I am an amateur wildlife photographer, and I always seek ways to get closer to my subjects. I’ve somewhat mastered the art of stealthily approaching birds, rabbits, insects, and other creatures.
But in those cases where I am dealing with an extremely shy customer – a deer, a red-tailed hawk, or merganser duck – I really need to get much closer. A long lens can really help here…
As a primary long lens, I use a Nikon NIKKOR AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED Telephoto Zoom. While this lens has as its respective strengths and weaknesses, it has proven to be an overall reliable nature and wildlife zoomer in good light. But recently I’ve become voraciously hungry to get closer.
No Local Lenses On Stock
My next step has been to load up with a more powerful telephoto lens.
But due to the lack of stock-on-hand in local camera shops, I have been unable to try out any zoom lenses. I assume this is because of the bad economy. Apparently people aren’t buying large lenses, and camera shops cannot afford stuff sitting around on a shelf.
Desperate to try anything, I decided to order online and take my chances on having to return a lens order…
Sigma 150 -500 mm F/5.0-6.3 APO DG OS HSM
In recent months, I had seriously considered Sigma’s “Bigma” lens with a broad focal range of 50-500mm. But at USD $1600, I decided I could easily go with its less costly (USD $1100) cousin, the Sigma 150 -500 mm F/5.0-6.3 APO DG OS HSM.
As a second reason not to get the expensive Bigma 50-500mm, there is the issue of its range of focal length spread: It’s markedly much more difficult to design and manufacture a good lens with such a large zoom spread. Assuming I could get an overall better lens in exchange for less focal range, I opted to go with Sigma’s 150-500mm.
Factors to Consider
When looking at product reviews in general, many times customers lean on one side or the other. People either love or hate the product they review. Strangely, with the Sigma 150-500 lens, the court seemed somewhat spread out.
While some folks who had bought this lens raised a few red flags about its performance and construction, the overall consensus was that it was a good lens. In all fairness to the consumers and to Sigma, what defines a “good lens” is up for debate, and I soon saw what this meant to me.
Willing to take a chance, I ordered and anxiously awaited its arrival.
The lens arrived a few days later. After I mounted it to my Nikon D7000, the first letdown was evident within seconds.
The lens did issue that tell-tale “snap” that says it has fastened securely to the camera’s body. For confirmation, I twisted the lens in the unfastening direction without pushing the release catch. To my dismay, the lens had some noticeable play at the connection – perhaps about 0.5mm’s worth of rotation. While this may not seem like much play, I became concerned that over time this play might later develop into a larger range of movement.
Possible Damage to Both Camera and Lens
In searching the words “play connection sigma 150-500” online, I saw that many other Sigma customers who ordered this lens had confronted the same problem.
This issue has been so bad for some, that the movement degraded the lens’ electrical connections with their camera’s body, thus causing an error message in the camera. Some camera owners even had to reload their camera’s firmware as a result of damage derived from the bad connection.
While I wasn’t able to find a reference to it online, Sigma’s documentation accompanying the camera specifically warns against disconnecting the lens while the camera is still powered up, lest this may cause damage to the lens’ inner workings.
So, from the get-go, some poor workmanship had cast a shadow over my confidence in using the Sigma 150 -500.
Other flaws were soon self-evident.
Because Sigma has to make money from all corners of the market, it makes sense that they design stuff with the “Big Two” hotshots in mind: Nikon and Canon. While it’s reasonable to assume certain lens features remain the same for both players, Sigma really needs to rethink their design when accommodating folks used to one brand.
The lens I bought sports the official name of “Sigma 150 -500 mm F/5.0-6.3 APO DG OS HSM for Nikon.” With the words “for Nikon” in mind, this lens should be made to accommodate the Nikon user, right?
Sorry, not with Sigma’s 150-500mm.
A Conspiracy with Canon?
As a Nikon man, there are certain “rules of play” that should be inviolable. I was miffed to find that in order to zoom in for a faraway shot, I had to twist Sigma’s zoom knob in a counterclockwise direction – totally opposite of clockwise, as seen with Nikon’s typical zoom lens movement!
When trying the Sigma 150-500 in the great outdoors, I lost a few chances for some super shots. While trying to zoom in and out, I struggled against years of twisting my hand in one direction for zooming out, and another for coming back in.
After a few moments’ research online, I saw that Canon’s smaller zoom lens movement is opposite of Nikon’s: With Canon, you twist counterclockwise to zoom out, and vice versa to zoom in. When laying out the specs for the 150-500mm design, did Sigma’s executives conspire with Canon to favor their zoom movement?
I will leave this speculation to the conspiracy theorists out there!
Reprise: The Loose Connector Issue
When twisting the lens either to zoom in or out, the lens connector play issue became all the more evident. In twisting the knob to zoom out, the lens’ connector banged noisily against the bayonet stop of my camera’s body. In twisting to zoom out, it banged yet again.
Also, when walking comfortably in the field with my camera on a quick-draw shoulder sling, I may allow the Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens to slap gently against my thigh. The force of this movement is so small that I know there is no need for concern about long-term damage. The lens is connected securely to the camera body, no play at all.
At more than four pounds, it’s inevitable to allow the Sigma lens to hang freely also. While doing this for the first time, in just moments another alarm bell rang out. While swinging freely at my side, and upon gently touching the side of my leg as I walked, the connection produced an almost unnoticeable knocking noise that I felt reverberate up the camera strap to my shoulder.
I tried repositioning the lens to obviate the problem, but no luck. Either go a-knocking, or heft that giant lens in my arms. A real pain!
What would you do?
Just Average Imagery
Already exasperated with the aforementioned design issues, the ultimate disappointment came when I saw the images Sigma’s 150-500mm captured.
When it comes to the cheaper of Sigma’s two big lenses, the word “cheap” comes to the fore.
Sorry folks, as an avid wildlifer, I am willing to pay for a great lens that will deliver great photos. However, at nearly USD $1100, I expect exceptional imagery. Apparently I haven’t paid enough!
As other folks have mentioned in reviews online, Sigma’s big lens does do a great job bringing in the image from afar. But what happens when later you look at the image on the computer? In stretching the optics all the way out to 500mm, the images you see from Sigma’s big bruiser don’t match the price tag.
In a few words, the images on a long-stretch are soft, unclear, hedging on downright fuzzy. Mid-range is fine, and short-range is acceptably good despite the subject being so close as to eliminate the need for zoom anyway.
Sigma’s 150-500mm is an average lens built to perform at its average zoom range. Considering its not-so-average price, what a shame.
Conclusion: Merchandise Returned
No doubt there are loads of happy people out there carrying big lenses made by Sigma. Perhaps their hefty babies meet their needs for a general image without having to crop it. Maybe others like to zoom in and out for ideas on composition before pressing the shutter button. For general applications like these, the Sigma is a great lens.
As a wildlife photographer, I seek detail on the far stretch. Granted every optics package has it limits, these limits typically show up on the far and near ends of the zoom range. With my current Nikon 70-300mm long lens, I feel it delivers better imagery at 300mm than Sigma’s 150-500 at 500mm. Despite not being as magnified, I’ll go with a better image with a less zoomy Nikon lens, and crop it. Considering the soft, blurry detail that Sigma delivers, I cannot even do any cropping!
While some folks endeavor to provide more scientific evaluations for lens packages – such as side-by-side photo comparisons with comparable lenses – after several surface-level failings, I won’t even bother. It’s a case of broken faith on a few small (albeit important) issues that no lens consumer should have to worry about.
Sorry Sigma. I’m returning your lens for a full refund.
Let me know if you decide to up the ante…