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11.27.2014

There’s a chill in the air and the ground is covered with crisp Autumn leaves. It must be football season. Having played with the Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Sport lens all summer shooting baseball and lacrosse, it was time to hit the gridiron with it, along with Sigma’s 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG. Putting the converter on this beast of a lens doubled it’s focal length from 120-300 to 240-600 while decreasing the widest aperture to 5.6.  When used with my Nikon D300 crop sensor, the effective focal length became 360-900 while maintaining its aperture at 5.6.  I was easily able to shoot half way across the field as if they were right in front of me.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | The Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sports lens and the Sigma 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG with it’s effective focal length of 360-900mm on my crop sensor D300 allowed me to capture action more than half way across the field.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | The Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sports lens and the Sigma 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG with it’s effective focal length of 360-900mm on my crop sensor D300 allowed me to capture action more than half way across the field.

Image Quality

Using a 2X does come with it’s concerns but there are ways to overcome them.  The first and most serious concern is that adding a 2X to a lens can have a significant impact on the image quality. What good is a closer image if it’s a poor image? Fortunately, the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 Sport lens is exceptionally sharp to begin with and the Sigma 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG is also very well built, minimizing the loss of quality. Even shooting mostly at 5.6, the image quality was not an issue with this duo. Several photographers I spoke with prefer the results of the 1.4X converter stopped down a few stops for increased image quality and then cropping the image in post production.

Focus Capability

Another concern using a 2X is auto focus capability. AF speed does slow down using a 2X and in many cases the AF can’t be used at all if the lens converter combo results in an aperture greater than f8. Sigma APO Tele Converter 1.4x and 2x are dedicated teleconverter lenses. Due to the high optical quality of this teleconverter, this item will only fit and work with a select list of lenses. Please refer to the Sigma Teleconverter compatibility chart in the Resources Tab for your lens compatibility.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Shooting with the Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sport lens along with Sigma’s 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG yielded results that were sharp and nice contrast.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Shooting with the Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sport lens along with Sigma’s 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG yielded results that were sharp and nice contrast.

I had the opportunity to photograph youth football games two weekends in a row. The first weekend was blustery and overcast while the second was full sun. The AF speed and accuracy was good in both situations, locking on to the action quickly. At f5.6, shutter speeds did suffer a bit on the overcast day, but with a mono pod, a steady hand and a boost in the ISO I was in good shape. In fact, on the overcast day, I was able to pick any angle around the field to shoot.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |  Shooting with the Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sports lens and the Sigma 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG even under overcast conditions allowed fast and accurate autofocus with a high enough shutter speed to capture the action.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Shooting with the Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sports lens and the Sigma 2.0X Teleconverter EX APO DG even under overcast conditions allowed fast and accurate autofocus with a high enough shutter speed to capture the action.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |

© 2014 Steve Chesler |

On the sunny day, I preferred to shoot with the sun to the side or at my back. Since the field was astroturf, there was significant backlighting coming off the synthetic surface when I would shoot toward the sun.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |  Shooting at with the sun at my back on the shiny synthetic turf resulted in sharp, saturated images.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Shooting at with the sun at my back on the shiny synthetic turf resulted in sharp, saturated images.

On tight shots, like a close up of a lineman’s face, be sure to focus on the eyes. At wider apertures, there’s a fine line between a great shot focused on the eyes and an almost great shot where the focus locked on to the face mask.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |  Focusing on the eyes is critical on tight shots like the one above of an offensive lineman.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Focusing on the eyes is critical on tight shots like the one above of an offensive lineman.

My biggest fear using the 2X was the stress using such a large lens and a fairly heavy body would put on the connections. I was concerned that there would be a lot of play between the components and that I would have to handle it very gingerly. What I discovered was quite the contrary. With the lens mounted on the monopod, the 2X and the D300 felt very secure. I still wouldn’t want to hand hold the combo, but as long as the lens was supported, I felt very confident with the strength of the set up.

On September 12, Sigma announced two new teleconverters will be entering the Global Vision line up, offering both a 1.4X and 2.0X teleconverters that will utilize Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements, delivering superb image quality. The new teleconverters will require a firmware update to the Sigma 120-300 2.8 Sport lens in order to be compatible. Be aware that upgrading the firmware for the new teleconverters will make the lens incompatible with the older 2.0X EX APO DG Teleconverter.

So you’ve decided you want to shoot your own football action but can’t justify the expense of this magnificent lens. Have no fear, there are plenty of options. Sigma’s new 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S lens is an excellent alternative for the sidelines, and at almost half the price of the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 + 2X combo. See the video here for this new Global Vision sports lens:

Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | SPORTS lens from Sigma Corporation of America on Vimeo.

Another viable option would be Sigma’s 70-200 f2.8 lens with the 1.4X or 2X teleconverter.  Having super telephoto capability on the sidelines is not the only option as long as your patient enough to wait for the action to come to you. If you’re like me though, Murphy’s Law will follow you around and the best action will occur where you’re least prepared. Now if I could only find a lens that will shoot through the referees that will inevitably stand in my way. I guess we all have our jobs to do.

I like to shoot both sides of the game with the offense coming toward me as well as offense going away. With the action coming toward me, it’s the obvious way to shoot to get great shots of the ball carriers expressions. With the offense going away though there are great opportunities to catch the quarterback turning toward you for hand offs, the defensive line charging the QB and with a stronger lens, the receivers turning back toward the ball to make the catch.

On tight shots, like a close up of a lineman’s face, be sure to focus on the eyes. At wider apertures, there’s a fine line between a great shot focused on the eyes and an almost great shot where the focus locked on to the face mask.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |  Getting shots of the quarter back handing off the ball is a good way to get nice offensive shots even when the offense is going away from you.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Getting shots of the quarter back handing off the ball is a good way to get nice offensive shots even when the offense is going away from you.

Like any sport, football photography takes a bit of game knowledge and anticipation to get the best shots. Knowing the flow of the game will help you predict where the action will go so you’re not blindly panning the camera around looking for the ball. Telephoto lens will magnify not only the action but every movement and shake you make as well. Knowing where the action will be will help minimize unnecessary camera movements leading to more dynamic, sharper photos.

© 2014 Steve Chesler |  Being able to anticipate the action before it happens by studying the sport your shooting will greatly increase your odds of getting “the shot”.

© 2014 Steve Chesler | Being able to anticipate the action before it happens by studying the sport your shooting will greatly increase your odds of getting “the shot”.

As an avid fly fisherman, when I arrive at a river, I spend some time just watching the river, seeing what insects are hatching, what pockets the fish may be lying in and of course seeing if any fish are rising to the surface. By taking a slower approach and observing my surroundings, my chances of success increase dramatically. I approach sports photography the same way, taking the time to observe the game, my surroundings and any repetitive patterns that may present themselves to make my job easier.

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