“Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
No truer statement could epitomise wildlife photography. Nature, and the capturing of its imagery, is a game of patience, and a practice that has its own pace. Photography is integral to life here at Londolozi. It’s a passion and a way for us to pay homage to the incredible scenes that we are allowed to view every day in the African bush.
With posts such as The Week In Pictures, our Photographic Journals, the monthly round up of the best featured images and, more recently, our post-processing tutorials, we thought it would be a worthwhile addition to our photography blogs to start a series of photographic gear reviews. While it’s inspiring to see the breathtaking images that our photographic team has to share, we wanted to also provide you with the knowledge and advice you need to gear-up and get out there, and to take some spectacular photographs of your own.
To that end, we are proud to introduce the first of what we hope will be many useful and inspiring gear reviews. This inaugural review features Trevor McCall-Peat who has spent the past two weeks testing out a new addition to our photographic studio. I caught up with Trevor to hear what his thoughts were.
Trevor: We recently collaborated with the Sigma Team to bring two aspects of gear testing together: A range of new lenses and the most testing conditions in the wild. Our challenge was to put them to work. I took some time to read up on these Sigma products and the reviews available on various sites. My excitement to try them out for myself grew with each review. Over the coming months I will be heading out into the field, armed with a variety of Sigma lenses and sharing some of my thoughts.
I have read nothing but exceptional reviews and comments about the new range of Sigma lenses, and it certainly seems as though they have done an outstanding job in accommodating a photographer’s every need when investing in a lens. Having said this, I look forward to putting all of what I’ve read about these lenses to the test. I have a Canon 1D Mark IV and will be using the Sigma lenses with this body – the first of which was the 120-300mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | SPORTS
Amanda: What was your first impression of the lens?
TMP: Taking this lens out of its case for the first time and attaching it to my camera, I was immediately struck by the sleek look of the new set-up. It is an impressively sized lens but has a very smooth and slick look to it. I have to say it is definitely a lens that is pleasing to the eye.
AR: The 120-300 lens can be quite a hefty piece of equipment to carry around. How did you find the weight and handling?
TMP: Being a rather large lens, I expected that it would be a heavy one too, weighing in at about 3.9 kilograms. Even so, I found it manageable, even when hand-held, and over time (using it on a daily basis) the weight soon becomes less noticeable.
Working in the conditions that I do – whether it’s the bumpy roads or the potential of knocking it against the vehicle in the excitement of getting the shot – I always worry about protecting my equipment, but this lens has a solid, hardy feel which erased any concerns about its ability to withstand tougher conditions.
AR: With a longer telephoto lens, stability can often be a problem. How did this lens perform?
TMP: Being a larger lens, stabilisation is crucial and the two OS (optical stabiliser) modes come in very handy. OS 1 being vertical and horizontal stabilisation and OS 2 being better suited for panning(vertical). One really notices these modes on cooler cloudy days when light is limited and when shooting difficult angles where handheld is the only option.
AR: We often get so close to the wildlife here, what did you think of the range of the lens?
TMP: I have had issues in the past (while not major, but certainly noticeable) where other lenses on the market to date have been limiting at times. I have had to either change lenses depending on subject, distance and light or have two camera bodies and constantly switch between the two in sightings which can, and has, resulted in a good photographic opportunity being missed. Having the range of the 120 – 300mm I have had no such issues and I feel that in the moment of action, I have the ability to get the composition I am looking for and do so without battling to switch my lenses or equipment.
AR: Sharpness is always a huge consideration when using a telephoto lens. How did you find the sharpness and focus?
TMP: The focusing mechanism is smooth and fast, I was surprised at how quickly the focus locks onto its target. Not once have I struggled in terms of focusing. The focusing mechanism is also internal which, for someone who works out in the field every day, is a bonus as there is minimal space for dust to gather and potentially affect the working parts.
AR: Here’s the big question: we have spoken about range, but how is the zoom on this lens?
TMP: The versatility and speed of this lens is incredible, focusing at 120mm from just 1.5 meters (5 feet) and at 2.5 meters (close to nine feet) for 300mm which is essential when photographing in a dynamic environment where your subject can be moving and shooting conditions are constantly changing. The ease at which you can go from 120mm to 300mm is great and when combined with the extremely fast focus, shooting moving targets becomes a breeze.
AR: With an aperture of F/2.8, you would expect great things from the performance of this lens. What was your experience?
TMP: Even before my first shot with this lens the one thing that stood out to me was the aperture. Whether you are at minimal or maximum zoom, the aperture (ranging from F/2.8 to F/22) can remain the same. I found this incredibly beneficial when out in the bush and, with conditions being as unpredictable as they are, it meant that I had the freedom to change it accordingly and be one hundred percent confident that I would get the shot.
I was very interested to see how this lens would perform in low light – whether it be on a gloomy, cloudy day or using a spotlight in the cover of night. The results I achieved were phenomenal. Previously when lighting was tricky I would never be confident of capturing the photograph perfectly, and often on my return to the lodge, when downloading my images my concerns would be confirmed. I often found images soft or even slightly grainy even when using a low ISO. Using this lens I was confident that my image would be the standard I expect it to be without an element of doubt in my mind.
AR: Your final verdict?
TMP: Having used this lens over the past couple of weeks, and really paying attention to its capabilities and handling in certain situations, I have been amazed time and time again. Sigma have done a phenomenal job in creating a truly remarkable lens and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed using. I realise this is a big statement to make but based on my recent experience, if I had one choice of lens when out in the field, it would be the Sigma 120 – 300mm F2.8.
Take a look at the rest of the images that Trevor has captured during his lens test:
We would love to bring you more informative and interesting gear reviews in the future. Please let us know if there are any other features you would like us to cover or discuss for inclusion in the next gear review.
Written by Trevor McCall-Peat and Amanda Ritchie, Londolozi Ranger and Photography Studio manager
Photographed by Trevor McCall-Peat, Londolozi Ranger