Field Review: Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX APO DS HSM OS (Day 4)

What do you do on a Saturday night? Do you ever go out to shoot just for leisure? The chances that you do this during vacation are very great. If you are considering renting or buying the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX OS for Canon, a couple of tests doing touristy-things were conducted using this lens and the Canon 5D Mk II + 7D. Video, landscapes, and even ice skating were shot. If you want to catch up on the rest of our postings then take a look at our impressions, our sharpness test, and shooting squirrels.

Editor’s Note: This is a long and thorough post, so you may want to go grab a cup of coffee…or seven.

Editor’s Note again: No images in this story were subject to any other editing besides simple resizing down for the web.

Video Test

Optical Stabilization

And so the trek began during the day where the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX OSwas mounted onto the 5D Mk IIand did some casual street photography. Don’t think that a long telephoto zoom can do street photography? Think again.

Oh yeah, and it’s a DSLR too.

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX OSperformed very well and delivered the razor sharp image above. Admittedly, this isn’t much of an optical stabilization test for a 70-200mm lens. Shooting in bright daylight? Come on! Okay.

How’s this for 70mm on the 5D Mk IIat ISO 3200 and 1/25th with F/2.8? The reciprocal rule of shooting says that the images should not be this sharp. However, the lens provides quite a bit of compensation for this.

Overall, the image stabilization in this lens is very, very good. It was around 48 degrees that night and may have been colder at the Top of the Rock. I was wearing a sweater, a button down, and jeans. Though I wasn’t shivering the hand-holdability of this lens in very low-light is exceptional for most people.

Still not impressed? Try 1/6th at F/2.8 and ISO 3200. The image above is more than sharp enough for most uses.

Admittedly, it isn’t always so sharp. Good hand-holding tactics need to be maintained when using this lens. That means that if you’re an affluent tourist reading this article that you won’t be doing any outward arm extensions in order to nail a shot. Leave those for the point-and-shoot users.

For reference, this shot was at 200mm and I indeed was not exercising good hand-holding tactics for testing purposes.

Shot at ISO 4000 at 1/20th and F/2.8 at 200mm, the lens’s OS system proved itself able to compete in a situation like this.

So what if you’re shooting something more serious? Say, a portrait.

You’d be amazed to hear it, but this guy is the owner of a Nikon D700. His camera combined with the 14-24mm F/2.8 ED couldn’t focus in the low light of the rooftop but my 5D Mk IIand Sigma lens could.

For a bit of background as to why this is such an astounding feat: the Nikon camera was using a Nikon lens. Generally when a third party lens mounts onto a camera like a Canon or Nikon, the autofocus is slower and sometimes inaccurate. However, in this situation, the Sigma 70-200mm EX OS was able to capture this wonderfully sharp portrait.

In the above photo I’m at 1/20th, F/2.8 and ISO 6400.

And it did it again with very little light.

And again.

You get the point by now—the focusing coupled with the OS system can impress most photographers when using a full frame body like the Canon 5D Mk II.

Even for just those fun shots when walking around the streets, you’ll not only be impressed by the sharpness, OS, and focusing—but also the bokeh (out of focus area) quality.

To be fair, it isn’t as creamy or smooth as I’ve seen on Canon lenses. However, it isn’t distracting from the main focus area of the photo.

Shooting Ice Skating the 5D Mk II

The Canon 5D Mk II was not designed for sports shooting or fast-moving objects. Traditionally, Canon has left that to cameras like the 1D Mk IV (reviewed here) and the 7D (reviewed here). However, there are a number of photographers that have been using the 5D Mk II for sports shooting. My buddy Dan Carr is one of them.

Using one of the side-most focusing points and AI Servo mode combined with continuous shooting yielded some results that I honestly never thought I’d be able to achieve with the 5D Mk II. What’s better is that the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX OS was able to keep up with the action.

Let’s get this straight though: this doesn’t mean that the camera and lens combination is the godsend for sports photographers looking for a mode affordable solution. The skating rink at Bryant Park (where all these were shot) had some dazzling lighting—so this obviously helped.

In order to nail these shots, the camera was usually 1/250th of a shutter speed—which is more than enough for the hand-holdability factor even without OS. However, the OS did help quite a bit. OS 2 was utilized for these shots because I was panning.

Admittedly, the lens wasn’t able to always keep up. At first I thought that perhaps it was the 5D Mk II’s focusing that couldn’t keep up until I realized just how amazingly sharp some of the photos I shot were.

Most impressively, the lens was able to keep up with subjects coming right at me. I set the 5D Mk II to track this guy’s fierce face. The lens was able to keep up in this lighting.

But the testing wasn’t over. I wondered to myself how it did on the 7D—and so I went back to Rockefeller Center’s skating rink.

However, at the end of the night I was able to conclude that 5D Mk II owners that want a more affordable solution to Canon’s 70-200mm F/2.8 IS L II should not be afraid of the Sigma alternative. The focusing was smooth though not as fast as Canon’s USM. If you are shooting sports though, it should be able to more than suffice.

Most of the images in this section were shot at F/4 at around 70mm.

Shooting Ice Skating with the 7D

The skating rink at Rockefeller Center wasn’t lit as well as the one at Bryant Park, which is really weird. However, the 7D focuses much better in low-light than the 5D Mk II does and the focusing system overall is leaps and bounds better. Theoretically, it should have no problems, right?

Wrong.

I’m not happy with any of the images I shot at this area. Additionally, the sharpness problem that we encountered in Day 3 at 135mm still stands although the images aren’t as soft. This can be seen in the image above. I tried focusing on his face and as you can see, it is indeed softer than one would like.

And the problems at 135mm still continued. The previous two images were shot at F/2.8 because of just how ill-lit the rink was. The images were also shot at ISO 6400 and at 1/125th. The latter could be blamed as the problem, but there really was no choice but to shoot at this slow a shutter speed.

So that’s it, right? The test is inconclusive? No, the above image was shot at 91mm and at 1/125th of a second at F/2.8 and is still sharper than the ones shot at 135mm.

Even at 104mm at F/2.8 and 1/250th of a second at ISO 6400, the rink was still too dark. However, the image was still sharp. In real practice, the image could be pushed in Lightroom 3 to be brighter and still be made into a very usable image.

Eventually, I got sick of the bad lighting and went back to Bryant Park.

Now here is the thing: even though the images at Bryant Park were sharper, it seemed like the lens couldn’t focus as well as when it was on the 5D Mk II.

As a reminder, the 7D has a much more advanced focusing system than the 5D Mk II. These photos were shot using the focus point expansion setting and the zone focusing settings. In the former, the camera utilizes one main point and expands to the ones immediately surrounding it. In the latter, the camera uses all the points in a certain zone.

Still, the images weren’t coming out as sharp. This one was shot at ISO 3200, F/2.8 and 1/160th of a second. As you can see, it still isn’t as sharp as the 5D Mk II’s was.

To be fair, Sigma said that the 70-200mm F/2.8 EX OS was optimized for full frame cameras.

Then I shot this: 112mm at 1/160th and F/2.8 at ISO 3200. It’s very sharp. The shutter speed is obviously not enough given the crop-factor on the camera.

At the end of the night, I concluded that the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX OS delivers inconsistent performance on a crop body like the 7D. Perhaps this is also why some of the images weren’t satisfactorily sharp during Day 2. Canon 5D Mk II users will be happy though.

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