Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 OS Lens Review

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS Lens Review

Reviewed by: Ray Taggart, Pixels Foto and Frame

August 9, 2013

_38A1367I first saw this lens at CES/PMA show in Las Vegas in January of 2013.  Sigma has always had a bevy of lenses, some of them real eye openers, like their 200-500 f/2.8 APO EX DG.  That one always draws a crowd.

In September of 2012 Sigma announced a restructuring of their lens line into 3 categories. Contemporary, Art and Sports.  The Sports category includes the NEW 120-300  f/2.8 OS lens. Unique to the Sports category is the ability to adjust the lenses’ focus speed and focus limiters via programmable switches on the lens. (requires Sigma’s USB dock)   The Sports category lenses are designed with high level optics and great performance.

After talking to the Sigma folks in their booth I was convinced that this was a lens I really wanted to try. I mean, think about it. 120-300 f/2.8, optical stabilization, if it’s sharp and fast, for $3,599.00 it’s really worth serious consideration!

As some of you know I shoot a lot of professional soccer. Real Salt Lake being the local team.  I also shoot a lot of speed skating, (US Men’s and Women’s) and the occasional PGA golf event.  So I contacted our Sigma rep and he graciously sent me a Canon version to shoot for a while.

So let’s get down to what I think about the NEW 120-300mm f/2.8 OS Sigma lens.

My First Impressions:

The lens feels stout and well made.  There are 23 elements in 18 groups bringing the lens in at 7 1/2 pounds. Definitely a monopod lens.   With 9 blades in the diaphragm the Bokeh is quite nice.  This lens measure 12 1/4″ long without the hood and 15 1/2″ with the hood. The lens is dust and moisture resistant.  According to Sigma that means “that it is weather sealed against dust and moisture.  You can shoot with it in sprinkling rain conditions, but don’t take it out in a downpour.”  The lens ships with a nice padded case, but not a locking hard case.   The lens hood fits into place like a locking hood on a smaller lens, but you still have to secure it by tightening the securing screw in the hood.  This is different than say a Canon large telephoto lens hood where the hood can attach in any orientation to the lens.  I don’t know if this is better or worse or just different, but I kind of liked it.  I felt like the hood was somehow more secure.  The foot (tripod collar) is beefy and has a nice big knob for adjusting the collar.


There are four fairly straight forward switches.

The Auto/Manual Focus switch.

The focus limiter switch which has 3 settings. FULL (minimum focus distance to infinity), 10m-∞  (32.8ft – ∞) and •-10m (Minimum focusing distance ~ 32.8 ft)

The OS (Optical Stabilizer) switch is either off, Mode 1 - both vertical and horizontal stabilization, Mode 2 – vertical stabilization.

The Custom switch is programmable via Sigma’s proprietary USB DOCK ($59.00) and software. From your computer you can customize and assign the AF speed, OS effect and Range of  Focus Limiter to either of the two custom settings.  Firmware updates are also accomplished via the USB DOCK.

Test Shots and Examples:

The first thing I did was micro adjust the AF to ensure I was getting the most accurate results I could.  I shot my usual 4 test charts at a distance of 27 ft for 300mm and 10.75 ft for 120mm. I also shot the Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM at 120mm so that I could have some good comparison shots. So let’s take a look.

I’m not going to show you ALL the charts at ALL the different apertures.  They all pretty much show the same thing.  I’ll sum it up by showing you one chart, a side by side comparison and a zoomed in side by side.

Here’s the whole chart. (shot with the Sigma lens and a Canon 1DX)


Now here’s a side by side of the same chart and zoomed in little.


Now here’s the same chart zoomed way in so you can see the details. They are both shot at f/2.8.


As you can see, the Sigma is slightly (I mean just a tich) softer.  But WAY within what I would consider extremely acceptable.  Considering the Sigma is a zoom and the Canon is fixed focal length, I think Sigma did a GREAT job with this lens.  All the other charts I shot showed the same thing. At 120mm the Sigma was reallllly close to the sharpness of the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II at 120mm.  And the sharpness at all apertures from f/2.8 to f/11 were consistent.   I didn’t shoot the lens at any aperture smaller than f/11.

Now let look at some in the field test shots.


Shot at 300mm f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO 320

Here’s the same shot zoomed in.


I can live with that!


Shot at 120mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO 320

I can’t tell you how much easier it is to shoot a variable focal length lens in a fast moving action sport like professional soccer.

The shot below was taken from the front of the store. I’m looking straight East up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Your looking at the top of the tram at Snowbird Ski Resort.  This is almost exactly 12 miles away.


Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 – shot at 300mm f/11, 1/500th

Here’s the same image zoomed in 100%.


This shot is the flag in our parking lot. I estimate that it’s about 200 away.


Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 – shot at 120mm, f/11, 1/640th

Here’ the flag shot at 300mm and zoomed in 100%


Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 shot at 300mm, f/11, 1/640 (zoomed in 100%)

These last couple of shots are from a night soccer match.  Being a night game this was good test of the lens focus speed and image quality at f/2.8

Real Salt Lake vs Portland Timbers 08-07-13

Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 shot at 300mm, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO 2500

Real Salt Lake vs Portland Timbers 08-07-13

Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 shot at 300mm, f/2.8, 1/2500, ISO 2000



After shooting this lens at a few events, I’ve gotten a pretty feel for it.  Here’s what I think.  One big consideration is the price. At $3,599 it’s a serious investment, but you don’t have to take out a loan to get it either.  After all the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II is $6,799.00  After micro adjusting my 1DX with this lens, I was able to get some pretty darn good shots. And after all that’s what it’s all about.  Can I get a sharp, colorful, accurate shot?   I do have a couple of criticims.  I’m used to shooting an extremely fast focusing lens. The Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS.  The Sigma 120-300 is a little slower to focus.  It did seem to focus faster when I was shooting a day game vs a night game.  But I found my self waiting for focus more than I am used to.  This boils down to me getting 6 or 7 shots in a sequence instead of 9 or 10.  Let face it, I have a higher likelihood of getting the “money shot” with more shots than less shots.  It could very well be that after using the Sigma, I would mentally train myself to get a little more ahead of the action, who knows.  But never the less, it is a little slower. NOTE - I emailed the tech a Sigma, asking if I could speed up the AF if I had the USB DOCK. He responded back and said, “You can speed up the AF for the 120-300.  The only downside would be if the focus is moving too fast for your camera to lock focus.  If you have a newer camera, especially a higher end model with a more sophisticated AF system, there should be no issues.” I wished I had the USB DOCK to give it a try.   The other thing I noticed was as I rotated the lens back and forth from vertical to horizontal, the tripod collar wasn’t as smooth as I am used to.  The rotation wasn’t very smooth.  It’s a little catchy and it jittered. This concerns me because I envision it getting worse as time goes by.


  •  A  really fair price for lens this good.
  • With a little tweaking, ie micro adjusting my camera, I was able to get some really good sharp shots.
  • The construction and build of the lens seem very good.
  • A programmable lens via the USB dock makes a ton of good sense.


  • The focus is not as fast as I’m used to.  (this may not be totally fair, because my lens is more than twice the price) AND with the Sigma USB DOCK I may be able to improve the focus speed.   Hmmmmm
  • The tripod collar jitters. Hopefully this doesn’t degrade over time.

What it comes down to is this.  This lens is well worth it’s price.  A good sharp f/2.8 big zoom like this lens is a blast to shoot. And being able to frame the shot exactly the way I want is awesome.  You should not find yourself over or under lensed so much and that means your ”keeper” rate  will also go up.   If you are looking into getting a big telephoto lens and need an f/2.8 aperture, you really should look hard at this lens.

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