Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM: Worth the Price?

 
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Ambarin Afsar explains why the Sigma 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM leaves something to be desired though it performed well on our test bench.

From great sports photos, to masterful wildlife images and stunning portraits—telephoto zoom lenses are a pretty versatile piece of equipment. So, what happens when Sigma releases their first stabilised full frame telephoto zoom, the 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM? How does it fare when compared to its class-leading competitors? Does it make the cut or does it burn a hole in your pocket? We put this PMA 2010 release to the test and come away with mixed opinions.

Features
Sigma’s new 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is the first image stabilised, fast telephoto zoom amongst all third-party manufacturers. It is supposed to be a more affordable, lighter alternative to the significantly more expensive Nikkor 70–200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II and Canon 70–200mm f/2.8 L IS.
The lens features a full-time manual focus override that I found rather useful when the camera started hunting in low light and whenever I wanted to fine tune focus. Another helpful feature is the inclusion of a depth-of-field scale along with the distance scale that has markings in feet and metres.
The letters ‘OS’ indicate Sigma’s Optical Stabilisation technology, which was absent in the predecessor of the lens, the 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro HSM II. The OS makes the lens a significant update and claims to give users a 4-stop advantage.
However, while the predecessor had an excellent close focusing distance of just 1 metre and a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.5, the new 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM features a focusing distance of 1.4m and a magnification ratio of 1:8. One wishes that Sigma had included a similar close-up focusing capabilities in the update as well.

Handling
The lens is lighter than the other lenses in this category and even though I was shooting handheld for hours on end, I did not find myself fatigued. The lens has a large tulip-type hood that is both effective and well-made. The ribbed zoom and focus rings rotate smoothly. Also, while it feels well built and looks like it can withstand rough handling, it is surprising to discover that this lens does not provide any weathersealing.

Performance
Shooting with this lens has been a fun experience. I made portraits, shot street scenes, and took pictures of the Mumbai monsoons—and in every situation, I found the autofocus to be very quick. The Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) ensures that the AF is silent. However, in highly cluttered street scenes, the lens frontfocused on an area just before the main subject a few times.
As far as image sharpness is concerned, the 70–200mm HSM is visibly soft, both at the at the edges and at the center, at f/2.8. This improves as the lens is stopped down to f/4 and beyond. Images are reasonably sharp and continue to get better at narrower apertures, across focal lengths.
The lens has good control over flare and vignetting is practically negligible. A curved 9-bladed diaphragm ensures that out-of-focus areas are generally rendered quite attractively. However, any bright, pointillistic out-of-focus lights tend to form unappealing, harsh bokeh.
Image stabilisation offers a 3-stop advantage as opposed to the 4-stop advantage claimed by Sigma. One can shoot handheld at 1/20sec at 70mm and 1/30sec at 200mm, which is good for this type of a lens. However, in comparison, the image stabilisation of the Nikon or Canon 70-200mm proved to be slightly better.

Conclusion
On the whole, one cannot really fault the performance of this lens. It is optically good, well-designed, easy to handle because it is lighter than its Nikon or Canon counterparts, and it comes with a lens hood, an APS-C hood extension, and a lens case.
Yet, the fact remains that the 70-200mm lenses from both Nikon and Canon have an edge in terms of overall sharpness and IS performance. On the other hand, the Sigma does come with a price advantage of Rs. 89,990, forming a significantly lowerpriced option, especially for Nikon users. It also makes an excellent option for Pentax, Sony and Sigma users. Canon users can also consider the similarly priced Canon 70–200mm f/4 L IS. It has a one-stop disadvantage. But, it also comes with a very effective IS and is one of the sharpest lenses we have tested.

Final Ratings
Features
Image stabilisation offers a three-stop advantage, no focus limiter switch
12/15

Performance
Decently sharp, good control over flaring
30/35

Build Quality
Lightweight, feels sturdy, no weather sealing
21/25

Ergonomics
Smooth zoom and focusing rings
13/15

Warranty & Support
Limited network of service centres
4/10

OVERALL: 80%
Value For Money: 2.5/5 stars

Tags: Ambarin Afsar, July 2011, Lens review, Sigma 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Light wieght, sturdy, controls flare, 70-200f/2.8 lens