Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM review

A review of the Sigma 150-500 from a real world point of view.

Those of you that know me must have noticed that I like to spend time outdoors, walking in a nature reserve trying to get good shots of the inhabitants. Up until two days ago I did most of that with a Nikon 70-300 VR. A very nice lens, well built, able to take a lot of abuse but 300mm is a bit short for smaller mammals and birds.

Recently I got a bit of extra cash and decided to look into the available options for going just a bit longer. I did a lot of googling, boy did I google! I've also posted in a few internet forums. What I got was a lot of confusing information and a large load of very expensive solutions and snobism.

Old and long manual focus lenses.
400mm f3.5. Quite a rare lens, I found none in my country and only 1 in europe at a very high price. Ebay had a few in the sub-1000 euro class but all showed distinct signs of a long and hard life.
500mm f4 Ai-P. Huge lens, only about 7500 of this beauty ever produced. Rare on the used market and hard to find. Goes for 2000 euros for a decent one.
3rd party lenses. There's a few 300mm f2.8 lenses from the former soviet union, none in the area otherwise I would have gone and checked one. I briefly tried an old 400mm f5.6 vivitar which was a huge disappointment. Tokina also produced a 300mm f2.8 which is supposedly quite decent but also hard to find.

Autofocus solutions
400mm f5.6 sigma. Their latest version is supposed to be quite good. Out of production for a few years already and hard to find. If you can find one it's an interesting option since they go for around 500 euros.
Nikon 300mm f4+1.4TC gives you effectively a 420mm f5.6 and, judging from the samples on various websites that's a good combination. Nikon made this in two versions, a normal AF version which goes for 600-700 used and an AF-S version which is more expensive and hard to find used. I got hints from a Nikon rep that this lens is next up for replacement by a VR version.
Nikon's 80-400. Nicely built, VR but no AF-S so glacially slow to focus. I got mixed information on sharpness on the long end so it may suffer from sample variation.
Sigma 50-500 in it's various incarnations. Once again, very mixed information on sharpness. At least two versions without OS and the current one with OS goes for about 1300 euros.

At this point I pretty much gave up the search. I very briefly contemplated moving to Canon since they have very affordable 100-400 and 400mm f5.6 lenses but then sanity hit me again.

I went to a shop, had a good look at the Sigma 150-500, shot this handheld at 15 meters, 1/30 and 500mm in the shop:

new toy at 500mm 1/30

And plunked down almost 800 euros of my hard earned cash. Sales clerk tried to sell me a 86mm B+W protective filter for 130 euros which I politely declined figuring that I could do better on ebay (a Hoya SMC filter is on it's way for less than half that)

I did get a packet of optech rainsleeves, somehow I don't trust the sealing on this Sigma nearly as much as I trust my Nikon.

At home I noticed a card in the box that promised me that if I registered on the Sigma site they would extend my warranty to three years. Sigma seems the first manufacturer to do something about the inequality in warranties between Europe and the USA so thumbs up to them.

Out in the field
Of course I was keen to see what this brute would do out in the field, after all that's why I bought it. Combined with my D300 it's about 2500 grams of gear hanging on a neckstrap and that's something you noticed. I decided to use this lens like I do my 70-300, shooting from a monopod if possible but doing the occasional handheld shot as well.


A crop from a shot at, according to my exif, 42 meters!
Exposure 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture f/14.0
Focal Length 380 mm (Still getting used to the zoom ring)
ISO Speed 640

hmm, note to self, that zoom ring needs to go all the way to the right!

Grey Wagtail

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture f/7.1
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 640

A grey wagtail, cropped a bit. These are nice birds, foraging along the water they are not extremely shy but do like to keep some distance. Up until now a shot like this would have required excellent light and shooting to get something to crop this far.

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.005 sec (1/200)
Aperture f/6.3
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 1000

My regular model, fallow deer. I decided to go to 500mm to see what I would get in detail from the fur on the animal.

In addition to these shots, which are good enough for flickr for me, I also produced a number of what I like to call ident shots, pictures where there's enough information to identify the animal but not necessarily of a quality that you are proud of.

That was the end of day one, light was failing me and I was cold. The next day I took it with me to the office to do some bird spotting in my lunch break. This is a lens that attracts attention, lots of it.

Due to the weather, snow and windy, a lot of small birds were absent from their normal spots. Still, in a brief bit of sunshine I managed to capture this:

Song Thrush

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture f/11.0
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 500

This is what I bought this lens for! A comfortable working distance of about 9 meters in this shot which is enough not to spook the bird. Excellent sharpness on the body, a little less on the head but that's most likely due to 1/250 shutter speed and the fact that this trush was busy demolishing a snail.

More samples
I'm busy learning to work with this lens. I use the same tag on all my pictures shot with this lens so if you want to see more shots just go here:

I've now worked enough with this lens to form an opinion. It's heavy enough to start thinking about an alternative to the standard Nikon strap I'm using on my D300.
Focus can be a bit nervous at times, especially beyond 400mm it's easy to focus on a branch just in front or behind of your model. I've also seen it attempting to lock onto falling snow.
Optical stabilisation or OS for shot works and works well. I have observed a slight delay before it fully kicks in, about half a second (read the manual, it's mentioned in there). I got the impression that it starts up immediately but needs a bit of time to work fully, wouldn't surprise me since it's a lot of heavy glass.
The balance is beautiful! It's center of gravity seems to be just behind the focus ring right on the tripod collar.
Birds in flight is a major challenge. At 300mm+ the angle of view makes it difficult to follow the bird and at around 300mm the Nikon 70-300 VR is just quicker to focus.

If you're into birds or other wildlife and you have less than 1000 euros to spend this lens deserves a serious look. If you got a bit more to spend you could explore some of the other options on my short list.

1 comment:

mahasiswa teladan said...

wow amazing sharp lenses..
beauty tone and awesome bokeh..
Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)