Hands-on with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport

Firstly a caveat, I am not a techie or pixel peeper and I am not a bird photographer. So technically this is not a review, but rather my hands-on experience of the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens.

When I intend to buy gear I usually read two or three opinion pieces and then test the camera or lens to see if it will fit my shooting style. Some reviews are very technical and I sometimes wonder if shooting brick walls qualifies someone as a photographer.

My passion is mostly sports photography, including rugby, hockey, netball, athletics and motocross. I do however dabble in a bit of landscape and architectural photography as well. (some of my favourite images can be seen on IG at carel_stander)

In the nineties I bought my first Sigma lens as a student, a short zoom that I used to shoot functions for a local photographer in Stellenbosch. This little lens did not make me rich, but it surely made going out on a Friday night more “fun”.

Fast forward twenty years and again I find myself shooting with a Sigma lens, this time a 100-300mm f4 lens, in the backyard of the WP & Stormers. A very much underrated lens that delivered quality images for publishing in the weekly match program.

Six years later and I shoot most of my sport on a trusty old 300mm f2.8. It’s a great lens, but it lacks one key element that frustrated me more and more over the past three years, the ability to zoom.

Shooting hockey and rugby you find your best action at close quarters. Framing the ball being flicked at the goal box with the goalkeeper running up to stop it becomes nearly impossible with a 300m fixed lens. You either cut of the feet or the head, or if you are lucky both. Usually at this stage you will find photographers switching to a second body with a 70-200mm lens, but this means slogging along another body and lens.

Due to these constant frustrations I started following the development of Sigma’s unique 120-300mm range of lenses over the past few years. A while back the circle was completed as I welcomed back not one, but two Sigma lenses to my camera bag.

So there I am, sitting in a bird hide at Intaka Island on a Sunday morning, deprived of any sporting action due to the Covid pandemic. Looking at the Sigma 120-300mm Sport lens, even my Canon-shooting friend admitted that this was one beautifully sculptured lens. Build quality…next level.

Having the option of returning the lens if I was not satisfied with its performance, I opted to test it against one of the only living creatures with a faster “side step” than Cheslin Kolbe, the elusive Pied Kingfisher. (not that the Malachite King Fisher is a slouch)

I only did about two hundred shots and then left…..questions answered.

So without going into review-like detail I can report the following.

  • Is this lens sharp? – definitely yes, from the word go at 2.8
  • Does it focus quickly? – big yes. If it can lock on and track a Pied Kingfisher in flight with me behind the camera, then the focusing is very quick and accurate
  • Will I go back to my fixed 300mm lens? – no, not a chance

The Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens is everything I could ask for in a lens. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of shooting birds in flight with it and was really pleased with the out of camera shots in terms of sharpness, contrast and colours. Dare I say it passed the test with flying colours.

Notwithstanding its excellent performance, this lens offers me much more…the ability to zoom all the way back to 120mm. No more headless goalkeepers – check.

For the togs out there that are more technically inclined, read up on this lens at the following link:

https://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Sigma-120-300mm-f-2.8-DG-OS-HSM-Lens.aspx

Carel Stander