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05.05.2017

Once people start to move past the beginning stages of wildlife photography, I see a lot of people asking themselves, “now what?” Upgrading to a better lens can help you find new ways to capture what what you see, to see things differently, become more creative, and to have more fun. And Sigma’s two Sport zoom lens offer incredible performance and features for wildlife photographers.

There are so many choices available today, it can be difficult to find the right lens for you. I’ve listed a few points to think about to help those looking to move past the beginner stages of wildlife photography and to talk about the strengths of the two main lenses that I use today, the Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens and the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports Lens.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Roseate spoonbill hatchlings on the nest Sigma 150-600 S @ 600mm (900mm equivalent) Nikon D500 1/800 f/6.3 ISO 1600 manual mode Auto-ISO -1.7. Spoonbill chicks are irresistibly cute, but since the adults prefer to nest farther back than other birds, you need a very long lens to isolate the nest to be able to capture the chick’s interaction close up. Here I used a crop sensor body with the 150-600 to give me the equivalent of a hand-holdable 900mm, which was the perfect solution.

The Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens already has an awesome focal length range for wildlife photography, but on a 1.5x crop sensor body (like a Nikon DX or Sigma sd quattro) the 150-600 turns into a 225-900mm equivalent hand-holdable lens, on a 1.6x body (like a Canon crop-sensor camera) its equivalent to 240-960mm!

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 150-600 S @ 320mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/8 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash.

When you only have just seconds to frame and capture the action, like this alligator about to attack, a zoom lens is the way to go. The Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens gives you the option of using the zoom ring or a push-pull technique.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017

To use the push pull technique, my favorite way to zoom with the Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens, use your index finger to grab hold of the hood clamping knob and use the top of your hand to support the weight of the lens. Now you can zoom by pushing and pulling the front of the lens. This works great from a tripod, handheld, in horizontal, or in vertical orientation. 

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/4.5 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash While the egret filled the frame just a few feet above me, the sun rays hit the lens at the prefect angle to turn the white bird a intense orange for a moment.  Thankfully the 120-300 f/2.8 sports lens has the flexibility of going down to 120mm so I was able to fit the bird in the frame and keep shooting to make the image.

The combination of fast f/2.8 aperture and the wide zoom range on the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports Lens is perfect for shooting wildlife. Over the last couple of years, using this lens has gotten me so spoiled, I could never go back from a 300mm f/2.8 fixed focal length prime lens for wildlife.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/1250 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. As this egret flew across the frame it flew directly in front of the sun turning the frame completely white for a second. Darkening the image later brought out all the intense colors that the 120-300 sports lens was able to capture.

With a high level of image correction and fast f/2.8 aperture, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports Lens makes a great lens for using the 1.4x or 2x teleconverters to extend the range. I have no problem at all using teleconverters on the 120-300. The 1.4x will give you a high quality 168-420mm with a fast f/4 aperture. The 2x will turn the 120-300 into a constant aperture 240-600mm f/5.6!

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @ 270mm Nikon D500 1/1600 f/2.8 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. As soon as this snowy egret jumped onto this branch to display I grabbed my 120-300 and immediately set the aperture to f/2.8 to isolate the bird from the background with a super shallow depth of field. I don’t hesitate to use this wide open where the lens still delivers great sharpness and contrast.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @195mm Nikon D810 1/1600 f/4 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. The short throw of the 120-300 zoom ring, especially one that is broken in as well as mine, makes it easy to capture fast action like these egrets battling in the air. The non-extending barrel gives the lens great balance especially when working from a tripod.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @175mm Nikon D500 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. Purposely underexposing in bright light creates a low key effect that works great for some situations like this great egret portrait.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @ 120mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/4.5 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. On a crop sensor body the 120-300 is the equivalent of blazingly fast 180-450mm f/2.8 lens. This combination of speed, sharpness, and flexibility is just about impossible to beat and is my favorite combination for shooting action.

Over the last few years lens design has really improved to the point where modern zoom lens image quality is even better than many older fixed focal length designs, something unheard of a couple of years ago. I have been relying on these two lenses, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports Lens. and Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens  for almost all of my professional work for three years now. The newest generation of Sigma lenses, called Global Vision lenses, are individually 100% checked before they leave the factory in Japan and it seems to be working to ensure each lens delivers incredible image quality.

For some photographers, the 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sport plus the 2.0x teleconverter may be the way to go to get a constant-aperture 240-600mm F5.6 zoom lens for both the F2.8 flexibility and internal focusing. For others, the higher 4x zoom ratio of the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sport might be the right solution, with the advance Optical Stabilizer accelerometer to detect panning orientation, and a more economical pricetag, may be the deciding factors. Either way, both of these Sigma Sport lenses deliver winning results!

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/1250 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. In a high key image like this the egrets translucent feathers look great but you have to be careful since backlighting like this will really show how well the lens designers corrected for lateral chromatic aberrations or color fringing. The Sigma sports lenses are all very highly well corrected so CAs are never an issue, even in backlit situations like this.

One accessory that I recommend for both the 120-300 and 150-600 is the Sigma USB dock. This accessory keeps my Global Vision lenses up to date with the latest firmware updates and can set-up custom parameters like custom focus limiters, AF speed tuning, and multi-zone microfocus tweaks.

© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Sigma 120-300 S @ 120mm Nikon D810 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash. This great egret was gathering nesting material right over the heads of half-a-dozen photographers. Not one other photographer took advantage of the situation. Knowing your subjects like this great egret really help you create more interesting photos that tell a story.

If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ’em in the comments section below. 

For more information on my wildlife tours be sure to visit my site. 

Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com

Robert O’Toole Photography Blog

6 comments so far

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  1. Good shots, and good info. Have you compared the image quality of the 150-600 Sport with the Contemporary? With my septuagenarian shoulders, the lighter weight of the latter is appealing, but not if it results in loss of IQ.

  2. I understand that you loose light with the use of a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter, but have you experienced any IQ loss with the use of teleconverters on the 120-300?

  3. Great article and pictures Robert O’Toole.
    Through looking at your pictures and reading some of your articles I purchased my first Sigma lens. I got the Sigma 180mm Macro Ex,Os, Hsm f/2.8. Love that lens. I rented the 150-600 Sport when it first came out and loved it. But now I own the Sigma 18-35mm art and the 8-16mm for my d500 then also own the 50mm art I shoot on my d810. Love the dock abilities on the art series lenses. My Sigmas out preform my other brands. Even the $2800 Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 e fl vr. Keep improving Sigma I’m a fan boy.

  4. I’ve had the 150-600 Sports for a while, and I must say I’m delighted. It is a pretty heavy lens, not that easy to use handheld, but sitting down I can do it quite well, while standing up isn’t nearly as easy.

    A sturdy tripod, with a gimbal head, is needed, if you use TCs, or use camera with a highly cropped sensor, like the Nikon 1 cameras, or if you use them in combination!

    Three of my latest purchased lenses are Sigma (105/2.8 DG OS HSM Macro, the Sigma 30/1.4 DC HSM Art, and the Sigma 150-600 Sports), and I must say they are all keepers. Just love them! The odd one out is the Voigtländer 58/1.4, another delightful lens, if a bit unusual!

  5. I’ve owned the big “L” glass for years. 400 2.8s 500s 600s. Sold them after using the 150 600C. With good technique results are unbelievable.