young blooms.
The combination of fast aperture and long focal length makes for images with exceptionally shallow depth of field. This allows for fast shutter speeds for both freezing action and isolating the subject via background separation–which is oftentimes great for sports, wildlife, and portraiture.
If you look very closely, I am focused sharply on the tip of the wing of this herring gull, and the head and beak are ever-so-slightly out of the plane of critical focus on this image shot a f2.8 at 300mm. Depth of field is razor-thin at fast apertures on tele lenses. Also notice the lovely bokeh on the highlights in the water from the 9 rounded aperture blades.
To gain more depth of field, you must stop down to smaller apertures, which requires slower shutter speeds to keep an equivalent, proper exposure. And at a certain point, the shutter speed becomes longer than the reciprocal of the focal length. And that’s where Optical Stabilization shines. This lens is big, but its weight is well balanced and is truly hand-holdable. Even though I was exploring without a tripod while working on this story, I kept the tripod ring on the lens at all times because it makes it very easy to hike while holding the lens in one hand with the big, ridged grip of the tripod ring.
Take a look at these two images of the same bunch of wild flowers shot at 300mm. The top image is shot wide open at F2.8 @ 1/4000. This is much faster then the reciprocal of the focal length, so it is sharp on the focal plane, but the flowers even a few inches behind are soft. Stopping down to f16 gives us much more depth of field, but to keep it properly exposed, our shutter speed is 1/125–below the reciprocal of the 300mm focal length. Activating Optical Stabilization allows us to make this shot and keep it sharp and free of camera shake without having to haul a tripod along
The zoom ring for the 120-300mm is closer to the front of the lens, with the manual ring behind that with a slightly tighter ribbing pattern. Panning and tracking moving subjects while gripping either ring is easy, and provides good control of the camera/lens combo while following the action.
Chasing birds in flight is a lot of fun, and the results can often be rewarding! I prefer hand-holding all but the longest, heaviest superteles, because you never know where a bird may appear. I chased this herring gull at 1/3200 @ F2.8 ISO 200 in continuous AF and fired off a couple of winning frames in the process!
Here is a 100% pixel view of the center of this shot showing the sharp focus on the bird’s beak, the great background blur, and the exceptionally shallow depth of field characteristics of this lens wide open 300mm in the bird’s wingtips.
Moments after grabbing the frame above, this bird caught a gust of wind and flew up and over me. I kept my thumb on the back-of-camera AF button on my D3 and the shutter firing as the gull arced above me.
Shooting handheld with this long lens allowed me to track the bird as quickly as it moved from in front of, to above, me. This is a big lens, but it is easily manageable, which opens up more moments to capture!
When I’m shooting with a long zoom lens, I am usually as zoomed out as the lens allows, and then, if the situation warrants, I’ll recompose to a wider focal length. (Interestingly, with ultrawide zooms, it’s just the opposite, by the way. I’ll be at the widest setting, and then tighten up the frame occasionally.) And the other day, when my dog Bailey decided to sit prettily in front of a pine tree in my yard was just one of those occasions. It was too tight at 300mm, and if this were a 300 prime, I’d have completely missed this nice pet portrait opportunity.
There was nice afternoon light, and a nice natural background to make my German Shepherd’s coat pop from the greenery, but to get this angle, I was wedged up against my fence! So I loosened up the composition to 240mm and fired off a few frames. (And I must confess that I accidentally clipped her ear tips in this shot, as I forgot for a moment I was shooting with a Nikon D3 with a 100% viewfinder!)
Lastly, let’s check out three small-creature shots made with the 120-300mm zoomed all the way to 300mm.
1/320 @ F2.8 ISO 640. Notice the edge-of-frame sharpness of this skittish subject as it looks back at us.
I was zoomed all the way to 300mm and this tree was surrounded by wetlands underbrush with no easy way to get closer. This little brown bird is very small in the frame, but it is tack-sharp, and framed so nicely by the tree branches and distant greenery. This is a shot that works with the reach of a 300mm, that wouldn’t work at 200mm.
Here’s another shot where it wasn’t easy to get closer to this gnatcatcher, so I was happy to be shooting with the 120-300mm instead of a shorter zoom. A longer, slower zoom lens might have gotten this bird to be bigger in the frame, but at the expense of the low ISO and slowish shutter speed I was able to manage to make this frame (ISO 200 1/500 @ f2.8), which would have presented different challenges for making a frame of this skittish bird hiding in blowing brush.
When it comes to reach, focal range, and overall feature set of the updated Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM, there really is a whole heck of a lot to like about this lens.
Have a question about this lens? Drop us a line at Photoworld@Sigmaphoto.com!