Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO

Lens Reviews / Sigma Lenses i Lab tested
120-400mm $820
average price
image of Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion

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Buy the Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO

(From Sigma lens literature) The new APO 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM telephoto zoom lens incorporates Sigma's original OS (Optical Stabilizer) function. It offers the use of shutter speeds approximately 4 stops slower. Three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements provide excellent correction for chromatic aberration.

SLRgear Review
June 30, 2008
by Andrew Alexander

Announced just before PMA 2008, the Sigma 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is an optically-stabilized telephoto zoom lens. The lens is compatible with both subframe (APS-C-sized) digital camera bodies, as well as film and full-frame digital camera bodies. It is available now for Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts. The lens is also available for Sony and Pentax mounts, however on these cameras optical image stabilization is not available (these bodies tend to have in-camera stabilization) and on the Pentax version, HSM focusing is not available.

The 120-400mm isn't a ''constant'' lens, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:

Focal Length120-149mm150-200mm201-400mm
Largest apertureƒ/4.5ƒ/5ƒ/5.6
Smallest apertureƒ/22ƒ/25ƒ/29

The Sigma 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 takes 77mm rear-mounted filters, comes with a circular lens hood and tripod mount, and is available now for around $830.

The 120-400mm is a fairly sharp lens, but its performance is optimized for the wider range of its focal length spectrum. As you zoom in towards the 400mm range, image sharpness degrades significantly. Optimal image sharpness was achieved at either 120mm and ƒ/5.6, or 150mm and ƒ/8.

Wide open and wide-angle (120mm, ƒ/4.5) image sharpness is quite good, with test results showing 1.5 blur units across the frame. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 improves central sharpness to 1 unit, but there is still some very slight corner softening. Diffraction limiting seems to set in at ƒ/11, but image quality never gets so bad, reaching 2.5 blur units at ƒ/22. Results at 150mm are almost the same, just a tad less sharp.

However, at 200mm and above, image sharpness starts to worsen. Our sample copy of the lens also showed some centering issues at this focal length. Sharpness showed results of between 1-2 blur units in a very small central region, while corner softness reached 4.5 blur units; as the lens is stopped down, quality improves dramatically at ƒ/8 and ƒ/11 (1 blur unit centrally, 2-3 units in the corners) and the image is generally soft at ƒ/25 (3 blur units).

Between 300 and 400mm, performance when used wide open (ƒ/5.6) is nothing to write home about - very uneven and soft (3-5 blur units at 300mm, and 5-8 units at 400mm). Stopping down to ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 is necessary to get any kind of sharpness out of the lens at this focal length. Interestingly, image sharpness is better at ƒ/22-29 than when used wide open at these focal lengths.

Full-frame performance is similar across all focal lengths and apertures, although corner softness is generally more of a factor throughout. We do note some interesting ''blips'' of extreme corner softness, particularly at 250mm. Optimum performance on a full-frame body is 120mm or 150mm at ƒ/8.

Chromatic Aberration
The 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 tolerates chromatic aberration very well, better at the wider end of its focal length range. At 120mm the lens shows less than 2/100ths of a percent of frame height CA generally, and less than 3/100ths in the corners. This is very good performance. As the lens is zoomed in and stopped down CA tolerance degrades slightly, but never objectionably. Even at 400mm and ƒ/5.6, performance is still good at less than 3/100ths generally and 4/100ths in the corners. CA performance is as good or better on a full-frame body.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
Corner shading isn't an issue with the 120-400mm mounted on a subframe camera body; the worst-case scenario is noted when using the lens wide open (ƒ/4.5-5.6), and even then we note the corners only a quarter-stop darker than the center. At any other apertures, corner darkening is insignificant.

Mounted on a full-frame body, however, light falloff is more of a problem. Used wide open, the corners of an image will be between 3/4 and a full stop darker than the center, with the worst cases being the wide angle at 120mm or full telephoto at 400mm. This shading dissipates as the lens is stopped down, showing less than 1/3 of a stop by ƒ/8-ƒ/11. At 400mm, corner shading never truly goes away unless you stop completely down to ƒ/29.

The 120-400mm is very well-tuned to produce a distortion-free image. Our testing notes a very slight pincushion distortion in the corners, more evident at full telephoto than any other focal length (-0.1%). This effect is statistically more noticeable on a full-frame camera body (-0.2%) but in practice, these distortion effects will be difficult to note.

Autofocus Operation
Equipped with Sigma's HSM autofocus motor, the 120-400mm focused very quickly and quietly. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focus ring.

The Sigma 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 isn't designed as a macro lens, but its maximum magnification of 0.24x and minimum close-focus distance of 150cm (just under five feet), provides reasonably good macro performance.

Build Quality and Handling
The lens is a fairly complex design with 21 elements in 15 groups, including 3 super low-dispersion and APO glass elements. It's solid - almost four pounds of lens, coated with a textured finish with makes it very easy to handle. The diaphragm consists of nine aperture blades.

The lens has two switches to speak of, including one for disabling autofocus and another for selecting the optical stabilization mode. Stabilization can be set to vertical and horizontal, or vertical only, to allow for panning shots. A windowed distance scale is found close to the metal lens mount. The filter mount is plastic.

Zoom and focusing rings are large and nicely textured, with raised rubber ribs. The focus ring is closer to the lens mount, less wide than the zoom ring. The focus ring travels about 120 degrees during manual focus, and is nicely damped to allow for precise adjustments.

The lens extends slightly during zoom operations, adding 2.5 inches to the length of the lens at 400mm. The zoom ring travels about 90 degrees through its focal length range. Zoom creep isn't much of an issue for the lens, though you can get it to extend if you jostle it with any force; walking with the lens held down, it would probably extend over time. For this reason Sigma has included a zoom lock switch to lock it at 120mm for travel.

The lens hood for the 120-400mm is bayonet-style, and heavily ribbed inside. The hood adds 3.5 inches of length to the lens when attached and reverses onto the lens for compact storage. Also included is a removable tripod mount, which makes a good carrying handle as it has finger grips molded into it. Sigma also thoughtfully includes a sling to carry the lens if desired.

Filters are attached to the rear of the lens, taking 77mm filters. There is no rotation of filters during focus or zoom operations. We are still putting together our specifications for optical image stabilization testing, but our initial impressions of the 120-400mm are good, and that it works as advertised.


Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM ~$1,400
Much sharper lens, especially at 400mm wide open. CA performance is worse; distortion and corner shading are about the same.

Nikon 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6D ED AF VR ~$1,400
Slightly sharper, but more susceptible to chromatic aberration. Corner shading is about the same, but there is slightly more distortion in the corners.

Pentax 55-300mm ƒ/4-5.8 ED SMC DA ~$400
Pentax doesn't really produce a lens in this range; the closest is this consumer-level model, which we haven't tested yet. No in-lens stabilization, but then, most Pentax bodies now have in-body stabilization.

Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 SAL-75300 ~$230
Sony doesn't produce a lens in this range; this is the closest point of comparison. Sharpness is very poor at 300mm, CA is slightly worse, but corner shading is about the same. Distortion is slightly worse. No in-lens stabilization, but all Sony bodies support in-body stabilization.

Sigma has produced a nice telephoto zoom here, and the inclusion of optical image stabilization will be a welcome upgrade from its previous offerings in the similar range. This stabilization is necessary, as good image sharpness in the telephoto range is only obtained when stopped down to ƒ/8 or ƒ/11. Using a smaller aperture in this range usually demands a slower shutter speed, which is usually a recipe for blurry images when using long-zoom lenses. With image stabilization, you get a steadier platform.

In the final analysis, it becomes fairly obvious whether this lens is for you; Pentax and Sony users really don't have any comparable options in this range, and while the Nikon and Canon offerings are slightly better choices optically, they're more expensive. If absolute image quality at full telephoto is your objective, you may have to invest slightly more money into a telephoto prime, but shooting stopped down to ƒ/8 or ƒ/11, you can get fairly good images out of this lens, and with image stabilization, you don't even need a sunny day or a tripod anymore.

Sample Photos

Please note, sample images for the sub-frame sensor body (in this case, the Canon 20D), are temporarily unavailable and will be uploaded shortly.

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO

Your purchases support this site

Buy the Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO

Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO User Reviews

8.0/10 average of 8 review(s) Build Quality 8.1/10 Image Quality 7.9/10
  • 6 out of 10 points and recommended by bananitax (45 reviews)

    reviewed March 11th, 2024
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by cochese1 (1 reviews)
    Good build Good OS fast silent accurate focus comes with pouch, hood cheap
    need to stop to f8 to be sharp at 400

    I had read many reviews before purchasing my copy of this lens. There are two versions of this lens out there. The ones with the matte finish reviewed here (and most other reviews) and the one with the smooth finish. I have the smooth finish. All the reviews mention extreme softness at the long end, most had front or back focus issues. These issues appear to have been fixed in the newer smooth versions. Mine is sharp almost all the way through it's range, has no front or back focus issues, and becomes sharp enough at 400 f7.1, and perfectly sharp at 400 f8. The focus is very fast, enough for BIF and accurate. This is not a low light lens, why try to use it as such. If you get the newer version it is a steal as they are going on ebay in mint condition for $400! My other lenses are a Sigma 17-50 f2.8 EX OS HSM and a 50-150 f2.8 EX OS HSM, I use all on my Canon 60D. Sigma makes very good lenses in their EX line and I love all of mine. All are very sharp and fast. I am an enthusiast and cannot justify paying 3-4 times as much for branded lenses for only marginal improvement in image quality.

    reviewed December 5th, 2017 (purchased for $400)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by andre_ (31 reviews)
    focals range, OS, rendition at f8 and over, price/quality
    definition at large apertures, finition

    Good non expensive zoom.
    Well definited when stopped down (at 400mm at least f8, better at f11), good stabilization.
    I don't love the "panning mode" in the OS, but it's functional.

    The AF works without flaws, fast enough for virtually any situation.
    Even follow flying birds is never a problem.

    The collar is very well made, detachable.
    On the other hands, the hood is small and cheap.

    The finitures are the same of other Sigma lenses, and they are peeled away after a short periodo of use.

    The price is rather low, and the quality at all the focal lenghts are good enough to pay what spent to purchase this lens.

    Maybe it's not the better lens in the range, but I think is a very good deal.
    The Nikon omologue is far too expensive (and the old version is too slow).

    If one look for the best quality in the market, then go to the bulky and expensive primes.
    Foer every other "amatorial" use, this lens worth the money and the results are good.

    reviewed August 13th, 2013
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by climbhigh4fun (5 reviews)
    Very well balanced, excellent IQ, positioning of the manual ring and zoom ring
    A bit heavy, but not much different than others in this class

    I had read mixed reviews on this lens and wasn't sure if it would be the best choice for my needs. I do mostly wildlife photography and needed a long reach lens. After driving myself crazy, I finally chose to buy it over the more expensive Canon 100-400 IS. I was amazed for so many reasons. Excellent picture quality, great features and for such a heavy lens, the incredible balance made hand holding a breeze at getting clear, crisp photos. I would dare say that the balance of the Sigma is far better than the Canon lens making handheld shots easier. Their weight is very close and the tripod ring, for me, doubles as a grip for handheld shots since it has finger channels in it. I love the positioning of the full time manual focus ring directly above the tripod ring making it very easy to tweak the Auto Focus if necessary since it has full time manual override. This was a great idea by Sigma.

    Although I have only been shooting with it for a few months, the construction seems to be excellent. Some reviews I have read say that the matt black finish looks like it would be prone to scuffing, I have found no evidence of this.

    The HSM AF is fast and quiet. I've also read that the OS seems loud compared to Canon's IS. Well, I have Canon IS and Tamron VC lenses and I don't notice a great deal of difference. Certainly not enough to be an issue. Of the three, I would say that the Tamron is the loudest.

    At the high end of 400mm it has been said it drops to very good, this is not unusual and for the most part, not a problem. Even Canon's 100-400mm has had the same said of it. So, if you want to spend $600 to $800 more for the Canon, go for it. Dollar for dollar the Sigma seems to be a much better choice. My feeling is you can get pro level results from both lenses. If you are a top pro working at these focal lengths and longer, you are probably going to be using Prime lenses costing $4,000 to $20,000 anyway.

    All in all I would say this is a great pro-sumer/enthusiast lens.

    reviewed May 14th, 2011 (purchased for $849)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by Bee (3 reviews)
    Price, Zoom range, Construction, Focus speed, Optical Stabilizer, Excellent Warranty

    This is my first Sigma, and to make a long story short, I am really happy with it.
    I was saving to buy the Canon 100-400L but after the price increase, I looked around for another zoom in that range.
    I read some positive reviews about this Sigma and I thought I will give it a try. This is a very nice lens that comes with hood, case and collar. It is a heavy lens (about 4 pounds/ 1750 grams) and it uses 77mm filters.
    Autofocus speed is fast ( almost as fast as Canon) and Image Stabilizer ( Sigma calls it OS) does a good job.
    In some reviews, it's been pointed out that OS makes too much noise. It is noisier than Canon but it is nothing annoying or loud ( at least to me).
    The annoying thing about OS is that you have to turn it off before you turn off your camera.

    As everybody else has mentioned, it produces softer images than Canon wide open at 400mm. However I usually use it at f/8 and I am happy with the results. It is very sharp around 300mm.
    I must tell you that I am not a pro and I am not trying to make a living out of photography. It is my hobby ( and an expensive one!!) and this lens with it's zoom range and price was exactly what I was looking for.

    There is one more thing I have to mention. This lens came with 10 years ( yes, 120 months!!!) Sigma Canada warranty. If a company stands behind their products like this, they deserve my money. I am sure this will not be my last Sigma.

    If you need some of my sample photos, you may check this link:

    I hope you find this short review useful.

    reviewed May 24th, 2009 (purchased for $1,100)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by PalmettoMan (1 reviews)
    Fast and silent focusing (HSM) - AF quickly latches on to moving subjects. Solid Construction. Zoom Lock. Easy to handhold.
    Ultra matte-black coat some what prone to scuffing.

    Comparing this lens to the Canon 100 - 400 L Series, you get a lot more bang for the buck with the Sigma.

    In my opinion, and although image quality between the two slightly differs (with Canon being the better overall), there is not really all that big of a difference (compared dozens of shots on Flickr taken with these two lenses).

    In test, it is reported that this Sigma lens delivered excellent range SQF numbers at 120 and 250mm, indicating superior sharpness and contrast. As with most long tele zooms, however, it dipped into the Very Good range at 400mm.

    Bottom line: overall it's a good lens and very stiff competition for the Canon in it's zoom range - and at hundreds less in price!

    *** Product Warranty Registration On Line – FREE added 2 Year Warranty "Bonus" when you register on line ( 3 Years total ) for non-EX lenses - 3 Year Bonus for EX lenses (4 years total ). Additional extended warranties are availble through authorized dealers >>>

    * Canon's warranty is for a period of one (1) year from the date of original purchase

    reviewed April 24th, 2009 (purchased for $749)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by Ghibanez (1 reviews)

    It's a good lens not for professional use bat good lens!

    reviewed November 4th, 2008 (purchased for $920)
  • 5 out of 10 points and not recommended by franzoi (4 reviews)
    OS 4 stop, HSM, ring tripod, price
    weight, soft and... I have a big problem: front / back focus. Not good!!!

    good OS 4 stop, but less than IS canon, much slower and noisy to stabilize the image.
    Very soft 400mm f 5.6 !!!
    medium sharp 400mm f/8 and f/11.
    Bat I have a big problem for front / back focus to send assistance
    SIGMA to adjust

    With Canon 450d = 192mm - 640mm
    With Sigma Teleconverter x1,4 or x2,0 AF does not work.

    link with first photos

    CANON 100-400 CANON

    reviewed August 26th, 2008 (purchased for $899)