The Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sports Lens, Sigma's newest offering in the Sports line of lenses, value packed yet offering great quality without the daylight robbery price tag.
Being a sports line lens, this Sigma is fully weather sealed with a rubber gasket at the camera mount. With the intention of this lens being used in the most gruelling of situations, this lens has an almost all metal construction (save for the rubber bits) with multiple features that set it apart from the rest. This almost all metal construction translates into a weight of 2860g, significantly heavier than its counterpart the Tamron 150-600mm, and also significantly more heavy than the new Canon 100-400 II, and it is something that can be felt as the day progresses during hand holding.
While fully retracted, the weight is fairly evenly distributed when attached to the camera. However, once you start extending that barrel towards 600mm, everything starts to become front heavy, requiring a bit of adjustment in hand holding position in order to maintain stability. While I Initially had trouble dealing with this weight disparity as zooming (having become used to using a Sigma 120-300mm OS, a constant f2.8 with internal zoom), once you start adapting to the dynamic weight distribution changes as you zoom, it becomes second nature to adjust the handling of this lens.
On the right of both images above is the Sigma 150-600mm Sport, while on the left is the previous generation Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 OS. One image showing the Sigma 150-600mm at 150mm, the other at 600mm.
Comparing construction quality, although both are made primarily of metal, there are subtle differences that put the new Sports lens on top. While the 120-300mm had a plastic lens hood, the Sigma 150-600mm has a metal one, as does the new 120-300mm Sports lens. While this does provide more structural rigidity compared to the plastic offering, it does contribute to increased weight. Something some manufacturers such as Nikon have done is make their larger lens hood carbon fibre, which offers high structural rigidity, while being lightweight. However, for a $1999 lens asking for carbon fibre might be a little bit of a stretch.
Other differences include the paint coating, which I feel is better on the new Sigma (Sigma have really picked up their quality compared to previous generation lenses), a rotating lens mount that clicks every 90 degrees, and is significantly smoother than that on the 120-300mm, together with better rubber grips on the lens focus and zoom rings.
Autofocus is also quieter on the new Sigma, and most notably the image stabilisation on the 150-600mm can barely be heard compared to the sigma 120-300mm, which has a loud mechanical clunk when it engages and disengages, with an audible whirring sound as it tries to combat hand shake.
Autofocus Speed Test
Using a HSM system to drive the autofocus, we should be greeted with fast and quiet AF, and Sigma does not disappoint in this regard.
While the normal range allows you to pick from Full Range AF, 10m-infinity or 2.6m to 10m infinity, with the Sigma USB dock you are allowed to set in C1 and C2 modes any range you want, a system that no other manufacturer has adopted.
Not only can you limit AF range, you can also change AF speeds! 3 modes are offered, which roughly translate to slow, medium and fast AF, which the premise being slow AF will be more accurate than fast AF.
Mounted on a Nikon D810, at 150mm zoom and 250mm zoom, focus is snappy and quick. Most notably, focus goes straight to where it needs to go, no going past and then having to backtrack, which is demonstrated by many 3rd party lenses as it gets to the region of interest, then hesitates as it microadjusts to get the focus right.
Switching over to the Priority Motor Drive mode though (the fastest AF mode), and to me the autofocus is clearly faster, while still retaining autofocus accuracy.
At 400mm and 600mm, AF speed is starting to slow down, although still retains its accuracy as mentioned above. Switching to Priority Motor Drive mode though does still yield increased AF speeds, and it just makes me wonder why Sigma didn't have this mode as standard to begin with.
Testing this lens on my D810 with Continuous AF and Group Area AF, I had no problems tracking moving objects. Focus was fast, accurate and very quiet in good light. In poor light, it still focussed pretty well, surprising for a relatively small aperture lens.
It is well known the Sigma Dock requires you to double the actual AF microadjustments found to be required in the camera body during testing. My values in the sigma software needed to get tack sharp images were:
This was verified sharp by comparing AF using the Viewfinder vs using Live View autofocus. These values were applied to all focus distance values.
Not too shabby, but allowing this level of customisation is just phenomenal.
Optical Image Stabilisation
After impressing me with AF speeds, I was optimistic of the OS capabilities. However, I was sorely disappointed. Using the OS, and no matter which mode I had set it to (OS in the USB dock also comes in 3 flavours), I consistently found the OS inferior to that of the previous generation Sigma 120-300mm OS, and as an additional comparison, significantly inferior to the Nikon 70-200 F4.
The video on the left is the Sigma 120-300mm OS, the one on the right the new Sigma 150-600mm Sport. Both are initially shot with OS turned off (with some hand shaking, a little exaggerated, to test the systems). I then turn the OS on, and again subjectively maintained the same amount of hand shake as before. Note how the Sigma 120-300mm is significantly more stable than the 150-600mm sport. I repeated this test numerous times, and found the same result over and over.
I have no idea why this is happening. The lens was updated to the latest firmware on testing (1.01 for Nikon Mount) and regardless of which mode was selected in the Sigma Dock for OS, the test yielded the same results: The Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens had significantly inferior results to the Sigma 120-300mm.
I double checked my camera, and on the Nikon D810 was set to Continuous AF (the AF module on this block of metal is almost as good as that of the 4Ds in terms of AF performance) to ensure almost instantaneous AF adjustments. Continuous AF was chosen to ensure the last nuances of hand shake could not impact upon the final image.
Could it be my hand holding technique? I highly doubt it, as the video demonstrates similar levels of induced hand shaking before the OS was switched on.
Whatever the cause, it does require higher shutter speeds to capture sharp images compared to the Sigma 120-300mm at 300mm.
Compared to the Nikon 70-200 F4 at 200mm? Let's just say I can shoot the Nikon 70-200 at 200mm at 1/10s and still get sharp images....
Image Sharpness and Chromatic Aberration
Ok, so we arrive at one of the most important parts of this review: Image Sharpness, which also happens to include CA.
Below is some brick wall porn for your viewing, following by an analysis by none other than myself. You can download the full sized JPEG images, spanning 36MP ~20MB each to analyse the individual grains of sand in the mortar, or brick imperfections by clicking on the images below and saving them after they load.
Images shot from a tripod, using a timer to ensure no shake at all. OS off.
Images were taken as RAW, then converted to JPEG with no sharpening, profiles, CA removal or adjustments made. This is to exclude the possibility of the Camera's in body raw to jpeg converter interfering with the image at all.
150mm f5 150mm f5.6 150mm f8
250mm 5.6 250mm f8
400mm f6 400mm f8
600mm f6.3 600mm f8
Enough of brick wall porn. I'll summarise the findings for you all (remember when looking at these photos you are looking at 36MP, which is a lot to deal with)
150mm: Starts at f5. Centre very sharp, with vignetting in corners. Moving to the corners, detail and contrast decreases, but not too shabby. By f8 corners have picked up in sharpness, vignetting almost disappears. Centre sharpness doesn't improve that much, is already very sharp.
250mm: Starts at f5.6. Centre once again very sharp, corners not too shabby with some vignetting. f8 shows corner sharpness improvements, but still lagging behind the centre.
400mm: Starts at f6. Centre still pretty sharp, minimal vignetting in corners, corner performance still not too shabby, but I'm starting to notice the corners lagging behind the centre faster than at 150mm and 250mm. Going to f8 there isn't a significant improvement in sharpness.
600mm: Starts at f6.3. Centre again still sharp, but not as sharp as at 400mm, corners lagging behind like at 400mm, but at a more rapid pace now. Vignetting is minimal. Going to f8 shows minimal improvement by eye.
CA subjectively in these photos, and more prominently on sample photos I took of trees, leaves and animals show minimal CA, thanks to the multiple elements, coatings and low diffraction elements used in the lens' construction.
Now for a bonus comparison: the 150-600mm at 200mm vs Nikon 70-200 F4 at 200mm
Nikon 70-200 at 200mm f5.6 Sigma 150-600 at 200mm f5.6
Nikon 70-200 at 200mm f8 Sigma 150-600 at 200mm f8
Comparing the two, at 200mm f5.6, centre sharpness the Nikon and Sigma are fairly similar. Going to the corners, the Nikon takes a fairly hefty lead when you pixel peep. It has better contrast and sharpness. At f8.0, the Nikon is still ahead in the corners.
A direct attack on the Tamron 150-600mm, and an indirect stab at trying to get sales away from the Canon 100-400mm II, it is clear Sigma put all they could into making this lens a success, and it shows. It oozes with quality and sophistication (yes, strange way to describe a lens, but it does ooze with that too), and the current waiting times for a Sigma 150-600mm Sport demonstrates this (Canon users have an average 2 month waiting period, Nikon users even more).
While overall a great dynamic lens that can be used for anything from birding to planes, I just can't help but feel the OS has let this amazing lens somewhat down.
For $1999US recommenced pricing, it gets a highly recommended from me.
- Large zoom range
- Excellent build quality
- Fast and accurate AF
- Weather sealing (lacking on current Art lenses unfortunately)
- Lackluster OS performance
- Cost (Still, it costs $800 more than the Tamron does)
Leave any questions or comments below, and i'll try answer them as best I can