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Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sports Review

Check out the Sigma 150-600mm Sport on Ebay

This is my review of the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sports lens. I'm using the lens on a Nikon D600 body. There are a lot of reviews out there on this particular lens and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel so-to-speak. What I do want to do is answer the questions I haven’t been able to definitely find from the other reviews on the Internet.

Can you get sellable images from this lens? Is it that sharp?

I sold my Nikon 400mm f3.5 to buy this lens. I was a bit worried about doing this. I wanted the convenience of being able to handhold the lens if need be. Auto-focus was also a plus. The Nikon 400mm f3.5 is a great lens and I’ve gotten many spectacular shots from it but I’ve missed far more shots than I’ve nailed. Anyway, when the Sigma came I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re pixel peeping the 30 year old 400mm f3.5 certainly comes out ahead, but so what? The differences are so small to me it’s a non-issue. I’m sure chat rooms are full of comparisons against this lens and Nikon or Canon primes. Who cares! You can sell the photos from this lens. Get out there and take pics! I will post some shots comparing the two lenses but since I’ve sold the Nikon 400mm I’ll need to wait for a bird to perch on the same pole so I can get a direct comparison. Sharpness, micro-contrast, and color saturation will all be marginally better with a Nikon prime. It’s really not enough of a difference to worry about. I used to spend hours reading all of these reviews and looking at sample pics. In my opinion, the difference in price does not justify the slight difference in optical performance. Spend that extra money on tools that will allow you to get closer to the action.

Should I buy the Nikon 200-500mm instead?

You should buy the Nikon if weight is an issue for you. The Nikon is lighter, has better stabilization, and is a constant f5.6. I would argue that the Sigma is sharper at 500mm than the Nikon, and at 600mm, well the Nikon can’t play there nor can it hit 150mm. All of these differences are minor. If you want a lens built to professional standards you want the Sigma. The Nikon is built like a Nikon consumer level lens. Nothing wrong there but I like pumper zooms to be built like a tank. The Sigma sport certainly is. Again, these differences are minor. If weight isn’t a concern I would go with the Sigma. I used to have the Sigma 150-500mm. This lens blows that one away. Especially in the bokeh department. The old Sigma had nauseating bokeh. That is subjective but for some reason it made me nauseous and wasn’t very appealing.

AF Fine-Tune

Make sure you AF fine-tune this lens! This should go without saying for all of your lenses but when the lens first came I was happy with AF fine-tune off. After a few hundred pics I noticed I needed a fine-tune of +10. My photos are now amazing. I figured this out by shooting the corner of a wall by accident. I have a split-focus screen and realized the straight lines of the corner of the wall didn’t meet. Those of you that have used a split-focus screen will know what I mean. If you don’t have one you can either buy a focus adjustment cardboard sheet online (basically just a piece of cardboard with a bunch of lines on it) or stagger some objects close together. The objective here is to figure out if your lens is back-focusing or front-focusing. My D600 usually back-focuses so it was surprising to find that I needed a +10 adjustment. I have a split-focus screen because many of my lenses are manual focus only. It’s actually a hindrance on a lens with a minimum aperture of f5-6.3 because they need a lot of light to work effectively.

If you have the Sigma dock you can even take this a step further and fine-tune every focal length at every distance. This really comes in handy since lenses may perform differently at different distances and focal lengths. The AF fine-tune in the camera is kind of a general fix. The Sigma dock allows for very exacting focus corrections. If you have a split screen this gets really easy. Just grab a pen and paper and find a street sign. The edge of the sign works well with a split-screen to nail perfect focus. Adjust AF fine-tune so that you nail focus for 8.5 feet @ 150mm and mark down the correction you needed. Repeat this for 20 feet, 50 feet, and infinity focus. Then do the same for 250mm, 400mm, & 600mm. You will use all of those corrections in the Sigma Dock software to perfectly fine-tune your lense. Then set your camera's fine-tune to zero and forget about it. If you don't have a split-focus screen you'll have to get a focus chart to perfectly tune this lens. I'm splitting hairs here. You may not need any corrections. Just remember that once tuned it's only tuned for that particular camera. Sorry.

The images below where all shot on a tripod, mirror up, and remote trigger. This is to show best case center sharpness.

300mm f6 - Perfectly sharp. Very pleasing contrast and depth to the scene. The lens seems to overexpose a bit. This was shot with an exposure compensation of -2. I shoot everything at -2 with this lens.

300mm f6 100% crop. Nothing to see here. Great results.

300mm f8 - I had an issue here with the wind shaking my tripod. I should have reshot this. It's too late now. The blurry image at 100% was from wind shaking the tripod.

Camera shake from wind. Just ignore this crop unless you want to see what a slight breeze can do to your images when the wind pushes against a giant lens hood.

600mm f6.3 - Perfectly sharp results

This 100% crop really impressed me. This is wide open and it appears tack sharp.

600mm f8 - Marginally better at f8

This 100% crop at f8 is marginally better than at f6. Both results are great.

f6.3 & f8 side-by-side

You can see the image is a tad better at f8. Even at f6.3 there is nothing to complain about. I used to shoot my 400mm Nikon at f8 all the time because I needed the depth of field. So why spend so much more money on pro-level primes when you'll be shooting at f8 anyway?

Vignetting f6.3 - more vignetting than at f8

Vignetting f8 - Brighter image with less vignetting

Very minor differences here. All images seem to be a tad brighter at f8 vs f6.3 with a little less vignetting. Pretty typical for all lenses. Looks like I have some dust on my sensor.

I've seen reviews stating that the optical stabilization is not good enough to hand-hold the lens. I know this isn't true because I've gotten great images at 600mm at 1/50th of a second. I find that simply amazing. The stabilization does tend to jump around more than Nikon's VR. Some images may be taken during those jumps so it's important to fire off a few images in a row but I've never had a problem with the OS system not functioning as designed.

Handheld Shots:

600mm 1/200s. This image rivals the tripod image. This is shot at a shutter speed 1/3 of what it should be for this focal length and I'm still getting tripod equivalent sharpness.

600mm 1/50s. The 100% crop is starting to show some blur.

600mm 1/40s. The 100% crop is starting to show a little more blur.

600mm 1/20s. The un-cropped image is usuable as long as you don't excessively crop.

Usable shots all the way down to 1/20th of a second. This is why I don't understand people saying you can't get decent shots handheld with this lens. I think it's outstanding. Add a monopod and go even slower. Obviously for action shots you need much higher shutter speeds but OS isn't going to help that anyway. This is my wildlife lens, not low light action shot lens. I'll shoot some birds in flight tomorrow to test focus acquisition.

Old Nikon Prime vs Sigma 150-600mm Sport

I'm going to attempt to answer a question I don't see answered very often. It's suprising because the Sigma 150-600mm Sports lens is prices around the same as old manual focus Nikon primes. You would think there would be more direct comparisons online. Anyway, the lens I used to own was the Nikon 400mm f3.5 ED manual focus prime. It was an outstanding lens and can be found in mint condition for around $900-$1000. The problem with the lens is obviously that its manual focus and also has no stabilization. I was never able to get sharp shots handholding the lens. I can't make a direct comparison with images because I sold the lens. The best I can do is take a wondering photo from the Nikon and shoot at the same location and distance. Sorry, I know there's not a bird in the Sigma pic, I can't make them come on command. Wish I could. The Nikon 400mm prime was shot on a tripod, remote corded trigger, and mirror up. I went all out. The Sigma was shot handheld as I was walking by. 5 Minutes of setup for the Nikon. 1 second to raise my arm and shoot the pic for the Sigma. I can't begin to describe how much that speed matters for nature shots. Sure there are times you'll have time to tripod the Sigma, but having the option not to is simply amazing. Ok, lets look at the images.

The first image is the Nikon prime shot at 400mm f5.6 1/1000s ISO 200. The second image is the Sigma at 600mm shot wide open at f6.3 handheld 1/1000s ISO 400. Keep in mind the Nikon is stopped down a bit.
Colors look beautiful in both images. The background simply melts away. It's interesting that the metal bar appears to be the same distance away. I stood in exactly the same spot but the sigma is at 600mm while the Nikon is at 400mm. Looks like the Sigma cheats a little at closer distances with a bit of focus breathing.

The first image is the Nikon and second is the Sigma. The first day was overcast and today had harsh light which caused the bright overexposed highlights on the metal. Disregarding the lighting differences, would you take this small dip in resolution for the convenience of not having to set everything up all the time? I sure would. I'm sure that if I could reproduce the exact lighting conditions, get that bird back on the pole, and tripoded the sigma, I could take an identical image.

So, is it worth buying the old prime and loosing autofocus and stabilization? Not to me it's not. Certainly not from a sharpness or convienance standpoint. Some photographers need f4 or f2.8. Aperture will be the biggest difference with these lenses.

Sigma 150-600mm Sports lens vs Nikon 80-200mm f2.8

I have an 80-200mm Nikon laying around so I figured I'd put it up against the Sigma. Granted this lens is used for totally different purposes but since they both can reach 200mm I thought it would be interesting to test them out there. The first image is the Nikon and the second is the sigma. Both were shot wide open. f2.8 for the Nikon and f5.3 for the sigma. The Nikon was shot at 1/4000th of a second and the sigma was shot at 1/250th. The lighing didn't change, both were at an exposure compensation of -1. This is what I was talking about with the sigma overexposing.

Both images are sharp. The Nikon is a bit on the warm side and the sigma a bit on the cool side. The exposure diffence could have something to do with this. Obviously there is more background blur to the Nikon shot at f2.8.

This is very interesting. The Nikon is on the left. Notice when we zoom in the sigma is actually sharper and it was shot at 1/250th of a second handheld. To give Nikon credit, 200mm is where it should perform its worse, while the sigma isn't even half way through its focal range. Still, I'm very impressed with the Sigma to take the sharpness lead here against a zoom that has always been Nikons sharpest. Obviously you're not going to be shooting indoor weddings with the Sigma like you will the Nikon but at 200mm strictly talking about center sharpness it looks like the Sigma has the Nikon beat. I can't compare corner sharpness because I would need to stop down the nikon to match Sigma's aperture for the same depth of field and then it wouldn't be a fair test. I'm not really concerned about corner sharpness anyway. I don't know anyone shooting a 150-600mm for landscapes. If you shoot brick walls for a living send me a comment and I'll see what I can do.

Color Reproduction and Micro-Contrast

For this test I wanted to put the Sigma up against Zeiss. I mean if you're going to do something you might as well do it right. The Zeiss is first followed by the Sigma. The Zeiss is a Contax 135mm f2.8 that I've modified to work on my Nikon camera. It's a beautiful lens as most Contax lenses are.
Obviously I'm going to need more photos here to really delve into the question of color reproduction and micro contrast. These two images look identical to me. The Zeiss on top was shot at f4 and the Sigma below at f8. I wanted to stop both down a little just to give the best results possible. I really don't see any difference in this high-contrast scene. The out of focus light balls of the Sigma look more pleasing than the 6-blade aperture of the Zeiss, but thats not a part of this test. I'll add more comparison shots tomorrow. I probably need to shoot wood piles in black and white for micro-contrast comparisons.

Check out the Sigma 150-600mm Sport on Ebay

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