Sports photographer Liam McAvoy shares his favourite piece of kit: the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens
Liam McAvoy has been a photographer for over 15 years and lives in the South East. See more of his work at www.sittl.co.uk or on Instagram @liammac_uk
AP: Tell us about your photography background
LM: I was a late starter to photography. It was only after my daughter was born that I started to take it more seriously. As for sports photography, it was 2002 when I was the 1st team player/manager of the local football team De Beers AFC in Somerset West, South Africa. I took my Fuji Finepix to a pre-season friendly and snapped away.
I became inspired by sports photographer Peter ‘Bee’ Barnard who freelanced for the local paper and it was after seeing his superb images week after week that I thought I could do the same when my playing days were over. After moving back to the UK, I covered local sport, which I still enjoy the most.
After a while I got in touch with a local paper and as luck would have it, I landed the job as a press photographer on a permanent basis for the Surrey Mirror. I now only freelance for the group due to cuts. I also work with a professional photo agency covering professional sports events across the country.
AP: What does your kit for sports photography consist of?
LM: It all depends on the event I am shooting and where I’ll be sitting as to what gear I take. No less than two camera bodies, usually three. My workhorses are a Sony Alpha 9, Alpha 7 and a Canon EOS-1D X.
Lenses I frequently use include the Canon 16-35mm, Sony 24-105mm, Sony 70-200mm and my trusty Sigma 120-300mm. My Godox speedlite is also essential when I’m covering hospitality or headshots. I use my Thinktank airport roller bag or Pelicase to move my gear around.
AP: If you could pick one item of kit you couldn’t live without, what would it be?
LM: When I’m covering a football, rugby or hockey match I pick my Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports coupled with my Sony A9. The versatility of the focal length makes it my go-to lens. For some matches it may be the only lens I use for the main action, depending on where I am sitting.
AP: Did you buy it from new and what was it that made you want to purchase it?
LM: Yes I bought it from new. I was drawn to the price of the lens, which is much more affordable than a 300mm prime. The versatility of the focal length and wide aperture are of great benefit under low-light situations.
At the time I was looking to purchase a 300mm prime and came across this lens with some great reviews. The older version was apparently quite soft, but this one is pin-sharp. I took a chance and I’ve been extremely happy since day one.
AP: Can you elaborate about how it performs in use?
LM: The lens focuses quickly and has optical stabilisation which, if needed, can be turned on from a flick of a switch. A monopod is needed as it is a heavy lens and the zoom ring is smooth when tracking and framing subjects. I’ve found it performs superbly on my Sony A9 using the Sigma MC-11 mount converter.
There are Custom Switch settings, and by using Sigma’s USB dock it’s possible to adjust focus speed, focus accuracy-priority and micro adjust autofocus. This is useful for adjusting the lens to different conditions when needed.
AP: Have you identified any weaknesses or disadvantages in your possession?
LM: Anticipating the action can be all sports photographers’ weakness. As far as the lens goes, the weight is a big disadvantage. It weighs in at a hefty 3.5kg, so I would recommend supporting it on a monopod unless you are looking for an arm workout.
AP: If it could be improved in any way, how would this be?
LM: It is a heavy lens, so if Sigma could find a way to shed some weight that would brilliant. While they’re are at it I wouldn’t say no to an increase to 400mm, while maintaining the fast f/2.8 aperture. Maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but we can all dream of the perfect lens for our photography.
AP: Do you have any plans to replace, add to or upgrade your current kit?
LM: I have no plans to upgrade my kit at the moment. Sure, it would be nice to upgrade to the latest and greatest gear but I will get by. Unfortunately, the days of making good money on a sale to a national newspaper are long gone.
AP: Tell us how you think your setup/kitbag might look ten years from now?
LM: Ten years from now my kitbag might be a tad lighter as I explore other avenues and different subjects and genres. I will be surprised, but also happy, if I am still doing what I’m doing now in a decade’s time.