Previous news story    Next news story

Lens reviews update: the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8, and Nikon telephotos

By Andy Westlake on Oct 30, 2013 at 13:32 GMT
Buy on GearShopFrom $3,599.00

DxOMark has recently tested the Sigma 120-300mmm DG OS HSM - a unique extended-range image-stabilised fast telephoto zoom -  and as part of our ongoing collaboration we've added the lens test data to our lens widget. We've also added a range of Nikon telephoto lenses including the AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR, which can be compared with each other and their Canon counterparts. See below for more analysis. 

Also this week, DxOMark has published its sensor review for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (we've also recently published our own in-depth review). It's also reviewed the Canon Powershot G16. Click here for a round-up of DxOMark's recent reviews, including the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM and Olympus OM-D E-M1.

Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM lens test data

Click on any of the images or links below to open our interactive lens widget, and explore the data further

We have test data for both Canon and Nikon mount versions of the 120-300mm, on both full frame and APS-C/DX format cameras. The sharpness data is different between the two brands, but we put this down to copy variation between the two lenses used - the Canon-mount sample looks sharper at F2.8, but the difference evens-out quickly on stopping down (there's a small difference in measured MTF50 at F4, but we doubt it would be visible in images compared side-by-side). This is visible when looking at APS-C results, but on full frame it's evened out by the higher resolution of the Nikon test body (36MP D800 vs the 22MP EOS 5D Mark III). 

The 120-300mm performs exceptionally well on full frame. Central sharpness is very impressive at all focal lengths, and while the edges and corners don't quite hit the same heights, they're very good indeed. The very sharpest results, as expected, are obtained around F5.6-F8. Some measure of how well the lens performs can be seen by the fact that it measures up to benchmark fast zooms such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. It can't quite match the very best fast primes like the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II for peripheral sharpness, but it's really not far off (especially when stopped down a little), and is significantly less expensive.

Lenses aren't purely about sharpness of course, but the Sigma does extremely well in all respects. Chromatic aberration is visible at 120mm, but diminishes to nothing at 300mm. Vignetting is nothing to worry about, at a maximum of 1.4 stops wide open at 300mm. Distortion is well controlled too: it's essentially perfectly-corrected at 120mm, but there's a little pincushion distortion at 300mm

Switch to APS-C/DX format and the story is broadly similar. As mentioned above, the Canon-mount sample tested is sharper than the Nikon one at F2.8, but it's debatable whether this would matter in real-world images.  The nearest thing to a flaw is lateral chromatic aberration at 120mm, but this is easily removed in post-processing if necessary. As usual both distortion and vignetting are distinctly lower on the smaller format.

Overall, then, the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM is an optically-excellent lens that performs extremely well in these tests. There's nothing else quite like it on the market - it gives longer range than conventional 70-200mm F2.8 telezooms, and offers a particularly interesting value proposition compared to the camera manufacturer's 300mm F2.8 primes (it's less expensive, but very close in optical quality). It's also compatible with Sigma's USB Dock (click here for our review), which allows detailed AF micro-adjust and tuning of the lenses autofocus and image stabilisation systems.  

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400m f/4G ED VR II lens test data

The Nikon 200-400mm f/4G isn't an especially new lens (t was announced in May 2010), but we thought it would be interesting to compare it to Canon's EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x - the world's first photographic lens with a built-in switchable teleconverter - which we quickly reviewed earlier this year.  

The Nikon 200-400mm f/4 performs exceptionally well - as you'd probably hope from a $5000 lens. Like its even-more-expensive Canon counterpart, it's difficult to see what more you might ask from a lens - it's impressively sharp at all settings while keeping chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting well under control. It's not as blisteringly sharp as the fast telephotos that coincide with its range -  the AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VR IIAF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II, or AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G ED VR II, but you'd probably have to look very close indeed to see any difference in your images.

Full test data in our lens widget

Click the links below to see test data for a range of Nikon telephoto lenses on full frame and APS-C. There's not a lot to say about the primes, beyond the fact that they're all exceptional performers in ever respect. 

Full test results on DxOMark (and other recent reviews)

Our lens test data is produced in collaboration with DxOMark. Click the links below to read DxOMark's own review of the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM, or see other recent reviews on the DxOMark website. 

23
I own it
34
I want it
4
I had it
Discuss in the forums

Comments

Total comments: 30
Douglas69
By Douglas69 (5 months ago)

What has me curious is how far away is this lens from the original release? Certainly it was reported as a "prime near equal" just like this one is but... That lens was reported as good to excellent but the one I had was terrible. The Zoom ring jammed and focus on anything but good to excellent contrast objects in normal day light was a real hit and miss thing... It spent far too much time hunting for focus. Not much different to any Sigma Zoom lens I've owned.None have been stellar performers at focusing when compared to camera makers lenses.

After reading reviews here and elsewhere praising Sigma lenses I'm finding it hard to duplicate the results and beginning to wonder if the lenses submitted for review are hand finished by factory technicians rather than the off-the-shelf stuff consumers have to contend with. How about it DP review? Have you ever compared your test lenses with oned found on the shelves of camera stores?

0 upvotes
Paul Storm
By Paul Storm (6 months ago)

what i’d really really like to see is how leica lenses stack up to the competition and why they are always suspiciously absent from dxo testing.

0 upvotes
pca7070
By pca7070 (6 months ago)

I have this new 120-300 F2,8 (on Sigma SD1M) and found its central shapness amazing!

Samples:
http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3826/9314155329_4530a86800_o.jpg
http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5323/9314042623_f363b74b42_o.jpg

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
oeriies
By oeriies (6 months ago)

This widget is an excellent tool. It manages to take the DXO data, which is presented in an almost impenetrable manner at DXO, and make it accessible and useful. I hope to see the addition of the Nikon D7100 to the bodies available for comparison as soon as possible. I suppose this is a suggestion to DXO rather than DPReview, but in any case it would be very useful to the supertelephoto crowd to extend the test data to include TCs. It would be great to know, for example, how the Nikon 400mm with 1.4TC compares with the Nikon 500mm w/o TC.

0 upvotes
EcoPix
By EcoPix (1 month ago)

Can't speak for the new lenses but I have an old 400mm f3.5 with matched TC14b (560mm f4.5) which is sharper in the middle with TC than a 500mm f4 P is by itself, but not as sharp in the periphery.

0 upvotes
Daniel
By Daniel (6 months ago)

So Sigma 120-300 center is sharper than Canon 70-200 IS II, both at F2.8?

0 upvotes
zigi_S
By zigi_S (6 months ago)

Sigma is better than nikon telephotos(zooms) and on par with canons. For a lot less.

Comment edited 49 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Pierre Couture
By Pierre Couture (6 months ago)

Would that it were made for M4/3... imagine a 240-600 F2.8 equivalent....

0 upvotes
Northgrove
By Northgrove (6 months ago)

Just stick an adapter to them. :)

1 upvote
EcoPix
By EcoPix (1 month ago)

Just get a D7100 - the 1.3x crop is 18mm x 12mm, close as damn to 17.3x13mm 4/3, with the same 2x crop factor and 15.35mp.

0 upvotes
DWM
By DWM (6 months ago)

The chart accessed by clicking the Sigma 100-300 box above and choosing the Nikon D800 does not appear to match the lens widget comparison chart for the same lens and camera. The lens widget comparison chart shows a much better result for the Nikon D800.

0 upvotes
Andy Westlake
By Andy Westlake (6 months ago)

I'm sorry, I really don't understand what you mean.

0 upvotes
stratplaya
By stratplaya (6 months ago)

Sorry if this question has been asked before, but why does a Nikon FX camera always show higher marks compared to the DX camera?

0 upvotes
mick232
By mick232 (6 months ago)

Because the resolution is higher and the pixels are larger.

0 upvotes
ThSpeer
By ThSpeer (6 months ago)

Is there a comparison with the previous Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 AF APO EX DG OS HSM , which was released just a year or two before the current 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM ?

0 upvotes
Andy Westlake
By Andy Westlake (6 months ago)

According to Sigma the two lenses have the same optics. The main difference (aside from a cosmetic redesign) is that the new lens is compatible with the USB Dock, and gains two user-customisable user setups accessed by a switch on the barrel.

0 upvotes
bossa
By bossa (2 months ago)

One of the elements in the new lens has a different type of glass and that's what is improving the image quality.

0 upvotes
EcoPix
By EcoPix (1 month ago)

I have the previous version fine-tuned by Sigma in Japan (twice) and the optical performance is so close to perfect it doesn't matter. I think individual lens variation would swamp any differences between models. You need to hassle Sigma to get it perfect, but it's very well worth it. When this lens is right, it's very right.

0 upvotes
Henry M. Hertz
By Henry M. Hertz (6 months ago)

now how good and accurate is the AF?

0 upvotes
SHood
By SHood (6 months ago)

AF works great with Nikon bodies.

0 upvotes
EcoPix
By EcoPix (1 month ago)

In centre-spot mode it frequently stops autofocussing when the subject is lowish contrast. You have to point it at something else to get it autofocussing again, then it will resume okay.
Otherwise perfect on D7100, D7000, D300s, after AF fine-tune. Not recommended for bodies without AF fine-tune/micro-adjust, but you might be lucky.

0 upvotes
ABM Barry
By ABM Barry (6 months ago)

I'm Impressed with Sigma lenses, I have the 10 - 20mm DX format which I use to great effect in places like Hi Chi Minh City Vietnam which is very crowded. I tends to open up otherwise tight subject material. By the same token I often use the Nikkor 80 - 400mm to single out subjects at great distance.

0 upvotes
garyknrd
By garyknrd (6 months ago)

Curious when the Canon 500 II and 600 II will be added?
Thanks

0 upvotes
f_stops
By f_stops (6 months ago)

Lenses like these are a good reminder the DLSR isn't on its death bed, despite the giddiness and excitement over the Sony A7 duo. Canon and Nikon will have a lock on the pro-level sports/bird/telephoto market for some time to come.

And congratulations to Sigma for getting it together with some great top-quality lenses. Hope they can continue to deliver with decent quality control.

0 upvotes
Joesiv
By Joesiv (6 months ago)

Not that I disagree that the sports market is going to be dslr for a while, but Sigma makes lens' for many makers, what's stopping them from bringing their lens' to FF E-Mount? If FF E-Mount or whatever mirrorless format takes off, lens' like these will shine also.

0 upvotes
EcoPix
By EcoPix (6 months ago)

I've had a nightmare run with reliability on a Nikon mount Siggy 120-300 OS (not the USB one, the one immediately before it). Has been back to the factory in Japan twice in a year and a half.
DXO scores don't take reliability into account. The lens was fantastic when purchased, but suddenly went haywire (optically) and I'm about to find out if it's been fixed at the second attempt. But will it stay fixed?
I was forced to buy a Nikkor 300 2.8 as well for an important assignment, which was an unwelcome added expense.
DXO also doesn't measure 'usability'. Apart from the ability to back off with the zoom, the Nikkor is a dream to use while the Sigma is a beast, yet weight isn't that much different.
Anyway, I also hope Sigma can get its quality control and durability act together, for the sake of future punters.

0 upvotes
EcoPix
By EcoPix (1 month ago)

Just coming back to round off that last post - my lens now performs to near perfection, even with TCs, and I'm comparing it to big primes I've been using for years. It is definitely an alternative with much greater versatility, if you get a good one. The trade-off, as with all zooms, is that it performs best a little bit down from wide open, whereas the primes are made to perform wide open. This is only a practical issue with TCs.
The OS is genuinely good, not just a promise as with the Variable Reliability system. Not true that it has no CA - it's there but it's blue-yellow, which is much less noticeable than magenta-green, and is a non-issue in practice, even against the light.
Just wanted to put the record straight - a classy lens once Sigma gets the individual lens right. Thanks to the Aussie importers for persevering on my behalf with Sigma in Japan.
Oh, and it's about 280mm by itself, 400mm with 1.4x, and 550mm with 2x. Speed is correct, but (all) TCs take a third of a stop more.

0 upvotes
yabokkie
By yabokkie (6 months ago)

the 120-300/2.8 looks good.
interesting the T stop is 2.9 on Canon and 3.1 on Nikon.

Comment edited 38 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Andy Westlake
By Andy Westlake (6 months ago)

Probably better considered as T3.0 +/- 0.1 on both

6 upvotes
yabokkie
By yabokkie (6 months ago)

but I do think resolution figures should be 3 digit at least (how exactly are they tested and calculated?). I like the idea of effective pixel count for a better measurement than per picture height.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 30