Rightly or wrongly, Sigma and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses have long been seen as the poor-man’s alternative own-brand editions from Canon and Nikon.
That all changed a couple of years ago, with the advent of the Tamron G2 (Generation 2) edition, which goes toe to toe with the Camera manufacturers’ pro-grade zooms, while still massively undercutting them for cost.
The long-awaited Sport edition of Sigma’s lens has now joined the fray, finally replacing the 2010 model, and delivering a wealth of upgrades and improvements into the bargain.
A criticism of the old Sigma lens, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, was that it lacked weather-seals.
The Sport edition, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports, is massively better engineered to suit the rigors of a tough professional lifestyle.
It has a magnesium alloy barrel and a coated brass mounting plate, along with comprehensive weather-seals and water- oil-repellent coatings on the front and rear elements. The look and feel of the lens is also consummately professional, with smooth and precise control rings for zoom and focusing, and three Focus Hold buttons positioned between them, spaced around the circumference of the barrel.
Towards the rear, there’s a smorgasbord of switches, enabling the selection of two autofocus modes with priority given to either automatic or manual-override focusing, as well as fully manual focusing. Next up, there’s an autofocus range limiter switch that, by default, cuts out the short range from 1.2m to 3m.
Next is a dual-mode optical stabilization switch, for static or panning operation, the latter working in landscape, portrait and even diagonal shooting orientations. The Sigma lacks the exposure-only stabilization mode of the Nikon and Tamron lenses, which doesn’t interfere with the viewfinder image and makes it easier to track erratically moving objects.
However, there’s help at hand from the final switch on the barrel, which enables the selection of two separate banks of custom settings.
As with other Sigma ‘Global Vision’ lenses, this one is compatible with Sigma’s optional USB Dock, for applying firmware updates and customization. In this case, customisable options include the ability to fine-tune autofocus accuracy through a range of four different zoom settings, each through a progression of four distances from the closest focus position to infinity.
Next, you can select the sensitivity for engaging full-time manual override when the focus ring is twisted. Autofocus speed itself can be switched to fast, standard or ‘smooth’ speeds, and you can change the distance at which the autofocus limiter operates.
And getting back to stabilization, you can change the standard setting for either Dynamic View mode, which makes the effect of stabilization more clearly visible in the viewfinder, or Moderate View mode, which lessens it. We’d also expected to be able to customize the Focus Hold buttons, for example so that they initiated autofocus instead, but the button setting was greyed out in the Optimization Pro software.
Just behind the bank of switches, there’s a tripod mounting collar. This operates smoothly with click-stops at 90-degree intervals, and an Arca-Swiss compatible foot is secured to it with four allen screws. An allen key for removing the foot is supplied with the lens, along with two spare allen screws.
However, the mounting ring itself is not removeable and its stub protrudes by about 12mm (half an inch) from the circumference of the barrel, even when the foot is removed. The lens itself is one of the biggest and heaviest in its class, being 94.2mm in diameter with an oversized 82mm filter thread, rather than the more usual 77mm. Weighing in at 1,805g, it’s around 300g heavier than most current competitors.
Autofocus is as fast, accurate and quiet as you’d hope for in the latest, top-notch 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. The optical stabilizer gave an effectiveness of up to four stops in our tests, matching the performance of the latest equivalent Nikon lens, beating the newest Mk III Canon, but falling slightly behind the Tamron G2 for static subjects. However, the effectiveness of panning stabilization was a little better than in the Tamron lens.
Image quality is simply fabulous, thanks partly to the inclusion of no less than nine top-grade FLD (Fluorite Low Dispersion) elements and an SLD (Special Low Dispersion) element in the optical path. Sharpness and contrast are excellent, even when shooting wide-open, throughout the entire zoom range. Meanwhile, chromatic aberrations and distortions are negligible, and there’s very good resistance to ghosting and flare.
Defocused areas within images look beautifully smooth and creamy. And the quality of bokeh holds up well when stopping down a little, helped by an extremely well-rounded aperture based on 11 diaphragm blades.
The diaphragm is electromagnetically controlled in the Nikon- as well as Canon-fit edition of the lens, helping to enable consistently accurate exposures even in rapid continuous drive modes. The Canon-fit version also benefits from compatibility with a full set of in-camera corrections for lens aberrations like lateral chromatic aberrations, distortion and peripheral illumination, not that you’re likely to need them.
Sharpness is measured at the centre and corners of the frame and throughout the aperture range. Centre sharpness at 70mm is excellent, and respectable at all other focal lengths. Corner sharpness is again high at 70mm, but at 100mm and beyond, corner sharpness takes a significant downturn at larger apertures, and you'll need to stop down to f/11 for best results.
Colour fringing is measured at seven aperture settings and recorded at the corners of frame, where it is most visible.
At all focal lengths the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports produces a moderate amount of chromatic aberration, typical of a high quality zoom lens with this focal range.
These figures are recorded with all in-camera aberration correction disabled. In real world shooting, this lens is unlikely to generate noticeable levels of fringing.
Distortion is displayed on a scale of negative values (barrel distortion) through zero (zero distortion) and positive values (pincushion distortion). Barrel distortion at 70mm is barely noticeable, transitioning quickly into negligible pincushion distortion from 100mm upwards. These results are recorded with in-camera and raw-processing distortion correction disabled.
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Image stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.2m
Max magnification factor: 0.21x
Manual focus override: Full-time
Focus limit switches: Yes
Internal zoom: Yes
Internal focus Yes
Filter size: 82mm
Iris blades: 11
Weather seals: Yes
Supplied accessories: Hood, tripod foot, soft case
Build & handling: 5/5
Image quality: 5/5
Sigma’s new 70-200mm Sport is a top-performance lens with sumptuous build quality and a mighty range of up-market, customisable features. It’s a little bigger and heavier than most competing lenses but handling is excellent nonetheless, and it’s remarkably good value at the price.
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