Ricky Kresslein

Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 for Wildlife Photography


I’ve been shooting with the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM lens now for almost a full year. There are many things I love about it and a couple that I don’t. Those couple reasons are enough that I put it up for sale a couple weeks ago. But I will get to that in a bit. First, there are several reasons that I truly love this lens.

The main reason I love this lens is the 2.8 aperture. The difference of having 2.8 versus the 5.6 I had before purchasing this lens is massive. It can be the difference between ISO 800 and ISO 3200. That’s a huge difference and can lead to much better photos. This isn’t always necessary though. Many people shoot foxes or deer in open fields with lots of light. I do not. Most of my subjects last year were monkeys and apes in the jungles of southeast asia. Even in the middle of the day, jungles can be very dark. It’s not uncommon for me to shoot at ISO 6400 at noon. That’s the sole reason I purchased this lens, originally.

Another great thing about the Sigma 120-300 F2.8 is the bokeh. When shooting an animal up close at 300mm, the depth of field and bokeh is incredible. It’s gorgeous. An F4 lens will never give you the same quality if you are looking for that beautiful, blurry background free of tree limbs and park benches.

But, there is one main thing I hate about this lens--the weight. With the lens hood and no camera attached it is 8 pounds. That’s heavy. Especially when hiking through the jungle and not often having time to get a monopod (much less a tripod) ready before a gibbon swings past. It’s quite common for me to shoot this lens handheld, and that leads to more out of focus shots than I care to admit.

After carrying this lens in my backpack on long hikes and through airports for a year, I’m ready to downgrade to something lighter until I can justify spending $6,000 on a much lighter Canon 300mm F2.8 prime. Until then, I will be getting the Canon 300mm F4 IS prime lens. Right now it’s going for $600 used on Amazon, which is a steal for what is often considered a solid wildlife lens.

If you are usually shooting on a tripod and you want the option to add a 2x teleconverter to get to 600mm at F5.6, I definitely recommend the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8. Again, it’s a great lens. But if you do a lot of traveling, hiking, or handheld shooting, a cheaper, lighter alternative is probably the way to go.

Update: I’ve decided to keep my Sigma 120-300mm F2.8. I realized that getting rid of this lens is not worth it simply because I don’t like that it is heavy. A Canon 500mm F4 would be heavy too, and I would love to have one of those. This lens allows me to get great shots, so I will be keeping it in my bag. I’ll just have to work out a bit more.

Update 2 (Feb 20, 2019): Sigma customer service is horrible.

Update 3 (Sep 23, 2020): I ended up selling the lens almost a year after I wrote the last update. I realized that the heavy weight of my setup and the bulkiness of it was stopping me from going out to get photos. I decided to switch my whole camera system, and I ended up going with an Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark III with an M.Zuiko 300mm F4 lens. I haven't looked back as the Olympus is incredibly light and easy to take around. I take my camera everywhere now and I have a 600mm equivalent lens at less than half the weight of the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8.