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Field Review: Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro (Day 1)

by G Servo on 07/29/2010


One thing that I have I’ve learned in photography is to always carry a zoom lens. If you shoot photos for fun or you get paid for creating compelling photographs, you will find need for a zoom lens. There are spots you just can’t reach and things you cannot get close to. A zoom lens will afford you that opportunity. Though my Nikon 35mm F1.8 remains my favorite lens and is almost always on my D90, the Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro is by my side often now.

Specifications

Lens Construction 14 Elements in 10 Groups
Angle of View 34.3º-8.2º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Mininum Aperture f22-32
Minimum Focusing Distance 150*(95) cm / 59.1*(37.4) in
Filter Size (mm) 58
Maximum Magnifications 1:4
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
76.6 x 119.5 mm/3.0 x 4.7 in
Extended Dimensions 208.30 mm / 8.2 in
Weight 530g / 18.7oz.
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma
Canon
Sony/Minolta
Pentax (3)
(3) Pentax mount lenses cannot be used with SF series AF cameras.

Lens Construction

The company line reads as such: Sigma’s 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro is a compact telephoto zoom lens. With a range that is useful for candid portraiture, capturing children playing in the backyard, amateur sports or even wildlife at the zoo this lens is usually the lens that photographers reach for first. It’s great on vacation for capturing scenic details or even groups of flowers in a garden. The Sigma 70-300mm offers a 4:1 zoom ratio in a compact lens that is easily carried in your camera bag or left on the camera as you travel; and the images are magnificent.

My first zoom DSLR lens was actually a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 G ( R.I.P.) It fell victim to a three year old and had to get replaced by the folks at Sigma. The replacement lens was Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG macro. It is designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras, but also has the ability to be used with smaller APS-C size sensors with a equivalent effectual increase in focal length to about a 100 to 450mm and a minimum focusing distance of 59 inches allowing macro photography with a maximum magnification of 1:2. The lens comes packaged with a lens hood. It is a compact size and weighs about 19.4 oz and about 4.8 inches in length and has a Filter Size of 58mm.

This lens is intended for the non pros, the hobbyist or those learning. It’s not a lens you would use on a professional shoot due the speed.  It is built well though. The two toggle switches on the main barrel of the lens are well positioned and in-line with each other, so you really don’t have to look at them to use them. Everything is labeled well. With the lens hood on reversed there is an extra layer of protection added to the lens—especially if it’s held in a lens pouch when not in use.

Physically, for the normal person, it’s not the lightest of lenses. The Sigma 70-300 DG Macro has an unbalanced, front heavy weight to it. The reason for this is because of the optics on the inside. This lens has 14 elements in 10 groups including a special low dispersion glass element in the front lens group, and one in the rear lens group..

I do like the texture on the lens body compared to the Sigma 70-300 G. I feel like it will not slip out your hands. I would not take this lens into a high action area though, if you have the lens extended—it would just be in the way, especially if you had the lens hood on. It’s meant to be kept at a distance. Further, I would not take this into a really crowed area. This lens needs room, particularly if set to Macro and locked out between 200mm and 300mm

Autofocus

The motor is built into the lens and can autofocus with all Nikon DSLR cameras including the D40, D40x, etc, discarding of traditional Nikon screw focusing.  The best part of this lens to me is the Macro images. The focus in that mode is slow and noisy, but with patience it allows for great shots. The worst part of this lens is its slow and laggy performance hand held in low ambient light, especially when it comes to focusing. Over all though, for the price of the lens the autofocus is adequate.

Sharpness

In nice and bright ambient light, the lens is sharp all the way through the zoom range. If you are subject to low ambient light the sharpness decreases particularly when hand held. If you have a lot of time to compose you shot and steady your lens, such as if you were using a tripod, you can get some fantastic shots.

In Use

My initial impression of the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens was weird. I was accustomed to using my old Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 G, so on first use of lens, I was thrown aback by the change in performance of the lens. The autofocus is slower, and the images created were soft. I did use it early in the morning just before sunrise, so it was not the best light for this lens. My first test of the macro function on this lens was nice though. Macro was something I always wanted to play with so I was happy with that.

Photo meditation (the process of taking photos to relax) with the D90 and Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro combination in decent light was a huge improvement on my first use of the lens. In daylight, this lens works very well. Again, the autofocus is not the fastest, but it was workable. If I took my time, and adjusted my Nikon D90 properly, I was able to achieve decent speed on my shots. Because of this, it is a good and affordable walkaround lens.

On as bright day this lens is not bad at all. I took it on a local group Photo walk and got a great performance with the Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro. Being able to switch to macro at times to get close to subjects gave me more versatility in my shots. Going from 70-300mm (effective 100-400mm) gave me a great range of shots without having to get too close to subjects. It made for an interesting collection of images.

Day 1 Conclusions

This is a very versatile lens, particularly for the budget minded and the macro is fun to use, especially with toys—that’s the geek in me talking. It’s not the best lens for a professional but if you are starting out in photography, or have low budget this lens is a decent option. The lens needs a little finesse and practice in its use. Once you work out how you are going to use it, its performance does improve.

For me, I would use this lens for long distance scenery, wild life and macro shots. I’ve tried using the The Sigma 70-300 DG Macro for portraits, and it could work,  but I would not use it for that.  For portraits I would prefer the a 50mm prime or an 85mm prime.  The Lens is great on a photo walk though, for candid well lit street shots , especially at distance.

Would I recommend this lens? So far, yes—but I also recommend trying Nikon DX/FX lenses or Canon EF/EF-S lenses etc.

More to come as the lens is tested in various situations.

Gallery

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