Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Review

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Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Review3.9Nasim Mansurov2013-09-08 04:08:56Read this in-depth review of the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM constant aperture lens with detailed information, specifications, image samples and comparisons to other telephoto lenses

Reader Comments

  1. 1
    ) Chris Zeller

    Thanks Nasim for another great review! All of your reviews have so much credibility because you are able to get stunning images even with gear you don’t like. You really do prove that you are getting everything you can out of the gear.

    Is it possible for you to post the shooting details with the photos on these reviews? I was thinking about this as I was looking at the exellent photo of the mountain goat and wondering what aperture you used to get the shallow DOF that makes this photo interesting. Which ones did you shoot with the TC? This would help me evaluate the value of F2.8 for wildlife and the relative importance of the 300-400mm range is. This way your revviews will serve double duty as photographic instruction and gear reviews.

    • Thank you for your feedback Chris!

      The shooting data (EXIF) is always included with images that we post here. If you use Google Chrome or Firefox, you can download an EXIF viewer extension and see all the embedded info. I am still looking for a plugin that would do this for me automatically, but unfortunately there isn’t one out there :(

      None of the images in this review were shot with TCs. If you would like to see some sample photos with TCs, check out the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverter reviews that I posted a week ago.

      Hope this helps – please let me know if you have any other questions / concerns.

  2. 3
    ) mirek

    It is a pity that Nasim did not add the 300 f/4D to the comparison.

    But looking at the previous review, the surprising outcome of this test is, the 120-300 f/2.8 is actually optically same or weaker wide open than the old and much cheaper Nikon 300 f/4D both naked and with teleconverter.

    True, the Sigma has f/2.8 aperture and OS, but you need to stop the sigma down one stop to get the same performance and the long end is not the same thing as long end on Nikon primes and is much bigger and heavier.

    • Mirek, I did not want to make the review awfully long and I thought that our readers could do cross-lens comparisons by themselves :) Another lens that I missed is the new Nikon 80-400mm VR – that’s also a good lens to compare the 120-300mm to.

  3. 4
    ) FrancoisR

    About the 105mm filter being expensinve. I just paid $300.00 for a drop in CPL on my Nikon 200 f2, not exactly cheap either…

    Thanks for the ¸good review.

    • FrancoisR, ouch! I thought the drop-in CPL was around $250. Still, a good 105mm CPL is like $450, so I prefer the drop-in type. Also, it sucks that they charge so much on those drop-in filters. That’s why I have never bothered buying one.

      And just out of curiosity, what good would a CPL do on a 200mm f/2 lens? I see the potential of using ND filters for flash, but why a CPL? Are you using the 200mm for portraiture or some other needs?

      • 7
        ) FrancoisR

        It’s on the D800 90% of the time. I got the CPL because I plan to take it to St-Marteen this fall and shoot planes on Maho beach and St-Barth. I spent a day at a local airport during the summer and figured I would get better blue skies with a polarising lens. Being a drop in and close to the body it’s very easy to adjust with it’s small knob. Not like screw on type when a hood is in place. I shot birds, cars, planes, bikes, fireworks at night, flowers, mushrooms in the woods with low light, etc… The lens does wonders for portraits but it’s also excellent at longer range. Sole fault is weight , I use a monopod which helps a lot. $300.00 included shipping and taxes…

        • That’s cool! I am planning to test the Nikkor 200mm f/2 pretty soon, hopefully before the end of the year. It is an optical marvel!

          • 21
            ) Peter

            Are you testing both the VR I and VR II? Would look forward to your review before I spring for one!

  4. 9
    ) Patrick

    Very Thorough review Nasim,

    Too bad you have to stop down to F4 – F5.6 for sharpness and that Sigma didn’t overhaul this lens completely not to mention the filter size.

    I’m shure this review will help people who try to find out which telephoto lens will serve them best.

  5. 10
    ) Torsten

    This may be a slightly off-topic post, but you mention a “new 12-24mm” Sigma lens, Nasim. This got me really interested. I use the 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 II DG HSM – is that the one you are referring to? If it is I have to admit I was not aware it was fully sealed, or at least there is no rubber gasket that I would expect on a fully sealed lens. Will there be an update to this lens or is that the one you are referring to? An update would be rather exciting, at least if it did address the not so fantastic corner performance. In my ideal world it would be a constant f4 (to keep the price and weight under control, 2.8 may be too much here), with better corners and ideally a little more resistant to flares and ghosting (as much as such a lens can be).

    Anyway, if you know anything about a future update to this lens I’d appreciate it if you could let us know.

  6. Hi Nasim,

    Great review of the new sports version of the SIgma 120-300 f2.8!

    My interest have always been in nature and wildlife photography which includes bird photography as well and my current setup is the old Nikon 300mm afs f4 with tc.4eii paired with my d600/d300. So far even with the lack of VR and etc i have managed to counter it and am so far happy with the results but would like to ask your opinion if i were to upgrade to a better lens.

    Will the older non sports version of the sigma 120-300 be a step ahead of my current setup in terms of IQ? as you mentioned that there is no significant upgrade in terms of optics. or… shall i continue to wait and hope that NIkon will announced an upgrade of the 300mm afs f4 with VR..?

    Let me know what you think. Thanks.

    • 12
      ) Marcelo

      This is a very interesting question Mark and I hope Basin will answer because I’m using the same set up and I’m very interested and curios to find an answer. There is not too much info about the differences in IQ and auto focus speed between the Nikon 300mm + TC’s and the Sigma second generation and the new sport version of the 120-300 mm.

    • Wait until Nikon announces the 300mm f/4G VR – it will be phenomenal. If not this year, it should come out in Q1 of 2014.

      • Hahaha! I am keeping my fingers cross on this! :) I hope that this time around Nikon does really comes up with the upgraded version of the 300mm f4. It is indeed already a phenomenal lens and with VR and newer optics it will surely be a great lens for users who cant afford the 300 f2.8. I heard that a new tc 1.4 version iii might be announced with this lens. Is this rumor true ? I dohope this is true as well. My current 300mm f4 and tc1.4eii is really a good combo.

        I will take your words Nasim on the announcement of the new 300mm f4 VR. Waiting with full anticipation (actually have been waiting for a few years now.. Hehehe!)!

        Thanks!

        Mark Louis Benedict

      • Hello Nasim

        I have a D800 body and I use it for landscape, macro and bird photography. I used to own a Sigma 150-500 which I used for birding, sold it just a week ago and now I dont have any telephoto lenses. I really like the Sigma 120-300 sports version but doesnt fit in my budget BUT the old non sports OS version does fit in my budget. I also like the 300mm f4 but I need as much reach as possible and as per your review the 300mm f4 with 2x or 1.7x TC doesnt perform as good as the Sigma 120-300 with the 1.4x or 2x at f5.6 and f8. Why do you think the new sports version of 120-300 weighs heavier than the old 120-300 OS if the optics are same? I’m confused between the old OS version and the new sports version.

        Thanks
        Sreeji

  7. 15
    ) Wally K.

    It’s been a long time since I have been out to the site. I stopped reading it because of the often one sided reviews. At least to me they seemed that way.
    I tried the 80-400 G renting one for a very long time. Same for the 200-400….I’m a Nikon shooter and trust me I rented both figuring to buy one. I bought the 120-300 Sport though because on my Nikons it was just better. I don’t have a lab Nasim, just friends and other photographers with eyes. Everyone picked the Sigmas photos over any of the others.
    Maybe it’s copy variation working on both sides, I got bad Nikon samples, you got a bad Sigma version. It happens I guess. But I really took exception to the way you just went on and on about handling. Wow. What nit picking. Reminds of people back when I raced motorcycles, they weren’t fast because controls were in the wrong spot but a good rider was fast no matter what they rode.
    Best wishes going forward. Like the new site but find the same one sidedness too much to take. I know the Sigma isn’t all that and a bag of chips but its far from being the dog you make it out to be and people should know that. I encourage people to do their own tests and take all these tests results for what they are, one persons opinions and who knows what shades that opinion?
    I do some teaching and lots of listening to new photographers and its a shame how some people take all this web blog stuff as gospel never questioning it. So and so says this and that’s it. Wow. I wish they would just get out and shoot and find out for themselves.

    • Wally, thank you for your feedback – it is always appreciated. Please keep in mind that the above review was written by three photographers: myself, John Lawson (a friend a local wildlife photographer and Tom Redd, PL writer/contributor and also a Nikon shooter). My primary tool is the 200-400mm, John shoots with the 600mm f/4 and Tom shoots with the 500mm f/4. The handling part is where all of us uniformly agreed. In fact, the handling part was mostly provided to me by John and Tom and I compiled the info along with what I had into one review. So this is not just an opinion of one person. In this review, we are not saying that the Sigma is a bad lens – it has its strengths being an f/2.8 lens and having a versatile zoom range. However, it is a pretty heavy lens for its size and that’s the part we all collectively did not like. As for its optical performance, the 120-300mm that I had might have been a lemon, but I have checked other sites that measured its performance and they seem to have similar conclusions. See this review by ePhotozine, for example and check out the test charts – their results also show weaker performance at f/2.8, peaking at f/5.6. Something strange happened with their test sample or testing process though, as the lens shows better corner performance at times, which is odd. But reviewers sample from different areas of the frame and what is considered to be a true mid-frame or corner is debatable. That’s why results differ from site to site. I believe Roger Cicala also came to a conclusion that the 120-300mm was good, but not as good as the more expensive Canon super telephotos.

      I would certainly love to test another unit when I have a chance. And if you think that I am biased towards Nikon, please check my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 review, where I argued that the Sigma is a much sharper lens than all other 35mm lenses. I only report my findings from what I see and I have data to prove that I am not just pulling all this stuff out of nowhere.

      Also, keep in mind that sharpness is something that can be very subjective from person to person. What you consider sharp could be very different from what I consider sharp. That’s why I started using software to measure the actual sharpness – it can determine the sharpness of the lens by measuring the thickness of photographed charts. I am not saying that my testing methodologies are ideal, but I do put a significant amount of effort into the process. I do not get paid by Nikon, Sigma, Canon or any other manufacturer and I am completely impartial to cameras and lenses that I test. And if you think that I only praise Nikon gear, see my Nikon 80-400mm review and a number of other Nikon reviews where I ranked a lens low based on my findings. In the case of the 80-400mm, I stated that the Sigma 50-500mm is a better value with very similar optical performance – this is what I saw in the lab and from using both lenses in the field.

      And lastly, I always suggest our readers to look at multiple reviews of gear on the Internet / magazines before making a decision…

    • 22
      ) Gabriel

      I totally agree with you, Wally! I have the same feeling reading this review! Nice review but way too much love for Nikon.

      Greetings from Sweeden!

      Nikon D700, Nikon 14-24 f/2.8, Sigma 150 f/2,8, Nikon 50 f/1,4 etc

    • 24
      ) Mandy

      I still went ahead and purchased this lens. The most important part being its value and versatility. The only thing that threw me off here was the negatives (thats fine), but the overall rating was a 4 out of 5………

  8. 17
    ) Mike

    Nasim,
    I like your website especially the comprehensiveness of your imatests on this lens and others.

    Now on this lens @300 the ratio of your imatest readings f2.8/f4 = 2100/3050 = 69%

    photozone @300 the same ratio f2.8/f4 = 3243/3390 = 96% ie implying higher sharpness wide open on the previous OS lens!!

    Do you think that you may have tested a slightly poor example of this lens?
    Regards
    Mike

  9. 19
    ) Kristofer Rowe

    Hi Nasim, I enjoy your reviews and your webpage!

    I’ve been searching for the perfect lens for how I shoot birds for a while, I was intrigued by the Sigma 120-300 OS for some time. Based on your review and photozone’s testing I started searching for the non-sport version and got an incredible deal for 2K new from a authorized dealer. At this price point I think it is one heck of a bargain. I actually had purchased a used 300 F4 AF-S previously and was not as enamored by it as the rest of the world. I did not like the nervousness of the AF and I thought it tracked horribly (maybe it was a bad copy) Anyways I’ve had the Sigma for almost a week now and if you or any of your readers would like to see what I’ve done so far using the Sigma 120-300 OS non sport for birds, here is my flickr set.. a few shots were just testing.. http://www.flickr.com/photos/coastalconn/sets/72157636905007005/

    • 20
      ) Sreeji Nair

      Will greatly appreciate your feedback Sir

      I looked at your shots and they are really very good, the only Kristofer Rowe I know is the award winning photographer who I saw in Tony Northrup’s video :) I bet you are the one. I compared the 120-300 sports with non sports and I find the 120-300 non sports a bit on the softer side.

      What do you think of Mike Schurmann’s shot who uses the new 120-300 sports version here is one of his shot at full view its really very sharp…. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeschurmann/9313358388/sizes/k/in/photostream/

      Do you think its his D800 resolution and down sampling the photo is giving that sharpness or his shooting techniques (he shoots handheld) or do you think the 120-300 is actually this sharp? I’m really confused between the sports and non sports version and I’m out of telephoto lens and dying to get one as the season is almost here.

      you can checkout his flickr set here http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeschurmann/sets/72157624861254369/

      Please let us know

      Thanks
      Sreeji

  10. 23
    ) Nycko

    Hello,

    Do you recomand this lens for using with nikon V2 with FT1 adapter?
    There is a last piece in my fav. shop for about 1.700$ :)

    many thanks,
    Nycko

  11. 25
    ) Gerry

    So, you are comparing a zoom lens that has a market price of about 2600 Euros (the Sigma 120-300mm 2.8) to a prime lens with a market price of about 5200 Euros (Nikon 300mm 2.8). Don’t you think that this comparison is a bit off? I would be shocked if the Nikon lens had not outperformed the Sigma lens in terms of sharpness. That is usually the case when you compare a prime versus a zoom lens, so absolutely no surprise there.

    Why not find some lens that is in a similar price range and offers similar focal range and compare that?

  12. 26
    ) Al Hamzah

    Hi,

    can you bear me please,i know it little bit out of the subject but i need professional opinion help with which lens to go with Sigma 120-300 or nikon 300 f4
    conclusion from what i read your and other sites review are:

    Sigma pros:
    1. better image quality @300 and 420(tc1.4)
    2. more versatile zoom range
    3. advantage of aperture in some situations since a will be shooting 5.6 most of the time to get optimal sharpness.

    Nikon pros:
    1. hand holding
    2. more fast and accurate AF-S

    Note that i will be shooting 90% of time birds, so my question from your experience is lake of hand holding ability and AF-S accuracy (is it really that different in terms of AF-S accuracy) will be a big issue through most situations?!!

    Here is my link of what i managed to do so far with nikon 70-300 VRII: http://500px.com/Alhamzahmohammed

    Thanks for your help in advance :)

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