Nature Photographers Online Magazine
Nature Photographers Online Magazine

Camera Equipment Review...

Sigma 70-200/2.8 HSM

Text and Photography Copyright Michael Giuliani
All rights reserved.

For as long as I have been involved in nature photography, one of my hardest decisions have involved buying the right equipment. There are a lot of good products out there, making the choices even harder. For example, the choice between buying a Canon 70-200/f2.8 USM EF “L” vs. a Sigma 70-200/f2.8 EX HSM APO was a personal dilemma. But, after trying both, the Sigma was a better choice for me.

Why? I mainly shoot and sell action sports photography (motorcross, desert racing, and horse jumping). I also take nature shots for pleasure, and to sell to stock agencies. AF speed is critical in the sports I shoot, and the two AF motors HSM and USM seem equally fast. In fact, in my opinion, the two lenses perform virtually the same. If AF speed is a concern, and you own a Canon body less advanced than the EOS 3 (F100 for the Nikon users) and you want to buy the Canon USM lens, think again! It is the camera that auto-focuses, not the lens. The lens only has the motor, and as I mentioned the HSM and USM motors are equally fast. (Don't tell me that the USM is 1 nanosecond faster, please!)

Image quality ... well, it is probably equal, perhaps even slightly better with the Sigma. Many reviews I read indicated that the Sigma performed at the same level as the Canon, and the British Practical Photography magazine rated it even higher. I have shot many slides with both of them and now that they are all mixed in my files I cannot tell the difference and I would be lying if I said I could.

Construction ... the Canon feels stronger because of its metal barrel and the added weight. But, keep in mind that the paint on the Canon will chip a lot easier than the one on the Sigma. Sigma’s EX series, their top-of-the-line lenses, are beautifully, as well as functionally finished to withstand abuse. Both the Canon and the Sigma are well sealed against dust, an important consideration to me, as I shoot in very dusty places (desert, sand, and dirt tracks).

Price ... well, Sigma wins big time by costing considerably less. The extra money you save by buying the Sigma could go for one of their dedicated tele-converters. The 1.4x APO teleconverter is one of the best buys out there, and matched with a Sigma lens you will not sacrifice picture quality. The 2x APO teleconverter works well and you can still take reasonably good pictures. Personally, I use the x2 converter only when I have no other choice and never at large apertures. (All x2 converters will degrade your image quality and sharpness to some degree).

Resale ... as both are excellent lenses, it is my opinion that the resale value is proportionally equal. Sigma, with the introduction of the EX series and the HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) (rivaling the Canon USM and Nikon Silent Wave) has drawn a lot of attention from the advanced amateur and budget-minded professional.

In conclusion, both are excellent lenses that can produce equally excellent and saleable pictures. I have chosen the Sigma because it makes more sense to me! The money I saved buying the Sigma I used to buy other equipment.

Photography is about taking great pictures, and it is the ability of the person behind the camera that makes great things happen! Yes, the right equipment is important, but don't buy expensive equipment just because it will make you look like a pro ... it is more important to work on your skills, not on your look.

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