With its inclusion of Optical Stabilisation, the new Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens looks set to become the new workhorse lens for enthusiast and professional photographers alike. Richard Kilpatrick takes a look.
Surprisingly, the 70-200 OS was announced just before Sigma began introducing weathersealing to the lenses, so it’s a surprise to see that it’s made it from announcement to production without this crucial feature added, if only for comparison reasons. In the real world, the benefits are very specific and anyone shooting in extreme conditions will be taking more measures to protect their camera; it’s a tickybox left off the comparison sheet, another reason for reviews to score another negative. Otherwise the lens specification is really gunning for the big boys – in particular, that Nikon lens, though I get the feeling that Sigma’s designers have had other ideas with this glass and Canon users should be paying attention right now.
Unlike the HSM II, the zoom and focus controls conform to Canon’s norm. Yet the lens’ optical performance is defined by the rear-group biased internal focusing and resulting 1.4m minimum focus and 1:8.1 reproduction ratio. Canon’s F2.8 offering is closer to the typical pseudo-marco, 1.2m and 1:4.2 (and indeed, the HSM II’s 1m and 1:3). The Sigma’s spec and behaviour are very close to that Nikon VR II, and that behaviour is particularly good for social/wedding photographers, framing a scene with a moving subject. The angle of view over the whole scene remains pretty constant whether the subject is 1.5m or 10m away, whilst the lightweight elements being moved for focusing give responsive AF and tracking.
Build-wise, the 70-200 OS is a chunky, solid barrel of a lens. With a 77mm front thread it’s conforming to industry norms, and by choosing not to raper the design towards the mount, it’s a really substantial lens on Nikon. I have rubber camera armour on my D5000, and it has to be wiggled into the aperture. On the plus side, that’s far better weather sealing than any lens mount gasket can provide as long as you make sure it’s dry/clean before removing the lens! It’s a lot more at home on the D3S where most of the tests were carried out.
Sigma’s popular, simple and effective rotating collar provides the tripod mount and rotation, and is quickly detached and reattached, whilst the chunky rubberised controls place the zoom at the front of the lens with the focus (featuring seamless AF override) almost immediately behind. This leaves a surprisingly short area to support the lens, which is dominated by the chunky – and easily operated without looking – OS and AF controls. As with previous OS lenses, the mode switch allows OS to be disabled, then either handheld or panning mode selection. A substantial and rather impressive petal lens hood is provided, with a further extension collar for APS-C cameras.
AF is fast, accurate and right up there with the best lenses available – you can’t fault it. The zoom behaves as described earlier, maintaining a fairly constant field of view regardless of focus position, and the internal focus and zoom mean circular polarising filters won’t be rotated by adjustments to the lens.
Optically the 70-200 EX DG OS is a strong performer. There’s vignetting when fully open at 200mm, which fades off by F5.6; the image centre is bright and sharp whilst the image retains sharpness corner to corner on full frame, with minimal distortion and the FLD elements contributing to a clean, crisp rendering with barely detectable CA. Sharpness in the centre is faultless, the only time i noticed any degradation was at 70cm, close focus, when it didn’t seem quick as sharp. Contrast is good, with a slightly warm tone by comparison with other, colder lenses (not a “wrong” feature, or colour cast, it’s the subtlest of differences that you’d only pick up on the most critical of comparisons). It’s comfortably keeping up with the expensive end of the market, with the primary differences being ergonomic and splitting hairs about the sweet spots on the respective lenses.
Above – Focus/Centre area, 100% crop.
Above & Below: Right and Left corners respectively, 100%
For a Canon user, this lens is giving access to almost exactly the same performance as Nikon’s VRII, an optically different lens to the bulk of the entries into this marketplace. By maintaining the HSM II as a budget-priced option that should be particularly compelling for APS-C sensor bodies with built in stabilisation, like the majority of Sony and Pentax systems and adding the OS model to the high end, Sigma’s equipping their own future product line – such as the SD1 – with a range of glass that can comfortably run with the professional end of the pack (arguably the 70-200 HSM II was already doing pretty well when it was announced, but Canon and Nikon’s more recent offerings changed the game again). On an SD1 I have no doubt that this lens will result in an unbeatable combination.