I’m sure that I have mentioned this previously, and if not then this will be the first I suppose, but the very first professional lens I ever bought was a Nikon 80-200F2.8.  For most professional photographers the 70-200 range (or 80-200 way back when) is a staple and a lens you can find in literally almost every professionals bag.  That’s why when Sigma announced they were redoing their 70-200F2.8 and they were making it part of their sport line, it was of particular interest to a significant number of photographers.  Over the last several years Sigma has knocked lens after lens out of the park in terms of build quality, features, and price point.  At an announced price point of $1499 the Sigma is a very attractive option. (compared to the Nikon’s $2799, and the Canon’s $2099 at the time of this writing).  There are a number of burning questions about the Sigma though and I’m here to answer them the best that I can as I was given almost a month with the new offering to determine if it stands up to the test of professional use.

(Image Courtesty of Roberts Camera website)

First of all, I just want to point out that Sigma is not paying me for this review, and neither is Robert’s camera.  Roberts camera did step up and loan me a Canon 1Dx for the duration of my time with the lens which I super appreciate since I am a Nikon shooter by preference and the initial Sigma offerings are Canon Mount.  (Except for the E Mount only options obviously).  So no money has changed hands, although Sigma sent me the lens for almost a month, and Roberts helped keep a Canon in my hands.  This review is my opinion and my opinion alone.  Which trust me, is good for all of you.

To get started, I want to talk build quality of the NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport.  It’s impeccable and feels like a tank.  it’s a bit heavier than the Nikon and Canon equivalent (almost three-quarters of a pound heavier to be exact) which will annoy some, but it lends back to the question; if you have the ultimate image quality does it matter?  Maybe, maybe not.  The lens hood includes the new construction technique with the screws and reinforcement on the inside, and also the button on the outside,  which I LOVE.  Sigma, make a hood like this for your 24-70 PLEASE! I’ve broken my 24-70 hood once already, and I’m betting this new design will greatly outlast the old one.  The buttons and switches on the side of the lens are exactly what you would expect from Sigma with them being easy to switch and having a gratifying click.  Just like the other sport lenses, the NEW 70-200 has Custom 1 and Custom 2 settings which you can set with the USB Dock, as well as the tripod collar has trickled down from other bigger lenses being that it is an Arca Swiss style and in that it clicks at every 90-degree increment of rotation.  It’s a really nice touch as it comes to getting things level quickly, especially if you already have a tripod setup that way and are just going from Vertical to Horizontal (or vice versa).  Other things that can be set in the USB Dock include but are not limited to the focus limiter, focus speed, or even the use of the buttons around the outside of the lens.  The buttons can be used for AF-ON, or even for a preset focus distance like say, 2nd base if you are shooting baseball?  This really takes the NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport up into another league because Nikon and Canon lenses have had this feature for years.  Recall Focus is absolutely incredible for the previously mentioned second base example because what if you need a photo of someone sliding into 2nd base, but there is nobody there to focus on yet?  Just hit the button on the outside of the lens, and it snaps to the predetermined focus so you can shoot.  Awesome.

(Canon 1Dx, 1600ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@200mm. 1/160th@F2.8)

OK so yea I know I was talking about baseball but that is a photo of my cat.  Here is the thing.  You can go anyplace to hear about how sharp this lens is for portraits.  You can go anyplace to hear about how the color rendition is, or how the MTF charts stack up against the current 70-200 gold standard (the Nikon 70-200F2.8E).  But that’s not why I’m here.  I’m here as the pro that shoots SPORTS.  Sure I shoot plenty of magazine portraits and other things that are sitting still, but really as far as I can tell few have shot real action with this lens and that’s why I’m here.  So let’s do this.

(Canon 1Dx, 3200ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@70mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)

I mentioned this before, but one of the first things you’ll notice is that the Sigma is a bit heavier than the Canon, Nikon or Sony offering.  Almost three-quarters of a pound lighter to be exact.  That means that the Nikon, for example, weighs 3.18lbs, and the Sigma weighs 3.88lbs.  If you are used to holding the current Nikon or Canon, you’ll notice immediately.  That’s not a deal breaker though as while it’s heavier it’s not a boat anchor. (IE. Compare my Nikon 400F2.8VR at 12lbs to the Sigma 500F4 at 7lbs, or even Nikon’s newest 400F2.8FL at 7lbs itself).  Something else to notice is that on the Nikon 70-200F2.8E the zoom ring requires a 90-degree turn to go from 70mm to 200mm.  The Sigma however only requires a 60-degree turn meaning you can zoom much faster in a pinch to get to your desired framing.  Super cool.

(Canon 1Dx, 3200ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@101mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)

The lens performance itself is pretty fantastic.  It’s quick and snaps right to focus in almost every situation.  It still hunts a little in exceptionally low light/contrast areas, but in all fairness, my Nikon 70-200F2.8E on my D4s struggled in the same situations. (I used the D4s because it’s the same generation camera as my loaner 1Dx. I feel like the D5 wouldn’t have been fair for the very low light test).  Tracking was exactly as I had hoped it to be.  Sure, there were frames that the lens missed, but no lens/body combo is perfect.  A lot of people don’t realize that just because you have the latest greatest $10k in camera equipment, it doesn’t mean every shot you will take will be in focus; especially when a basketball player is sprinting toward you from about 15 feet away.

(Canon 1Dx, 3200ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@120mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)

I took the 1Dx and NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport and pushed it to the max over the course of a few NCAA Basketball games.  My only regret is that I couldn’t shoot the entirety of the games with the Sigma.  This is not to say I wouldn’t have or didn’t want to though as the lens was very capable and I could see it performing very well, but the 1Dx wasn’t set up to do what I needed at the games.  At the games I tested the lens, I was required to live transmit frames to an FTP directly from the court.  Using my WT5 and WT6 on the D4s and D5 allows me to do this very easily and seamlessly.  I wasn’t about to spend $600 on a Canon adapter for a loaner 1Dx to do this for a lens review that I wasn’t being paid for. That and I don’t think I know a single person who owns the Canon WFT-E8A for me to borrow.  I digress.  My solution was shooting every so many drives to the basket with the Canon/Sigma combo which netted really great results.  The shorter zoom throw was really great for being able to keep interesting framing while also whipping my head/lens back and forth following the ball.  The Zoom ring was a little tighter than my Nikon 70-200F2.8E, but it was by far not “Too Tight”, requiring only a little more effort to turn.  It’s just a different amount of effort from my Nikon which only requires one finger to turn whereas the Sigma requires an index finger and a thumb, but not a full flex of the wrist by any stretch.

(Canon 1Dx, 5000ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@70mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)

With that when the shot is sharp, the shot is VERY sharp.  This is a side by side of the same player, in the same position, but at a different moment between the Nikon 70-200F2.8E and the NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8Sport.  The biggest difference between the two frames ended up being the white balance, which I’ll be honest, wasn’t set identical between the 1Dx and the D5.  (That and any pro familiar with the systems will tell you, they are just different).  

1DX with the New Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport is on the left, D5 with 70-200F2.8e is on the right.

As you can tell, the Sigma is no slouch for sharpness.  Feel free to download the two RAW files HERE to see for yourself.  Just as you can tell by some of the action shots I’ve posted already, the lens definitely CAN keep up with any kind of Action/Tracking.  On that note, I’ll mention that the first thing I did when getting the loaner lens was put it on a Sigma Dock.  The Sports and Contemporary series lenses allow you to adjust firmware parameters of the lens to suit it to your liking.  You can then use the custom switch (as mentioned before) to switch between the Default settings and your custom settings; which is pretty dope.  Anyway, I put the lens on the dock, and I ramped all the AF settings to 11 in regards to speed which proved a noticeable boost in AF reaction time and zip.  That’s not to say the lens was slow though, in fact, I had the best results shooting sports when the lens was set to the default settings, which is probably why they are the default settings in the first place.

(Canon 1Dx, 1000ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@200mm. 1/6th@F4.5)

Something else worth noting, as shown above, is the Optical Stabilizer in the lens.  When I bought the Nikon 70-200F2.8E after it came out this was a test that I did with it to see how good the stabilizer was.  I since have repeated this test with other telephoto stabilizers to give myself a gauge on how well they function.  The shot above is a 100% crop of a clock in our house shot at 200mm, 1/6th a second.  Neither the Nikon nor the Sigma can do this frame after frame, but if you hold your breath you’ll get a few of them with the second-hand moving.  The hand is not a sweeping hand which should explain the slightly more in picture part and then the faint impression of it later.  But the fact that the 6 is that sharp while the second hand is moving?  Magnificent.

(Canon 1Dx, 5000ISO, NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8OS Sport@114mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)

So there you have it.  The NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport proves once again why Sigma is a name worth noting for the future of the camera industry.  Like the current trend in Sigma lenses the NEW 70-200 is a little larger and heavier than its competition, but just like the Sigma 105F1.4, if it provides spectacular image quality who cares if its a little larger and a little heavier?  Best tools for the job are the ones you want yes?  We live in a golden age of camera equipment, both from a camera body and from a camera lens standpoint.  The sky is the limit, but finding the things that work best for YOU is important.  Now here is the tough part.  Do I think that the Nikon 70-200F2.8E is better than the NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8Sport?  Gosh, that’s a tough one.  I equate it to this.  Does someone that drives a Mercedes or BMW want to be told that a Honda or Toyota has the same features and is just as good?  IF the Nikon is better than the Sigma, it’s not by much.  The Nikon is definitely not $1400 better though that’s for sure.  Will I sell my Nikon to buy the Sigma 70-200?  No.  I already own it and I have other things to spend money on that I don’t already have in my bag first.  Plus the Nikon mount isn’t available yet with no ETA).  If you don’t have the newest latest greatest from Nikon, Canon or Sony,  or are looking to make some money back selling the newest latest and greatest to jump to the Sigma?  Go for it.  In my opinion, the NEW Sigma 70-200F2.8 Sport is a Damn good way to spend $1499 whether you want an upgrade, get some money back, or don’t own a 70-200 at all.  Still not sure? Want to see one in person? Roberts Camera here in Indianapolis has open stock in Canon Mount at the time of this writing.  Head on in there to see them, they will let you put it on your camera to see for yourself.  More soon.