Watch the birdie...
Registered: December 2003
Location: Blyth, Northumberland, NE England
Review Date: Mon May 1, 2006
||Would you recommend the product? Yes |
Price you paid?: None indicated
| Rating: 9
Sharp, versatile, fast focussing for a non Sonic Drive motor, stabilisation is EXCELLENT
Not light, would be even better with a sonic motor
This lens has been a permanent fixture on my Nikon D70 for a while now (since November 2005) and initially I had my doubts about it - there seems to be a real learning curve involved in getting the best out of the lens.
Now that I am used to it, I have nothing but praise for it.
The obvious selling point is the in-built stabilisation (OS in Sigma-speak).
Gyroscopes within the body of the lens suppress unwanted camera/lens shake, and it really works.
The system takes a second or so to spin up to speed (which caught me out when I first started using the lens and started complaining about it being no different to my other lenses! ) but it does this while acquiring focus, so there is no a problem there.
While I agree that good hand holding technique goes a long way without stabilisation, I am in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the extra help provided by those gyros can make all the difference.
This can mean the ability to use a lower shutter speed, smaller aperture of lower ISO (or any combination of the above) and still get sharp shots; or - and this is the true advantage of OS in my opinion - it allows you to pull worthwhile shots out of the hat in really marginal conditions which you might not get otherwise.
So it might not be an essential, but I for one would not want to be without stabilisation when shooting handheld.
It has two stabilisation modes (three if you include off!)
Mode 1 deals with horizontal and vertical movement - ie normal use - and mode 2 compensates for vertical movement only, supposedly for use on moving subjects, motor sports and the like.
Mode 1 is the only only option I use - I switch the stabilisation off if I am panning - but the option is there is you want or need it.
Unlike some of the newer Canon stabilised lenses, the Sigma stabilisation needs to be switched off if you use it on a tripod.
OK, enough about the stabilisation...
The optical quality of the lens is excellent.
Like many lenses, it seems to be sharpest stopped down a tad (mine lives at f/7.1), and I have no concerns at all about using it at 400mm on my D70, in full expectation of sharp, well saturated, contrasty images.
Sharp throughout the 80-400mm range though, it has been useful for impromptu landscape shots at the short end.
A versatile lens, then.
It has a twist mechanism for extending the body (like the Nikkor 80-400mm VR, and unlike the push-pull of the Canon 100-400mm USM IS) and has a lock button (which only works at the short end) to prevent lens creep - the lens extending under its own weight when moving around.
I have to say though, that lens creep is not a problem with my lens.
In good light it works quite well with my Kenko Pro 300 DG 1.4x teleconverter, and I can get OS and AF (albeit slowly), but in truth I try not to rely on that set-up - the lens is happier on its own.
At 1.75 kg (3lbs 14 oz in old money) in no way could you describe it as a lightweight, but I routinely carry it and the D70 around on a neoprene strap for several hours without any problems.
Build quality is certainly not a concern either - it looks and feels particularly robust and well thrown together, and has a real air of quality about it: nothing "budget" about this lens...
The Nikon mount version of this lens has a built-in AF drive motor rather than relying on the drive in the camera body (maybe this is also true of other mounts).
This makes it fast focusing for a non-sonic drive lens, and I have had no problems on that score: but with a sonic motor it would be unbeatable, IMHO (and I bet that the next version of the lens has the Sigma Hyper Sonic Motor - HSM).
The lens might give the impression that it makes a bit of noise when focusing, and in truth it is louder than an HSM lens - it has to be, as there are gears being driven.
But the truth is, the noise is noticeable only because the source is only a few inches from your ears when the camera is in use: hold the camera at arms length, activate the AF, and the motor noise is little more than a whisper - not remotely loud enough to disturb the bird.
Not the fastest lens out there, making it an F/4 would add considerably to bulk, weight and cost and would take it straight out of the unique niche it is currently in.
In my experience then, the lens delivers everything I could reasonably expect of it: it is versatile, it provides great image quality, the OS does precisely what I want it to do... and all in a convenient, manageable package.
In an Ideal World it could be faster (in both senses of the word - an F/4 with HSM would be spectacular) but, given that much the appeal of the lens lies its relative compactness and ease of use, I am more than happy with it as is - the rating of 9 simply reflects these Wish List improvements.
Canon 7D, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, TCs.