Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Review

Wildlife photography is perhaps the most demanding genre of photography in terms of gear. Since most of the time you can't (and shouldn't) get up close to wildlife, you need a massively long lens in order to capture those amazing shots like the pros get. In most areas of photography, the skill of the photographer is far more of a factor in great images than the gear they use, but when it comes to wildlife you not only need a high degree of skill, you also have the gear to match. If you have the skill, but not the dough, the Sigma 150 - 600mm Contemporary lens offers a way to get into wildlife photography without taking out a second mortgage.

Note that images in this review have been processed in Lightroom. I have only done minor edits (basically I've just lightly processed the RAW images).

Pro wildlife photographers depend on lenses that cost in excess of $10,000 attached to cameras that exceed $5,000, and will likely have another $5,000 - $10,000 worth of gear with them as well. Basically, what they're carrying in their bags is worth more than the cars they drive! However, if you're not making the kind of money with that gear to justify owning that gear, you can still get some wonderful images of wildlife with an entry level DSLR and the Sigma 150 - 600mm lens.

Now, this is by no means a replacement for those super expensive lenses. The pros who can afford it
will still want to hang on to their big white bazookas that produce sharp images and which won't fail them in low light. However, I think even a Pro might want to add the Sigma to their kit.

See, the problem with the big beautiful lenses, aside from the price, is that they are bloody massive, staggeringly heavy, and in the case of the fast primes, not very versatile. If you can drive to your location, or can hire someone to carry your gear for you, you still have to shoot with the things. Your body will not thank you if you need to hand hold them! The lack of versatility in the case of the primes is why you see people with two or three giant chunks of glass, each with a camera attached, hanging from them! Pro wildlife and sports photographers might stand a good chance competing in the Olympics as well as shooting them if they competed in weight lifting!

A super zoom like the Sigma 150 - 600 Contemporary lets you cram a huge range of focal lengths into a relatively compact body. It's still really heavy, and a long shoot done handheld with it will leave you with sore muscles, but by comparison it's light as a feather. You can carry it with you on a hike into the wilderness, you can film wildlife without being restricted by focal length or having to change lenses, and you don't have to hire any porters!

So, what are you sacrificing to achieve that price, weight, and versatility? Not as much as you might think! The Sigma captures beautiful, sharp images with few defects. The major difference in image quality between it and eye watteringly expensive glass is the difference between really great and spectacular. The 5.6 - 6.3 variable aperture is fairly dark, and I've found it will barely even autofocus at all in low light. In dark conditions you will find yourself using very high ISO's and slower shutter speed than you might like, but the great thing about modern cameras is that they do a great job of mitigating noise at high ISOs. I can shoot up to ISO 3200 on my Canon 80D and still get very good images. In a pinch I don't mind going all the way to 6400, and even 12800 can sometimes produce a usable shot.

421mm, 1/400 sec. f/6.3, ISO 3200

I love how many options Sigma gives us on this lens - there are settings for practically every situation you'll run into, and if you have the Sigma USB dock you can make your own settings for whatever isn't covered by the defaults. I hope to cover the USB dock soon, but first I have to learn how to use it. It's definitely a tool aimed at pros who are willing to take the time to fine tune their gear in order to get the best results. One problem some people have had with the 150 - 600 is that it doesn't always ship with the focus system perfectly calibrated for their camera. I'm not 100% sure yet, but I think this may be the case for me, so I need to dig into the software and see if there is a problem with my lens, and whether or not I can fix it with the USB dock.

421mm, 1/400, f/6.3, ISO 3200

The build quality of the lens is really excellent. I love how this feels and looks. The exterior may be only plastic, but it feels rugged and durable, and very capable of protecting the lens. Also, the plastic construction has the advantage of further reducing weight. The big brother "Sport" version of this lens is made all of metal, so it's much more rugged, but it also weighs a lot more, and costs twice as much.

You get a lot of nice accessories with the lens; In the box the lens is packages in a soft, protective case that has an included strap. This is very useful, as unless you have a really large camera bag you will need to cary it seperately from the rest of your gear. Also included are a great big lens hood, another strap - this one for the lens itself, and a rubber ring to replace the tripod collar shood you want to only shoot handheld and want to do so without the tripod collar adding weight and getting in the way. I love it when lens companies include so many usefull and necessary accessories. 

The Sigma 150 - 600mm Contemporary lens really is a bargain, even at its list price of about $1,000. It is by far the best option if you're on a tight budget and want to add the capability to get really great sports and wildlife photos. Even though I have only had it a few days I have no trouble wholeheartedly recommending it. I don't think that opinion is going to change for the worse, but if it does I'll be sure to post a follow up to this review. However, I don't see any reason why  my feelings would change the Sigma 150 -600mm Contemporary truly is a magnificent piece of glass.




Check prices on Amazon here:

This is an affiliate link, and making a purchase through it helps me keep reviewing gear and making the photos and videos that I so love creating and sharing with you all.

Sample images:
(Full image, then cropped image)

600mm, 1/400 sec. f/6.3 ISO 3200

244mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 400


180mm, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1250


600mm 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200