Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport Review

I was drawn to this lens because it is truly unique and was a combination and replacement for other lenses. It was a 300/2.8 prime while maybe replacing a 70-200 with benefits. I have had really bad experience with 3rd party lenses, but was told by many that there is a new Sigma with a dedication to quality.

So I went for it. Buying new with a Sigma USB dock and Sigma's TC-1401 teleconverter brings the price close to what a good condition Nikon 300/2.8 VR goes for - with the benefit of the zoom. I spent a day tuning the lens with the dock (note: a focus tool is really necessary, I used the Datacolor  SpyderLENSCAL). It was a pain in the neck putting the body on, take it off, hook up the dock, then take it off. In the end I was happy I did it.

The Good:

  • f2.8 tele zoom with nice, pleasing bokeh
  • can be sharp at most focal lengths
  • decent AF speed and accuracy with fast AF (auto focus) bodies
  • OS (VR in Nikon speak)
  • customizable (with the Sigma USB dock)

The Bad:

  • bad balance (makes lens feel heavier and awkward to use)
  • CA (purple and green fringe on the wide end)
  • lens collar
  • reverse zoom rotation (for Nikon users)
  • slow AF with certain bodies
  • flimsy case

I've got to admit, the zoom range is pretty useable. I showed up to a tiny polo field expecting to use the TC-1401 with this lens, only to find out the field was about the size of a basketball court - no problem, pop off the TC and I had all the range I needed. It's a decent 300/2.8, but not as sharp as Nikon or Canon's prime offerings (but close) and a little slower AF with my D500 (I never understood why people would buy a f2.8 zoom and talk about how sharp the lens is when stopped down - you pay for 2.8 to use 2.8). However, the AF on the lens without the TC on the D500 was definitely useable for fast action sports. This is difficult to objectively gauge. The first reason being that practically any zoom is going to have a slower AF compared to a prime comparable. Secondly, there isn't another zoom lens in the same focal ranges to compare to. Nikon's 70-200/2.8 VRII is a very fast focusing lens, but the Sigma has a much different range. Furthermore, it is slower with the TC (Sigma's TC1401), but that's a given with any lens and TC combo.

I don't use any OS/VR/IS when shooting sports, but it the optical stabilization was great for shooting stills or wildlife handheld. I loved being able to set the focus limiter for whatever I wanted. I set mine for a custom setting in a range for shooting tennis from courtside. This was an improvement for speeding up the AF.

© 2016
I read other reviews that talked about the balance issue, but I thought it wasn't a big deal. I was wrong. The lens was awkward to use on a monopod because of the shift in weight when zooming in and out. It doesn't sound like much of a problem, but in real world usage, it was for me. This was exacerbated by the reverse zoom direction. I have to wonder why, if making a Nikon compatible lens, with a different mount and AF system, they didn't go "all the way" and make this a Nikon standard zoom direction.

The purple fringe was removable, but I sold some images "off the card" in jpg to clients and the fringe was unacceptable for that. I also read comments about the lens collar. To rotate between vertical and horizontal, there are no "clicks" or stops that let you know when you're parallel. It also is really unsmooth and the collar feels loose when it's open enough to rotate. It's not a good feeling. Shooting sports, I like to be able to swing the lens around quickly, and to do so, felt like the lens might slip out or I was putting a lot of stress on my camera's lens mount.

©2016 Valerie Shoaps
The deal breaker for me, came when I put my D750 on it. The AF was slow, hunting increased and accuracy dropped off. It was so bad, I thought I had done something to the lens. I put the D500 and it was fine again. I tried this several times and in different situations, and it kept repeating. I don't know if this is an testament to the D500's AF, but it just wasn't going to useable for low light sports. One of my intended uses was to have a 400/2.8 prime on my D500 with a monopod, and the Sigma 120-300/2.8 on my D750 slung around my shoulder. This wasn't going to happen. To be fair, I'm trying to come up with a way to turn my D750 into a D5, and I don't think the AF would be an issue then.

My last issue was the case. I expect more from a lens in this range, but the case didn't offer a lot of protection and doesn't stay put when slung over the shoulder. A third party option like the Think Tank Glass Taxi would be a good option.

My conclusion is that this is a good special occasion lens. It's not the magical answer to fill in gaps that I thought it would be. The range on a full frame camera is similar to a 70-200/2.8 on a DX or ASP-C sensor. It definitely has a place, but for me, it's not a primary part of my sports kit at this time. Some people swear by the Sigma 120-300/2.8 Sport, so it's downsides for me, are overcome by others.

Sigma is redefining themselves as is evident with this lens, as well as their Art series of lenses. On the bench and lab, this lens looks great, but in real world sports shooting, it could use a few tweaks. It's an admirable effort on Sigma's part to make such a lens, but it could be so much more with just a few improvements or tweaks. As is, if I find one on the second hand market at a price competitive to Nikon's 70-200/2.8 zoom, I'll be very tempted to buy one again.

I really hope they release another version of this lens as it could be (and currently is for many) a really strong tool in the pro sports shooter's arsenal. Sigma's CEO Kazuto Yamaki has stated that they are committed to developing innovative products (such as their 50-100/f1.8) and this lens, and I think that's going to do great things for them and I'm looking forward to what they create next.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Expert Shield GLASS LCD Screen Protector Review

LCD screen protectors are a personal choice. Many people prefer to go "bare" but I don't want to damage a screen with a belt buckle, jean riot, or any of the many things that can damage it and remind me of my decision overtime I review an image.

As soon as I received my D500, I did a search on which screen to use. There are a number on the market ranging from $10-$20. I found a post and was pointed to one particular brand. "Works great and no bubbles" was the consensus, so I went with it.

I followed the directions exactly, and this was the result. They said you could remove it carefully and reapply if necessary. "Necessary" was four or five times, and still not a satisfactory result. I decided to live with it, and didn't want to spend anymore time on it. Overtime I reviewed an image or showed one to somebody, I felt a little cringe.

When I bought my D750, I definitely wasn't going to buy the same product. I went onto Amazon, spent way too much time reading reviews, and made a choice to try GLASS by Expert Shield. The application was simpler. Position on the screen, lock on one side with a piece of tape to get the alignment, then peel off the backing and done. It was that easy and it was perfect.

After a couple of weeks, I got fed up with the screen protector on my D500. Showing images to people was embarrassing. It's kind of like when you see cars with black out windows that are peeling - it does't look good. I went back to Amazon and bought another GLASS by Expert Shield for the other body. It felt good to peel off the bubbled screen and toss it in the trash. It went on as easy as on the D750 and I'm done.

I put one on my Sony RX100 III, which I keep in my purse and takes a beating. The screen looks great. They're $19.95, but it's going to be on your camera for as long as you have it. It works well and is easy to apply and has no detrimental effect on the D500's touchscreen. If you're going for a screen protector, this one does what you want and is easy to apply.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Peak Design SL-2 Review

After buying some new (and heavier) equipment, I really needed to find a system that I could use across the board with all of my photo gear. My much loved and comfortable 12 yo Calumet strap was also looking a little (or a lot) worn and wasn't very quickly interchangeable.

I like having strap that can be used as a shoulder sling, or as a neck strap. Many people recommended the Black Rapid and Peak Design systems. I looked into the former first. What I didn't like about the Black Rapid systems, was that they connect only to one point. I could probably figure out a way to add a second fastening point, but that would take away some of their sliding and adjusting capability. If a lens has a tripod collar with more than one mounting hole, it doesn't seem like a good idea to use just one for all of the stress of the connection.

So I looked into Peak Design. I like that they're a local San Francisco company. Initially, I was apprehensive about the "Anchor Link" system. They state that they're good for 200 lbs. (they're made of Dyneema cord) but they didn't instantly inspire confidence in me. However, they've been revised with a color coded method of showing wear and when they should be replaced, so I felt a little better about them. I've gotten over my worries, especially since I'm doing an unintentional inspection overtime I hook them onto a strap. They're also unobtrusive so they don't get in the way when not connected to a strap. Attaching them is easy and they run about $20 for four (SL-2 strap includes four plus mounting plates - read on).

After looping them to the strap hooks on one of my bodies, I pul the strap out of the box and find what I think to be a manufacturing defect. The  grip "stuff" appears to be on the outside of the strap. With the orientation of the adjustment buckles, it looked that way to me. I wrote to Peak Design asking them about this and included a photo. They got back to me quickly stating that this is how they were designed.

Peak Design SL-2 strap
"... the Slide was designed with the main feature being it gives maximum camera movement as a sling or neck strap. The grip on the outside is there too give you the option to have less movement."

OK, so I guess I can live with that. I tried turning the strap over to use the grip side, but one of the buckles dug into my chest a bit when wearing a t-shirt. Putting it in my bag for the first time, I folded it too tightly and put a kink in the middle of the strap where the padding is. The function isn't effected at all. It's not a deal breaker, but I would've preferred to have some kind of warning not to do that. I play with stuff, I break stuff. I do QA in addition to sales and marketing for the software company I work for. I find things that other people don't seem to notice or care about.
Connected to strap rings

I've had the strap and system for over a month. It works for me. I've attached anchors to both of my bodies, super tele lens strap rings and bought the PROdrive Screws to screw into tripod and collar mounts for when I want to carry. It works well for me, because they attached to straps quickly (no more threading), and are inexpensive  enough to buy for all of my gear.

The SL-2 strap works as a shoulder strap, sling or neck strap. It's made out of what looks like seat belt material (kind of cool) which seems very strong. It comes with 4 anchors and a small Arca-Swiss plate for more mounting options. I like that it doesn't use carabiner clips which could scratch up my equipment and be noisy. I am careful when putting the SL-2 in my camera bag, so the metal buckles don't hit my other gear. I'm going to look into their Clutch and Cuff straps as other options for when I'm on the go.

The system works, has unique features, is expandable, is priced well among with competitive landscape and they respond quickly to support email. They have other products such as their Everyday Messenger, which I think is worth considering if one is in need of it. They've also just launched a new product called the Range Pouch. I applaud the company for moving ahead and providing new products with differentiating features, rather than cranking out a product version that provides nothing new.

Hook it up and go shoot.