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Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Mar 7, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness equal to Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, focus speed, weight, price.

Over time the ratio of Sigma to Canon glass that I own has been steadily inching upwards. It all started with the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro (which I have since sold and moved back to the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro) and continued with the 120-300mm f/2.8 (which replaced my Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS), 300-800mm f/5.6 (which replaced my Canon 500mm f/4 IS, and 50mm f/1.4 (which replaced both my Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Canon 50mm f/1.2L). This lens has just displaced my Canon 85mm f/1.2L II which I have sold. To my eye, the Sigma is optically every bit the equal of the Canon with much faster auto focus and much lower weight at a substantially lower price point. I strongly suspect that Sigma will give this lens an exterior only make-over and add USB firmware update/micro focus adjust in the near future. I am also guessing they will raise the price. If they keep the same optical formula, as was the case when they updated the 120-300mm, I think this version may remain the best value in the 85mm market if your primary consideration is IQ.

I hope Canon sits up and takes notice. Sigma seems to have gotten their quality control act together and is starting to offer some really compelling value propositions.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Review Date: Mar 7, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Scary sharp, IQ rivals primes, reasonable weight and compact size.

I went in with high expectations after reading all the glowing reviews about resolution and contrast. I have not been disappointed. I like shooting wide open and this lens just kicks ass at f/2.8. I do not find that stopping down improves the resolution by that much and you could not ask for more by f/5.6.

IS is the obvious missing feature of this lens. If, however, as has been asserted by Canon, the inclusion of IS would have compromised IQ then I am glad they made that decision. I can add stabilization with a tripod but have no way of improving the intrinsic capability of a lens.

I hate the price of this lens but have no regrets having obtained one. It has now replaced my 24-105mm zoom which I still hold in high regard as a very versatile and cost effective lens, as well as my 24mm f1.4L II which I traded for it.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Feb 19, 2011 Recommend? | Price paid: $499.00

Pros: IQ, bokeh, build quality, and focus speed for the price.
Inconsistent Sigma quality control. 46mm focal length.

This is my second review of this lens (not allowed to change my initial rating) and third copy. I tested on a 5DM2.

First copy was not as sharp as I was expecting.
Second copy had serious focus motor issues.
Third copy is a definite keeper and I would rate a 9.5

Sigma has made a change to the finish on this lens. It is now smooth and uniformly black with no texture or white flecks. I strongly suspect they have also made some refinements to the design or manufacturing process since their initial production because this version is clearly superior to my first two copies.

I recently compared the following three lenses side by side:
Sigma 50/1.4
Canon 50/1.4
Canon 50/1.2L

I have never had a QC problem with Canon and both my copies were excellent.

The 1.2L is a sweet lens. I loved everthing about it except the price tag. I found the IQ at f/1.4 to be a toss up with the Sigma (if anything a slight edge to the Sigma). Bokeh is beautiful on both lenses. Smoother but slower focusing on the Canon. The Sigma is faster and more abrupt, although every bit as accurate. If the Canon were more reasonably priced I would probably have hung on to it but there is no way it is worth more than twice the Sigma and I am anticipating there will be a version II out in the "near" future.

The Canon 1.4 is perhaps one of the best IQ values in the entire Canon line. It is not as sharp as the Sigma wideo open but in my tests surpasses the Sigma and Canon 1.2 as you stop down (which seems crazy). I am not fond of the focus motor on this lens nor do I feel it is a very robust design (my first copy sustained damage to the focus mechanism and never gave satisfactory results after the repair). For me the price premium for the Sigma was definately worth the improved wide open IQ and build quality.

Although I am keeping the Sigma and have sold the Canons I do have some observations about Sigma that are less than flattering.

(1) Quality control remains an issue for Sigma. Will someone over there please WAKE UP.
(2) My tests at normal shooting distances have the Sigma as a 46mm lens.
(3) My tests showed that the Sigma produced darker images than the Canon 1.2 with the same lighting and manual camera settings (about 1/3 of a stop).

The last two items are not a real problem for me but I can't help resenting Sigma for their specmanship.

Although I am sure it is not going to happen I would love to see Canon update their f/1.4. Until then I think the Sigma is the current value leader for IQ and build quality at 50mm provided you can find a good copy.

If the system permitted I would raise my initial rating of 7 to 9.5

Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Jan 23, 2009 Recommend? no | Price paid: $429.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Very nice bokeh
Not as sharp as I had expected

I will admit I had rather high expectations of this lens after reading many glowing reviews. I currently own a Canon 50mm 1.4 and was expecting the Sigma to provide slightly improved sharpness, better bokeh, and quiet/fast autofocusing.

After a week with the lens on both a 50D and 5DM2 I have elected to return it.

As far as bokeh and the HSM focus go I was very happy. Bokeh in particular is quite pleasing to my eye compared to the Canon. The HSM is both quick and very quite (I am distinctly bothered by the Canon motor noise).

As far as sharpness goes, however, I found the Canon to be better. I tested on the 5DM2 using LV and 10x mag (pure test of optics taking autofocus accuracy out of the equation) and found the Canon to have better resolution and contrast. I also noticed that the focal length on the Sigma was noticeably shorter.

I own a Sigma 150mm macro which is so sharp it is scary. I have a 120-300/2.8 that is every bit as good as the Canon 300/2.8 IS it replaced and I also have the 300-800mm which is a fantastic lens. I was totally prepared to fall in love with the 50mm Sigma, but it did not stand up to my Canon which is less expensive and less bulky.

Perhaps this was a less than stellar copy, but I don't have the time or patience to do Sigma's quality control for them.

Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Jun 14, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Fast zoom lens with perfect focal range (on cropped body) for field sports. Extremely sharp.
Focal length is shorter than indicated for all useful focussing distances (275mm by my estimation)

I have owned both the Sigma 120-300 /2.8 (non-DG) and the Canon 300/2.8 IS with several months of overlap.

In the end I sold my Canon in favor of the Sigma.

Buyers should beware that there is sample to sample variation on the Sigma. I personally tested three different non-DG lenses. Two were perfect, one was a dog. I have also compared photos (8x10) from the same soccer game with a DG version and neither I nor the owner of that lens can distinguish between them.

I was unable to find any meaningful IQ difference between the Canon and Sigma. As a big Canon fan I remain tempted to give an ever so slight sharpness/contrast edge to the Canon but the images really do not support that assertion. Never the less, even if it is only psychological, I am going to give an edge to the Canon for IQ. I use the Sigma for sports (soccer mostly) and find the autofocus speed to be totally up to the task. I did not do an A/B comparison with the Canon but I am very pleased with the Sigma speed.

For all focus distances of interest (non-infinity) the Sigma is more like a 275mm in my estimation. This seems like a gross bit of false advertising, but I went in with my eyes open and others should as well. The zoom ring rotates in the opposite direction from Canon which takes some getting use to. I have two other Sigma lenses and both of them rotate effortlessly in the tripod collar. In fact I like the Sigma collar design much more than Canon's (you can pop the lens out instantly). For some reason, the collar on my 120-300 (I am using the larger upgrade version) is sticky and really is driving me nuts (this may be a matter of finding the right lubricant which I intend to investigate). The Sigma is heavy and for extended shooting you will want a support but it is fine for hand holding for short periods of time.

The distinguishing feature of this Sigma to me is the zoom. You can not zoom with your feet on to a soccer field or into a lake. The range is perfect on a cropped body for field sports. I also use on a FF body for head and shoulder portraiture with great results wide open. The lack of IS is a non-issue for sports use but you may miss it for other applications.

For my mostly sports applications, the Sigma offers greater versatility, lower cost and equal IQ to ANY other lens I have evaluated. Canon should take notice of this lens and respond with a zoom in this range with IS.

Sigma 300-800mm f5.6 EX IF APO HSM

Review Date: Jun 7, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $4,875.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Extremely versatile zoom range - Very sharp - Fast autofocus - Value
Heavy - Lacks IS

I purchased this lens new and have evaluated it extensively over the last month. I have decided that this is an exceptional wildlife (birding in particular) lens which matches my expectations going in. My unexpected suprise was that it is equally strong as an outdoor daytime field sports lens (soccer, lax, football) on a FF body.

History: I have owned a wide complememnt of long Canon glass including the 200/1.8, 300/2.8 IS, and 500/4 IS. About a year ago I purchased a Sigma 150/2.8 macro. I discovered a lens that was as good as any Canon I owned in terms of build quality and IQ. Since then, after side by side comparison, I have replace my Canon 300/2.8 with the Sigma 120-300 and my 500/4 with the Sigma 300-800. In my testing I found the 300 and 500mm Canon primes to be ever so slightly sharper. The difference, however, was so small that it did not outweight the versatility of the zoom.

As other have said this lens is big and heavy. It REQUIRES a tripod and gimbal head (I use the Bogen/Manfrotto 3421 as well - a great value for a solid, well balanced, fluid motion camera platform). In the field, it is cumbersome to move any large lens/heavy tripod combo around. It can also be very alarming to wildlife you are trying to photograph. The ability to zoom over a wide range from a stationary position is of extraordinary value for such an application. Add in the 800mm reach and you have the near ultimate birding/wildlife lens. I had not anticipated missing IS on this lens since it would always be used on a tripod. I have, however, had a number of shooting situations where having IS would have been very handy (800mm on a 1.6x body, windy, waning light). If Sigma ever gets its IS act down, I fear Canon is going to face some very respectable competition.

Normally I use the 300-800mm on my 30D for birding. Recently I had occasion to shoot a soccer game using a 5D body. I was VERY pleased with the results. Autofocus speed was totally up to the task and this combination has produced my best soccer results to date. Previously I used a 30D with 300/2.8 plus a 5D with 135/2 (two body solution), then I switched to a 30D with 120-300/2.8 (one body). With the 300-800mm on the 5D I can cover forwards, midfielders, defenders, and goally all from the end line. IQ is second to none. Once again, for this application, the zoom range is a huge asset.

All in all I can say that I am 100% pleased with this lens. If you are willing to haul it around it will reward you with extremely high quality results some of which would have been impossible with any other setup.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Sep 10, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,300.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Extremely sharp, extremely useful IS, nice balance for such a large lens.

I purchased this lens specifically for a photo safari in South Africa. Without it I would have missed some of my very best shots. My keeper rate with this lens was nearly 100%. Focus is super fast and accurate. The IS was indispensible helping me to overcome wind and car vibration (shot from the roll bar of a Landrover and the side view mirrors, roof and hood of a rental car, all with beanbag). I was also able for brief period to hand hold (this lens balances nicely) and got my first really good in-flight bird shots. Make no mistake, however, you really want a mono/tripod/beanbag to support this monster for extended shooting.

The tripod collar support both 1/4" and 3/8" threads the later providing a much better balance point. The supplied case is great for general storage, but you will really need a long lens bag (Kinesis makes a very nice one) for field work.

My only real issue with this lens is the cost. I have owned cars that cost less. On the other hand if you need the reach and speed you will never regret spending the money to own this lens. Its just one of those lenses that produces stunning images everytime out and is a pure pleasure to use.

Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM

Review Date: May 1, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $3,300.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Arguably Canon's sharpest lens ever

Plan A - $9720 16.2 lbs

200mm f/2.8 $620 1.7 lbs
300mm f/2.8 IS $3800 6.0 lbs
400mm f/4.0 IS $5300 8.5 lbs

Plan B - $3835 7.7 lbs

200mm f/1.8 $3300 6.6 lbs
280mm f/2.5 $270 +0.5 lbs (using 1.4x TC)
400mm f/3.5 $265 +0.6 lbs (using 2x TC)
560mm f/5.0 bonus with stacked TCs

I opted for Plan B and have been extraordinarily happy with my choice.

At 200mm I get a faster/sharper lens that is ideally suited to indoor sports or night sports. It has also become one of my favorite head and shoulder portrait lenses with fantastic bokeh and the opportunity for very narrow DOF. The penalty at this FL is weight and being so damn conspicuous.

At 300mm I get a faster but slightly shorter lens without IS. My applications for long lenses are primarily for sports where I need motion stopping shutter speeds and hence IS does not really help me. Also at 6 lbs I prefer to be on a tripod or monopod. Optically, I am blown away by the 1.4x on the 200 f/1.8. I have not done a head to head with the 300 f/2.8 but I believe a double blind test shot on a 10D would prove very surprising to many. I see very little resolution or contrast loss with this combination on a 10D.

At 400mm I get a faster but softer lens without IS. With the 2x you can notice a loss of resolution but this is still a very impressive optical combination. Prints to 8x12 are stunning. The bottom line is that the 200 f/1.8 is so good to begin with that it holds up amazingly well with the 2x.

At 560mm I still get very acceptable results and autof ocus still works. This is essentially a freebee. I use a bean bag to achieve the best results with this configuration.

In summary, I save $5885 and 8.5 lbs and have faster glass at each focal length. Optically, I am slightly ahead at 200, at parity at 300, and slightly behind at 400.

I concur with all other glowing reviews of this lens but thought I would share my motivation for this acquisition. If you can only afford to buy one long "L" lens I would strongly recommend you consider the 200 f/1.8. You will absolutely love the lens stand alone and with the Canon TCs you will have very fast solutions up to 400mm.

The weight of this lens is the only negative. I often use it handheld, but it really wants a mono/tripod for extended shooting.