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on August 9, 2012
Probably like a lot of you right now, I agonized over this decision for about a year. As a Canon shooter, I have the good fortune to be able to outfit with an enormous range of the very best telephotos made. For around the same price as this lens, I could get the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM, one of the sharpest if not the sharpest lens produced in this category. For a whole lot less I could get either the f/4 or f/2.8 in non-stabilized form. And of course, the gold standard of photo journalists, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, albeit for a cool extra grand. There's even the excellent Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. What follows is yet another of my ILWR's (incredibly long winded reviews), make yourself comfortable!

So, why consider a third party lens at all? Well, if you're here you know it's because of the magic of f/2.8. All of that glass gives you twice the light of an f/4. We're also not all made of money. $1,000 extra is a lot of coin for a lens, especially when your livelihood doesn't depend on it. There are definite advantages to the Canon (or Nikkor) brands. Metal builds. Weather resistance (not waterproof). Guaranteed forward compatibility. Peace of mind. Oh yes, and that red ring for Canon shooters.

That said, I've come to like the Sigma brand as of late. They're upping their game and producing some of the very best macro lenses on the market, and a huge range of UWA lenses for crop-sensor cameras. I've had great luck with my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM and Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD . Since I'm lacking a good lens with range and speed, a fast telephoto seemed in order. I honestly invested in Canon to own one of those gray beauties, but wanted to keep an open mind (and less open wallet) when it came to a new lens.

So, I read every single review I could lay my hands on. I even brushed up on my German! I asked people on photo forums for every thought and photo they'd post. In Europe, this lens is garnering rave reviews, winning awards and placing incredibly well in comparisons. In the end of course, it comes down to "going rogue" or sticking with the known commodity. Emboldened by my recent experience with the Sigma 17-50, I took the plunge.

That said, this lens is far and away better than I ever imagined. When it comes to reviews and reviewers, the top of the line lenses by Nikkor and Canon have obviously jaded everyone. The bar is set incredibly high. Remember that when Sigma introduced this lens, the first generation lenses were the target. And here, Sigma succeeds in spades. It's only when compared to the second generation it has some shortcomings - but it also succeeds over its competition in places.

The optical traits of this lens are complex, and when examining detailed MTF charts and other data, I'd agree with a lot of it. But where the rubber meets the road so to speak - optically this lens simply stands up to comparisons, period. I was fully expecting to see softness at f2.8, weak edges and poor contrast. Well, if you have to A/B photos with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II at 100% to see the difference (and you do), then the Sigma has already won the first round. Seriously, this lens is quite sharp at f2.8 (especially from 100-200, which is at odds with some review MTF charts), and then at f4 competes with pretty much anything. The big weakness I've found exists around f2.8-5.6 at 70mm, and that's red CA on distant (<50') contrasting objects. The flick of a slider, or using the lens's filter in Adobe RAW or Lightroom solves it. Really, I'm guilty of pixel peeping in the first degree, and scan around my shots at 100% far too often. Not only is this completely unrealistic, but extremely gratifying when I can't find anything to complain about! Once you move beyond 70mm - say 135 up this lens is amazing. Photos of flowers at f2.8 reveal every single hair on a honey bee, and all the little crystals of pollen on its legs and the flower stamens. And it gets sharper from there? Wow.

Okay, optically this thing rocks. But really, where are the shortcuts? I'll continue to outline the characteristics of the lens in sections to give you my thoughts (such as they are) of tradeoffs and omissions.

IQ:
The lens is sharp. Some very minor softness is exhibited at the edges, and more in the very corners of an image depending on focal length. According to charts, there are certain focal lengths + apertures where the center is actually softer than mid-frame, which is sharper than center frame in other places. As I mentioned, it has complex optical traits. Have I personally found those places and said "oh, look!"? No. I'm still looking though! There's a lot more to a good lens than sharpness.

Color and contrast is wonderful. If you own any Sigma lenses, the color has the same warmish cast - which I've come to prefer over Canon's slightly crisp-cool blue coloration. Care needs to be given working wide open however, and attention given to your histogram. I find it a bit more sensitive here than my 17-50 f2.8, but just a bit.

Distortion is negligible. I've already mentioned CA, which is one of the few things that annoy me with any lens. It's absent for most of the range and apertures. If you point the lens at the sun, you will get flaring. It's most noticeable again at 70. I don't believe it's any worse than any of the other 70-200 fast lenses; it's going to happen with that many elements in a lens. Shooting in the general direction of the sun poses no issues. Unlike many telephotos or poorly coated lenses, work against reflective and bright objects is not a problem.

Bokeh, it's marvelous! This really rivals some of my older primes. This is something I've personally always deemed secondary for image quality in a zoom. But when you've got it, it's noticed and appreciated. Foreground and background images blur wonderfully, you can just see that plane of focus simply slicing through your image. There's no etching, busyness or vortex effect. Light reflections are frosty and shimmer, just hanging in space. Colors blend effortlessly. The end result is far better than I ever expected here.

Low light performance is great. There's something that's really hard to pin down, but it's more than just romanticized. Yet it's accurate. I was taking photos of flowers in our backyard just at dusk, the sun was down but in the summer evening the light was wonderful. Somehow this lens caught it. I was floored. I took pictures the following evening with 2 other lenses and this one, and got the same effect only from the Sigma. Somehow it just gets the color of the light, and you just know when it was. You can feel the dense air and stillness of the moment. Simply magical. Could you get the same effect in PP? Probably, especially if you had a shot from this lens to compare it to! That sounds silly, doesn't it? Indoors, you can capture images with only the slightest light coming in from the windows. Here again, by not having to crank up the ISO, and dropping the shutter speed, the ambiance of the moment is yours for the taking. This is all enhanced by the creamy dreamy bokeh of the wide-open lens and the abilities of the OS. This lens will be pushing your creative buttons with a heavy hand.

Breathing
Just a word about lens breathing. When I purchased the Sigma, I was also testing the Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 SP Di VC USD XLD. In comparing the 2 lenses (which I did heavily for a few days), the close distance difference was quite noticeable on the Sigma. This may or may not drive you nuts. To me, if what I see is what I get, I'm fine with it. But, if you compare the shrinkage to another similar or fixed lens, be aware that you'll lose reach. It seems most noticeable at 70mm, but is apparent throughout the range. To offer an unscientific guess, I'd say it's about a 20mm loss. I believe it's in good company with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II being about the same in that regard. Not many mention this, but it is a weakness of the lens and is worth noting.

OS
Sigma's Optical Stabilization is very good, but not amazing. Smooth handling pays off, sloppy shooting is not entirely compensated for. I have easily managed shots down to 1/12, but alternately, have had some with obvious motion blur at even 1/60. I have not used setting 2 for panning yet - but will insert my thoughts when I give that one a spin. I'm quite sure a lot of what I'm experiencing has to do with the weight of the lens. Other telephotos I've used seem better, but they also weigh a fraction of the Sigma. When initiated, you'll detect a slight jump in the viewfinder, and a very subtle "clunk" as it engages. Complaints about "noisy OS" should be taken with a huge grain of salt. The OS remains engaged for about 2 seconds and shuts off with a similar clunk. While 3.15 pounds of lens doesn't seem like much at first, fatigue does set in after a while. Consider a good monopod or similar if dedicated shooting over a period of time is anticipated.

Unfortunately for Sony and Pentax users there is no version without OS available. I know some that have gotten the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro  for this reason. Even more unfortunate, the OS lens is a complete redesign optically, and IMHO far superior. Only you can judge if it's worth the $400 upgrade. It really is a shame that Sigma doesn't make a version without the OS in these mounts for a little less. I have a feeling though that people would then be complaining there's not a "non-OS" version available for Canon and Nikon! So, Pentax and Sony users get the short shrift on this one.

Build Quality
This is where you'll notice some of your $1000 savings. But, it doesn't seem like it. The build is tight and solid. It's plastic. Solid and dense plastic, and I don't mean to be facetious. Tapping on the broad section of the barrel gives off a telltale slight hollow sound. That aside, overall the lens has a "built of a piece" feeling to it. In this regard it holds up to the competition very well. Unlike the first versions of this lens, mine is completely "new finish". It's a silky, smooth finish that seems unfazed by fingerprints. Most review copies (or as shown in photo here) had combination old and new finish. The focus and zoom ring portions of the barrel had the old flat finish, giving it an odd 2-tone appearance.

To back up even further (if you don't know), Sigma's originally had a sort of matt "crinkle" finish on their lenses. This was excellent at disguising the plastic, and many assumed their lenses were metal. It had a nice felt-like appearance, and slight insulating properties. However, the old finish was supposedly prone to wear or peeling. While this never happened to me, I can say that the old finish is extremely difficult to clean and keep clean. I'm delighted with the more homogenized aesthetic now that I've seen it, and I'm positive it will wear better over time.

The metal mount is solid and well machined (at least the Canon version), and connects smoothly and effortlessly. The interior of the back element is finished with black ribbing up to the glass element. The front element goes right to the edge as you would expect, it conveys every single one of its 22 elements. Looking into the eye of this lens really is a sexy experience! It positively lights up. New for Sigma, and now carried over on their 50-150 f2.8 OS, the focus group is placed to the rear of the lens. The zoom ring is prominently placed forward - which may or may not be an issue for some people.

The lens is not weather resistant. That's probably the biggest trade off. And one I happily relinquish. If you're livelihood depends on your camera, then it makes all the sense in the world to get the best lens money can buy for your body. You don't know where you'll need to be and when to get "the shot". For avid photographers and hobbyists it's the same. If money is no object and you don't want to come in out of the rain, by all means get the very best. I'm fairly confident though that this lens will not be affected by a slight misting or spray. And no lens is sand or dust proof, so caution is advised in any outdoor situation with any lens! I've read too many sad stories about sand in L lenses. A clear filter may be in order on these occasions: Marumi DHG Super Digital High Grade MC Lens Protect Slim Safety Filter 77mm

Handling and Operation
Occupying the forward position, the wide zoom ring is smooth as silk. It's completely linear with zero variation in friction, and a delight to use. The ring turns counterclockwise to go up, right or wrong depending on your platform! Just behind it is the narrow focus ring, which also offers just the right amount of resistance and silkiness. It rotates about 120° with a soft stop. Focus distance is displayed on the scale window - accuracy is yet TBD. The zoom and focus ring have slightly different sized/spaced hard-rubber ridges; the result is the zoom ring feeling a bit "sharper", a nice Sigma touch. Nice not because that's unusual, but because visually they look nearly identical which helps streamline the look. Most other lenses have decidedly different looking rib patterns. However, since the focus ring is so narrow, there's little chance you'd mix them up even if they were identical. It will take some folks a bit of time to adjust to the forward zoom position though.

Sitting on a raised section and held by 4 screws are the 2 switches for manual focus and the OS off and on positions 1 & 2. The switches operate in a precise and positive manner; I don't feel these will suffer accidental switching when pulling in and out of your bag. All in all, you won't really see or feel anything that seems like corner cutting here. The balance of the lens is something worth noting. Mounted on my 60D (24 oz.), the balance of the lens is almost perfect if the fulcrum point were just forward of the collar. Add another 2-4 ounces and you could literally balance it with one finger under the mounting point. So basically, right where you'll be grasping the lens in a "one-handed mode" the balance is 50/50, which makes a huge difference. I'm sure this is not accidental, and it is greatly appreciated. This is not something I'd expect on a "budget" lens. Bonus points! I have 3 Sigma EX lenses, and as nice as they operate, this is the first one that I'd put against an L lens for overall feel.

Possible omissions here would be a focus limiter switch, and a switch for range. The first isn't really necessary depending on your body or platform. You can usually limit excessive hunting through the menus. With this lens it's really not an issue with a modern body. The second switch however could be helpful. Again, I've not had any focus issues when shooting near objects, if you'd call it near. One downside to this lens is the minimum focus distance of 55.1", or about 4.6 feet. I'd say it's closer to 5 if not a bit more, but I haven't measured it. I can say I've had to step back several times to be able to achieve near focus.

AF
The operation of the HSM is near flawless, it's fast and accurate. The Canon lenses are notably faster from infinity to near focus, and back again. 50% faster? Maybe, but that's about it. While this looks really great on paper or youtube shootouts, I can't think of many times where I've gone from one distance extreme to the other, and frequently. If you tend to shoot: wife, moon, wife, moon, wife, moon and time is of the essence, then perhaps this is the wrong lens. Or, if your paycheck depends on catching unexpected and sudden shots. Once you're anywhere near a given range, the focus is plenty fast going from subject to subject or tracking. The performance of the HSM really is another highlight of this lens. I've not experience one time where it's been off or missed. No issues with front or back focus which is great, since my camera can't MFA.

Focus Testing Methodology
4 types of focusing methods have been tried and proven on this lens. The first and foremost is single center-point (one shot) focusing. Back to back, dozens of shots at a time at various lengths and apertures. This was done to see if focus is consistent and accurate every time. It is. Subjects included dogs, the S.O. (who likes getting her picture taken up to a point), flowers and plants, landscapes, dogs, brick and stucco walls and dogs. These were all shot between 6'-60' mostly, with some leaning towards infinity. Additionally, the standard battery test was implemented to see if there was any tendency for front or back focus. There is not. Ambient/low light tests were also tried to check for hunting. No issues were found here either. Pretty much if you can see it, and you can get the shot handheld, there are no issues as far as locking on. No further tests necessary here.

Second was multi-point focus (selected) for accuracy in corners. No issues. Shooting involved the same subject matter as above. Just as fast and quick to lock on as center point. The third focus tests involved AI servo and burst mode, to see if there were problems tracking - and to check for speed as well. Keeper rate is about 90%, most problems were deemed user error. It's so hard to find good help. This lens would probably be good for (close) BIF shots in skilled hands with the appropriate body. For motorsports it's a natural. Of course it will absolutely shine for indoor sports such as basketball or outdoor sports like soccer and baseball. My humble little 60D however is no match for the lens. I'm sure things would only improve with a 7D, a 5D mkiii or a D800 for that matter!

Finally we have live mode. I've tried live mode in daylight and *very* low light conditions. Contrast detection by nature is slower, so speed really isn't something any lens excels with here. The Sigma has no problems in brighter conditions, but when things get really dark , past handheld , the lens noticeably slows . It also for the most part will go past its focus point and then go back, but always on the first pass. In this regard, it behaves as every other lens I've used with my body anyway. Since live mode is so camera and system dependant, it may behave completely different on your body.

Goodies
As with most Sigma lenses, you get everything you need to start enjoying your lens immediately. It comes with a hood, and a hood extender for crop sensor cameras. I have left that in the box, the hood is big enough to deal with. As with the 17-50, the hood throws some folks. Simply line up the "in" arrow with the dot on the lens and rotate. When it stops, rotate a bit harder and it will snap into place with a nice firm click. Sigma includes a high quality zippered hard padded case for storage, with a carrying strap. Also included is their excellent tripod mounting collar. It's easy to use and take on and off literally using only one hand. The finish is a nice silky smooth dense coating on metal, with a polished anodized metal band on the ring's interior for a scratch-free mating. Lines on it correspond to lens markings for horizontal and vertical use. I can say this absolutely blows away the Canon collars. A center pinch lens cap and back cap finish off the package.

Pros:
* Fantastic build quality
* F2.8
* Great sharpness at f2.8
* Amazing sharpness throughout
* Great color and contrast
* Fast AF
* Smooth and easy operation
* Optical Stabilization
* Great balance
* Hood, case and tripod collar included
* 4 year warranty

Cons:
* Weight
* Lack of weather resistance
* Plastic build
* Minimum focus distance of 55.1"
* Reversed hood on lens makes operation impossible
* Third party (possible future compatibility issues)
* No version without OS for Pentax & Sony users
* No gray body and red ring

Yeah, that's it. I'm almost done. I'll join the chorus of "what took me so long?". This lens is remarkable, and in places the performance is off the charts. Certainly a lens of this type really is a personal decision. A 70-200 is most often a second or third lens of choice for the avid hobbyist. But when you need one, you know it. If I were shooting as a pro (which I do, but not with this type of lens) I'd lean towards the best Canon or Nikkor lenses without a doubt. You don't often get second chances if you're a photo journalist. They're rugged and dependable, and can go anywhere. The AF will work fast and flawlessly on their given platform. They will continue to function day after day after day in all conditions giving consistent results.

For a lot of us though, this may not be the #1 go-to lens in our arsenal. In fact, the cameras might not even come out until the weekend. But if you're shooting a Niece's wedding, capturing your Son's soccer game, or snapping the Grand Daughter's piano recital Saturday night - this lens is p-e-r-f-e-c-t. The money saved will buy you a lot of extra equipment. Or one trip to the orthodontist. Also, if you're shooting a crop sensor camera, check out the Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM. Its performance on cropped sensor is as good and potentially better on crop. It's a bit less expensive, and visually identical to this lens. A heck of a bargain if you intend to stay with cropped sensors.

If you're just starting to look, dpreview.com and lenstip.com are good beginning points. Both of these sites have photos and charts to compare. Dpreview has a particularly informative interactive chart where you can choose the lenses and camera bodies. You can pit the Sigma against first and second generation Canon and Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lenses. This chart will show how close and at times even better the Sigma can be, and also how much of an improvement it is over the first generation f2.8's from Canon and Nikon.

Again, there's always the caveat of a third party lens and forward compatibility. That said, and without the slightest hesitation, I give this lens 5 stars. If all things were equal (and they're not), the Canon would get 5 stars and this one 4.5. The performance and value of this lens is simply off the charts for a "mid level" enthusiast lens. I look forward to see what's in store from Sigma in the future. They've hit it out of the park with this lens in so many ways. Thank you Sigma! And thanks for sticking with me. There's a lot of good lenses out there, you can't really go wrong with most. But you can certainly save some money if you want to, and still get an amazing piece of equipment that will keep you happy for many years. I hope my thoughts on it will help you make an informed, confident decision!

*** Update 9/20/13 ***
Back in August - exactly one year after this review I purchased a Canon 6D. I've had over a month to evaluate it - and again another trip to Hawaii.

The Performance of this lens is simply astounding on the full frame. It didn't need the handicap of shooting on APS-C! In fact, it is much, much better as far as sharpness edge-to-edge than my EF 24-105 f4L IS. The 2 new L lenses I purchased needed MFA on the 6D on both ends, and are also just a bit soft on my 60D. In fairness, this is 100% pixel peeping. I mean they're sharp, but not compared to the Sigma. And, the Sigma needed no MFA at all. Wide open it's fantastic. I guess the one thing I have to get used to is the razor thin depth of field at f2.8. I have to stop up just so I have more than a half an inch of focal plane! I'm delighted I got this lens in anticipation of going FF. It's a gem.
Five Fantastic Full Frame Stars!
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1717 comments|201 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 17, 2010
Actual score: 4.5 stars

12/15/2011 - Update. I've had this lens a whole year now and still love it - more every day. It is solid, fast and accurate. I'm kind of sorry I seem to have started quite a stir in my description of the Stabilization sound. It really is not bad at all. It was more of a first impression. No regrets on this lens.

I also have a TOKINA 11-16 f2.8, and a Canon 17-55 f2.8 These three lenses are all I need for quality shooting from ultrawide to telephoto. -TXJAVA

2/1/11 - update. Official price drop. New price now $1399 - that's more like it... If you have been on the fence with this lens, time to give it another look. I still love this lens. -TXJAVA

12/15/11 My apologies in advance for a long review. There are not a whole lot of reviews out there for this lens so I'm hoping I can help some others make a good decision. Summary: It is a great Lens, but perhaps not for everyone.

I have been watching this one since it was announced. I tried it out at the local Camera shop and fell in love with it. I decided at that moment, I was going to own this lens.
The initial drawback was always price. At $1699 (sixteen-ninety-nine) it seems a bit high. Yes, this is a quality lens with a 2.8 constant aperture throughout the zoom range and a very good OS optical stabilization (IS in Canon's terminology) but at that price it is only a few hundred less than the highly rated excellent Canon 70-200 2.8 IS ii. So I've been waiting patiently for the price to move.

Well one day, quite unexpectedly, the price at the "B" Camera vendor was $350 (three-fifty) less. Suddenly, at $1349 (thirteen-forty-nine) it was near my strike price (I think the lens should sell for $1200 or so). So I watched to see if the "A" internet vendors would match. They did not. I knew this was less that wholesale for the lens, so I ordered one from the "B" vendor. (The next day the two "A" vendors matched the price - Sorry Amazon, you were not fast enough). The lens arrived a couple days later, VERY well packed. With Amazon, packing can be a bit hit or miss. By the time the lens arrived, all the vendors were priced at the original $1699 (sixteen-ninety-nine). Hmmm, maybe it had been a price mistake.

So enough of that - What do I think of the lens? I still love it; however, there was something that I had not noticed in the store. When the OS system started up (1/2 press of the shutter key), it made a fairly loud click and then the Gyros sounded like very distant fire truck sirens. I literally though that there was a fire truck outside. But it turned out to be coming from the lens. Mind you, it was not loud, but it was disconcerting. I own the excellent Canon EF-S 17-55 2.8 IS and the IS system on that is near silent. I've been spoiled by that lens. I went down to the camera shop to see if their copy had the same sound. It did have some OS sound, but I had not noticed before above the ambient sound in the store. The store model did not sound like my copy. So I called the "B" Vendor and they quickly sent me a new lens.

The new lens arrived today and it too had the OS sound but not as noticeable as the first copy of the lens (I was able to compare side by side). Is the sound bad? No not really, but it is different than the low level "whurl" of the Canon IS system.

That said, the OS system does work very well. It is especially nice at the tele- end of the zoom. You can really see that camera shake through the viewfinder, and then you press the shutter release ½ way and suddenly it locks into place. Very nice, very cool. I have been able to take nice sharp pictures as low as ¼ second - and that is at the long end of the zoom. Impressive!

The rest of the build quality is very good. Both the focus and the zoom rings operate very smoothly and with just the right amount of resistance.

The lens is heavy (over 3 pounds). The rebel series cameras will benefit from the extra holding power that the extra battery grip offers. It comes with a tripod collar so you can use it on a monopod. A lens hood included (wish Canon would include hoods with all their lenses) there is even an extender for APS-c crop sensor cameras. However, I don't intend to use it.

The pictures I have taken have all been great. It is a bit soft at 2.8 (as many lenses are), but still within my tolerances. The 2.8 aperture really helps for indoor shots. It is great because you can sit across the room and shoot away without bothering those in the room. F4.0 lenses just do not give you enough light for indoor shooting, especially sports. Seems like it would be a great lens for weddings and other indoor events. As for picture quality, I've seen some web reviews that compare this with the Canon and the Sigma comes out pretty good. I do not see any CA at all on my copy. Focus is fast and accurate with no front or back focusing - it is spot on. It is not as fast or quiet as the canon, but still focus motor is still very good. You also have full time manual focus override. So for those of us who are mere enthusiasts or hobbyists this is a great lens to have for the all-important 70-200 tele- range. Pros might want to stick to the Canon version.

All and all, this lens is a keeper. It takes great pics, the OS is very effective (although a bit loud) and the nice 2.8 aperture really shines. Lastly, one of the real reasons I got this is because it is black. You are already conspicuous when you have 8" of lens hanging off the end of your camera at your son's basketball game, or your daughter's rehearsal. You really start to look ridiculous when you have 8"s of a white and black striped Canon lens. (I know I have lost some of my credibility with that last statement, but I just prefer black lenses...)

So the choice is yours. If you are looking for a lens in the 70-200 or 75-300 range, save your money up for a fast 2.8 version with stabilization, you will not be sorry. Those less expensive f3.2-5.6 or lower lenses are just not as practical as a good 2.8 lens. If you can afford the Canon and don't mind the black and white stripes, by all means get it, otherwise, get this one, you will be very pleased that you did.

One of these days, i'll upload some pics.
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on March 30, 2012
I came from owning the Tamron 70-200 f2.8 and looking for something better since I do weddings and other events. The Tamron was unusable at f2.8 plus extreme corner unsharpness and lots of chromatic aberration. I was a little bit anxious if the Sigma OS might not be much better. Wrong! This lens is incredibly sharp. Even at f2.8. Even at 200mm. Impressive!

- How sharp is it? -
At f2.8 it is already very sharp, at any focal length. Viewing the resulting photos in the usual web resolution (up to 900px) you can not see any unsharpness at all. On a 100% view it's getting a little bit softer, but the sharpness is still on par with any (medium-tele to tele, can't compare wide-angles) Nikon glass I have ever shot with wide-open (and that includes e.g. the 50mm f1.4G and 105mm f2.0). Maybe I have the best copy ever produced by Sigma - but what I'm saying is that none of the six prime lenses I ever owned was sharper wide-open.
If you stop it down a little bit to f4.0 it gets incredible sharp to a point that results are just limited by my camera sensor's resolution (using it on D300 and now on D700).

Corner sharpness: Towards the corners it's getting a little bit softer (affecting roughly the outer 25-30% of the image) but compared to my Sigma & Tamron 17-50mm (which is not a fair comparison though) it is quite acceptable. The corner unsharpness gets more significant the more you zoom in. And on a full frame sensor you will have more corner unsharpness than on a cropped sensor. For most uses of this lens the corner sharpness it not extremely significant. I didn't even notice the unsharpness until using this lens (on D700) for some group pictures at a wedding lately. I guess a prime (if handy) would be my better choice next time but the photos still came out great and the slight unsharpness on the few group pics where people where in the outer lens area are only visible on 1:1 or maybe 1:2 view.

- What about the focus? -
Quiet. Reasonably fast. Accurate and locks without hunting.
Having owned more than a dozen AF lenses in my life, I could not name you one that had a significantly better focus than the Sigma.

- Is the optical stabilizer (OS) worth the higher price tag? -
A b s o l u t e l y . And when you had the Sigma 70-200 without OS in mind: Sigma redesigned and improved the whole thing. (Google for "dpreview sigma 70-200 OS") It's not just about the OS.
But even if, the OS alone is worth every cent. When you press the shutter halfway the picture starts to "glue". I can take pictures with this lens at 200mm down to 1/50 second without blur, could even do some with 1/30 at 200mm (still need a calm hand for that though). For pictures at around 1/200 it significantly helps too to get a much higher keeper rate.

- What are the OS settings? -
You can switch to:
OFF - you should do that for tripod use, otherwise the OS will produce blur
1 - for panning pictures like moving car and cam is following the car
2 - for all other OS use (much more efficient than 1)

- Using it for portraits rather than a prime now -
I also have the Sigma 85mm f1.4 which makes fantastic pictures but I started to leaving it home and using the 70-200 now for outdoor portrait work like engagement photos. The classic arguments for primes are that they are sharper and faster (wider aperture). I don't see the 85mm at f2.5 being visibly sharper than the 70-200 at f4 (about the very corner sharpness I don't care too much for portrait work either). And for the bokeh, I get more of that at f4 @ 150mm than at f2.5 @ 85mm (I wouldn't use any long lens totally wide open in bright, sunny environment). And about the my-feet-are-my-zoom strategy I just gotta say: the more you zoom in, the more the background gets compressed and the closer it gets. So with a long tele-zoom lens you can adjust your focal length to include more or less of the background and getting background objects closer to your subject (e.g. people standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge). And that's an important thing to do for your picture composition. You cannot do that with your feet and a prime.
So I would say this lens is not only a great choice for doing event and wedding photography, but also for portrait work. It is not cheap but it might be the last lens you ever needed (if you are all-set on wide-angles that is).

- Conclusion -
I might end up some day with the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 and keeping the Sigma as a backup (I don't think I will ever sell this beauty!), but no hurry for that: The Sigma is such an amazing lens that I don't feel the urge to step up at the moment. I can just highly recommend it to anyone. It is truly the best lens I ever owned.

UPDATE 6/25/2012:
Still the best lens I ever owned. Done more than a dozen paid shoots with it including a couple of weddings. The keeper rate of this lens is amazing. I'd say less than 5% of shots taken with it needed to be deleted because of unsharpness etc (the OS is doing such an incredible job). And that includes low light wedding receptions. The lens is exclusively on my D700 and this combination rocks. Wide enough on the 70mm end e.g. for a bride walking down the aisle. If the locations supports it I'm doing all wedding formals (group/family shots) with it too, because the corner unsharpness is very low and better than most other lenses that I carry around with me. For some casual engagement/portrait sessions I took out the Sigma 85 f1.4 instead and loved the creaminess of the bokeh which beats the Sigma 70-200 on an artistic level, while I would still kind of prefer the 70-200 for its zoom-capability (and it also has a nice bokeh, but in a bokeh-contest the 70-200 will lose after a hard decision). I'm protecting it with an Hoya HMC 77mm UV filter, btw - and you should do the same. Don't go with a cheaper filter as it will produce likely ghost reflections, the Hoya never did that to me and the ~$40 investment is a wise choice to protect your multi-coated front element. Anyhow, I hope that your copy of this lens will be as great as mine, maybe I was just lucky. I bought it used on Amazon.

UPDATE 12/18/2013:
Slightly unrelated, but maybe still interesting for potential buyers: After switching my entire gear from Nikon to Canon, I bought the exact same lens for the Canon mount. Same great results. Love this lens. I would say it is 90% of the quality the Canon 70-200 IS II. Several 2nd shooters working for me at weddings brought their $2k Canon lens and the results weren't better than mine with this Sigma. Conclusion: I will stay with the Sigma 70-200 for a longer time and rather update other lenses first (if I ever need to buy the more expensive 70-200).
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22 comments|36 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on March 17, 2011
This is a great lens. I've had this lens for a few weeks now and I've mostly been shooting sports. The lens is perfect for indoor sports where the gym/court/field is typically poorly lit. The lens is fast enough to freeze the players mid play and the autofocus can keep up with the action. The range is plenty to shoot players from across the gym/court/field. Can't wait to take it outside for soccer season.

I also played with the Canon 70-200 which is also very nice. Its more a case of which type of caviar you prefer. However, the savings with the Sigma will allow me to pay my mortgage and still have left over for a nice prime lens to add to my growing collection of lenses.
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on April 22, 2011
I caught the photography bug (again). I have a Canon 60D body and slowly regaining my collection of lenses. I have a Sigma 50mm which I got due to the great reviews. Initially I was skeptical on the Sigma brand but now I feel more confident with Sigma so I ordered the Sigma 70-200 I also have a Canon 100mm macro and a tokina 11-24. I've been hunting around recently on craigslist waiting for the opportunity to get my hands on one of these lenses but everyone is saturating the market with the non OS version of this lens. I had to pick up this lens, I've had it in my amazon shopping cart for a couple weeks already just waiting for amazon to carry the lens so I can take advantage of the awesome 3.99 1 day shipping (I LOVE AMAZON PRIME.)

Here are my thoughts on this lens after extensive shooting throughout the day.

Bokeh : 5 Stars

This lens has incredible bokeh, at 9 aperture blades, it really blows the background quite nicely with beautiful bokeh balls. I love how it really brings out my subject.

Construction Quality: 4 Stars

The construction quality on this lens is good but not excellent. The overall feel is solid, the barrel of the lens is made of hard plastic. The focus and zoom rings have the same textured feel of the O.G sigma brand. It looks a bit awkward but unique at the same time. Even though the construction of the lens is made of plastic, it feels durable and not something you have to baby.

Optical Stabilization: 3 Stars

This is too bad. For the extra amount you are paying for this lens vs the non OS version, I really don't think the extra 400 dllrs is really worth it. I tried both modes and none of them really make you say OH WOW! I've had some image stabilized lenses made by Canon and I did not get that excitement as I had with those lenses. Let's just say for comparisons sake, the "Optical Stabilization" is half of that in a IS in a L lens, still useful to a certain degree though.

Auto Focus: 5 Stars

The first thing I did with the lens is test the auto focus, I wanted to make sure that it is in sync with the auto focusing points of my Canon body. It kept up quite nicely and it didn't search for my focus points even during low light conditions within reason. I really enjoy the focusing mechanism on this lens albeit a bit on the loud side.

Image Quality: 5 Stars

For the cost of the lens, the elements within it provide a great end result on your images. Sure, there's some miniscule CA in some focal ranges but you really need to blow the image up to see such artifacting. The images that I have taken thus far are great and I have no complaints in this category. Sharp images, great contrast along with the bokeh at 2.8 and it will make you smile.

This is my short review of the lens, take it for what its worth and I hope to see this lens in the hands of those who are skeptical on the Sigma brand. Be a pioneer, this lens will be a great additional to the serious amateur, not for the professional though - stay with your white lenses and red rings.
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on May 8, 2012
I was very hesitant about buying this lens. I sold my Canon EF 70-200mm Mark I and was saving for the Mark II. After reading that this lens had been selected the best lens of the year by a European group, I decided to do some more research. Botton line; I bought this lens and I'm very impressed. It is very, very sharp. Contrast is excellent and it is comfortable to hand hold. Sigma did their homework before releasing this lens and it shows. All my lens are Canon L's with the exception of this one,I'm keeping this Sigma. I use a 1Ds Mark II and this lens works very well with it. The secret to taking really great photo's is to first, know your camera. Know how to focus on the subject and don't depend on auto-focus. Know aperature, ISO, shutter speed, and white balance and how they interact with each other. I don't earn my living with photography, but do weddings, events, etc. from time to time because my clients know I do good work. I haven't conducted any tests with this lens, I really don't think that's necessary. This lens is quality made and it takes excellent photo's; that's all I need to know. This lens has inticed me to look at the new Sigma 24-70mm. Sorry, I don't have any negatives to write about this lens.
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on April 5, 2012
I ordered this lens as a cheaper alternative to the Nikon 70-200 VRII.

Pros:
- Very well built!
- Detachable tripod mount.
- OS is very close to VRII in terms of functionality.
- HSM II AF Motor is surprisingly quick!
- Bokeh is decent (high-contrast backgrounds make the bokeh look nervous though).
- Moderately sharp wide open; Amazing at f/4 and smaller.
- Almost no CA's (if you are familiar with older versions of this lens or other non-FLD Sigma lenses, you know what I'm talking about!).
- Focus Breathing isn't nearly as bad as the Nikon VRII.

Cons
- No weather sealing (Why not, Sigma?).
- Zoom is "backwards" (Canon style) compared to Nikon lenses.
- Zoom is on the far end which makes the lens useless if the hood is on backwards (I usually do that for storage).
- Could be sharper wide open.

Unfortunately, do to the performance at 2.8, I would have to recommend the Nikon VRII over the sigma. Personally, my copy of this lens had a horrible back-focusing issue. Sigma's support did offer to calibrate the lens to my camera (24hr turnaround) claiming that the lens was fine and the camera was off (I guess my other 5 AF lenses - 2 which are Sigmas - just happened to balance out the camera's issues ;) ). Given the severity of the AF issue though, I opted for the refund instead (and bought the Nikon VRII).

If you're looking to save money and the wide-open performance is something you can work with, give the Sigma a try! Otherwise, the Nikon version is sharper (@ f/2.8), faster, and has a better bokeh. And, in my case, doesn't have focusing issues!

[Tested on APS-C]
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on March 30, 2012
My primary camera is the Nikon D7000. I needed to replace my Tamron SP 70-210 LD f 2.8 because it was getting long in the tooth - I had purchased it when it was already used several years ago and I have relied on it heavily since then. I can be just a little shaky so I wanted the benefit of Image Stabilization. This made my choices the two VR versions of the Nikon offering and this lens from Sigma.

In spite of their sketchy reputation with some camera shops, I've always had good-to-excellent results from my other Sigma lenses (105mm f2.8 Macro, 24-70 f2.8 [non-HSM],) so the brand was not a hindrance to me.

In the reviews written by a few of the major photo gurus online, the biggest concern seemed to revolve around the magnification when compared to the Nikon, the potential to remove the tripod collar by accident while zooming, and lack of a rubber weather seal at the lens mount. I don't tend to use this focal length at its closest focus range so the magnification did not bother me. I don't see myself accidentally removing the collar in spite of the big clown-like knob on the side, so that's not a problem for me either. The lack of a weather seal IS mildly problematic for me - I don't generally pull out my equipment during a heavy rain, but it would be a nice 'just-in-case' feature; and I do wish that Sigma had added that to this lens.

The things I additionally find to be either problematic, or at least 'quirky,' include the placement of the zoom ring outboard of the focus ring and Sigma's inclusion of the APS lens hood extension. The placement of the zoom ring takes conscious effort on my part to work - I'm sure it will come with time, but for now I keep zooming when I intend to override the focus, and I disturb the focus when I intend to zoom. (Grrr!) The APS lens hood extension will probably enjoy a long life inside the box that the lens came in - I just find it somewhat annoying, as I am usually in too much of a hurry to spare the extra 5 seconds to affix this accessory (and I don't really have enough room in my camera bag to store it anywhere that it can be easily accessed.) I'm sure it will be very useful for some people, but for me it's just extra stuff to leave in the box.

On the plus side, the construction appears rugged (although I'm a little concerned about any jarring blows to the lens considering the delicate OS mechanism inside) and the lens sharpness is very good. Although the online review sites state that technically the Nikon is probably a 'sharper' choice, I try to remain conscious of the fact that some of history's most amazing photos were taken on some very crude equipment - how do you think Ansel Adams' equipment would have fared in a modern lens-sharpness test? Did he have the latest in multi-coating? How about image stabilization? I don't think so. It's more about being there, wherever 'there' happens to be, and mastering your craft. At least that's my humble opinion.

I spent considerably less on my Sigma than I would have for the VRII (...and I just didn't want to buy another used lens, so that eliminated the choice of the VRI) and I am well satisfied. I'd definitely recommend that you take a hard look at whether you NEED the Nikon version, or if you just WANT it. I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with a photographer wanting to keep all of his or her equipment as the Nikon brand, but if money is any sort of consideration at all for you, weigh your options and give this Sigma a long look. I'm glad I did.
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on August 4, 2011
----------------------------
Updated for 2014
----------------------------

I've had this lens now for two years, so I figured it was time to update the review. It should say something that whenever I plan a shot, the first question I ask myself is whether I can get it with this lens or not. The only complaint I can manage to drum up is that I can't zoom out to 16mm for ultra-wide-angle shots :)

I've taken shots with this lens ranging from outdoor pics of my Aussies catching frisbees to planned events (indoor, late evening, low light) to portraits (with and without flash) to macro (centerpieces, nature stuff, etc.). I just can't seem to find anything wrong. My copy is sharp Sharp SHARP with great color and low CA from wide-open onwards. If you want pro results and don't have an extra $1,000 burning a whole in your pocket, I still say this is the lens to get. Proof? My wife got me a digital picture frame for Christmas this year, which I have on my desk at work running a slideshow of my original work. I've now had more than one person see the Christmas portraits I did of my kids and ask "Hey, where did you have that taken?" They are shocked when they find out I did it myself right at home. (see it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/permalink/mo16HCISET18YQL/B003HC8V9A/ref=cm_ciu_images_pl_link)

Interested in depth of field and macro performance?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/permalink/mo27Y6T2XKXLL4L/B003HC8V9A/ref=cm_ciu_images_pl_link
http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/permalink/moFIRT3M288QQK/B003HC8V9A/ref=cm_ciu_images_pl_link

You'll read a lot of reviews (including my own) with folks talking about sharpness when stopped down, but who cares about that, right? We're not spending well over $1,000 for a 70-200mm shoot pics at f4 or f5.6. There are cheaper, better, and/or more versatile options out there. We are paying for f2.8, and should have high expectations about performance. I will tell you that this lens DELIVERS!

If you want, do what I did. This is a lot of money. Go read review after review where they take pictures of pieces of paper with tiny lines printed on them, lots of black-against-white high-contrast areas, and 100% corner crops of some highly-detailed objects. Then agonize just like I did about how the white lens scored a few percentage points better here, or looked a little sharper in some area and at some resolution that no one will ever bother to look at again, and try to talk yourself into spending an extra grand. OR... look at the images that folks here have posted and read their real world experiences, pick up this lens, and go out into the world and enjoy creating art. I promise that you aren't going to post your masterpiece somewhere and have someone come back and say, "This would have been a lot better if you wouldn't have shot it with a Sigma lens."

It takes not just good, but fantastic photos under all conditions and at all settings I have tried it at. Just don't shoot this in bad weather, because it is NOT weather/dust sealed.

----------------------------
Original Review
----------------------------

I am serious hobbyist trying to get started in professional photography, and anyone who has been there knows that to get started you need a lot of (expensive) gear. Your kit lens or cheap tele just isn't going to cut it. 70-200mm is an important focal range, so I knew I wanted a lens that was fast enough for indoor use with excellent image quality capable of producing professional results. I spent a month agonizing over whether to purchase the Canon 70-200L (without IS), the Sigma 70-200 w/ OS, or save up a while longer to purchase the Canon 70-200L IS II. After reading review after review and also getting realistic with myself about how much startup capital I had at my disposal, I decided to take a chance and purchase the Sigma.

I've had the lens for a couple of months and have managed to take a few hundred pictures with it, and all I can say is WOW...

Image Quality
-------------------------
This lens is sharp and crisp throughout the zoom range even when shot wide open, and stopped down it only gets better. I am shooting this on a 60D (crop sensor) so I would bet that on a full-frame DSLR it would be even sharper. If you want an example, see the dragonfly pic I uploaded (http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/permalink/mo2Z81J3SV5JMB8/B003HC8V9A/ref=cm_ciu_images_pl_link
). That is a 100% crop shot from about 20 feet away at 1/100s ISO 100 F8, zero sharpening or processing aside from cropping the image. I'll also upload the full image so you can see what a tiny spec that dragonfly really is. I have never shot "L" series glass, but I simply can't see it being worth $1,000 more. The fact is, no one is ever going to look at your pictures at 100% unless you are A) printing posters, or B) they are pixel-peeping to try and find flaws. This lens is far sharper than you need for all practical purposes, and anyone who tells you it won't get the job done has spent too much time in the sun without a hat on.

Contrast and color are great, and so far flaring has been a non issue (I did invest in a nice multi-coated UV filter so maybe that helps). I have noticed a little bit of CA under certain circumstances, but nothing that I cannot live with (or correct in post processing if I really really have to). This again comes down to pixel-peeping.

Build Quality
-------------------------
I give Sigma an A+ on build quality. This lens is not a toy. From what I can tell, just about everything on it is metal. The zoom ring is nice and wide and well damped but not difficult to zoom, and the focus ring is a joy to use. It has full-time manual focus override so you can touch up your focus at any time, and the ring doesn't have a hard stop when you reach the end of your focus range (it continues to turn but with greater resistance). Overall it feels solid as a rock and fit and finish is excellent. It also comes in a very nice padded lens case to protect everything. The only minor complaint I have is with the lens hood. Size-wise it is generous enough (you'll really get attention with it on) and they even include an extender for APS-C sized cameras (which I find to be more hassle than it is worth), but the plastic feels a bit thin and I suspect it would be easily broken. The genuine canon lens hoods I have purchased for other lenses seemed heavier duty and have flocking inside to prevent reflection (the Sigma lens hood is ribbed). In the grand scheme of things that is totally minor though.

Optical Stabilization
-------------------------
Simply awesome... I dread ever buying a lens without it. Sigma really did a great job here. While I have not done scientific testing with it on vs. off, I can tell that it makes a huge difference. Zoom out to 200mm where any camera shake is exaggerated, press the shutter button down half way, and watch it stop. It is very cool, and even down below 1/10s I am getting reasonable keeper rates at the long end of the zoom. You do have to make sure you are on target before pressing the shutter button though... Trying to make fine adjustments with the image stabilization working is difficult because it fights against you. I haven't tried panning mode (mode 2) so I really can't comment on that, but the rest of the implementation is great.

Conclusion
-------------------------
After all is said and done I feel like I got a great value. This is a world-class lens and something that will take pictures you can be proud of. I'm glad I didn't get caught up in the white lens snobbery and took a chance, because I can now take that extra $1,000 and put it towards a nice mid-range zoom to complete my kit.

EDIT 08-22-2011

One important thing I forgot to mention (mostly due to the fact that it isn't so important to me) is the fact that this lens is NOT weather sealed like the Canon is. I really didn't care because my camera body is not sealed either, but if you have a weather-sealed body and plan on shooting in adverse conditions, then this is not your lens. I wish Sigma would have spent the extra few bucks (even if it increased the cost of the lens a little bit) to add some gaskets and seal the lens up. When I do upgrade to a weather-sealed body I will most likely be buying the Canon lens. I'm not really too concerned about it since for professional use you should have a backup for just about everything, so I figure the Sigma will just become my backup in that case.
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44 comments|24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 22, 2011
This lens is unbelievable. The focus, sharpness, image quality, handling, ease of use are all there in spades. I purchased it about 6 months ago and I never looked back. The color rendition is near perfect and the ability to go to f2.8 with stabilization really opens up some photographic opportunities that weren't previously there. I've shot 200mm at 1/13 of a sec and had a sharp image in twilight. On the other hand I've shot some wildlife at 1/8000 sec with the OS off and had some great images as well. The focus on this lens is nearly instant and silky smooth. The entire lens feels great in my hands, very bulky as with any 70-200 but well balanced and well built. The feel of simply turning the focus ring reminds you that this is a quality product and the images do not disappoint.

If I could add one thing to this lens it would be better weather sealing, apparently Sigma didn't add much and I need to keep an eye on it in wet conditions. I have used it unprotected in drizzle and it was just fine despite accumulating a bit of water on the outer surface. Not that I would do this again unless absolutely necessary, or recommend anyone else do this. Nevertheless the build quality continues to impress me. I fell on this lens in snow while climbing a hill, the lens laughed at the hill and was unscathed. I've tossed this lens into a backpack full of random stuff and gone backpacking/camping with it. Again, the lens owned. Basically it's a great purchase. If you don't need the stabilization the non stabilized Sigma is great too... for me I never know if I 'need' OS. But on a 70-200 especially with a cropped sensor (60D) I want it - it just opens up so many more photographic opportunities, night handheld shots are even an option although the hit percentage will be fairly low. The only other thing I would add is a locking function for the two buttons, the AF/MF and OS 1/2/OFF. I've inadvertently switched these while walking using a black rapid strap. I suppose masking tape would do the trick but it seems silly to put tape on a $1400 lens. I think the canon has the same issue though. I also turn the camera such that the lens faces forward while walking and the buttons are opposite to my leg... it works but again, just a fix. Overall a very great product.

As far as canon vs sigma well... I really don't care what brand lens I use... I'd put fisher price glass on my camera if I thought it would be of high enough quality. Whichever offers great quality for a reasonable price is who I go with and for this photographer, for this lens it's sigma. And I am thoroughly impressed.
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