The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens: a Hands-On Review
The brand new Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens intends to bring super-telephoto action, event, birding, and wildlife capabilities to a broader audience. Designed specifically for Canon, Nikon, and Sigma mount cameras, this new zoom boasts affordability, durability, and high-powered performance. While optimized for full-frame cameras, it’s also compatible with APS-C-format Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sigma SA cameras. On cropped-sensor bodies, focal-length equivalency is approximately 240-960mm.
Opening the box is quite the spectacle. The lens arrives tightly packed in a large padded carrying case, which comes with a shoulder strap. Inside, the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 sits with a fabric lens-cap sleeve protecting its massive front element. A touch-tab fastener keeps the sleeve from unraveling.
ISO 2000, 389mm, f/6.3, 1/100, handheld with OS
The 150-600mm is definitely no lightweight. At over six pounds, it requires a certain finesse to maneuver and use. At its most compact, and without a hood, it measures about 11.4" in length. Extended to 600mm with its hood in place, it reaches almost 19". The included carrying case is quite nice, though in a pinch, you might be able to fit the lens into a large enough backpack or gear bag—the tradeoff for saving space would be concentrating a substantial weight into one pack. But, it’s not impossible.
ISO 640, 309mm, f/5.6, 1/200, tripod without OS
The construction looks, feels, and is rock solid. Shooting in the outdoors includes plenty of exposure to the elements, which can, in turn, dole out a beating. This lens was clearly built to handle it, presenting itself as a dust- and splash-proof metal giant. Even the lens hood is made of metal, and screws into position with a bolt. Once it’s on, it’s not going anywhere. But it does add considerable length to the already colossal lens. The front element, which has a 105mm filter thread, is treated with protective coatings to minimize smudges from dirt, oil, and fingerprints. Sure enough, it stayed thoroughly clean throughout its trial. The hood also helped block contaminants.
ISO 1600, 600mm, f/8, 1/250, tripod without OS
The included rotatable tripod collar has three linear connection ports. Since a tripod is pretty much a necessity with this lens, it’s worth mentioning that something cheap and light won’t cut it. Make sure your tripod is sturdy and can withstand a decent amount of weight. Otherwise, apart from the risk of taking a tumble, you’ll run into substantial blur from a drooping ball-head mount or wobbly legs.
ISO 250, 600mm, f/10, 1/800, handheld with OS
Handheld shooting isn't impossible, but might not be practical for more than a few minutes at a stretch. You need balance and decent arm strength to pull it off and OS is definitely helpful if you do so. Leaving the tripod collar on will assist in handheld shooting. The angled mount acts as a sort of handle for a much easier, stabilizing grip. Some photographers leave the lens hood reversed on the lens barrel when they aren’t using it. Since this one is so large, it ends up blocking the zoom ring, which is placed nearest the front element (with the focus ring behind it). If you don’t want to use the lens hood, it’s easiest to just remove it completely.
ISO 250, 600mm, f/10, 1/800, handheld with OS
On the barrel itself, several switches denote focus mode and limitation, image stabilization, and zoom lock. The zoom lock switch is not optional, because a lens of this size and weight inevitably creeps. This one is particularly handy. Apart from keeping it compact during storage, the lock can also be engaged at different focal-length markers (150, 180, 200, 250, 300, 400, 500, and 600mm) so you don’t have to deal with creep while you’re working. The focus limiter switch is familiar to most other large telephotos, and lets you narrow your range of distance to save time finding a focal point. The options are Full, 10m - ∞, and 2.6 - 10m. The toggle between Auto and Manual focus also includes an option for Manual Override, so you can make your own adjustments while shooting with autofocus. Optical Stabilization is available in two modes, with toggle OS 1 being general purpose and OS 2 better suited for panning.
The Custom Mode switch toggles between C1, C2, and Off. This feature is designed for adjustments made with the compatible Sigma USB Dock and Optimization Pro software (download link provided with dock). This little accessory can be a lifesaver for perfectionists. It screws onto the rear of your Sigma Art, Contemporary, or Sports lens like a cap, and then communicates with an easy-to-use computer interface. There, you can update your firmware and make fine-tuning adjustments to your focus-setting parameters. For a Sports line lens like the 150-600mm f/5-6.3, you can also adjust your AF speed settings, customize your focus limiter ranges, or choose one of three Optical Stabilization view modes. For a complex lens like this, these minor tweaks can make a big difference. It simply helps keep it sharp and efficient; making sure it meets its full potential.
This lens was tested with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 6D. Up first was the local zoo, where the open-air pens and bird atrium accurately mimicked a potential wildlife photography setting. It was also a great area to find some color, with the rest of New York lost to the grays and muddy browns of early winter. Super telephotos tend to be slower than regular telephotos, and as a result, they like a lot of light. This one does, too. If you can afford shooting with a smaller aperture, however, this lens's sweet spot happens around f/8. Sharp images are obtainable wide open, which is either f/5 at the wide end or f/6.3 at the long end, but stopping down shows noticeable improvement. For what it's worth, this isn't uncommon. Lenses are not often their sharpest at their maximum aperture.
ISO 1000, 450mm, f/8, 1/160, handheld with OS
One thing that was evident shooting brightly plumaged birds was beautiful color fidelity. The vibrant parrots, ibises, and flamingos were all represented with professional accuracy. The lens also has a rounded, 9-bladed aperture that yields gorgeous bokeh. This proved especially flattering when photographing animals, where subject matter was isolated effectively from the background.
ISO 125, 600mm, f/8, 1/125, tripod without OS
After the zoo, this massive telephoto was tested in a more “natural” wildlife setting, set up on a snowy beach in Central New York's Finger Lakes region. There it photographed some ducks as they paddled through a nearby inlet, and then took flight. The AF was able to track them darting through the misty sky with admirable accuracy and sharpness, even from a great distance. Later, shooting some Canadian geese along a different lake, the same findings held true. Keeping the aperture at f/8 to maximize sharpness, it was able to capture some beautiful close-up shots with the background snow and water dissolving into smooth bokeh. The focus limiter switch was also a huge help. With the geese constantly moving and becoming increasingly antsy, time was of the essence. Limiting the focal range cut AF time own considerably, and no shots were missed due to hunting. The minimum focusing distance is 102.4", and in the tested environments, that was a completely comfortable working space. There’s no reason to be closer. Reviewing the shots afterward on a computer monitor, little to no aberration was present.
For the pure sake of unconventionality, I also shot a few portraits. 150mm is undoubtedly long for a portrait (even more so on an APS-C camera body), and you’ll need enough workable distance, but it’s not impossible. It’s not something to plan for. If you’re already out shooting with this lens and you need to snap a few shots of people, it’s doable.
The 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens makes quite the statement as Sigma's newest solution to dedicated wildlife, bird, outdoor sports, or long-range event photography. Its price tag is especially hard to argue with, and it's great to see this type of affordable gear aimed at both professionals and hobbyists alike. For those of you eager to get your hands on a super-telephoto zoom without spending an absolute fortune, this durable giant can be yours.