Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS EX DG HSM Review - Photo Jottings

Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS EX DG HSM Review

Box and contents
The Sony A580 and A900 were used for this review.  The APS-C section is first, followed by the full frame differences.  The usual side-by-side test crops are located at the very bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.  Check out the differences between this lens and three other similar lenses.
Be sure and check out the other 70-200mm F/2.8 lenses reviewed here.
The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM telephoto zoom lens is made in Japan and features a constant fast aperture of F/2.8 with a good build quality and focusing system, similar to Sony’s 70-200mm G lens.  It looks like much of the lens is made of metal and plastic, and feels pretty solid in the hand.  The zoom and focus movements are smooth, although the zoom ring makes a plastic noise as it’s rotated.  The lens body has a nice matte black finish, with the zoom and focus rings, hood and the tripod collar being the standard Sigma sparkly finish that looks cheap in my opinion.  This lens was designed for a full frame camera.  If you have an APS-C camera, the equivalent capture area will be 105mm-300mm.
The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is fairly basic in that is has no focus hold, or focus limiter switches, the only switch is the combination OS and AF/MF on the side, see photo below.  There is an adjustable tripod collar that separates in the middle by way of a knob that unscrews and pulls up for release.  To rotate the collar you simply loosen the knob, adjust and re-tighten.
The zoom ring is located at the front of the lens, and the action is damped just right for one or two finger rotation, and it seems to stay put with normal use.  Focal length index marks come at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm, and the EXIF data matches most of those lengths, except at 85mm, which reads 90mm, and 135mm, which reads 140mm, that’s no deal killer though.  The zoom movement is internal, meaning the lens doesn’t change length when zooming.
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, petal shaped plastic hood with ridges on the inside, a hood adapter for APS-C cameras,  black padded softcase with strap, and owner’s manual with warranty card.
As mentioned above, Sigma is thoughtfully including an APS-C hood adapter.  This devise mounts on the lens front, and you mount the regular hood to the end of the adapter.  This makes the hood more useful as moving it forward creates more shading for the front element that isn’t used for the APS-C sensor area.  Oddly, the adapter has filter threads on the end for mounting a 77mm filter, but the instructions say to not do this as it will cause vignetting.  I tried it with a UV filter and didn’t notice any difference, why Sigma did this is beyond me.  The fit of the hood and adapter is loose at best, and you may lose both items if you aren’t careful.   See the product shot below.
Focusing.  The narrow focusing ring is between the focus distance window and zoom ring, which makes it hard to locate and use if you’re not looking at the lens.  Thankfully the focusing ring doesn’t turn in AF mode.  If you want to tweak the focus point in AF mode, just turn the manual focusing ring at any time for instant focus override.  Focusing is done internally, so there is no lens length change or filter ring rotation.  This lens uses a quiet HSM or “hyper sonic motor” for AF, and is very similar in design and operation to Sony’s SSM, or “super sonic wave motor.”   Both systems use a motor inside the lens to adjust focus, instead of the older Minolta and Sony slot/screw drive set up dating back to 1985.  Sigma’s HSM system focuses pretty fast, and mostly accurately, although ultimate accuracy will depend on each camera and lens calibration.  Going from close focus to infinity takes about 1/3 turn of the ring.
The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS has an optical stabilizer that’s located inside the lens, which differs from Sony’s Steadyshot in that Sony uses sensor-shift to stabilize the image.  The benefit to the lens based system is that you can see the effects of the stabilization through the viewfinder, Sony’s system only activates when the mirror is up and out of the way of the sensor.  The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS lens has two stabilization settings, 1 and 2.  Setting 1 is for normal shooting situations, and best used for stationary subjects.  Mode 2 is for panning, and compensates for vertical movement.  Do not use both Steadyshot and OS together, or you’ll be sorry.  To see how this performs, go here.  The instruction manual states you should turn off the OS system before detaching the lens, and never detach the lens while the OS system is running, otherwise you could destroy the unit.  That wouldn’t be cool.  I notice a flicker in the image sometimes when using the OS system, the manual says that’s normal and won’t effect the final image.  It takes a second or so for the system to power up fully, so you need to make sure it’s working when you’re shooting fast action, or waiting for something to happen.  If you just shoot something quickly without allowing the OS system to fire up, you won’t get any benefit from stabilization.  The system will run without pushing the shutter half way, but it won’t run continuously.
This lens’ advertised focal lengths are short at closer focusing distances, meaning from near the close focus distance to something around 50′ (16m) there is probably a 5-10mm loss on each end due to the design of the lens, at infinity, it’s right.
Note; Sigma’s owner’s manual makes the following statement when using Sigma teleconverters; “In case of Sony AF mount, it is possible to use AF when attaching TCs with a serial number above 5000001.  AF will not work if the TCs serial number is lower than 5000001.”
Product shots of the review lens.

Side view
Front element
OS switch
APS-C adapter for hood
MTF chart from Sigma



General information and specifications.


Box contents
Front and rear caps, users manual, tripod collar, hood with APS-C extender, and soft case.
$1399 at time of review
Build quality
Additional information
Completely different design than the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 HSM II
Specifications below
Optical configuration
22 elements in 17 groups
Angle of view
34°-12° full frame, 23°-8° APS-C measured on the diagonal.
9 blades, curved
Full frame and APS-C
Made for full-frame, but works fine on APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 105-300mm
Depth of field and focus scales?
Focus distance window, and focal length index marks at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm.
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
47.1″  (1196mm)
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
37.6″  (955mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
0.125x, or 1:8
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Length changes when zooming?
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
3.4″ x 7.75″   86mm x 197mm.  86mm at front hood mount area, lens is actually 1mm wider at tip of switch on switch assembly at mid-body.  Maximum overall length with hood and adapter attached is 12.6″ (320mm).
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
7.75″  (197mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
46.2oz (1309g) bare.  Tripod collar 4.9oz (138).  Hood and APS-C adapter, 3.7oz, (104g).  All together including caps, hood (with adapter), and collar, 55.7oz (1581g).
Optical qualities summary.
Lens flare/ghosting.  Below average for a telephoto zoom.  I see mostly orange ghosts if the sun is at the edge, or inside the image.  Look below for examples.  Veiling glare seems a little strong as you zoom out, so prepare to block the sun or other super-bright light source with your hand to keep the contrast up in your shots, if the sun isn’t actually in the shot.
Color fringing (CA).  Above average control.  Look for minor to moderate amounts of lateral color fringing at and near 70mm, diminishing to almost nothing at 200mm.  See full frame section for sample crop.
Bokeh.  Looks very smooth at all focal lengths and apertures.  Check out the sample crops below.
Color.   Somewhat blue/green as compared to Sony lenses.
Close up filter.  N/A
Coma.  None.
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off problems on APS-C cameras, although there is very minor additional light fall-off with a full frame camera at F/2.8, 200mm.
Filter size is 77mm.  This is the standard size for most 70-200mm F/2.8 zooms.  Sony lenses that use 77mm filters are; CZ 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8 G, CZ 135mm F/1.8, 11-18mm F/4.5-5.6, and the 70-400mm G.
Distortion.  You’ll notice mild to moderate barrel distortion at 70mm, mostly flat around 90mm, then pincushion starts developing quickly as you zoom out.  Check out the cropped samples below.
Image samples from APS-C camera below.
70mm, mild barrel distortion.
200mm, mild pincushion distortion.
Bokeh quality.
           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8 
             200mm F/4


Out of focus background highlights look very smooth at all focal lengths and apertures.


Light fall-off.
           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8 
             200mm F/4
Light fall-off or corner shading is not noticeable in real pictures at any focal length or aperture using an APS-C camera.
Let’s check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image below.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A580 16.2MP camera.  Don’t directly compare this sample with most other stamp shots as they were taken with the Sony A700 12.2mp camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87″x 1.0″ or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a very long 37.6″ (955mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
This lens has a reproduction size of 0.125x which is very small for a telephoto zoom lens from this century, and the image below is the full crop, so there’s no larger image to open.  The stamp shot looks good, but lacks some contrast.  There is almost no color fringing, so that’s good.  F/4-5.6 were the sharpest apertures at close focus.  As a side note; the “1996” on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
Close focus. F/5.6. No larger image.






Full frame results using the Sony A900.


Check out the differences when using a full frame camera below.  I’m only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don’t show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.


Light fall-off


           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8
             200mm F/4


Light fall-off is a little stronger with full frame coverage, but only noticeable at the extreme ends of the zoom range.  There is very minor additional light fall off when using regular thickness filters, such as polarizers, UV protectors etc at 200mm, F/2.8.


Flare and ghosting issues.


70mm F/5.6
70mm F/5.6
200mm F/2.8
200mm F/4 


I see a lot of orange ghosts when the sun is in the image, and some flare when the sun is outside the image.  The severity of flare and ghosting will depend on the sun angle and background.  The hood works ok, but not as good as you hand.


Full image from A900 below illustrating light fall-off.




This boring full scene shows light fall-off from 200mm, F/2.8.  It’s hardly noticeable and poses no problems in my opinion.  Shot was taken at 200mm, F/2.8, ISO 200 1/4000sec 0.30ev.


Lateral color fringing.




This full frame 70mm, F/5.6 crop shows light to moderate lateral color fringing, and was taken from the last 700 pixels of the image on the middle left side.  This type of color fringing doesn’t go away as you stop down.  Look at the magenta, and to a lesser extent cyan colors along the tree trunks.  Thankfully, there is virtually no color fringing at 200mm.


Full frame distortion samples next.


Moderate barrel distortion @70mm
almost flat @90mm
Moderate to strong pincushion distortion @ 200mm


There is moderate barrel distortion at 70mm, but it flattens out very quickly, and by 100mm it turns to pincushion, resulting in moderate to heavy pincushion distortion at the long end, however, the distortion shape is a simple curve, and is easy to fix with distortion correction sliders.









The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM (optically stabilized) is the final lens to be reviewed in the 70-200mm F/2.8 group, and also the most expensive after-market model.


Just like the last Sigma (4/6/11) lens reviewed below, I used three lenses for this review, and all three seemed about the same in image quality, so I’m thinking the quality control for this lens is ok.


The Sigma 70-200mm OS build quality is good, (but not as good as the Sony), and it offers the same type of fast, almost silent focusing system that Sony uses (SSM).  Unfortunately, there are a couple of things missing on the lens that should be included at this price range; like some focus hold buttons and a focus limiter option to speed up focusing in certain situations.


The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS is pretty sharp from F/4 and up near the short end, however, as you zoom out near 200mm, the image sides are not as sharp as the Sony or Tamron equivalents.  There are a few impressive qualities to this lens, like the stunningly sharp centers at F/2.8, 200mm, and the very smooth out of focus highlight blur (bokeh).  The lens based optical stabilization works well, and offers a little more practical advantage than Sony’s Steadyshot, see that comparison here.


Overall, I think the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 HSM telephoto zoom lens with optical stabilization is not all that impressive considering the price tag is in the neighborhood of the excellent Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G.


For budget minded people; consider the Tamron or non OS Sigma model which offer slightly better image quality.
Sharpness crops next, using the full frame Sony A900.


The wide-open F/2.8 shots are just a little soft across the frame, but when stopped down to F/4 and smaller the image sharpens up noticeably.  The mid-section crops above are in the same general area as the corners would be using an APS-C camera.






The 200mm centers are very sharp, even wide open, but as you move towards the sides, resolution and contrast takes a nose-dive, and stopping down the aperture doesn’t do much good until F/11.  The mid-section crops above are in the same general area as the corners would be using an APS-C camera.

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