I remember watching a photography show on TV a while ago, in which it was suggested that a plastic flowerpot, painted black, would make a good lens shade for
cheapskates those on a budget. I’m guessing that Sigma were watching too, as the shade that comes with this 70-300mm lens bears an uncanny resemblance to the afore suggested plant holder. It also lengthens what is already an impressively long lens, to such an extent that whilst I was testing it, girls were stopping me in the street to say “that’s a big one!”…At least, I assume it was the lens they were talking about…
For the uninitiated, a focal length of 50mm is considered ‘standard’ for 35mm (or full frame digital) cameras, as it most closely approximates normal human vision. Anything much above 50mm is referred to as telephoto and has the effect of magnifying distant objects, which is desirable for many reasons…candid photography, wildlife photography, portrait photography…and of course, my favourite, stalking…
But this is not all that telephoto lenses do. They also gives you a narrower angle of view than a standard lens (useful for isolating details, for example on a travel shoot), they compress perspective (useful in portraiture for making someone’s nose appear smaller than it really is) and they minimize depth of field (useful for creating cinematically blurred backgrounds).
Until fairly recently, the most common focal range for a tele zoom was 70-200mm and although, for general purpose use, these were a better alternative to carrying around a bag full of ‘prime’ (fixed focal length) lenses, they frequently came at the expenses of compromised optical quality. However, thanks to computers (we owe them so much), steady progress has been made in optical design, resulting in a new generation of high quality tele zooms…and a new standard in tele zooms, the 70-300mm (of which this Sigma lens is a very good example).
This is excellent news because the difference between 200mm and 300mm is much more significant than it might sound…something this lens demonstrated time and time again, by enabling me to faultlessly capture images that simply would not have been possible with either a 70-200mm or a larger, heavier, 300mm prime lens. There were a few occasions on which I found myself wanting to go longer than 300mm, for the occasional bit of wildlife photography…but bearing in mind how wild my life is, perhaps those images were best left uncaptured…
The downside with the jump up to 300mm is that the longer a lens’ focal length, the more any movement by a photographer will become amplified in the viewfinder, making both image composition and sharp image production increasingly difficult, which is why conventional wisdom/photographic cliché dictates that non optically stabilized tele lenses should be used with shutter speeds no slower than the reciprocal closest to that of their focal length (e.g. 1/250th second with a 300mm lens). However, I found that I could capture pin sharp images hand holding this lens at shutter speeds of 1/125th (and in some cases even slower), making it perfectly useable in the majority of situations, despite a maximum aperture of F4 (rising to F5.6 at longer focal lengths).
Naturally I’d love it if this lens were faster, but that would make it heavier than its reasonable (though not light) weight of 550g and result in a diameter larger than its 58mm, meaning more expensive filters would be required.
In tests, this lens gave me everything I’ve come to expect from Sigma, producing first-rate results at a budget price. Image resolution was excellent and colour balance was remarkably consistent across the entire focal range, thanks to a new multi layer lens coating and two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements (one in the front lens group, one in the rear lens group), which act to correction chromatic aberration (colour problems) through the entire zoom range.
Sigma claim their new lens coating also reduces ghosting and flare. While I had no problems with the former, my tests, did reveal some problems with flare in very strong sunlight…especially at the 300mm end…though to be fair, many telephoto lenses would do worse in such circumstances and I suspect that the problems I encountered are down to the lens hood design rather than the lens coating itself…so probably all that’s needed is a bigger flower pot.
Throw in a macro facility offering a ratio of 1:2.9 to 1:2 (1:2 being half life size) at focal lengths between 200mm and 300mm…and the fact that the UK SRP for this lens is only 199.99GBP and it becomes a real bargain. It’s certainly a lens that I’d be happy to add to my collection.
More info: http://www.sigma-imaging-uk.com/
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