Sigma screwed me up

Back to Bundesliga. This blog is about my frustration with my latest football coverage.

For those who follow my blog for photography reasons: maybe you remember that I bought a new tele lens earlier this year, the Sigma 120-300 F 2.8 S. It had been introduced in a video by Stephan Wiesner and we were quite enthusiastic about the first results.

After a few months it is time for a report on its long-run performance. I’ll be short: the lens has a massive problem: the autofocus! Depending on what you want to do, the performance ranges between “good” and “absolutely not reliable”.

  • The lens performed really well on the first day when the video was made: why? Because I only did two sorts of shots that work with this lens. First, shots when things are not hectic. Second action shots where the distance is predictable. A good example for the latter are the volleyball scenes from the head-on position that appear in Stephan’s video. Below are examples of such shots.
  • However, the lens is absolutely not reliable, if the subject is running towards you, or the exact spot of the action is not predictable. The first is typical for head-on positions in athletics (a 100m sprinter is too fast for the lens) and the latter for football matches (where one intelligent pass requires immediate re-focusing to some completely new spot).  I cannot include these pictures, because I delete them immediately: believe me, I deleted many! Also: be grateful to my parents who educated me well. I won’t use strong words here. I was tempted to use them, though, when I missed important shots.
  • As an aside, the lens also has strong vignetting. This is not bad per se. Some of the pictures have a “cool” look. However, Lightroom is not able to correct this if you want to.  So this is worth mentioning.

Just Another Lens

Did you buy another lens? Why do you need another one?”

I recently bought the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 lens. Admittedly, this was a very though decision, as I have a lot of gear.  Why did I do this?

  • At many events my 400 was too long and the 70-200 was too short. Examples? Football when the play comes closer, athletics when athletes react after the finish line.
  • Moreover, I love the flexibility of a zoom to shoot the same scene close and wide at the same time. So a 300mm prime lens was no option (and far too expensive).
  • Finally, I needed a fast lens. F2.8 was a must.

There’s only one lens on the market that can do all this: the Sigma 120-300 F2.8

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018
Der Swiss MVP des Jahres Jovan Djokic im Schweizer Cup Final zwischen Biogas Volley Naefels und Volley Amriswil; VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

Critics on the lens were excellent. So I took the risk and bought it instead of renting it first.

I added a Sigma USB dock, because I understood that Sigma lenses almost always have either front or back focus problems. I downloaded the adjustment software and spent one very dull evening with the calibration of a heavy back focus problem (thanks Tobias Wagen for cheering me up via the facebook chat).

Moreover, the lens weighs more than 3kg. From my experience with my 400mm prime lens, I knew I could hold it for a while and use a monopod between the shots. I certainly would think twice if I had to carry it with me as a nature photographer (which I am not).

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018
Here’s a digital zoom into a picture. The lens is sharp until you approach the limits of my Canon 1DX mark ii. VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

The next event on my schedule was the Swiss Volleyball Cup Final. So I took the lens with me to this event. My friend Stephan Wiesner came with me and prepared a video.

So what is my verdict?

It is a great lens. Some “testers” have complained about this or that… I don’t care!

  • The pictures are sharp. Period.
  • The autofocus is working. Period.

The only serious complaint is about the initial back focus problem. Sigma stole me 4 hours to fix it. But here’s the second thought. I saved about 3’000 stones compared to a 300mm prime lens. In this sense, buying the Sigma 120-300mm lens instead of the 300mm prime is like receiving a daily wage of 2 x 3’000= 6’000.

This makes me feel good! I should go and buy another lens!

*** UPDATE: One month later I had many more opportunities to work with the lens. I stick to my verdict, but with a slight qualification. When the action comes close and I am shooting at 120mm at a distance of, say, 5-7m, the autofocus has problems. I missed some shots at Bundesliga matches. ***

*** UPDATE 2: It’s the beginning of June and I had the first serious issues with the lens. I used it at two meetings in midday sunlight and the results were… BAD. I immediately switched back to my old equipment which worked nicely. As this happened twice I will do further tests. Was it the sunlight? Was it me? Do I have to repeat the calibration? I’ll let you know, but it will take some time. ***