Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS Lens Hands-on Review

by on October 24, 2009

in Sigma

The Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG OS lens is a consumer-oriented lens and is available for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma DSLRs. This lens is one that is relatively compact for its abilities. It feels very light in your hands and should be very enjoyable for amateurs, enthusiasts, etc. Granted, the lens is not an EX (Sigma’s top of the line) and it surely shows it. I received some brief hands-on time with the lens and was able to judge the Canon version’s abilities vs. something like my much older Canon 80-200mm F2.8 L.

Tech Specs at a Glance

When this lens was announced, we took note of Sigma’s claim that the Optical Stabilization (OS) system will help you achieve an additional 4 stops of hand-holdability. The SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass element is designed to protect from abberation. The lens also has Super Multi-Layer Coating which reduces flare and ghosting and provides high contrast images throughout the focal range of 70-300mm. The lens has an overall length of 126.5mm (5.0”), maximum diameter of 76.5mm (3.0”) and weight of just 610g. It also has rounded 9 blade diaphragm which creates an attractive blur to the out of focus areas of the photograph. This lens has a minimum focusing distance of 150cm (59.1”) throughout the entire zoom range and a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.9.

First Impressions

The lens is something that as stated earlier, will be attractive to amateurs at the price point of around $400 currently. As you can see in the top photo, when fully zoomed in it is still pretty well compacted.

The lens certainly feels like a consumer-grade zoom though, and like something that you’ll want to be very careful of when handling. While it doesn’t have the plastic feeling of my Canon 50mm F1.8, it feels like a softer version of the outside casing of some HP printers meant for small home business use.

When I looked into the front of the lens I was actually able to see the lens elements moving around as I shook it.

The lens isn’t HSM, so it will not have the superfast autofocusing that other Sigma lenses like the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 have. To be fair though, that is one of Sigma’s top lenses.

The controls on this lens are easy to find, if not a bit too small sometimes. They are near the base of the lens but your fingers need to be very accurate in hitting them to ensure that you get your results as quickly as possible.

Samples

This is the lens at its widest angle of 70mm at F4. Focusing is on the man in the center with the black shirt.  You can download full-res versions of these images for personal inspection by right-clicking on the image and choosing “Save as…”

This is the focusing at its longest range of 300mm at F5.6. Focusing is on the giant Sony sign. That’s a pretty good range for such a small lens. However, with that comes some sacrifices.

This image was shot at the lenses longest range of 300mm F5.6. It was of a man in a window looking down on the floor of the Javits Center during Photo Plus. The image was shot in Aperture priority at 1/8th of a second, F5.6 and ISO 1600 (which was my mainstay during the showcase.) As you can see, it would’ve been better if I had cranked my ISO up as this shot is blurry and could not be saved by the image stabilization.

To be fair, I always say that I’ve got shaky hands. It’s true.

Sometimes the lens tended to hunt for the exact focusing when a moving target appeared. As you can see, I wasn’t clearly able to focus on the man’s face above (the one in the background.) This was shot at 1/25th of a second, F5.6, ISO 1600 and at 300mm.

However, the lens does make one relatively good candid/portrait lens if your subjects aren’t moving fast. This was taken at 1/50th of a second, ISO 1600, F5.6 at 300mm. Focusing was on the woman.

And sometimes the lens is even pretty sharp. This was shot at 70mm, F4, ISO 1600 at 1/200th of a second. As you can see, the woman’s face is clearly in focus as is her hair and shirt. So is the man right by her. Beyond that, there is a decent bokeh in the background.

This lens would not be one I would choose over my much older 80-200mm F2.8L simply because of the fact that I can shoot faster shutter speeds with the latter, it’s sharper, constructed very well, and works efficiently with my 5D Mark II. If I really want to have the extra reach I can generally use my feet to get closer or cropping in because of the 21MP sensor.

On the contrary though, I shoot professionally. This lens is better for the consumer audience looking to add a little reach to those 18-55mm kit lenses. If purchasing this lens, keep in mind that for only $300 more you can get the excellent Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 lens, which is available in all of the same mounts. This lens has received very high ratings before. A major drag for this lens though is that it does not have OS built in, though Sigma really should create one to challenge Canon’s.

As noted above, this 70-300mm lens has a smaller maximum aperture (f/4 at the short end and f/5.6 at the long end) than other pro-level lenses (typically in the f/2.8 or f/4 ranges).  As a result, it is better suited for good lighting and outdoor use (obviously, neither was the case in the Javits Center) or paired with a camera that has solid high ISO performance.  If the extra reach isn’t really important to you or you don’t mind cropping in a bit, then your money is better spent on the 70-200.

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{ 4 comments }

1 Sky_walker October 26, 2009 at 9:31 am

we could use comparison against older Sigma lenses more than against Canon L lens… it was obvious since very first rumors that Canon L will be better than this one so… duh…

2 Andre Hanekom December 31, 2009 at 5:42 pm

In my opinion this is a very unfair and poor review. If you take any lens never mind the quality or price and take shots at 300mm at 1/8th of a second and try to use them as a test of the lens’ image capabilities, with or without image stabalisation the test becomes utterly pointless. Also taking a photo of a moving subject at 1/25th of a second and expecting it to be in sharp focus you understand nothing about what you are shooting. If you want to test the focus on moving subjects cancel out the blur by shooting at faster shutter speeds. It is not fair to post such a negative review, of a lens that according to other reviews seems at the very least decent, if you did not make the effort to conduct your test in an environment that is acceptable. At least you made note of the fact that the surroundings were not ideal.

3 Andre Hanekom December 31, 2009 at 5:57 pm
4 Eddie April 16, 2010 at 11:55 pm

i wanted to purchase 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG OS before i do that… it’s compatible with DSLR Sony Alpha A350. im a begginer on camera, so i seeking for advise. btw im a student, so cannot affort to purchase expensive lenses…

t.q

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