A new zoom: the Sigma APO 70-200 f2.8

After the usual obsessive online research, I decided on the APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens from Sigma, released in 2010 (at DP Review, at CR Kennedy). This lens was the ideal compromise for me on price and functionality.

For a while I had the Canon f4L USM, which at only 705g was not a problem carrying around. Unfortunately the limited aperture is an issue for hand-held photography. After a few months with this lens (which I still think is good value at around $600 second hand), I realised that I would have to look at the significantly more expensive f2.8 Canons (good comparison on wikipedia). In regards to the weight, the Sigma is only slightly lighter than the comparable high end Canons. After carrying it around for a few days, I’ll have to begin using a neck strap: 1,430g plus 770g with the 6D is a bit much for my wrist.

I’ve also been using an old Tamron zoom – AF 70-300 mm f/ 4-5.6 LD (Model 372D), which I picked up second hand, and probably not particularly cheap at $80. It’s extremely light, but also very soft through much of its range. It’s been a useful run-around to try out the range.

The top of the line Canon mid-telephoto zoom – EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM – is over twice the price of the Sigma. It is a highly regarded lens, but simply more than I can spend. The ostentatious white housing is a bit of a put-off, too.

The ‘HSM’ autofocus on the Sigma is very quick, usually finding focus with a quick snap. It reviews well, and only hunts in very low light. Although there’s no range limiting switch, the speed of the autofocus across the range means that it’s not really required. I’m yet to try out the ‘OS’ Image stabilization; it is claimed to be 4 stops, the same as the top Canon.

Charlie Musselwhite I frequently use lenses wide open, even telephotos, so the characteristics of the softness or bokeh are important to me. I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far from the Sigma. There’s good sharpness in the middle of the frame at f2.8, and the softness in the fade to the edges is smooth. This shot of Charlie Musselwhite at Bluesfest is an example. Shot at f4 at full range, at 1/100 without stabilisation turned on, the detail in his face, hands and hair is excellent, and there are no artefacts in the background.

Overall, the lens is easy to use; I can manually focus and zoom at the same time, with the tripod collar resting on my palm. One disadvantage is the lack of macro capabilities, but you can have everything…

I bought the Sigma from Hong Kong-based T-dimension, whom I’ve been very happy with for a number of purchases: extremely quick delivery, well packaged and never an issue with quality. I recommend them.

Sigma in Australia is distributed by CR Kennedy, who offer to “… attempt to match, through our authorised Sigma dealer network, any legitimate advertised internet price on Sigma lenses by… grey importers.” So I went to one of their distributors, digiDirect – at their Sydney CBD store, after emailing them three advertisied prices under AUD1000. They were unwilling to come close to price matching; I asked for AUD1080, they offered $70 off the ticket price of AUD1220, offering only the justification that it’s too troublesome for them to get the rebate from CR Kennedy, and mumbling something about Australian warranties. I got the lens quicker from Hong Kong than they could from Melbourne. The staff made little effort to discuss the lens, engage on price, or do anything other than upsell. The main reason to shop locally is the relationship you build over time with the knowledgable staff, like you find at Foto Riesel. A disappointing local shopping experience…

To sum up, the lens is a joy to use; snappy focus, the tripod collar resting comfortably on your hand. And all the results so far have been pleasing. I’m keen to test out the image stabisation in low light.

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Posted on April 7, 2013

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