Curse you wicked polarizer!

It was a rookie mistake. I should’ve known better.

I took my Sigma 70-200mm lens out the other weekend for its first real sports photography test. I was going to take pictures of my son playing lacrosse just to see what zoom I was going to get and how the burst mode was going to work for me.

Everything went great. I was able to get plenty of shots in rapid succession. I was able to follow the action and keep the kids in the center of the frame. Sometimes I had to back off because I was just too close…

Back at the computer, things were a different story. Every picture was blurry. Only one or two were even close to being usable. It was a huge disappointment.

At first I thought it was the camera. That thought didn’t appeal to me. But other pictures had turned out alright so it then occurred to me, that the lens might be suspect. I’m not sure which made me feel worse, the camera being at fault or the lens.

I was pretty sure I wasn’t at fault. I’d been able to grab some good shots with another lens no problem. I thought I was in pretty good control behind the lens by now.

I took some test outside of stationary objects – specially, a sign on a tree.
– Blurry.

I readjusted the Shutter Speed.
– Blurry

I tested in Sports Mode; 1/1600 sec.
– Blurry

I put the camera on a tripod.
– Blurry

Camera on the tripod with Self Timer.
– Blurry

Was the camera shaking when the shutter triggered? On a tripod and at 1/1600 sec it seemed unlikely to cause problems.

The thought of sending the lens back really made me ill. I just wanted it to work! I started to think of what Sigma would ask me to do to make sure it was their lens and not something else.

Then it hit me. I had become so used to it being there I didn’t even think about it. The only change to the lens was the circular polarizer I put on. It was like in the movie where they zoom in on the knife set in the kitchen as the masked figure wanders through the house.

I took the filter off and shot a picture on the tripod with the timer and then just on the tripod.

They looked perfect.
It was time to handhold the camera and shoot some pictures. Everything shot fine. The Shutter Speed was still well over 1/1000 sec so there was no shake by me holding it.

I took the camera to the practice this weekend and tried again. The difference is night and day! All the pictures are sharp and clear. Only the occasional shot where I’m panning incorrectly came out slightly blurry. Everything looked great!

I was able to zoom right in and capture them scooping up the ball, making a pass, or crashing into each other. The lens was behaving exactly the way I was hoping.

As a sports lens it’s proving to be excellent. It can zoom right in for the tight shot or back off to grab much more of the field. I’m thinking I should really be able to get some great action once the season starts in another week or two.

So to get back to the filter. When I looked through the lens everything looked fine. Very sharp details. When I took it off the camera and looked through it, everything still looked fine. I can’t see any distortion in the actual filter, but when it’s on the camera the results are disastrous!

I did go fairly cheap with the filter, $40 for a 77mm from Amazon. I don’t know if this is just a bad copy of the filter. I read a lot of reviews and people use this one and say its fine. Don’t expect anything too spectacular, but at least it protects the lens. It’s the Sunpak 77mm circular polarizer. I have the Sunpak UV filter on the camera now and it works just fine. I have no blurring issues with that on. I want something on the front of the lens. I don’t want the bare glass exposed.

Who knows what’s happened. At least it isn’t the camera or the lens. I can deal with getting another filter. The moral of the story? Make sure to test the optics before going out to shoot. And test that filter to make sure it works!

The Sigma 70-200mm EX DG HSM Macro lens is a really good lens. So far I highly recommend it. I should have some really good pictures from it in the next week or so.

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