The Blog: See what
Sigma is saying.

06.06.2011

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!

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21 comments so far

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  1. sounds wonderful how much?

  2. I have the sigma 70-200 & for whatever reason thought I needed the Nikon version. Bought it, Sigma is sharper so sold the Nikon. Love my sigma lenses!

  3. Excelente, I liked very much.-

    Emilio Vaxelaire (Australia).-

  4. Price tag please?

  5. Excellent pics! When is coming with the sony alpha mount??

  6. Perhaps a dream… When with Alpha mount, I ask too? :)

  7. Please make it also with a PENTAX mount… Please?

  8. just bought the 10mm fisheye sharp

  9. how much th price?

  10. this may be the next lens in my bag, the price on this lens is $3199

  11. I ordered this lens in February, got it mid June and was told it is the first in Australia!! I would wait another 4 months!!! This lens is a dream come true. Hand held, f5.6 at 300mm (480mm equivalent) is pin sharp! Even cropping and enlarging give impressive results. You can actually see the OS operate as you press the button. I do wildlife photography and I can’t see me putting this lens down. Every lens I own is Sigma and I cannot say a negative thing about any of them. But, this lens is the best of all. Not cheap, but worth it if you can! My highest recommendation if you are considering one. The optics are rated higher than the 300 prime.

  12. I got mine a few days ago.. Optically amazing, the OS is superb the lens feels amazingly balanced on my cameras (Nikon D2Xs/D2Hs) I have this lens on my D2Xs full time now, and the Sigma 70-200 F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM on my D2Hs permanently.. For wildlife this combo is incredible…

    I have also used the lens with the sigma 1.4x TC with great results out at 420mm F/4, and stopping down to F/5.6 with the TC yeilds razor sharp images and the OS easily compensates for the loss of light caused by stopping down a stop.

    Without the TC, wide open at F/2.8 the lens is still amazingly sharp. Better on axis than my Sigma 300 F/2.8 prime, although I find the prime lens better in the corners of the field… Being a telephoto/supertelephoto lens, corner performance is less critical than on a wide angle, but still worth noting…

    I would happily recommend this lens to anyone looking for a fast super-tele with the versitillity of a zoom and the optical quality matching that of the super-tele prime lenses that cost 2x as much.

  13. I skipped this lens for the Sigma 50-500 and am having great results with the 50-500mm in low light despite it not being an f2.8 but with the OS the 50-500mm performs FLAWLESS on my Nikon D3 and D3x, but I still might have to get my hands on one of these just to get that f2.8.

  14. Better be nice…$4700.00 is a hefty price tag it carries…:)

  15. Wish I can see some samples of Sport/Action photography….

  16. What about the Pentax mount ? Still waiting… It was initially announced also in Pentax and then… nothing. Any advice on this point ?

  17. When is it going to be available in pentax mount

  18. Pentax mount? :|

  19. Sony mount has been promised several times–at intial roll-out and twice by reps at PhotoPlus Expo. Still waitng

  20. Also waiting for Pentax mount.

  21. Another one here waiting for Pentax mount availability. I want to throw some money your way – why won’t you let me?