Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens Review

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens Review
Note: The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens has been replaced by the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens.

Two good reasons for buying a third party lens are to get features the camera manufacturer does not offer in one of its own lenses (such as a different focal length or focal length range) or to save money. The primary reason to buy the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens is to save money as Canon already has 4 excellent-performing 70-200mm models including the similarly-spec'd Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens. So, is there a trade-off for the lower price? That is the big question.

My frustrations started right out of the box with this lens - bringing back memories of my time with the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens. I returned my first Sigma 70-200 DG II because there was a foreign object inside the lens - it was large enough that I wouldn't trust it for an image quality review. No problem - I simply returned it for another.

I got further with my second Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens (it passed physical inspection). But, I quickly determined during the ISO 12233 resolution chart test that this lens had a severe front-focus problem. The ISO 12233 chart results are posted for this lens (sample 2) - please note that the 70mm and 85mm samples from this lens were framed using AF. The front-focusing was so bad that proper manual focusing from the same shooting position caused the image to be noticeably reduced in the frame when accurately manual-focused - making the chart details slightly smaller than they should be. Do not use samples from these two focal lengths from this lens sample for distortion comparisons (use lens sample 1 which is the default).

I was very disappointed to yet receive another front-focusing copy of the Sigma 70-200 DG II on my third attempt. Two of these lenses came from B&H and a third came from Amazon.com (just to mix things up). I tested these lenses on two Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III bodies (one is Canon-calibrated) and a Canon EOS 40D body. All delivered the same AF results - consistently front-focusing. I don't plan to try a fourth copy.

The quality problems I experienced are especially disappointing because this lens has the potential to be a good one.

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens is well built - Sigma EX lenses generally are. The focus and zoom rings are nicely sized and relatively smooth-functioning with a nice amount of friction. My third copy of this lens has a little play in the MF ring, but the second was one of the nicer manual focusing lenses I've used. The overall size of the rings and shape of the lens are very nice, though the zoom ring turns the reverse direction from Canon's standard direction. I'm not a fan of the easy-to-get-dusty, hard-to-clean (try non-residual tape) Sigma matte finish, but it looks nice and is non-reflective. Below are some views of the Sigma - use the mouseover links below the image.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens Product Image

@ 70mm | @ 200mm    With Hood: @ 70mm | @ 200mm | Rotated

The Sigma 70-200 Macro II is both internal-focusing and internal-zooming which makes it very nice to use. An attached 77mm filter will not rotate during MF. Sigma includes the lens hood in the box. Sigma's new side-and-center-pinch front caps are especially nice - it is easy to remove the front lens cap inside the installed lens hood.

The 4.8 oz (135g) tripod ring shown above is included and removable. A very short rotation of the locking screw frees the ring for rotation and a pull on the loosened screw removes the collar completely - while the lens is still attached to the camera. This is much nicer than the Tamron implementation and the Canon f/2.8s require the lens to be removed from the camera for the tripod ring to be removed. The tripod ring does not feel like it is revolving on bearings (most don't), but it is relatively smooth.

Sigma 70-200 DG II Padded Case

The nice padded nylon lens case shown above is also provided in the box. A shoulder strap for the case (not shown) is included.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens24.9 oz(705g)3 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm1999
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm2006
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens46.2 oz(1310g)3.3 x 7.6"(85 x 194mm)77mm1995
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8"(88.8 x 199mm)77mm2010
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens51.9 oz(1470g)3.4 x 7.8"(86 x 197mm)77mm2001
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens48.4 oz(1370g)3.4 x 7.2"(86 x 184mm)77mm2007
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens46.6 oz(1320g)3.5 x 7.6"(90 x 194mm)77mm2008

The size and weight of the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens are such that the lens can be carried for long periods of time, but you will know it is there by the end of the day.

The Sigma 70-200 DG II incorporates Sigma's best AF system - HSM (Hypersonic Motor). This implementation is quiet - it makes a "shhhh" sound when in action, but you need to listen closely to hear it. Focus speed is reasonably fast although going from the very close minimum focus distance to infinity may make you think otherwise. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is enabled. HSM also delivers very consistent results from this lens - unfortunately, it is consistently focusing well in front of the subject.

Autofocus Demo

Autofocus:  f/2.8  |  f/5.6     Manual Focus:  f/2.8  |  f/5.6 

The comparison above shows the out-of-focus image delivered by autofocus at 135mm from a distance of 15.5' (4.74m) from the focal plane at f/2.8 and f/5.6. Even stopped down two stops to f/5.6 does not give enough DOF to correct this problem.

I suppose one could move the correcting distance toward the subject after autofocusing - that would give a new meaning to the phrase "focus and recompose". Or, have the subject move the correcting distance toward the camera. It would unquestionably be much better if the lens simply focused properly in the first place.

On the positive side, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens is rather sharp wide open in the center of the frame throughout the focal length range. Unfortunately, by 200mm contrast has dropped very noticeably, vignetting shows up and CA has set in. The result is a washed-out, soft-looking and somewhat underexposed (but not in the very center) image. Stopping down to f/4 makes a very big difference in the center-of-the-frame contrast and vignetting as can be seen in the next example.

Sigma 70-200 DG II 200mm Sharpness Comparison

These samples were shot with a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III DSLR and processed in DPP with a Neutral Picture Style (low contrast) and a low sharpness setting of 1. The 100% crop portion is from the center of the frame.

A relatively flat plane of sharp focus keeps even full frame corners looking good until some softness begins to show at 135mm and becomes much more noticeable at 200mm. While a curved image plane and CA are part of the issue, radial and tangential lines focusing at difference distance settings is another problem. Notice in the following comparison that the horizontal lines (more radial as this is a right-side crop) are most sharp when the center of the image is sharp. The comparison mouseover image shows the vertical lines (tangential) becoming sharpers at a different focus distance setting (the center is no longer sharp).

Sigma 70-200 DG II Radial-Tangenial Sharpness Comparison

These examples are from my third copy of the Sigma 70-200 II (identified as sample 1 in the ISO 12233 comparison tool). My second copy was not quite as sharp (especially in the corners at and above 135mm), but it showed more consistent vertical vs horizontal line sharpness in the corners. It also had better contrast in the center at 200mm. As shown above, stopping down to f/4 makes a very noticeable difference in the results at 200mm.

Corner sharpness varied slightly in my third lens sample. It was sharpest in the top-right followed by the bottom-right, then top-left and softest in the bottom-left. The differences were relatively small. The prior lens was softer in the bottom by a slightly larger differential. I guess what I'm saying is ... there is some sample variation in this lens model.

In comparison to the less expensive Tamron 70-200, generally speaking, the Sigma was sharper in the corners through the midrange focal lengths while the Tamron was sharper at 200mm. The Tamron was slightly sharper wide open in the center at all focal lengths. Stopping down to f/4 brings the two lenses closer in comparison. At f/5.6, CA and distortion become the primary differentiators (more on this below).

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens performs reasonably well in the vignetting category. Full frame body users will notice only slight shading in the corners untill 200mm where, as I've already shown, a noticeable amount of shading is present in many shots. Shots taken at 200mm and f/2.8 appear underexposed compared to those at f/4, but be wary of increasing the exposure as it becomes easy to blow one or more of the RGB channels in the center of the frame where vignetting does not affect the image. The Sigma performs better than the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens and similar to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens in this aspect. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens shows less shading at 200mm.

Some mild barrel distortion is present at 70mm. Distortion is nearly absent at 85mm, but pincushion distortion starts showing at 100mm. Pincushion distortion becomes strong at 135mm and continues to be so through 200mm. The Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L shows the most distortion at 135mm (pincushion), but is a little better at most of the rest of the focal lengths. The Tamron 70-200 has slightly more barrel distortion, but much less pincushion distortion through the midrange and still less at 200mm. Prime/fixed focal length lenses typically show the least amount of distortion - pick a good one like the Canon EF 200mm f/2.0 L IS USM Lens for comparison in the ISO 12233 tool. You will see the detail in the example images change (while using the mouseover feature) to reflect the amount of distortion present.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is mostly absent at 70mm, but starts becoming visible in full frame corners at 85mm. At 100mm, it is becoming apparent in 1.6x body corners and even more noticeable in full frame corners. It continues to become worse until the 200mm corners (example below) make you think 3-D glasses might be necessary.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens CA (Chromatic Aberration) Example

Like a printing press that is out of registration, the colors are not being focused at the same point on the sensor. Eliminating CA is a challenge for lens designers as all wavelengths of light do not bend the same amount as they pass through the lens elements. The Canon 70-200 equivalent lens also shows noticeable CA at 200mm, but less of it. The Tamron equivalent is better in this regard, though it shows more CA at the wide end of the focal length range.

Flare is not too much of an issue at 70mm, but becomes more noticeable by 100mm and becomes very strong at 200mm. Bokeh (background / foreground blur quality) - the 9-blade aperture is delivering primarily nice-looking blur in the real life shots.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens59.1"(1500mm).13x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens55.1"(1400mm).17x
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens39.4"(1000mm).29x
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens37.4"(950mm).32x

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens focuses much more closely than the Canon 70-200s - it delivers a very good maximum magnification of .29x. As I've said before, this is not my personal definition of "macro", but it is a very good number comparatively. Close distance image quality at maximum magnification (200mm) is not great even stopped down, but image quality at wider angles is not bad even at near minimum focus distances. Extra magnification can be found through the use of the compatible Sigma 1.4x and Sigma 2x Teleconverters. The purpose of the teleconverters is to give you more focal length, so in my logic, the results that matter most are those from the long end of the zoom range. I didn't get a chance to try out the 2x, but even the 1.4x did not perform well on this lens at 200mm. Stopped down results were soft with additional CA present.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens Mounted on a Canon EOS 40D

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens is shown mounted on a Canon EOS 40D DSLR in the above picture. This lens is available in a wide range of mounts including Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Sigma, Sony/Minolta, Pentax and Four Thirds.

Full disclosure: You should know that there are potential issues when using a lens made by a manufacturer other than the camera body manufacturer. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF routines (except for their own bodies), the possibility exists that a new body might not support an older third party lens. Though not common, this has happened. Sometimes a lens can be rechipped to be made compatible, sometimes not. Again unusual is the situation where the lens and body manufacturers place fault on each other for a problem. To its advantage is Sigma USA's 4-year warranty - it is far superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty. The risk is probably low, but you should figure this into your purchase decision.

I generally buy my lenses new/retail to mirror the experience everyone else should expect to have. Being 0 for 3 on this lens model, I can't in good faith recommend that anyone buy this one. This is a shame as this lens has potential to be a good one - and a very good value.

The focal length range and fast aperture are very useful features. They are excellent for portraits, sports, landscapes and other general-type shots including those taken in lower light levels. But at this point, I'd rather have the Tamron that at least autofocuses correctly some of the time and delivers better image quality at 200mm (we tend to use the extremes of our zoom lenses the most). And of course, the Canon 70-200 L versions are the best answer.

If you are willing to give this one a try, make sure you have a good return policy from your retailer. I did not try Sigma's warranty service for this lens, but that is another option that could potentially result in a great lens for the price.

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