Sunday, December 4, 2011

A true test of the new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens

If you have been following my blog for the last month or two, you might have seen the entry about me shooting a night football game. During that game, I used my Canon 5D Mark II with the Canon 100-400mm variable aperture lens (which is variable aperture). I was really looking forward to capturing images in that lighting, but not thrilled that I had to go to ISO 6400 to get a shutter speed fast enough to capture the action. So...I figured that it was time to bring in the big guns. I borrowed the new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens (more to capture images of a bar mitzvah inside a dark temple) and figured that it would be great to test it out at another night game. I had some questions in my head as I headed towards the field. Firstly, could I shoot at ISO 1600 with the fast lens? Secondly, how fast would this lens focus? Lastly, how sharp would it be?

I set up the camera and lens on my Gitzo monopod, since the lens is about 6.5 pounds and not something I wanted to hand-hold for a couple of hours. And then it was time to answer question number one: What ISO could I shoot at? I tried shooting at ISO 1600 but, even at f2.8, determined that ISO 3200 would be a safer bet to buy me a little faster shutter speed. Having shot at this high ISO many times before, I was much more comfortable and happier at 3200 than pushing the camera any higher.

Shooting this lens wide open at f2.8 gave me another advantage over the Canon 100-400mm lens. Not only could I shoot at a lower and cleaner ISO, I could also further separate my subject from background and the other players on the field. This is very apparent in the photo above, where the running back is perfectly in focus, while the wide receiver is soft.

Lastly, there was the question of focusing speed. When photographing sports, I usually set my camera to servo focus and use the center focus exclusively, and this is what I did on this evening. The lens tracked very well, with almost no lag or perceivable noise.

I have been shooting with the Canon 100-400 so much that I was used to the push-pull zoom. It did take me a little while to get used to the rolling zoom of the Sigma lens, but did not hinder my shooting at all. The OS image stabilization worked very well, even with the lens mounted on my monopod. 

In a recent blog post, I did show a bunch of images which I shot at the San Jose Sharks game, using this same lens. But, an NHL game is lit pretty well. How would this lens perform inside a roller rink with really nasty lighting? It was time to try that too.

In the two images above, you will notice that even at ISO 3200 and an aperture of f2.8, there is still motion in final images. That just shows you how tough this shooting environment is. There is no way that I could have shot these images with a variable aperture lens. I was lucky to get 1/250 sec, which is really needed to freeze any kind of action.

The two shots above are photos of my son taking a slap shot. I love watching my son play hockey, and it is also nice to be able to supply images to his teammates and staff. I will tell you that walking into the rink with the big Sigma lens definitely turned some heads. With 23 elements of glass, the long black tube, and a whopping 105mm filter size, this is no small lens that can be used in the background. When you shoot with this thing, people know you are serious.

It was so nice to be able to freeze the action. The combination of shooting at f2.8, lower ISO levels AND having the reach of 300mm was awesome. There were times when 300mm was almost too much lens for this type of sport, but other times when I was loving the really tight shots.

I was very impressed with the solid build of the lens and the quality of the images, so much so, that I dropped the big money and purchased this beast to add to my collection. I guess that says it all.


Anonymous said...

hi Jeff,
I do college football photography and on occasion do nighttime high school games. I've used Canon's F2.8L lenses and have been considering this particular lens from Sigma due to its range. There are not many reviews on it with great detail. Your review has provided some much needed comments as well as pictures to backup your statements. Thanks for the information.
Sean - Falcon, Colorado

Anonymous said...

Jeff, thanks for the information on the Sigma 120-30mm lens.
I do college football photography and have been seriously considering this lenses. I cant find any place that rents this version. Until your post, I had seen to many detailed reviews. There aren't very many example football pictures available either.
Falcon, Colorado