The latest version of the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro steps into the shoes of its predecessor, with some tasty upgrades. This lens covers a wide range of focal lengths and where it will probably most end up is on as APS-C DSLR, with a real-world field of view working out to be 112-480mm.
This lens offers lots of possibilities as an affordable long-range telephoto lens, but is it any better than the ones that came before and can it cover all bases?
Covering such a wide range means there’s going to be a lot of glass in this lens. Inside are 14 elements in ten groups with two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. There are also nine rounded diaphragm blades inside which should provide a more pleasing bokeh effect.
The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro isn’t just about an extended telephoto range as there is a dedicated macro mode which can be switched on and off and only works between 200-300mm, but gives a magnification of 1:2.9 to 1:2.
There aren’t any floating elements in the focusing group, which means you’re not going to get true macro facilities, but it’s reasonable enough for this price point of lens.
The AF motor is a more basic edition rather than the higher end Sigma HyperSonic Motor (HSM). This means that it’s a bit more noisey, but it’s still relatively quick to snap into focus.
The lens itself has a solid construction with the same finish as other Sigma prograde lenses. Not weather-sealed, but robust enough to tackle the outdoors quite well as long as it’s not being thrown down with rain.
On the barrel itself is a switch for normal or macro mode, a switch for auto or manual focus, a firm feeling zoom ring, and a focusing ring. The filter size is 58mm, with a barrel-shaped lens hood finishing off the package.
Everything weighing in at a very reasonable 550g. Almost disconcertingly light for such a long focal range, but the lens balances extremely well when fitted to a crop sensor body.
There’s no image stabilization on this lens, but for Pentax and Sony users you have built-in body stabilization, which could be a cost-effective solution. The lens is also available for Canon and Nikon users.
The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro in Use
Having such a long focal range is initially great fun. The ability to go from medium zoom to extremely long in a snap covers a lot of bases. But, with any lens that wants to do a lot of things at once, this usually means there are some compromises along the way. Initial images at the extremes of the focal length provide reasonable quality and contrasting images, but there are also some caveats, some less than others.
Barrel distortion is kept in check at both ends of the range, being quite minimal at 70mm and just more apparent 300mm. The same goes for chromatic aberration(CA), which displays virtually none at 70mm, a small amount at 200mm, but this increases somewhat at 300mm.
Luckily, we are in the times of being able to correct distortion and CA in editing software like Lightroom, which means that although these aspects of a lens are always quoted, they are definitely nowhere near as critical as back in the film days. Still, buying into a lens that is as optically perfect as possible is always a good thing.
As for overall sharpness, the lens is most impressive at its widest, with sharpness starting to drop off in the corners when approaching 300mm. This is also most notable between the apertures of f/16-32, with f/5.6 being the optimum.
Contrast also takes a bit of a hit at the longest lengths, which can also be an issue in macro mode. However, stick to medium focal lengths and a happy medium aperture and everything looks its best from this lens.
Generally, the lens produces reasonable images and covers a lot of bases with its long focal range. Not always as good as other lens offerings covering shorter focal lengths, but this is something to be expected from a lens that tries to do everything in one package.
How Does It Compare?
As the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro is now a few years old, there is the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS as an alternative option. Both lenses have their pros and cons and which you prefer will ultimately be down to your end usage. The APO DG Macro is a better close-up lens, is 60g lighter, but the DG OS costs less, has image stabilization, and is just that bit sharper.
The DG OS is the heavier of the two as there is more internal glass with 16 elements in 11 groups, with one SLD glass element and there is also the image stabilization to be considered. This is an important point for long telephoto lenses to simply get more keeper images and cover those slower shutter speeds.
Simply, if you don’t take many macro images, then the addition of image stabilization in the DG OS version shouldn’t be overlooked.
|Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro||Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS|
|Elements||14 elements / 10 groups||16 elements / 11 groups|
|Aperture||f/4.5-f/5.6 – f/22||f/4.5-f/5.6 – f/22|
It’s easy to dismiss a lens such as the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro when compared to the top end of the spectrum. But, you really have to do consider what you’re getting for the price: a lens that can cover a lot of focal range, can double as a macro lens, and is pretty lightweight. Image stabilization is a needed thing at the longest focal lengths, but at least there are other options on the Sigma range if this is a dealbreaker for you.
As for overall image quality, from 70mm to 200mm at medium apertures image quality is respectable, but starts to diminish when you approach 300mm. This is more at the corners and edges of the frame, with center sharpness being the best overall. If the lens is given enough light for static and moving objects it copes the best, but it’s not exactly a low-light performer.
In total, the lens will suit those who want a budget zoom solution, which also has the addition of a macro mode. In many ways, a good first step to practice at these focal lengths before buying into higher-quality versions. As with many things in life, you get what you pay for.