Several years ago I spent some time shooting with a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. It had poor contrast a full aperture, quite soft at 200mm, and obviously the absence of VR limited its usefulness at indoors venues. I disliked it enough that it convinced me only the Nikkor VR lens (back then, version 1) would do for me. That Sigma lens is probably 10 years old now, but to this day it still sets how I perceive Sigma’s medium telephoto lenses.
Zoom to today, so to speak, and enters the new lens.
Looking at them by themselves and ignoring the competition, these charts look pretty good. There is more weakness at 70mm than I would like to see, with a pretty sharp drop to minimal contrast at the corner, but the performance at 200mm looks simply excellent. Possibly this means that there is significant light fall-off at 70mm and that drives down contrast.
If I compare with the previous Sigma version (not shown here) there has been a exchange between lowering performance at 70mm and improving performance at 200mm. This is probably the right choice, not only because this lens is most likely to be used at longer focal lengths, but also because it was done in such a way that DX shooters (or teleconverter users) will never notice. This new lens looks very strong for those photographers.
Compared to the latest Nikkor lens
The obvious, somewhat unfair contender for the Sigma is the $2399 lens from Nikon, also a new design from the last few months.
This lens is the reigning champ, but it also shows some weakness towards the border and corner. What is impressive with this lens however is how even the performance is across the zoom range.
Let’s see how the Sigma compares:
At the wider end of the zoom range the Sigma is beat by an absolute 10% edge in favor of the Nikkor, widening to a 20% edge and relatively twice the contrast at the corner. There’s no doubt the Nikkor is the better lens at shorter focal lengths. Now zoom towards 200mm and the picture changes, the Sigma roughly matches the Nikon but improves upon it significantly towards the corner.
It’s clear that the Sigma is a serious contender. If money is no object to you then you should just get the Nikkor and never look back, but everyone else should give the Sigma some thought. Price is going to be crucial to the success of the Sigma lens.
Compared to the previous Nikkor lens
The old version of the Nikkor is still around and is a spectacular performer on DX and teleconverters. This lens is still a contender for many, even if it has severe issues with FX sensors.
You’ll notice immediately that this lens also has very weak corners at 70mm so this should be a close comparison.
Across the range the two lenses are very close, with one important improvement to the Sigma. At 70mm the Sigma is only very slightly behind – this is a focal length where I thought the Nikkor excelled and seeing the Sigma meet that is exciting. At 200mm the Sigma lags the Nikkor in the center but completely outclasses it at the far border and corner, where the Nikkor is very weak.
This new lens is – in my opinion – most easily described as an improved version of Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 VR version 1. This summarizes the reason for this lens to me. Sigma is caught up to just one step behind Nikon now.