Hardware Review: Sigma 70-200 f2.8

The kind folks at Sigma have become quite the regular contributor to the review section here – as you keep asking for lens reviews, the Sigma brand keeps coming up, and they continue to be generous with my participation in the loaner program.  Thus far the lens line-up I’ve reviewed from the Sigma Collection include:

Having compiled quite the list of review lenses, I am happy to announce the latest addition to this review series (some day I hope to have reviewed every lens Sigma has! 🙂 ) I give you the Sigma 70-200 f.28…

This lens is the comparable one to the Canon 70-200 f2.8, and while I’ve not had a chance to test the Canon equivalent, there are some optical similarities.  I won’t go so far as to compare it to my own Canon 70-200 f4.0 simply because there are enough differences that it would be an apples to oranges comparison.  So, here I’ll just share my own thoughts and shots on and from the lens for everyone to consider.  Here is everything from soup to nuts:

Sigma 70-200mm

The (Alphabet) Soup

This is the 70-200 F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens – quite a mouthful, but all of these features are important.  The EX signifies that this lens has benefitted from the now signature finish of Sigma lenses.  It’s smooth but rugged, and hard to really explain, but denotes quality and professionalism while being also understated – it means business.  I’ve raved about the finish that Sigma puts on their lenses and this one is no exception.  Top Notch!  The DG?  That means it’s optimized for Digital use.  To quote Sigma,

“These are large-aperture lenses with wide angles and short minimum focusing distances. With an abundance of peripheral illumination, they are ideal lenses for Digital SLR Cameras whilst retaining suitability for traditional 35mm SLRs.”

In other words, the f2.8 means the aperture is designed for the width and opening, optimizing the amount of light that comes in, and minimizing barrel distortion.  The end result of all this means you spend less time in post fixing things.  A definite plus in my book!

OS is the now easily recognizable label of optical stabilization.  These lenses have built in mechanisms that counter your movement to allow for shooting at slower shutter speeds.  Slower shutter speeds, wide open apertures all means you can shoot and get quality results in lower light!  I’ll go into more details on their OS features later though.

HSM refers to the Hyper Sonic Motor, which means nearly whisper quiet movement as the lens picks up on the AF points.  Less noise means less distraction.  This is good regardless of whether you are shooting portraits, wildlife, or street photography.  Remember, it’s not about the photographer, it’s about the photo, and the HSM is an added bonus to help achieve that end goal!

The Nuts

All the acronyms in the world won’t tell you a thing about lens performance though, and neither will my blathering about this or that, so let’s just get to the nuts.  I went out with the lens to take some test shots and basically get a feel for the optical quality throughout the lens.  I took some at short range (70mm), some in the middle (ranging from 120-150mm), and some at the long end (200mm).  Shot groups also were mixed between simple test shots (a street) to portraits, and landscapes to get an idea of the focal range.  Here’s said shots!

The 70mm shots


70mm Portrait

70mm Portrait


70mm Roadway

70mm Roadway


70mm Landscape

70mm Landscape


Dog Portrait @ 70mm

Dog Portrait @ 70mm

Mid-range Shots


Mid-Range Roadway

Mid-Range Roadway


Mid-Range Landscape

Mid-Range Landscape


Mid-Range Park

Mid-Range Park

Long Range Shots


200mm Portrait

200mm Portrait


Long Range Landscape

Long Range Landscape


Long Range Landscape (180mm)

Long Range Landscape (180mm)

Here, you can get an idea of both the optical quality and range of the optics as well as an idea of how it would perform in a variety of functions.  I should also note that I have done literally no post production work in these at all.  The only sharpening that was applied was on output sharpening from Lightroom, and that was set “For Screen” by default on all my images.  In other words, nothing has been tweaked.  Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the optics overall.

Pros ~

I absolutely love the bokeh on this lens at long range.  It compresses subjects nicely for portraiture, and throws the background nicely out of focus with some great treatment due to the optics.  These shots were taken in afternoon light, and the sun was coming in and out of the scene – which could change the settings quickly.  We were shooting on a monopod, and with IS on so the minor changes in shutter speed (these were aperture priority shots) didn’t really affect us.  The f2.8 end came out nicely too, which was as expected though – that’s the whole reason for the f2.8  My excitement was primarily lent toward the bokeh at the long end which came out to about f4.5  Not too shabby!

I also was a huge fan of the OS – optical stabilization.  It had two settings…OS 1 for shooting handheld, which counters both vertical and horizontal axis movement, and if you are shooting on a monopod (which is common with heavier glass), you can switch to OS 2, which turns off the one axis (horizontal I think).  This allowed me to take some pretty decent shots at a hockey game a few weeks ago.  You may recall seeing a gallery of those shots here on the blog.  I was toggling between the OS1 and OS2 for that series so some shots did come out better than others – the ones with OS2 were the sharper in the set!

Another advantage here is that the collar for tripod or monopod mounting is included.  I had to shell out an additional $50 for my Canon when I bought the f4, so seeing it included here was a happy surprise.   I hate to go on and on here, but there was one other feature that bears mentioning and that is the smooth rotation I was getting from the lens as I worked it through the focal range.  Either this was brand new, or had just been serviced because it was about the smoothest glass I’d seen from Sigma yet…and given the laundry list up top, that’s saying something!

And finally, the last big notch in favor of it, is – of course – the price.  Coming it at $1700 this lens is certainly not cheap.  However the savings is still there as it offers a s$200 over the Canon equivalent which comes in at at $1900!  For the cost conscious (and who isn’t these days), that $200 can go toward many other accouterments in your shopping cart!  And from what I can tell, the image quality is pretty darn good.  (I got my prices from B&H Photo – the Sigma one is here and the Canon one is here)

Cons ~

This was much heavier and bigger than I anticipated.  It was longer than my own 70-200 from Canon.  Now I grant you my own is only an f4.0 and does not have the OS (or IS if you prefer – for the strict Canonistas out there).  But I was a little surprised.  I think that’s why my initial shots were a little oof – out of focus – because my arms just weren’t used to carrying the weight around.  Lesson learned though – when moving into the fast glass category, at least shoot with a monopod, arm strain is greatly reduced!

The other big con was battery drain.  All the time I could hear the OS kicking on and off as it would sense movement, even as I walked around.  This caused some noticeable drain on my battery and I found myself swapping out after about 3 hours of shooting.  Maybe this is typical of optically stabilized lenses and I am just not used to it, but the drain was something else that I had to take into account.  I did have a spare with me, so it wasn’t that big a deal – but I certainly could not have shot all day on only two batteries with this lens.

While the collar was included, I don’t believe the lens hood is.  Now the test unit I had did include a nice lens hood with the butterflies to avoid as much vignetting as possible, but that would likely add to the cost.  Based on prices seen on B&H though, that’s only in the neighborhood of $25 (Direct link to Sigma marketplace here).

The Decision:

I would loved to have held onto this lens a while longer, and truth be told, will probably end up buying it.  The Canon 70-200f4 may be working its last days in my bag, just because the faster glass and features are sure to see much more use from me.  Coming up tomorrow, the results of the October contest giveaway – and announcing the November giveaway…make sure you stop in for that!  Happy shooting and we’ll see you then!

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16 comments for “Hardware Review: Sigma 70-200 f2.8

  1. November 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    I’m also considering this as a longer lens to add to our collection. I think the non-OS/IS version though. I just can’t justify the huge price jump and extra lens weight for a few extra stops. Plus that doesn’t even help out with blur within the frame. Slowing down to 1/30th does no good if you’re looking for a crisp shot of a moving target. Have you tried the non-OS version?

    • November 2, 2010 at 9:18 pm

      I thought about the non-IS, but it’s so heavy, would be tough to hand hold and get any reasonably sharp images…although non-OS is likely lighter..tough call…

      • Matt
        November 2, 2010 at 11:02 pm

        I have an older version of the non-OS and I have no troubles shooting (with great sharpness) with it until I get down below 1/40 shutter speed and then I should be using a tripod anyway. If you are concerned about weight, go to a camera store and get an idea or even rent one for a few days, those are two cheaper ways to find out.

        • November 3, 2010 at 4:28 am

          Great suggestion Matt – Lens Rentals and RentGlass are two websites I’ve recommended in the past to test gear out cheaply! (Cheaper than buying anyway…)

  2. Matt
    November 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    All Sigma lenses come with hoods, so that hood came with it. I am a Sigma SD14 shooter and even my cheap $80 lenses I got in the beginner came with hoods all the way up through my $1500 professional glass from Sigma.

    Hope that helps to inform you a little more.

    Nice Review, was informative and I love the bokeh in your images just like you stated.

    What Canon camera did you shoot with?

    • November 3, 2010 at 4:27 am

      Actually I shoulda known that as I do own the Sigma 70mm Macro lens and that did come with the hood too. Oh well… 🙂

      My primary SLR is the 40D, although it’s beginning to show its age, and believe a 7D is likely forthcoming after the first of the year….

      • Matt
        November 3, 2010 at 5:31 am

        The 40D is still a very nice camera, my father shoots with one of those. I still know pros who shoot 30D for their crop sensor images.

        The 7D is a great camera, good luck in getting one and hopefully you can get it as soon as possible.

        • November 3, 2010 at 7:23 pm

          Are you saying I am old enough to be your dad? 😛 (Just kidding…it still works great, and I will definitely keep using it, but I also see some limitations that I am starting to bump up against, and that’s how I upgraded from the XT many years ago!)

  3. November 3, 2010 at 5:32 am

    I have a question about the OS/IS feature you mentioned. Especially, you mentioned that the OS motor would be turned on even when walking?

    I don’t have a 70-200 yet, but I’m looking to buy one these holidays. And was leaning towards the Canon 70-200 f4 L IS.

    I do have a Canon IS lens (Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS), and here is my concern. My experience is that the IS in my lens only turns on when I have press the shutter button, during focus. Is it common for the sigma lenses to have the OS turned on at all times?

    Thanks ahead of time

    • November 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      I am hoping to get an answer on that from Sigma soon – don’t know if it’s the function or something else, but should know in a bit…

  4. photog
    November 3, 2010 at 6:54 am

    The canon lens you use for your comparison has been discontinued, the 70-200 2.8 IS II UMS, is the one that replaces it(~$2200). Although the older version can be found, I would recommend the II, as it offers some significant improvements (for me a closer minimum focus distance is key)

    I have both the old canon 2.8 and the 2.8 II (in the process of selling the former) and have to say that is it a superb zoom lens. The IS makes a significant difference when shooting at 200, it allows for almost 4 stops of compensation when shooting hand held. I do not see a significant drop in battery life when using either one of them with the IS engaged. I do like the option to have 2 is modes(Panning and normal, that the canon offers as well.

    But to be honest I constant think about selling all my zoom lenses and sticking to primes. The image quality and speed(1.2-1,4) of my primes has me constantly skipping the zooms and moving around more to compose my shots.

    • November 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      Good catch – I just put the specs in B&H search and linked the first one, assuming it was the most recent. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

  5. November 4, 2010 at 6:54 am

    A Sweet sweet lens you got there Jason. Awesome. Me too, I’m considering on getting this and selling my EF 70-200mm F/4 IS USM, but right now I’m still in love with it. I’m also consider the older than OS version.

  6. November 4, 2010 at 7:28 am

    How heavy is it? If it’s that heavy, looks like the Non OS version will do. Right now, in low light situations I use my 50 F/1.8, 85 F/1.8 and Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC.

    • November 4, 2010 at 8:21 pm

      I think the specs say it weighs around 3 lbs – would have to check to be sure…and I think B&H has the weights…

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