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Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 For Wildlife Photography

Me shooting with the massive Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM lens with a camouflage LensCoat.

Me shooting with the massive Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM lens with a camouflage LensCoat.

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.

Cream-coloured giant squirrel or pale giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia by Ricky Kresslein. Shot on Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens at 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640.

Cream-coloured giant squirrel or pale giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia by Ricky Kresslein. Shot on Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens at 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640.

Another great thing about the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 is the bokeh. When shooting an animal up close at 300mm, the depth of field and bokeh is incredible. It’s gorgeous. An f/4 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 f/2.8 prime. Until then, I will be getting the Canon 300mm f/4 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.

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), or long-nosed monkey, close-up portrait in Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia by Ricky Kresslein. Shot on Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens at 1/200 sec, f/3.2, ISO 640.

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), or long-nosed monkey, close-up portrait in Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia by Ricky Kresslein. Shot on Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens at 1/200 sec, f/3.2, ISO 640.

If you are usually shooting on a tripod and you want the option to add a 2x teleconverter to get to 600mm at f/5.6, I definitely recommend the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8. 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 f/2.8. 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 f/4 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.