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Old 22nd of March 2006 (Wed)   #1
RichardtheSane
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Default Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

OK, I've never done one of these comparison things before, so expect this to be done over the coming week or so!

Over the winter my dog photography suffered due to some pretty damn poor light in the UK. THen last month I was off work for a while and being bored I started thinking.

The cumulation of my thinking was trading my 100-400L for the Sigma 120-300 F2.8. The idea of an extra 2 stops was VERY appealing. I posted a thread for POTN to help me with my anguish, feel free to have a read
http://photography-on-the.net/forum/...d.php?t=140045

Some time later, I have sold lots of stuff and bought a Sigma 120-300 F2.8 (non DG). Here I hope to provide my first impressions and a comparison between the Sigma and the Canon it is replacing. I still have the 100-400 (for how long I don't know) so will do some head to heads before I sell it.

First Impressions
I picked the box up and straight away I could fell that I had quite a lump of glass in my posession. When I got home I opened the box up and the usual sigma (crappy) paper instruction leaflet fell out. For this money a book would have been a nice touch, even if it would only get read eventually...
The lens is supplied in a good quality lens case which is well padded and has a handy thick shoulder strap. The case looks like it has been designed to lug the lens about and not store it on a shelf.
The lens itself is a very solit piece of kit. I am most impressed with the build quality, it gives me a degree of confidence from the start that my money has been well spent. The lens hood is good and solid, and sits very securely - although I am a little underwhelmed by the lens cap arrangement as it works fine when the hood is reversed, but with the hood in place it seems to slip off more. I have ordered a 105mm plastic cap as I would prefer something a little more solid in front of my glass!
The zoom ring was initially a little stiff. Although even now I think this has loosened up - either that or I am more used to it!

So my first impression is very positive

Today was my first trip out with the Sigma, and I was handholding with a 20D. Here a a couple of points on my experience of using the lens so far.

Point 1. It is a heavy beast.
It is double the weight of the 100-400L in fact. All along this was my biggest concern about trading for this lens. But the question is how did this affect my photography? At the moment I don't know enough to be sure, but I think it actually made my panning shots easier - I certianly found it easier to keep the dog I was photographing in the frame while it was running. Maybe the extra weight I was worried about will be a godsend after all? Only time will tell there!

Point 2. Autofocus.
I shoot dogs, and I like to shoot dogs in action - AF peformance is critical. Today I didn't nail that many shots compared to what I think I would have done with the 100-400. BUT I think I know why. there is no AF in the world that can keep the eyes of a greyhound that is running directly towards you in focus, so I had learned with the 100-400 where the optimum shutter release point is while focusing. But the Sigma was slipping into focus fractionally before I would normally release and by the time I release the dog os out of focus again.
The 20D is my limiting factor there, but with careful tehcnique I can overcome it, and I will. That said, I do believe that I am achieving AF quicker than the 100-400 - only a head to head will tell me for sure!

Here are a couple of images from today. I am LOVING the bokeh from this lens.





So, now I am home what am I seeing in the images?
The colour rendition, sharpness and contrast are all telling me that I made the right choice here. Now the 100-400 is no slouch, in fact it is a great lens but (and I never thought I would say this) the shots I have taken today have more 'pop' than similar 100-400 shots I have taken. I was worried that I would loose out on optical performance by moving to Sigma, but I don't have anything to worry about there.

The clincher, those creamy backgrounds. The above shots are at F4. That is a full stop faster than the 100-400 and it is also stopped down one so I am maintaining even more sharpness. I am seeing a big difference in the background at F4, so I am looking forward to having some fun with F2.8 at 300mm.
Although I have to seriously improve my technique before I will get winners!

Conclusions so far.

Pros
  • The construction is rock solid, EX finish feels good
  • The optical peformance is great from what I have seen so far
  • Great bokeh
  • Very good and accurate AF
  • Handy for use as a club if someone tried to mug me
Cons
  • Rather heavy, will need to practise to be able to handhold for a reasonable time
  • Non DG tripod mount (DG TS-41 version in the post )
  • Zoom ring a little stiff, although I have heard it loosens up
  • Lens cap is not ideal when the hood is in position
Is it better thatn the 100-400? I wouldn't like to answer that at this time.
Is it better for me than that 100-400? I think so, only time will tell. But I will be selling the 100-400 in a couple of weeks, so it is certianly as good - and that is based on my first day with my dreadful long lens technique.

Anyone god some recommendations on a good bag that will take this lens and the 20D?

OK, It is now later in the week, I have used the lens for a quick trip out today
So, what have I found?

Well, the AF is going to take some getting used to. It is very accurate, but seems much more fussy about where I keep the AF point.
So I have not [truly]nailed any AI Servo shots yet... Does anyone know how the accurate af sensor on the 20D when using F2.8 or faster lenses works? Does it cover a smaller area than a normal af point?

Sharpness. I'm somewhat pleased with the sharpness. Very pleased in fact

Here is a 100% of the image above
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...L_IMG_0006.jpg

ANd here is a shot I took earlier at 1/100 sec F2.8 ISO 100 300mm


and a 100% crop of where I think I focused!
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...-IMG_11621.jpg
I'm pretty certain it is my technique so I'm trying to work out what I need to improve on.

I'm going to dig out a similar shot or two from my 100-400 and post as direct a comparison as I can tomorrow.

Bit late, but here it is. 100% on one of my better 100-400 dogshots.
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...m-f5.6-dog.jpg

OK, the time is now 2 weeks on, and I think I can finish my review
I've now been shooting with the 120-300mm for nearly three weeks, and I am starting to get a good feel for it.
I can confirm what fStopJojo has said, I have grown to love the EX and I am now travelling down the road to mastering it.

In the past two weeks I have done two fairly large shoots using the 120-300 and I can confirm that the AF has pulled off some miracles - there were many shots of greyhounds in action (not racing) that I recall saying to myself that 'I missed that one' but when it comes to download there is a usable shot.

I have also had my main concern completely alliviated - the weight. The first long shoot I pulled 450 frames out and was shooting for about 2 hours, about 60% hand held. I have already started using a monopod where I can but I am finding that I don't need it to get usable shots, but I am getting better shots with it.

A follow up to what I mentioned about the tripod ring - the TS-4 definitly offers better balance with the 20D on a monopod, it is still a bit front heavy but not much.

Right, onto the pictures, and finally a head to head with the 100-400L, as promised.
First, here are a couple of samples from one of my recent shoots. I'm really getting the hang of the AF now which pleases me a lot
With this shot I was expecting a lot more flare as I was shooting almost directly into the sun, but it is very well controlled in my opinion, very little loss of contrast.



And a 100% crop of the above shot
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...vgrasscrop.jpg

For me the results I am seeing there are definitly better than I could have achieved with the 100-400L. I was pushing the lens to the limits as Tippy (featured hound) was running through long grass and so there were plenty of things there to confuse the AF, but the combo of camera and lens hung onto Tippy well. The 100-400 would still have done OK, but in similar situations I would have had to sharpen the shots to get the same result.
I'm not ruling out the possibility this is because the mass of the heavier lens makes panning much easier, but I'm comparing the lenses as a package so the 120-300 wins here.

Now for a few 'controlled' tests. For these I would like to introduce 'Cameron' - a bad taste bear.


In order to keep the thread size down I won't put all the tests up, just the 300mm ones. All are 100% crops of the area that was focused on.
All @ 300mm

120-300 @ F2.8 (also recovered exposure in raw convertor because I stuffed it, will reshoot this one soon as I can see the noice is introudcing some implied softness)
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...300mm-f2.8.jpg

120-300 @ F5.6
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...300mm-f5.6.jpg

100-400 @ F5.6
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...300mm-f5.6.jpg

120-300 @ F8
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...0-300mm-f8.jpg

100-400 @ F8
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/imag...0-300mm-f8.jpg

I'll let the results speak for themselves.

Here is a link to some more shots from my shoot with the 120-300
http://www.richardlindley.co.uk/whit.../whitelodge21/
Some of the pup shots were also with the 120-300, AF worked pretty well on mini lurchers too

The Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX has won me over. I have to admit in the past I have never imageined that I would trade my L series lens for a Sigma EX, but I think the 120-300 is a bix exception. The 100-400L is going to be sold (reluctantly - If I could afford too I would keep both, as the 100-400 is still a GREAT lens!)
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Last edited by RichardtheSane : 24th of March 2007 (Sat) at 11:20.
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Old 22nd of March 2006 (Wed)   #2
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Nice contribution, fair and balanced comments, two excellent lenses, two great dog captures. I think you'll only grow to love and master the EX lens more with each passing day. Congrats.
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Old 22nd of March 2006 (Wed)   #3
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Why did you purchase the non-DG version ? I will be purchasing this lens soon, am I a fool to spend the extra on DG
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Old 22nd of March 2006 (Wed)   #4
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Have those images been edited at all?
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #5
RichardtheSane
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Thanks for your replies.

I've done a bit more testing and will edit my review to add it shortly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fStopJojo
Nice contribution, fair and balanced comments, two excellent lenses, two great dog captures. I think you'll only grow to love and master the EX lens more with each passing day. Congrats.
Cheers, praise indeed from the master of the comparison
You are right, it will take time to master the EX, but already I am seeing results that suggest it will be worth the wait!

Quote:
Originally Posted by clivingston
Why did you purchase the non-DG version ? I will be purchasing this lens soon, am I a fool to spend the extra on DG
Simple factor was price. I didn't have 1800 to spend on the DG, and the non DG was cheaper. I know IQ on the non DG is superb as I have seen many results from it and there are no AF improvements on the DG version so no real benefit for me to spend the extra.
Had I waited for the DG it would have been another couple of months before I could buy!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Crashoran
Have those images been edited at all?
Obviously those two have been resized, sharpened & saved for web, but this was done direct from the file I converted from the raw.
Hope the 100% crop helps
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Last edited by RichardtheSane : 24th of March 2007 (Sat) at 11:22.
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #6
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

This is a really good review from someone with no axe to grind either way. Given you're still getting used to it I suspect over the next few days you'll really start to ring superb performance from the Sigma. Looks like you get down to Doggie level a lot and I'm wondering if a short monopod with ballhead would help with the weight?
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #7
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Think you have nailed it for me. I am an amateur guy - predominantly take photographs of cricket and soccer and although for cricket I would need a 1.4 or 2 teleconverter with a 300mm lens, (and would be unlikely to touch anything below the maximum reach in this sport), for soccer, the zoom would be handy.
I was thinking of either a SIGMA f2.8, 300mm prime or this 120-300mm zoom and as I said in my opening remark, you have just about made my mind up for me given that the CANON f2.8 prime is well out my price league - thank you.
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #8
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

An excellent review that very much mirrors my intial opinions of the 120-300 EX compared to the 100-400L.

It is one VERY heavy piece of kit compared to the Canon. I had it on the monopod mostly today but i did try some hand-held stuff. I doubt i could do more than 15-20 minutes at a time.

I suspect that there will be something of a learning curve with this lens but i have a feeling it will be worth it.

Oh, as for the Canon, it's going nowhere. I want the best of both worlds
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Last edited by GSH : 25th of March 2006 (Sat) at 14:20.
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #9
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Quote:
Originally Posted by condyk
This is a really good review from someone with no axe to grind either way. Given you're still getting used to it I suspect over the next few days you'll really start to ring superb performance from the Sigma. Looks like you get down to Doggie level a lot and I'm wondering if a short monopod with ballhead would help with the weight?
Thanks
Yes, definitly still getting used to it, I know that I am currently the weak spot in the photographic process at the moment. But I have been able to determine that is is very sharp.
I've got a Manfrotto 679B pod which I can use and supports the weight well, do you have any recommendations for a suitable ball head (My current one is not designed for a lot of weight)?
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #10
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Quote:
Originally Posted by WyzMan
Think you have nailed it for me. I am an amateur guy - predominantly take photographs of cricket and soccer and although for cricket I would need a 1.4 or 2 teleconverter with a 300mm lens, (and would be unlikely to touch anything below the maximum reach in this sport), for soccer, the zoom would be handy.
I was thinking of either a SIGMA f2.8, 300mm prime or this 120-300mm zoom and as I said in my opening remark, you have just about made my mind up for me given that the CANON f2.8 prime is well out my price league - thank you.
Alan
Glad to be of service
I think one of the other recent 120-300 threads points out something that is worth noting... the 120-300mm is reported by a rep of sigma to be sharper wide open than the sigma 300mm prime.
Now while I am dubious about that claim, it is a testement to the sharpness of the lens.

Good luck with your purchase
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #11
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Quote:
Originally Posted by GSH
An excellent review that very much mirrors my intial opinions of the 120-300 EX compared to the 100-400L.

It is one VERY heave piece of kit compared to the Canon. I had it on the monopod mostly today but i did try some hand-held stuff. I doubt i could do more than 15-20 minutes at a time.

I suspect that there will be something of a learning curve with this lens but i have a feeling it will be worth it.

Oh, as for the Canon, it's going nowhere. I want the best of both worlds
Nice to know that you are also suitably impressed
and that I am not talking out of my bum in this review!

I wish I could keep the 100-400mm but I cannot justify them both since I also want a 70-200 2.8 later this year!

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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #12
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Excellent thread!
This is a great comparison,. and I look forward to more as you get more time with the Sigma under your belt.

It's a great example of how two seemingly disimilar lenses can be compared to see which "compromise" works best in a given situation.

FYI the tripod collar,. I understand you can get the "better" one from Sigma.. and it is an improvement indeed,. very similar to (if not the exact same part? ) as the one supplied with the "Bigma" which is a great part.
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #13
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Quote:
Originally Posted by CyberDyneSystems
FYI the tripod collar,. I understand you can get the "better" one from Sigma.. and it is an improvement indeed,. very similar to (if not the exact same part? ) as the one supplied with the "Bigma" which is a great part.
The new DG versions all come with the TS-41 tripod collar, which is a boon ($150 separately), but I've heard that some of the older 120-300 lenses even came with it; maybe newer batches of the old version. But if you can get the TS-41, it just feels so much better, especially on a beast like the 120-300.
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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #14
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Great post Richard. I share your sentiments on this great lens. Have you used a 1.4x TC on it yet? I think you will find yourself very pleased with the performance and IQ. Plus, you'll have that 400mm on the long end of your 100-400L.

As far as the tripod collar, mine is the DG version so it came with the larger TS-41 collar. For the weight of this lens, can't see why Sigma put that smaller one on there in the first place.

Lord help us if Sigma ever figures out how to put OS on this lens !! That's the only thing I wished it had was image stabilization. Since it doesn't, I added the Bogen Manfrotto IS to it for $50


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Old 25th of March 2006 (Sat)   #15
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Default Re: Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Vs Canon 100-400 L IS

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichardtheSane
I've got a Manfrotto 679B pod which I can use and supports the weight well, do you have any recommendations for a suitable ball head (My current one is not designed for a lot of weight)?
It's hard to look past the Manfrotto 488 RC2. Good value and very good function and build. I got mine from http://www.t4cameras.co.uk/ for around 55 plus delivery. Check the weight limit on it. It gives flexibility in all planes compared to a fixed screw on a monopod. You can lock horizontal panning if you prefer, or unlock it when you need to.
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