Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 OS HSM Thomas, Jan 2013
 

Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 OS review

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is the company's latest 70-200mm and its first with an image stabilizer. It covers a 2.9x zoom-range and was announced February 2011. Sigma offers this lens with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma mounts and it is cheaper than any other stabilized 70-200/2.8 zoom.

While primarily designed as a general purpose bright tele-zoom for full-frame models, you could equally use the Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS on a cropped-frame body where it gives you an equivalent 105-300mm coverage plus future-proofing should you upgrade to a full-frame body at a later date. Complement this lens with any 24-70/85mm standard zoom and you can seamlessly cover a 8.3x zoom-range from fairly wide-angle to a decent tele with only two lenses.

In this review I'll put the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS zoom to the test on a 36MP Nikon D800 body to see whether the lens is a good match for the highest resolution full-frame DSLR - and also to find out how it fares compared to Nikon's own alternative.

   
   


Facts from the catalog

As usual I'll have a look at the technical data first. I've rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it's better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it's standard or just average, and [-] if there's a disadvantage. To give you a better insight as to how this lens compares to its competitor from Nikon I've supplied data for the Nikon AF-S 70-200/2.8G VR II too, denoted here just as the "Nikon" for short.

   
 
   
   

Size (diam. x length): 86 x 198 mm (3.4x7.8 in.) compared to 87 x 206 mm (3.4 x 8.1 in.) for the Nikon. The lens-hood adds a considerable amount especially once you mount the additional APS-C extender that makes the hood more effective on bodies with APS-C or DX sensors. Mount everything on a DSLR and you're almost at a total length of 390mm. The lens does not change length during zooming or focusing. [0]

Weight: 1,430 g (50.4 oz.) vs. 1,540 g (3.4 lb.) of the Nikon. Together with a full frame body you'll be schlepping 2.3kg around. [0]

Optics: 22 elements in 17 groups compared with 21/16 elements/groups for the Nikon. 17 groups have 34 air/glass-surfaces that produce a lot of opportunities for flares and ghosts. The cross-section shows a lot of special elements: five low dispersion elements. [0]

Closest focus distance/max. magnification: 1.4 m / 1:8. In my test I was able to get down to 1:7.4. This meager magnification also means that the effective focal length shrinks some 30% when focusing close. Similar to what the Nikon achieves. [0]

Filter-thread: 77mm = standard with most pro-lenses [+]

IS: Yes, Sigma finally upgraded their 70-200/2.8 design to include the OS image stabilization. Nikon is already on their second generation. Now Tamron will be last to the stabilized party. At focal lengths beyond 100mm and with today's high resolution sensors image stabilization is an indispensable feature. [+]

AF: HSM (hyper sonic motor), so it does work on D60/3x00/5x00-bodies, manual-focus override by turning the focus ring [+]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller = very good [+]

Price: around 950 EUR new (incl. 19% VAT) = adequate. All alternatives are more expensive: Those from Sony, Canon and Nikon claim double the amount. See photo above for the latest pricing. [+]

Comes with a very nice semi-soft lens-case that is well padded, the lens-shade plus a special APS-C extender is included, reversible for transport, and the lens-caps finally resemble the standard Nikons and can be mounted in any of three orientations. [+]

Distance information is relayed to the camera, so the Nikon body can do all the advanced exposure-related stuff with this lens. But this is true for all alternatives too. [+]

Aperture ring = no, just like all competitors. [0]

Sealing: no! No rubber grommet at the lens-mount. So you should protect the lens from drizzle. [0]

The score in the "features-department" is 0[-]/6[0]/7[+]. There are no minus-points and the big pluses are the image stabilization and the low price. The lens is even cheaper than the stabilized 70-200/4.0 zooms from Nikon and Canon! So if the lens delivers solid performance it should be a winner.

 

Motivation:

A stabilized 2.9x zoom with a focal range of 70-200mm is an excellent complement to a 24-70mm standard zoom on an FX body. The Sigma has a constant f2.8 aperture that is sought after by photographers who need to capture fast moving action or the blur the backgrounds on portraits and close-range sports. Its zoom range is flexible enough to capture most action that is a little further away: A person can be captured full-height in landscape orientation from around 17m distance on a full-frame body (or from 25m distance on a DX/APS-C-body).

 
Two stabilized 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms for Nikon DSLRs
Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS with APS-C extender mounted (front/bottom) vs. Nikon 70-200/2.8G VR II (back/top)

Alternatives:

- Nikon's AF-S VR 70-200mm 2.8G ED VR II is the instrument of the pros with a sturdy built and a price to match: currently around 1800 EUR.

- Nikon's AF-S VR 70-200mm 4.0G ED VR is a very attractive alternative to its big brother - see my Nikon 70-200mm f4 review. Around 1200 EUR.

- The not yet released Tamron SP AF 70-200mm 2.8 Di VC USD: The cheapest listing of around 1600 EUR certainly is not a real street price yet.

 

Testing: Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration

With lenses offering an aperture of f2.8 or larger I test for longitudinal CA (loCA, a.k.a. "axial color" or "bokeh CA"). The Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS shows some slight magenta coloration on the left (foreground) and greenish hues on the right (background). But this is practically negligible. Stopping down reduces the effect and also reveals that this lens has no focus shift to speak of.

 
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration (loCA)
100% crop, 200mm, f2.8, left=closer, right=farther away

 

Sharpness and contrast

Let's have a look at the theoretical performance (MTF-charts) at the wide and the long end first:

 
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS MTF
at 70mm, f2.8
  at 200mm, f2.8

   

These charts show the lens-performance at the largest aperture f2.8. Higher values are better and the closer the dotted and the continuous lines of each color are together the less astigmatism (= resolution depends on the orientation of the test-pattern) the lens has. The x-axis displays the distance from the optical axis (=center of the sensor) in mm. I'll show you the real-life performance at 4 mm (center), 13 mm (DX-corner), and 20 mm (FX-corner) on a D800.

From the charts I'd expect the lens to perform on a pretty high level regarding overall contrast but with limited sharpness at the short end outside the DX image-circle. Astigmatism seems well controlled. But let's see how this theoretical performance translates into real life results in the sharpness test based on Siemens-stars.

What follows are near-center results (first column) followed by DX-corner results and FX-corner results on a D800. The D800 results from the DX-corner should be a very good approximation for performance on a 16MP DX sensor (like the D7000), because the pixel-pitch of both sensors are the same. But differences in the AA-filter and micro-lens-design of a D800 and a D7000 might yield different end-results.

Processing was done in Lightroom 4.3 from RAW at camera standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment. White-balance was adjusted to a neutral white and I did some exposure compensation to make the brightness match. CA-removal is ON.

The following are all 100% crops!

Let's have a look at the performance at 70mm first:

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f11, 100 ISO
70mm, f11, 100 ISO
70mm, f11, 100 ISO

These 100% crops directly from a 36MP D800 sensor show that this lens is a tad soft wide open in the center and DX-corner. But from f4.0 on it performs on a very good level in the DX image-circle. The FX-corner shows quite some resolution even at f2.8 but is hampered by residual spherical aberration and astigmatism until you stop down to f8 where the lens performs on a very good level across the complete image-circle.

 

Performance at 105mm:

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
105mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
105mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
105mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
105mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
105mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
105mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
105mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
105mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
105mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
105mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
105mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
105mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
105mm, f11, 100 ISO
105mm, f11, 100 ISO
105mm, f11, 100 ISO

There is a similar performance at 105mm with improved center resolution at f2.8 and less astigmatism in the FX-corner. But unfortunately the haloing effect of residual spherical aberration has increased considerably.

 

Performance at 150mm:

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
150mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
150mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
150mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
150mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
150mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
150mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
150mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
150mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
150mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
150mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
150mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
150mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
150mm, f11, 100 ISO
150mm, f11, 100 ISO
150mm, f11, 100 ISO

At 150mm there is a loss of performance: Astigmatism creeps back into the FX-corner and haloing starts to mar the DX-corner too. And even the center suffers from spherical aberrations. You need to stop down to f8 to get rid of most of these effects.

 

Performance at 200mm:

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS
with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
200mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
200mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
200mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
200mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
200mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
200mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
200mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
200mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
200mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
200mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
200mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
200mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
200mm, f11, 100 ISO
200mm, f11, 100 ISO
200mm, f11, 100 ISO

200mm clearly is the weak end of this lens. Within the DX image-circle the resolution at f2.8 is usable but the overall contrast suffers pretty heavily from haloing. And while f4.0 brings the center back to good performance the DX-corner needs at least f5.6 to satisfy and even benefits from stopping down to f11. Same holds true for the FX-corner. So if you need good performance across the (full) frame at 200mm stop down to f8.

So the results from the test-shots are somewhat contrary to the expected performance from the MTF-charts, where the lens should perform better at 200mm than at 70mm focal length.

 

Performance at large distances

The Siemens-star test-targets are shot at a distance of 40x focal length (i.e. at 4m for 100mm f.l.). But performance of lenses also depends on the shooting distance. Therefore I do another series of test-shots of a landscape dubbed the "Unremarkables" where you can measure distances in km, not meter. Processing was done in Lightroom 4.3 from RAW at Adobe Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment. There's no tinkering with vignette-control so you see it here as it is produced by the lens. Focus was acquired at the largest aperture in contrast-based AF and not changed for other apertures.

You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.

The main image shows the complete scene at f2.8 to give you an impression of the angle of view and to judge vignetting. This is followed by one row of 100% crops at different apertures each from the middle and the right (FX-)border. Let's start with 70mm focal length:

Unremarkables at 70mm: Infinity shots with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS on a D800
70mm, f2.8, 200 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
70mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, center
 
70mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, center
  70mm, f8, 200 ISO, center
 
   
70mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, border
 
70mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, border
  70mm, f8, 200 ISO, border

It pays to stop down to f4 for better center sharpness and overall contrast. It also reduces vignetting visibly. For optimal performance at the FX-border stop down to f8.

Unremarkables at 105mm: Infinity shots with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS on a D800
105mm, f2.8, 200 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
105mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, center
 
105mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, center
  105mm, f8, 200 ISO, center
 
   
105mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, border
 
105mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, border
  105mm, f8, 200 ISO, border

Same story at 105mm, albeit with less vignetting. Center-performance is pretty good at f4 but for optimum border performance stop further down.

Unremarkables at 150mm: Infinity shots with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS on a D800
150mm, f2.8, 200 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
150mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, center
 
150mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, center
  150mm, f8, 200 ISO, center
 
   
150mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, border
 
150mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, border
  150mm, f8, 200 ISO, border

At 150mm focal length the center is good to go from f4.0 onwards but good border performance needs stopping down to at least f5.6.

Unremarkables at 200mm: Infinity shots with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS on a D800
200mm, f2.8, 200 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
200mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, center
 
200mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, center
  200mm, f8, 200 ISO, center
 
   
200mm, f2.8, 200 ISO, border
 
200mm, f4.0, 200 ISO, border
  200mm, f8, 200 ISO, border

At 200mm the lens exhibits still quite some vignetting and the center performance now profits from stopping down even beyond f4. And if you want to produce a satisfying performance in the corners of a high-resolution FX sensor you need to stop down even beyond f8. So these shots confirm that 200mm is the weak end of this lens.

Summing up the performance from the Siemens-star test-shots and the Unremarkables it is clear that this lens performs good to very good in the center even wide open or stopped down a little to f4. On a DX-sensor the border-/corner-performance is quite good too up to 130mm. The greatest challenge are the outer areas of a 36MP FX sensor - which comes as no surprise. Stopping down to f5.6 can produce good to very good results at focal lengths shorter than 130mm, even at 150mm the results are quite usable. But at 200mm focal length f8 is needed to lift the FX-corner performance to the same level.

 

Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 OS sample images gallery

The following images were taken with the Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS on a D800. Each image was recorded in RAW and converted with Lightroom 4.3 at Camera Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment was used. You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.

The first shot should give you an impression of the bokeh that this lens can produce wide open. The 50% crops are from the background, the sharpest point, and the foreground in the overall image and demonstrates the rendering of out-of-focus elements.

Flowers: bokeh shot with Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS at 200mm f2.8 on a D800
 
Main image and all 50% crops: 200mm, f2.8, 100 ISO

The next shot was hand-held at 1/40 sec with OS=ON.

Market place: architecture shot with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS at 70mm f4.0 on a D800
Main image and all 100% crops: 70mm, f4.0, 1/40 sec, 200 ISO
 
   
left border, f4.0, 200 ISO
 
center, f4.0, 200 ISO
  upper left, f4.0, 200 ISO

Using a tele-converter can extend the useful reach of this lens. I tried the Nikon TC-17E II which converts the lens into a 120-340mm f4.7 zoom. A word of warning though: This combination does only auto-focus in live-view because phase-shift AF tends to hunt constantly. There is also no conversion of EXIF data, so the lens still registers as a 70-200/2.8 lens on the body. So for proper use you should get the Sigma tele-converter: their 1.4x converter would give you a 100-280mm f4.0 zoom. I shot the lens stopped down to f4.0 which produces an effective aperture of f6.7 in combination with the 1.7x tele-converter. The result in the center is quite impressive!

Car: Nikon TC-17E II tele-converter plus Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS at 340mm f6.7 on a D800
Main image and all 100% crops: 340mm, f6.7, 1/250 sec, 200 ISO
 
   
f6.7, 200 ISO
 
f6.7, 200 ISO
  f6.7, 200 ISO

The next image shows a tree against the sky at 150mm and f5.6. The crops are from the upper left corner, the center and the upper middle of the image.

Tree: nature shot with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS at 150mm f5.6 on a D800
 
Main image and all 100% crops: 150mm, f5.6, 1/1000 sec, 200 ISO

The following shot at 70mm shows how the lens copes with flare when shot directly into the sun.

Flare: contra-light shot with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS at 70mm f5.0 on a D800
 
Main image and all 50% crops: 70mm, f5.0, 1/1600 sec, 200 ISO

The next image was shot at a distance from about 1.7m and demonstrates the magnification and resolving power that the lens can produce. Plus some of the bokeh you can expect with close-up shots even at f5.6. In the center the lens is capable of reproducing very fine details. With a minimum focus distance of 1.4m you could achieve an even higher magnification.

Flowers: close-up shot with Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS at 200mm f5.6 on a D800
Main image and all 100% crops: 200mm, f5.6, 1/320 sec, 100 ISO
 
   
f5.6, 100 ISO
 
f5.6, 100 ISO
  f5.6, 100 ISO

For more examples check out all my high-resolution Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS sample images.

 

Focus, build quality, and image stabilization

Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots. The accuracy of standard (phase-shift based) auto-focus on the same subject during repeated focus-acquisition of this lens shows some variations although there were no real outliers over a series of 120 shots. The accuracy was better when the lens focuses coming from infinity. So for optimum sharpness of critical shots you should control the results or use contrast-/live-view-based AF.

The lens focuses pretty fast: around 0.7 sec from infinity to 1.4m, which is a good value.

The focus ring has no slack/play between its movement and the focus-action and a throw of around 105 degrees, which makes accurate focus wide open up to 105mm easy. But at 150mm and beyond the focus throw becomes almost too short for precision manual focus. The focus ring is also not easy to grip because the rubberized surface is only 10mm wide. It's located between the zoom-ring and the body, not in front of the lens as with Nikon pro-zooms - and is pretty stiff. Both zoom- and focus-ring turn the other way around than with Nikon lenses.

AF-operation is audible from the outside, and if you record video with the built-in microphone every focus-movement starts and stops with an audible "clack" although the AF-drive between start and stop of the AF-operation is pretty quiet. The VR-system is also quite silent on the outside and on video recordings. Shaking the lens produces only slight noises.

Focus-breathing is visible but less than with Nikon's 70-200/2.8.

In general the impression of build quality is that of an upmarket albeit not pro-level lens: A high quality plastic construction combined with a metal lens-mount, and nine rounded aperture blades.

To test the effectiveness of the image stabilization I did a series of over 80 test-shots hand-held at 200mm with OS=ON at 1/50 sec and at 1/25 sec plus 40 test-shots with OS=OFF at 1/200 sec. Rating the sharpness of those images at 100% magnification on a scale from 0...5 the sample of images with OS=ON shot at 1/50 sec had a similarly distribution of sharpness as the sample with OS=OFF, although that sample had the benefit of a 4x faster shutter-speed. So OS on this lens gives you an advantage of around 2 stops. But you need to give it some time until the OS locks on target. The Sigma manual says: "It takes approximately 1 second to produce a stable image, after pressing the shutter button halfway." That seems to be confirmed by my tests.

 

Summary and verdict

Now, let me wrap things up in my Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS verdict.

 
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