Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports Review | Is Sigma Outclassing The Name Brands?
Ever since Sigma announced their Global Vision, we’ve seen a long parade of truly amazing “Art” class lenses. However, we’ve not seen quite as many “Contemporary” class or “Sports” class lenses. Many photographers wondered when certain lenses would arrive, and how they would perform.
Today, one of the most highly anticipated Sigma “S” lenses is here, the 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports. And, wow, is it a monster! It tips the scales at about 4 lbs. (1.8kg!) When you first pick it up, the heft and the overall quality feels more like you just bought a miniature 300mm f/2.8, not that first-gen 70-200mm f/2.8 you bought 10-15 years ago. This thing is an impressive, massive beast. Watch the full video review here:
With a long history of affectionate nicknames such as “Bigma“, “Sigmonster“, and “Sigzilla“, (did I miss any?) …this milestone of a Sigma telephoto zoom definitely deserves a nickname. I’m voting for “SigOtus”. (Unless the 105 or 135mm Art has already claimed that title…)
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports | Specifications
Optical Formula: elements in groups, aspherical
Build Quality: Weather sealed, mostly metal construction.
Weight: 3.89 lbs (1.8kg)
Autofocus: Hypersonic Motor (silent, fast, accurate)
Stabilization: Yes, Optical,
Filter Threads: 82mm
Aperture: Constant f/2.8-f/22
Tripod Collar: Yes, click-stops at 90 degrees, built-in Arca Swiss plate.
Included: Front & Rear Caps, Hood, Padded Carrying Case
What Type Of Photographer Is This Lens Made For?
So, on the premise of this being a potentially amazing lens, and clearly a massive beast, …who is it for? This is not your average 70-200. It is a next-generation lens for those who are looking for flagship image quality, performance, and reliability.
Action Sports & Wildlife Photographers
100% Crop Image Sample| f/2.8, 200mm
First and foremost, this lens is for anyone who is already no stranger to big telephoto lenses; you’ll immediately take a liking to this Sigma “S” lens! It will go perfectly with your “big gun” 300/400/500/600mm telephotos. Whether you shoot wildlife, or any sort of action sports or racing, etc, you’ll love having that same level of performance, and the extra features that give you the flagship experience, such as the click-stop tripod collar rotation and the customizable buttons which usually only high-end name-brand lenses have.
Portrait & Wedding Photographers
What about portrait photography? Indeed, if you prefer a 70-200mm for portraits, as opposed to an 85, 105, or 135mm prime, then despite the Sports moniker, this Sigma is every bit an Art lens, too.
Some portrait photographers look for “character” in their images. Other portrait photographers would rather have truly flawless optics. I believe Sigma has found a perfect balance between these two.
On the one hand, images are indeed incredibly sharp, bright, and crisp. On the other hand, the more subjective aspects of image quality such as bokeh, flare, and sunstars, are quite pleasing.
Having said that, I must warn any all-day wedding & portrait photographers who shoot hand-held: You better hit the gym! This lens will do a number on your shoulder/arm if you try to hand-hold it for 10-12+ hours straight.
Personally, I’m very torn, both physically thanks to an old shoulder injury, and emotionally thanks to the recent tease from Canon about their forthcoming TINY 70-200mm f/2.8 mirrorless lens that is due out later this year on their new RF mount.
As a wedding photographer whose record day is a whopping 18 hours of shooting, I was indeed disappointed when Sony’s mirrorless 70-200mm f/2.8 GM was not significantly lighter and smaller than its DSLR competitors. So, if I’m honest, nowadays I daydream about that Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8.
Deep Sky Astrophotography?
There are many other types of photographers who will be interested in the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport. One big category I have left to mention here is the deep sky astrophotographer. Astro work is one area of photography where A, weight is almost irrelevant, and B, optical performance is paramount. Indeed, 200mm is perfect for subjects like Andromeda or the Orion Nebula. I’m really excited to try and get this lens on a tracker to do some deep sky imaging!
SIgma 70-200mm f/2.8 SPorts | Pros
If you’re already very excited about this lens, you may still be wondering, what can it offer? The 70-200mm f/2.8 category of lenses is already quite full of very impressive options.
I wish I could just say “all pros, no cons” and be done with this whole section of the review, but that wouldn’t be useful at all to readers. So, let’s talk about exactly what it is about this lens that could make it your top choice. And, maybe if I try really hard, I’ll find something to complain about other than the weight, which I know you’re already tired of hearing me mention.
Sharpness & Image Quality
100% Crop Image Sample | f/2.8, 200mm
I used to meticulously test a new zoom lens at every focal length and every aperture, and then closely inspect 100% crops from the center, off-center, and extreme corners. For a zoom lens like this, that could mean 9-15 cropped image samples.
I’m just not going to do that this time. This lens is so sharp, it would be one of the most repetitive sets of sharpness sample images you’ve ever seen. All focal lengths and all apertures are nearly perfect, center-to-corner. The images have both “bite” (acuity, resolution) and “punch” (contrast, clarity).
Especially at 200mm, this lens pulls way ahead of all previous generation third-party and even name-brand options.
I wasn’t able to do a head-to-head comparison against the current-generation name-brand 70-200mm’s, but based on my overall experience with each of them, I’d say that this Sigma is as sharp or sharper.
100% Crop Image Sample | f/2.8, 200mm
I will also say this: not only is this lens likely to be one of the highest-resolution zooms that your 30-40 megapixel camera has ever had, but it is also likely going to be a benchmark by which future 60-70+ megapixel full-frame sensors are tested. It’s just that sharp, clear, and crisp.
If you’re not itching to upgrade from your current 24-30 megapixel camera just yet, there’s another advantage to having a lens that totally out-resolves your sensor: You get incredible results when using teleconverters. There are too many TC’s on the market for me to single out just one, and a full comparison deserves its own entire article, any requests?) so, suffice it to say that all of the latest-generation TC’s are good enough that the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports will deliver jaw-dropping results like you’ve never seen before from an f/2.8 lens in this price range.
Lastly, a few quick words on the other aspects of image quality besides sharpness: Chromatic aberration and color fringing are almost nonexistent. Distortion and vignetting are shockingly low too, imperceptible in most real-world settings. This is probably an advantage of all that extra glass that Sigma used.
Speaking of “extra glass”, what about the bokeh? Not only does the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports exhibit an impressive ability to render even “busy” types of backgrounds very soft and buttery, but I also think there is something else about this lens’ optical design. In other words, why so much glass, if other brands are “getting the job done” with less glass? (Indeed, this is the only 70-200mm to jump up from 77mm to 82mm filter threads, if I am not mistaken.)
Image Sample – Extremely Even Bokeh | f/4.5, 200mm
More glass can give a larger image circle. A larger image circle can render bokeh in the image corners as more circular, and less of a “cats’ eye” effect. This is definitely noticeable with the Sigma 70-200 Sport. In other words, it’s almost as if you’re using this lens in some sort of cropped mode, even on a full-frame camera.
Simply put, if you’ve ever noticed that “tunnel vision” bokeh effect, and not liked it, then you’ll love this lens’ out-of-focus characteristics.
Image Sample – Bokeh | f/2.8, 150mm
Powerful And Precise Autofocus
Sigma Art lenses have often turned out to be practically perfect in every way, except autofocus reliability. Off-sensor phase-detect autofocus on Canon/Nikon DSLRs proved to be the Achilles heel of essentially all third-party lenses, not just Sigma. It wasn’t just a simple front/back focus issue, either; overall consistency was a major concern.
Sigma’s latest Sports lens seems to boast something (bigger AF motor? New AF technology altogether?) that has finally defeated this issue. On both a high-megapixel DSLR such as the Nikon D850, and a mirrorless (adapted) camera such as the Nikon Z6, this Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport proved to be extremely quick to lock focus, as well as consistent and reliable overall. I’d say it’s absolutely on par with native, name-brand autofocus performance. It might even be faster, more on that later.
I can only imagine how amazing this lens will be on the likes of the Sony a9, or future generations of Canon/Nikon mirrorless cameras that finally pair “flagship sports” class autofocus with on-sensor hybrid focus technology.
Flagship Class Build Quality & Design
I could mention yet again how big and heavy this lens is, and maybe even call it “overbuilt”, but the honest truth is that it feels absolutely fantastic to handle and work with, especially once I get it on a tripod or monopod. Not only is it weather-sealed and built like a tank, it also boasts a luxury feel with its class-leading design features such as a tripod collar that has click-stops at 90 degrees, a built-in Arca Swiss foot, and one of the best-designed main locking knobs of any 70-200mm I’ve ever used.
Name-brand 70-200’s do offer a quick-release option for the tripod foot itself, while this Sigma requires an Allen wrench to remove the tripod foot, but I’ll gladly forfeit that small convenience in exchange for the incredible stiffness it gives, because that can make a huge difference when shooting on a tripod at slow shutter speeds.
It’s also worth mentioning that this Sigma has a well-designed, click-lock hood. I’d say it’s even nicer than the name brands, with the light grippy material around the base of the hood, and the easy lock/unlock action.
Indeed, I feel like the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport may offer even more of these useful “minor details” than the name-brand lenses! It offers custom buttons which can be programmed directly through a Canon camera’s custom funciton menu, or on Nikon via the USB dock. Furthermore, there are additional functionalities which can be assigned (via the USB dock) to the Custom Function switch on the lens. There is a “C1″ and C2” mode which can be set to perform various functions, including an “AF speed boost mode” (beast mode?) that allows the lens’ AF motors to go into high-speed mode, while still being about as reliable as in normal mode.
Capable Optical Stabilization
Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilization) feature has matured a lot over the years, in fact, OS actually pre-dates the Global Vision itself, first showing up in “EX” class lenses. Today, just like the sharpness tests, I’m not even going to bother trying to count what %% out of 100’s of test images are perfectly stabilized. It just works really well.
Also, in continuing the trend of offering just as many (or more) features as the name brands, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport offers 3 different stabilization modes; one “standard”, one for action/panning, and another customizable mode that you can optimize for things like video shooting or action stills shooting.
SIgma 70-200mm f/2.8 SPorts | Cons
Okay, now I’d like to apologize for how many times I have mentioned this lens’ weight thus far.
However, before I tell you that this lens has basically zero “cons” other than its weight, I have to mention something slightly humorous that I noticed on Sigma USA’s website- this lens is mentioned as having a “rugged lightweight structure”.
Wait a minute… Lightweight structure, compared to what? Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Tamron’s latest 70-200mm f/2.8’s are all more than a half-pound lighter than this monster. In fact, the Sigma is about 4 lbs with its caps and hood, and all the other current-generation 70-200mm’s are much closer to 3 lbs.
All of the name-brand lenses are fully weather-sealed and made of metal, too. So, at the very least, the Sigma is indeed “overbuilt”.
To Sigma’s credit, however, they’ve repeatedly stated that they’re not just chasing name-brand image quality and durability with their highest-end Global Vision lenses. Whether stated directly or indirectly, the message is this: their target is Zeiss Otus quality.
Of course, such a Zeiss doesn’t exist, so how does the Sigma stack up against the actual competition?
Before we move on to this lens’ competition, I forgot to mention the other con/drawback of the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports: The focus and zoom rings are switched. Yes, this is something that any photographer can easily get used to with a few days of shooting, just like the actual rotation direction that each rings turns, which I’m not even going to mention as someone who has long since trained his brain to immediately adapt to reversed directionality. In my professional opinion, though, it is truly more convenient to have the zoom ring closer to the camera.
So, instead of classifying this as a mere learning curve, I’m going to officially say that I wish Sigma had kept the focus and zoom rings in the “oldschool” configuration like Sony and Canon did in their current generation 70-200mm’s. (Note: Nikon and Tamron were not able to do this; the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC G2 have the same arrangement as this Sigma.)
What else is out there? First, let’s consider the current-generation cameras. We’ll briefly discuss older generation options later.
The name-brand lenses from Nikon, Sony, and Canon are all quite a bit more expensive. They’re over $2K, and the Nikon, when not on sale, tops the charts at a whopping $2796.
Do they offer enough image quality, overall performance, and/or longevity, to be worth such a major price difference? No, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 E VR (mk3) is not ~$1300 better than the Sigma. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III (mk3) though it can be found for about $1900 when it has a $200 rebate, is almost the same optical formula as its predecessor, and certainly not a massive leap ahead of the Sigma in any one regard. Lastly, the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, at $2,598, is not a whole $1100 better, either.
In short, yes the name-brand lenses will likely offer a little bit more tight-knit compatibility experience and overall reliability, especially after many years of heavy use, and one or two trips to a service facility. If your investment in such a lens is intended to last 5-10+ years, I can totally understand going for a ~$2,000 name-brand lens. But, when the difference becomes large enough that you could also throw a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art in your shopping cart and still break even or come out ahead, any serious photographer would be utterly foolish to not consider the Sigma(s).
There is, of course, the currently unreleased, but officially teased, Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS. Based on mock-ups seen at tradeshows, it can absolutely be described as “tiny”. Of course, it remains to be seen whether such a portable full-frame f/2.8 zoom makes any compromises on image quality, but even if it turns out to only be tack-sharp in the main rule-of-thirds box, as a “mere” wedding photographer I’ll be all over it.
Okay, now the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC G2. This current-generation Nikon/Canon mount (DSLR) lens is only $1299, (sometimes on sale for $1199, too) and is definitely an impressive performer. It offers all the sharpness and image quality you could ask for, and autofocus/stabilization that matches the name brands.
It is not as “flagship” of a lens as the Sigma, though. The Sigma offers a few more functions and design features that make it an elite lens, while the Tamron still has that third-party feel to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually love Tamron’s attitude towards design, which aims to balance both weight and optical performance a little more evenly. If you take decent care of either lens, they’ll likely last just as long as any “indestructible” name-brand option.
Get the Tamron if you’re not picky about extra features, and you just want a current-generation lens that does an impressive job all-around. It’ll serve you well.
Get the Sigma if you’re looking for a truly flagship-class optic that is every bit as high-performance as the name brands, with even more features in fact, and likely to remain a benchmark well into future generations of high-megapixel sensors
Lastly, what about the older generation 70-200mm f/2.8 options? I’ll be totally honest: They’re not bad at all.
In fact, all of these current-generation 70-200mm lenses are totally overkill if all you do is general candid journalism. The middle-generation Nikon and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8‘s are great; you can get a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2 used in decent condition for about $1500, or an excellent condition Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II for about $1400. Neither of these lenses are flawlessly sharp on modern high-megapixel sensors, but they’re also both veteran workhorses that get the job done and offer name-brand dependability and support.
Tamron’s previous generation 70-200mm f/2.8 VC is also a decent performer, but again, you make a bit more of a compromise on autofocus reliability, stabilization performance, overall sharpness, and extra features. However, considering the price, …why not just get the Tamron G2, or the Sigma Sport? The added investment for either one is totally worth it in the long run.
Sigma also has a previous generation 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, and it’s another incredibly affordable choice, at well under $1000 used. Despite similar compromises to sharpness, autofocus reliability, and stabilization, it’s a good choice if you find a “mint condition” copy for a low enough price. Otherwise, again, just keep saving up for the new Sigma. Also, don’t forget that you can rent these third-party lenses very, very affordably, if you’re curious.
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport Review | Conclusion
Okay, what did we learn today, folks? I don’t know about you, but I learned that my old shoulder injury needs some physical therapy before I take up surf or bird/wildlife photography. Also, as a wedding photographer who shoots 12-14+ hour long wedding days on a regular basis, this may not be the right telephoto zoom for my journalistic needs.
In other words, personally, as someone who mostly uses a 70-200mm to capture images that will likely never be turned into enormous prints, (that’s what my telephoto primes are for) …I’m absolutely interested in what Canon is doing with their RF lens lineup, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 that is allegedly no longer/wider than an iPhone X. That’s the direction I’d like to take my journalistic style of event and portrait photography.
If you’re an action sports photographer, though, you absolutely must consider this lens as a top contender. Same thing for wildlife photography. Not only is the lens incredible by itself, it is also one of the best choices out there for pairing with teleconverters, making it up to a 140-400mm f/5.6 lens.
You can get the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport for Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sigma SA (special order only) mounts HERE for $1499.
You can pick up the Sigma USB lens dock accessory HERE for $59.
You can pick up the Sigma MC-11 adapter (For impressive, oft-updated Sony FE compatibility) HERE for $149-249.
Have any questions about your particular field of photography, and whether or not this lens could be the best choice for you? Please comment below with any insight or queries you may have!