Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS HSM

Today a small “review” on the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS HSM EX lens.
For years I’ve been using the Canon 100-400L for most of my sports and “private” work, and although I love the lens I sometimes missed shooting on f2.8 especially with soccer, however also realizing that long f2.8 lenses are incredibly expensive and often only are available in primes I always forgot about it. When Sigma released their 120-300 f2.8 OS HSM EX lens I was more than interested, and finally I bit the bullet.

Now I have to fill you in on some of the history and you understand why I waited so long.
I started out with the 100-400L, but replaced it by the optical better 80-400OS from Sigma, which was replaced after a year due to the weak AF (slow and often hunting), I decided to try the 150-500 from Sigma because at that time I was more into zoos, birds etc. but that one also fell through, to soft at 500 and also bad AF. So I ended up buying the Canon 100-400L for the second time….. you would think I would stay with it, and I did for a while, but now with the 120-300 f2.8 I think I finally found a replacement.


Let’s first look at how they look next to each other, because beware the Sigma is not for the weak….

So to say it’s a HUGE lens is not a weird thing, although after reading about it on the net I have to be honest that it was not as bad as I thought. It’s a heavy piece of glass but not TOO heavy, although after shooting with the 120-300 the 100-400 feels like a lightweight piece of glass (which it is not). So if you are in the market for the lens, make sure you test/weight it before buying. But for me it’s no problem.


Now some samples….
I have to say that this review was literly written at the test day, because I now have both lenses next to each other (thanks to www.cameranu.nl). Don’t except a test chart, some nice models etc. I decided to test the lens as I always do for myself. shoot something shiny and transparent wide open and with the convertors and see what happens, and I think the results talk for them selves.


First the Canon 100-400L
And the 100% crop (400mm wide open)
Now because the Sigma is not 400mm I decided to do the following, first test it on 300mm wide open (so f2.8 vs f5.6) because this is what people do if they use both lenses in the same situation (not being able to zoom with your feet).

And the 100% crop

Now to be honest this already made me happy, seeing that this f2.8 and stopping down increases the sharpness a lot the result is more than ok.

For the next shot I used the Sigma 1.4ex convertor and stopped the lens down to f5.6 making it equal to the Canon 100-400L on 400mm.
And finally I added the Sigma 2x convertor (also EX) and stopped down to f8. Making it a 600mm lens.

Now remember this is straight out of the camera, a 5DMKIII handheld.
If we use just a little bit of sharpening on the last file it looks like this.
Now one would say, yeah but they are all a bit fuzzy… well yes that’s true, but as mentioned this object is not easy for the camera, so I also did a quick shot from Annewiek and this is a 100% crop of that image on 300mm wide open, and to be honest not even at my best luck does the 100-400L render an image that sharp.
So why exchange the 100-400L for the Sigma and take the chance when the differences are not staggering…..
Well actually they are to be honest.
Do remember that we are comparing a 100-400 f4-f5.6 lens to a 120-300 f2.8 lens.
This means that wide open there is at least 1 stop but very quickly a 1.5 and 2 stop difference between the lenses, meaning more playground with DOF (ideal for sports) but also better tracking with continues AF (tested that also) so also ideal for sports, this is mainly due to the more light hitting the sensor of course.  The added advantage of a constant f2.8 lens is that you can add a 1.4 convertor without loosing too much quality (even wide open it looks more than ok for most work and stopped down 1-2 stops it’s very good), but you can even add a 2x convertor without loosing your AF, and stopped down to f8 the quality is without a doubt usable for most if not all work.

I do have to add that I’m not a pixelpeeper that will look at 200-400% enlargements and will not buy a lens because it’s 1 pixel less sharp, when looking at the bigger picture I wanted a lens with a constant f2.8 so I can play more with my DOF during the soccer/sports I shoot, but I also wanted more reach during the occasional zoo visit, and with 600mm I get that, and remember that when adding the 2x convertor I end up with a 600mm f5.6 lens which is pretty good usable. And with todays high resolution sensors (yes 22MP is high enough) you will never ever see a problem on most prints you make, unless you’re doing fine are prints you will be just fine on all lengths. So for me the reason to switch lenses was not just for sharpness (which is better on the Sigma from what I can see now), but most of all versatility.

The cons of the lens are also there.
AF lock on is slightly slower than with the Canon in the sunlight, however as soon as you get a bit darker the Sigma is much faster (logical due to the f2.8) and on 400mm they are about equally fast, so this is very close, however while tracking an object in motion I got more keepers from the Sigma than from the Canon and that’s what I find very important. And finally it’s a very heavy and large lens, make sure you can handle it, have room for it, and learn to carry a monopod if you’re not that strong in your arms.

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  • Hello Frank! Thanks for the review. You are a nice guy and all too funny and I want your wife to read this: she is lucky to have you for a life companion for you are a holder of a good heart and a great professional. Your work and videos inspired my 1-year old photography.
    Enjoy my 3 little girls (triplets) here:
    Mofeed (Mr.)

    • That’s so kind, thank you. I will forward it to Annewiek 😀

  • Thanks for sharing the info. Frank… I as well am looking for a longer 2.8 lens for sports and birding but it seems the weight is going to be a factor for me. Its always nice to be able to hear from our buddies and their thoughts on lenses before having buyers remorse on such a hefty investment! Have a great day and hugs to Annewiek from me… 🙂

    • It’s a very heavy lens but I love it very much. For it’s price I think it’s a huge market share that it aims for.

  • Good review
    Frank.   I’ve thought about getting the
    Sigma 120-300 2.8 for a while now for indoor sports, as it gives me more reach over
    the 70-200. 

    I stopped
    using my Canon 100-400 L after I bought my 300 2.8 L.   The
    300 2.8 with the 1.4 converter serves me well. The 100-400 L  was a little sluggish and the
    photos always seemed a bit soft.

    I’m waiting
    to see how your Sigma works photographing sports using the 1.4 2.0 converters.  Image quality should be fine but I’m wondering
    how it tracks a fast moving athlete.  To
    me as a sport shooter, having a lens that quickly focuses on the subject is

    Will you
    ever test the Sigma 120-300 2.8 with the Canon 300 2.8 L prime?  I would like to see the results.   You
    can borrow mine if you like…..           

    Gary D


  • Thanks for sharing this experience. Meanwhile I would like to ask you for an opinion which is : what is your opinion about ” condition 8+ on second and cameras at B & H ? “.

  • There will be also a new version of this Sigma Lens available in June (APO version)

    • That was June last year…. this is already an APO OS version 😀

  • Menno Herstel

    Ha Frank, thank you for this review. Somewhere I heard that the production of Sigma wasn’t that constant, so one lens could be good, whlie the next can be ‘not so good’. What do you know about this?

    • It’s something that is being said for a long time, however I think a lot can be solved with the micro adjustments ? I did see some variations between lenses over the past but nothing really shocking to be honest.

  • Danielecuccia

    Wuold u get the Nikon 70-200 VR II or this sigma 120-300 os???

    • I don’t know the Nikon so can’t answer that.
      I do know that I won’t be selling my Canon 7-200 f2.8 IS L for the moment, it’s just much less heavy and easier to carry.

  • DR Chevalier

    Thanks for the shooter’s review Frank. I shot the Sigma 300/2.8 on the weekend and was quite pleased. I have the 120-300/2.8 for eval next and already own the 100-400L. It’s the lens speed that I find appealing, and many of the other reviews refer to the older version of this lens and are considerably less supportive.

    • I think it depends on the lens, I’ve read some reviews that claimed it was razor sharp and some that say it was crap.

      However my first copy was razor sharp, so I think I’m lucky… or I took the time to really test the lens 😀

  • Patrik

    Hi there! I’m in the spot you describes here as I am currently using a 100-400 for nature and motorsports ( mostly roadracing ). Samples here http://www.subevent.se
    Now I previously owned the sigma 50-500 without os and the difference I noticed when changing it to the 100-400 was better focus accuracy and more punch from the 100-400. Now I am a bit nervous about image quality going back to sigma because I’m using a 7d and not a FF… Either I should go for a new camera like a used 1d mark IV, or grab this lens for my 7d simply due to 2,8 and the reach one can get using a tc 2x which is sooo tempting!
    Unfortunately, I can’t have both solutions being just a hobby photographer…
    Ultimately…I want better quality and at least as good focusing (fast) as the canon lens…(which isn’t that fast compared to the really sporty lenses like the 70-200 2,8 II or of course the 300 2,8 IS which seems a standard lens for sports here in Sweden.)

    What do you think..? Shall I take the plunge?


    • Personally I don’t miss my 100-400 a bit. The Sigma is a LOT heavier and bigger but the quality is stunning and the 2.8 is great for sports.

      • Patrik

        …so you don’t think I should spend cash on upgrading the camera then..?

        • As long as its doing what you want no. If you miss things yes 😉

          • Patrik

            Thank you for taking the time replying..! 🙂 I’ll go with my gut feeling and hopes that’s enough..!

  • Pingback: More on the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS and some cuties | Frank Doorhof()

  • John

    Hello 🙂 Finally! a 120-300 review 😀 i dont have a huge budget and i am going on holiday in a couple of months, so i was thinking of getting a 120-300 f2.8….but the non os is within my budget at the moment…will this still perform optically well?….if i ‘can’ then yes i will get the os version but it is unlikely 🙁
    Wonderful review!!

    • Thanks John,
      I actually never shot the non OS version so I can’t comment on that one, sorry.