Reviews / Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens Review (Published July 2015)

I'm often asked what camera kit I use so I thought it would be good to document my opinions in a little bit more detail. I've already written some words about the Canon 400mm F5.6 L lens so next up is the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 lens that I used extensively between 2012 and October 2014.

Let's get this perfectly clear though... I'm only writing this little "review" for a bit of fun, I have no affiliation to Sigma! These are just my findings/opinions of the lens when used specifically for motorsport photography. You may agree, disagree or not even care about my thoughts. That's cool.

First things first, to clarify, the lens I had was not the original non-OS version and nor was it the latest "Sport" version. It was the version released in 2011. It had OS (Image Stabiliser) and much improved autofocus compared to the original lens. Photo below hopefully makes it clear:

Things didn't really get off to a good start. After only a couple of weeks I had to return the lens to WEX/Sigma for repair. The autofocus randomly went very slow and jerky and then stopped functioning altogether. Manual focus did not work either. To be fair to Sigma they sorted it out under warranty and I had the lens back within a couple of weeks. Thereafter no problems at all. I don't think I was alone with experiencing this problem though.

I was drawn to the Sigma because of the useful zoom range and F2.8 aperture. It provides the 300mm 2.8 bokeh (background blur) and flexibility to react to a situation - ideal for motorsport. My first impressions were that it was very solidly built and heavy compared to anything I had used previously. The only weak point in terms of construction is the plastic lens hood. It feels cheap and can be fiddly to screw into place.

I always use a monopod for longer lenses so the 3kg weight was not really much of a problem at all. I did occasionally hand-hold and the OS (Image Stabiliser) was very effective at reducing unwanted shake. The zoom allowed me to mix up head-on shots with some side on panning shots - much easier than having to change cameras or lenses!

I am used to Canon lenses and one thing that did take some getting used to was that the zoom ring is backwards - zooming in/out is opposite to my 70-200mm for example! No big drama, but "in the heat of the moment" it's easy to accidentally zoom in instead of zoom out. The lens focuses and zooms internally so it doesn't extend in length like say the Canon 100-400mm lens.

Motorsport is fast paced so it can really help to have a lens with fast and accurate autofocus. The Sigma does indeed have fast AF, it's quick to lock-on and track the car or bike. However I did find that at wider apertures (f2.8 to f4 range) the consistency of AF accuracy was a little lacking. Some shots would be nailed sharp but others would be marginally off - not by much - but enough to look make the image look soft.

Unfortunately it was not possible to counteract this by using an in-camera AF micro-adjustment because the lens was both front-focusing and back-focusing. The AF inconsistency was most noticeable at wider apertures because of the shallow depth of field, stopped down to f/5.0 or f/5.6 and it was far more accurate. I would say f/5.6 was the sweet spot.

I used this lens with a number of Canon bodies - 1D Mark III, 1D Mark IIN, 7D, 70D and 40D. I also used the lens with both a Canon x1.4 II teleconverter and Sigma x2 teleconverter. Even with the x2 converter autofocus is possible on all cameras, however the AF speed is noticeably slower. I did get some pleasing results with the x2 but generally I would not recommend it. With the x1.4 it was very useful, giving a 168-420mm range. Stopped down to F5.6 it was fast and usually accurate. I would say not quite as fast or sharp as the Canon 400mm F5.6 L lens though.

I would regard Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens as a solid choice for motorsport photography. However with the new “Sport” version now available I would be more tempted to give that a go instead – if the wide open AF inconsistences have been resolved then it would be a superb lens!

Below are some motorsport photos I captured with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens:

With Canon x1.4 II teleconverter:

With Sigma x2 teleconverter (at 600mm):

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