While the focal length range of this lens immediately raises the eyebrows of wildlife and sports photographers, this lens is not limited to those uses. While photographers pursuing other subjects may not immediately recognize the usefulness of a 150-600mm zoom lens, many will quickly realize the value of what they are holding after they have it in their hands. And they will likely be surprised by how frequently their lens is set to 600mm. The Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens' eye-catching focal length range is complemented by a beautiful design, solid build quality and overall excellent functionality. Though rather large and heavy and though not inexpensive, the opportunities this lens gives the photographer definitely help justify the downsides.
The first criterion for lens selection is usually the focal length range needed. Having the 150mm portion of the focal length spectrum covered is a great asset of this lens, but for those only needing the wider angle range of this lens' focal lengths, there are many other options available and some may be preferrable for one reason or another.
The Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens was the next to-600mm zoom lens to reach the streets and the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens arrived soon after. Specifically in regard to focal length range, one 150-600mm lens has no advantage over another 150-600mm lens. Unless those numbers have been rounded significantly.
Using an unscientific methodology involving relating the distance measurement to a properly-framed ISO 12233 enhanced resolution chart relative to the Canon and Nikon 600mm prime lens framing distances, I estimated that the Tamron option came within 95% of the 600mm figure or roughly 570mm. The Sigma's 600mm test chart framing measurement is slightly shorter than the Tamron's (31.43' vs. 32.23' / 9581mm vs. 9825mm), bringing the rough focal length estimate down to 556mm or so. However, the Sigma has less pincushion distortion at 600mm and this distortion difference could easily be the reason for any difference in the test chart framing distances between these two lenses. Suffice to say that the Sigma's 600mm is a very long focal length and it is sure to bring a smile to your face.
As implied by the opening sentence, there is a very good chance that wildlife and sports are your photographic pursuits if you are interested in the Sigma 150-600 Sports lens. While this lens has other very good uses, sports and wildlife frequently have subjects that are not more-closely approachable and longer focal lengths become a requirement instead of a luxury.
As suggested by the lens' name, I used the 150-600mm Sports Lens for many spring sporting events I was covering in recent months. I was able to capture team award photos at 150mm and could capture distant track and field participants tightly framed as they crossed the finish line or jumped over their bars and hurdles while remaining far out of the way. I didn't make an effort to get credentialed for one tightly controlled event and from outside of the waist-high track perimeter fence, a 150-600mm lens (the Contemporary version in this case) allowed me to frame the participants tighter than any of the credentialed photographers could from inside the fence with the lenses they had.
That is Brittany taking down her high school's sophomore class 3200m record. It was an exciting race that I was privileged to watch. My memory of that event will fade rapidly, but this image will not and every time I see it, my memory will be refreshed. That is priceless.
From just behind the goal line with 150-600mm in my hands, I was able to cover half of a full sized soccer field using a full frame body. When the action approached, I could zoom out and with this wide zoom range, I often had my choice of camera orientations available. When using a prime lens, the distance to the subject often dictates the selection of camera orientation (to avoid cropping the subject too tightly). This focal length range permits ideal framing over a significant range of subject distances, requiring less image quality-detrimental and modestly time consuming cropping in post.
Want close-ups of dangerous sporting activities? This lens may have your name on it. The discus throw is one such event I photographed with this lens. Shooting the thrower through the protective cage does not generate good imagery. Shooting this event within the landing zone is ... dangerous to both camera and photographer. With 600mm available, I was able to shoot tight images of the throwers without subjecting myself to potential impact damage.
I would take my chances with an errant discus throw before risking my life to an oncoming race car. Auto racing is another sport where close proximity photography is not recommended (outside of the pits at least) and in this sport, 600mm comes to the rescue. Most people prefer to stay as far away from snakes as possible:
Though I don't have a great set of imagery to share from my efforts, I spent a good amount of time pursuing wildlife with this lens. It is easy to say that this focal length range is ideal for wildlife use. After efforts made at two parks on this morning, I headed to the city of Harrisburg, PA for some river and cityscape photos. Of all places, that is where a beaver showed up:
Bird photographers never have too much focal length and having a zoom range to work with means that even large and close birds and other wildlife can be framed environmentally, showing the landscape along with the animal.
There are many other photographers who can make use of this wide 4x focal length range. Photojournalists with restricted access to their subjects, paparazzi and law enforcement groups will find this focal length range useful. Portraits, especially the tightly framed variety, are on this lens' capability list (though this is a heavy lens for portraiture).
Landscapes are an additional subject included in this lens' capabilities. Long focal lengths are great for making colorful sky photos from even modestly nice sunrises and sunsets. Compressed mountain landscapes can be especially nice.
Place an APS-C/1.6x FOVCF camera behind this lens and the angle of view becomes equivalent to a 35mm 240-960mm lens. Those extremely narrow angles of view move this lens' uses more deeply into the sports and wildlife range. Framing small and distant subjects large in the frame is (relatively) easy at 960mm, but help steadying the camera will be appreciated for good composition.
Here is an example of the 150-600mm focal length range as seen by a full frame camera:
While long focal lengths will make you want to photograph very distant subjects, under some situations, too-distant subjects should be avoided. Haze can reduce contrast and heat waves/shimmer can quickly destroy image sharpness by micro-distorting details. While haze is primarily limited to affecting long distance photography, heat waves can affect even close range photography.
While testing this lens at 600mm on a sunny afternoon, the focal length magnification made heat wave distortion easy to see over thick green grass at only a roughly 100' (30m) subject distance. Shooting subjects on a track (the kind that people run on and the kind that people drive on) frequently results in heat wave distortion affecting the final image. Artificial turf also generates lots of heat wave distortion on a sunny afternoon.
The tip here is that using the long focal lengths to photograph distant subjects must be done with consideration to the effects of heat waves and haze. Or phrased another way, the sharpness of the lens may not matter if your subjects are distant and a heat source and/or haze is present. Note that heat waves can negatively impact AF performance as well.
Another occassional downside of being farther away is that obstructions can come between the photographer and the subject. Sometimes, focal length-limited photographers competing for the same image are the problem. Sometimes, it may simply be trees that get in the way.
Want very long focal lengths in a zoom lens without a large size, heavy weight and high price? You are likely looking at a variable max aperture lens. Like the majority of zoom lenses with focal lengths reaching over 200mm, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS Lens is such. A variable max aperture means that wide open aperture exposure settings will change as the lens is zoomed from 150mm to longer focal lengths. Cameras in auto exposure mode will automatically account for the narrowing max aperture change, but manual mode requires a manual exposure adjustment when using wide open apertures (unless auto ISO is being used or an in-camera function accommodates the changes).
Here is what this lens' max aperture step down looks in relation to a handful of other comparable lenses:
Stepping down to a max f/5.6 aperture only 35mm into the 450mm overall focal length range and to f/6.3 only 136mm later places this lens near the slowest/darkest in terms of max aperture (and viewfinder brightness). But, the difference is never more than 1/3 stop between this lens and the other zoom lenses reaching farther than 400mm. That difference will not likely be a decision factor for most.
Being realistic, the Sigma 150-600mm, even with "Sports" in its name, is not going to be your best option for capturing low light action. When the sun sets or the clouds roll in, you will be reaching for noisy-high ISO settings to get a 1/1000 to 1/1600 shutter speed at f/6.3. For the track sample photo shared just above, I was using ISO 6400 to get a marginal 1/1000 sec shutter speed immediately after sunset on a clear day.
Don't underestimate the shutter speed required to stop motion at 600mm. An in-action subject that was photographed at 300mm will need a significantly faster (figure 2x) exposure duration when photographed at the same distance (same subject framing) at 600mm due to the subject crossing twice as many pixels in the same time period. Because reaching for higher ISO settings when shooting fast action is frequently necessary, the narrow aperture may be the biggest detriment to final image quality when using this lens in comparison to a wider aperture prime lens option.
As mentioned, wider apertures greatly increase the size, weight and price of the lens, so as with most products, there has been a tradeoff made. Not willing to compromise your aperture, but still want the zoom range? Perhaps the "Green Giant", the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG IF Power Zoom Lens, has your name on it.
With the sharpness-reducing effects of diffraction kicking in with some strength at f/11 through f/16 (depending on the DSLR being used), there is a somewhat narrow range of ideal apertures available for optimal use in this lens. Fortunately, those remaining apertures are quite useful.
Optical stabilization can greatly increase the versatility of most lenses, and when the focal length increases to 600mm, especially on an APS-C body, OS can save the day by virtue of the stabilized viewfinder alone. Framing a subject properly at 600mm handheld requires steady arms, but OS reduces the steadiness requirement to include a much greater population. Sigma has not published the optical stabilization system rating for this lens, but I would be surprised to learn of a less-than-four-stop rating being introduced today.
With good form and stable footing, I could get mostly-sharp handheld results down to 1/13 second at 150mm and at 1/10 second exposures, I was still seeing a healthy percentage of sharp images. These numbers represent approximately 3 2/3 to 4 stops of assistance for me. The keeper rate slowly declines as exposure durations are increased until about .4 seconds. Beyond .4 seconds, nothing was worth keeping. Getting even 1 keeper at .4 second 150mm exposures is remarkable.
Longer focal lengths with their greater magnification require faster shutter speeds to deliver sharp handheld results than their wider angle counterparts do. At 600mm, the 150-600 gives me mostly sharp handheld results down to 1/50 seconds for again, about 3 2/3 stops of assistance. Keeper percentages were low with exposures longer than 1/40, but persistence can make a longer exposure work.
As is common for stabilized telephoto lenses, the Sigma 150-600 features mode 1 (normal) and mode 2 (panning) options. Using the Sigma Dock, this lens' OS can be further configured to one of three settings described by Sigma as:
Dynamic View Mode – This mode offers a recognizable OS effect to the image in the viewfinder. This helps to ensure the composition of images quickly.
Standard – This is the default setting. The OS effect is well-balanced and suitable for various scenes.
Moderate View Mode – This mode offers an excellent compensation of camera shake, and achieves very smooth transition of the image in the viewfinder. The composition of the image remains natural even when the angle of view keeps changing.
The lens comes with "Standard" selected by default. I primarily used Standard mode for my testing (and off while shooting sports), but I prefer Dynamic View Mode for subjects that are not moving quickly.
Some clicks are heard at OS startup and shutdown, but the operational hum is very faint. There is sometimes a small amount of jumping seen at OS startup and shutdown and subject framing drifts a small amount during OS operation. The end results from this lens' stabilizer are quite good.
A zoom lens advertised as reaching 600mm while having a wide range of additional focal lengths immediately raises my skepticism in regards to image quality. If the Tamron 150-600 hadn't paved the way, my expectations from this lens would have been considerably lower. Having already evaluated Sigma's first Sports lens, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, with a positive outcome also increased expectations. The price of this lens also reflected Sigma's confidence that it would perform.
The first hurdle to determining this lens' image quality was to actually get the lens in my hands. Sigma claimed that very high worldwide demand was the cause for this lens being unavailable, not showing in retailer stock until over 5 months after first being available. It was many months until I had the first sample on my desk and unfortunately, that lens became the second hurdle. That lens apparently had a misalignment problem that rendered the left side of the image sharper than the right as illustrated below.
Another month or two passed until I could get two additional lenses to test. One of these lenses was provided by Sigma USA (a loan) and the second test lens was the result of a retail preorder finally being fulfilled.
Most people consider image sharpness, a combination of contrast and resolution, to be the most important lens image quality attribute. Based on two samples testing similarly, you can expect good sharpness from the Sigma 150-600 Sports lens across the entire full frame sensor with a wide open aperture. Stopping down to f/8 only generates a slight sharpness improvement.
This lens performs remarkably consistently over the entire focal length range. Though the Sigma-supplied lens (sample "1" in the image quality tool) is slightly soft on the right side at 300mm with a wide open aperture (the left side looks great) and the retail lens is also slightly softer at 300mm, the balance of the focal length results are similar within and across lenses.
Note that the second good lens was used for the 7D II test results in the Image Quality tool.
While I'm not going too contend that this lens competes at the level of the most-elite zoom lenses available today in terms of sharpness, it does perform reasonably well. It performs especially well for having such a wide range of very long focal lengths. I'll add many comparisons in the alternate lens section at the end of this review. There is of course more to image quality than sharpness.
Full frame camera owners will see close to or just over 2 stops of vignetting in image corners when using this lens with a wide open aperture. This amount is moderately noticeable. Wide open corner shading variation over the focal length range is quite low. When a variable max aperture lens is stopped down to a specific aperture, such as the f/8, the wide focal lengths enjoy more stops of stop-down and thus, also enjoy diminished vignetting. Stopping this lens down to f/8 produces corner shading that ranges from about .6 or .8 stops isolated to deep in the corners at 150mm up to a more-evenly-distributed about-1.4 stops at 600mm. A still potentially slightly noticeable 1 stop of shading remains in 600mm f/11 corners.
APS-C format body owners will not likely notice vignetting when using this lens, regardless of aperture setting.
Expect to see a modest amount of CA (Chromatic Aberration) in the mid and peripheral image circle at the wide end of the focal length range. The CA diminishes to negligible in the mid lengths (around 400mm), but becomes modestly noticeable again as 600mm is reached. For the uses I've had for this lens, I seldom encountered the effects of CA. For the worst case 150mm full frame corner example shown below, I intentionally went looking for strongly contrasting lines running tangential to the image circle.
It is a telephoto lens with long focal lengths and a large element count, so one should expect to see some flaring if a very strong light source enters the picture (such as the sun). For safety reasons (my own and the camera's), I did not perform standardized flare tests on this lens beyond 400mm. The amount of flaring seen in this range was not unusual.
The 150-600 Sports lens has a slight amount of pincushion distortion that is very consistent over the entire focal length range. The least amount of distortion is at 600mm, but the difference between this focal length and the rest is small. This lens performs very well against other zoom lenses in this regard.
The Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens' bokeh, the quality of the background blur, appears good/normal. The 9-blade rounded aperture creates out-of-focus specular highlights that look like this across the focal length range:
While this lens is not going to create a background blur as strong as a 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4 can create, the long focal lengths do not have a problem creating significant blur. Sporting venues are full of distracting background elements and the blur capability becomes even more important in these situations. Here is a 500mm f/6.3 example:
Lenses with extreme focal lengths or an extreme range of focal lengths often show shortcomings in their image quality. While this lens is not the ultimate performer in this regard, it is quite good and impressive for what it provides otherwise.
Driven by Sigma's HSM (Hypersonic Motor), the Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens focuses with reasonable speed out of the box. I say "out of the box" because the focus speed performance attribute can be configured using the Sigma Dock. Basically, the slower (Sigma references "smoother" instead) the lens focuses, the greater the chance that the lens focuses accurately.
The default "Standard" option provides a balance of speed and accuracy. By configuring one of this lens' two custom modes (switch selectable), faster (Motor's drive speed-priority) and slower (Focus accuracy-priority) focus drive speeds can be selected. You may find the slower speed to be the better low light option while the faster speed may prove great for your high contrast in-action subjects under bright light.
Place clearly delineated subject with good contrast on a focus point and this lens focuses with decent speed in "Standard" mode and moderately fast in "Motor's drive speed-priority". The Standard mode has proven fast enough for most uses I have had.
Note: Sigma has announced a firmware update for this lens. "It is expected to increase autofocus speed by approximately 20%, to a maximum of 50%, during normal shooting as well as when using “Speed Priority” set through SIGMA Optimization Pro." [Sigma]
As much as I love fast-focusing lenses, focus accuracy is always more important. I gave this lens a serious AF accuracy workout to insure that it was functioning up to my expectations and could be trusted. I walked away happy.
One shot AF is very consistently accurate and AI Servo results were quite good. A lens with these apertures does not require as much precision as a 400mm f/2.8 lens for example, but overall, I was pleased with the in-focus hit rate of my results. There were not many images that I tossed on account of mis-focusing.
I successfully captured many thousands of AI servo mode sports action photos with this lens. Somewhat troubling was a failure to focus condition I encountered at a soccer game when using a mid-right, top-positioned 1D X AF point while tracking an incoming player in good light. My EOS 1D X's AI Servo AF settings specify focus priority, so the shutter should not open unless the camera has locked onto the subject. Here is an example:
This image was the 8th frame into a 12 frame burst. The AF point (indicated by the white "X") was properly placed on the subject throughout the entire burst. Every frame is completely blurred and no AF points indicate being active in DPP's Quick View (shown). This happened four times during this game and at that point, I switch to the center AF point with no further problems encountered.
There were a handful of instances where I could hear the 1D X skip frames in a burst due to failure to maintain locked focus. The subject was a person running and the missed frames caught my attention as not being normal. Using the faster focus setting might have resolved this problem.
By reducing the focus distance range the lens has to hunt through to find the correct focus distance (this lens does hunt on occasion), this lens can potentially lock focus faster. The focus limiter switch is designed for this purpose. Select between 32.8'(10m) - 8, 8.5'- 32.8'(2.6m - 10m) and the full range of focus distances. Don't like any of those options? The dock can be used to create your own focus limit ranges, selectable using the custom mode switch on the lens.
Focus calibration issues can cause mis-focusing, which can strongly impact image quality. I did not have focus calibration issues with this lens, but if encountered with your lens and camera combo, the dock can be used to correct this problem. With dock compatibility, consistent front or back focus issues can be corrected in the lens at 4 focus distances for 4 focal lengths (150mm, 250mm, 400mm, 600mm).
The Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens focuses quietly (unlikely to scare off your wildlife) with the typical shuffling of lens groups being just-audible in a very quiet environment. This lens focuses internally and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available. The front element does not rotate with focusing.
This lens is very close to being parfocal. With Live View at 10x, focus acquired at 600mm remains nearly ideal while zooming out all the way to 150mm. Videographers especially appreciate parfocalness in a lens, and they will also appreciate the lack of focus breathing this lens shows. Subjects come into and go out of focus very smoothly and stably with little or no change in their apparent size.
The 150-600mm Sports Lens' focus ring is very nicely-sized, very smooth and well-damped with just the right amount of torque required to affect change. The 126° of rotation is great for precise focusing at the wide end, but rather fast for 600mm adjustments. An advantage of a fast rate of focus change is that fast moving subjects are easier to track (but doing so requires skill).
A considerable number of focus distances are marked in ft and m inside the focus distance window. As clued by the focus limiter switch settings, this lens has a 102.4" (2600mm) minimum focus distance (MFD). At 600mm, this distance provides a moderate 0.20x maximum magnification (MM). Our MFD test showed that we could manually focus this lens down to about 90% of the rated MFD.
With three different 150-600mm lenses coming through the lab as of review time, one might get the impression that lenses of this focal length range must have the same MM. The following image features a 4" (102mm) peony flower captured at 600mm and MFD, illustrating what the 160-600mm Sports Lens' 0.20x MM capabilities.
This lens will not be confused with a macro lens, but ... it can fill the frame with moderately small subjects at close distance. Here is a Contemporary lens-captured eastern chipmunk at (or very close to) the maximum manually-focused MFD:
For a modestly shorter MFD (but loss of infinity focusing) and a correspondingly higher MM, use extension tubes.
For a more significant magnification at any focus distance with no change in MFD, mount a Sigma Global Vision Teleconverter behind this lens. The addition of a Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconvertercreates a full frame 210-840mm f/7.1-f/9.0 OS lens. Magnifying the image by 1.4x does not go unnoticed in the image quality, but stop down to f/11 and the 840mm results are similar to the bare lens at 600mm f/6.3. The 1.4x increases CA modestly and also increases barrel distortion slightly. The latter is actually a positive change as it reduces the native pincushion distortion.
Only cameras with f/8 max aperture-capable AF systems (including the Canon 1-Series, 5D III, 7D II) can autofocus the w/1.4x combination and only the center AF point is available. Focusing remains quick, but focus hunting becomes more common.
Use the Sigma TC-2001 2x Teleconverter to create a 300-1200mm f/10.0-13.0 OS Lens. While the focal length range on this combo looks amazing, the resulting image quality is not likely to impress you. Stopped down 2/3 of a stop to f/16, you might find the results sharp enough to be usable though diffraction is also impacting image sharpness at this point. CA is again increased slightly and distortion remains similar to the with-1.4x results. With an f/10 max aperture, this combo will not autofocus on any DSLRs using conventional phase detection AF and the viewfinder becomes very dark.
Use the image quality and distortion tools to clearly see the results of the with-extender combinations with your own eyes (links provided at the top of this review).
Very. Impressively. Built. The 150-600mm Sports lens feels like military grade hardware. This feel is aided by a significant size and weight, but this lens is a very well-constructed, pro-grade, weather-sealed lens. With surfaces of differing matte-ness of black, the 150-600mm Sports lens looks at least as good as it feels and functions.
We have seen a design similar to Sigma's 150-600mm OS Sports Lens before and I like it now at least as much as I liked it the first time I used it. I'm referring to Sigma's first "Sports" lens, the 120-300mm f/2.8 OS HSM Sports Lens. Here is the visual comparison between those two lenses:
Primary lens barrel construction is of alluminum alloy and looks like this:
Here is a look at the functioning of this lens:
Most of the very large lenses available today do not extend, thus the site's standard large lens images do not maximize the views of extending lenses. This lens, reaching a long 18.9" (479mm) at the full 3.62" (91.9mm) extension with the hood installed, is too large to be contained within the site's smaller format lens product images. Because it is interesting to make comparisons between this lens and the smaller lenses, the 150-600 Sports is included in both of the site's product image comparison tools. That some of this lens' images are cropped in the smaller lens format sample set is expected, but the inclusion is still worthwhile from my perspective.
This lens has no play in any parts. Both crisply-ribbed, substantially sized rubber rings are very smooth with firm (ideal) rotational resistance. The zoom ring, located toward the front of the lens, has a noticeable change in diameter starting mid-way into it, providing a tactile method of locating this ring. This ring's 126° of rotation provides a nice rate of transition between focal lengths. The zoom ring rotates in the Canon-standard direction (opposite of the Nikon standard).
Prefer a push/pull functioning zoom lens over the rotational design? This lens has you covered. While some twist-zoom lenses can be extended and retracted by pushing and pulling their objective ends, Sigma makes this option official by providing a groove toward the end of the lens to facilitate easy push/pull zooming. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, and your zoom method can be instantly changed at any time.
The end of this lens is heavy, so it is no surprise that the end of the lens moving in the direction that gravity is pulling makes the zoom ring easier to turn with the opposite also being true. Gravity zooming is a bit of an issue with this lens. If the lens is pointed downward, you will quickly find it at full extension. For example, if you are shooting at a focal length less than 600mm and then direct the lens downward to rest your arms, to review your images on the LCD or for some other reason, the lens will extend fully to 600mm. The desired focal length must be re-established to continue shooting the same subject. Shooting upward at a hard angle? Plan on needing to hold the zoom ring in place to retain your selected focal length. Otherwise, the lens will self-retract.
This problem is not unique to this lens, but this lens exhibits stronger gravity zoom attribute than most. Sigma's solution to this issue is a zoom lock switch. As with most lenses having a zoom lock switch, this lens will not extend even with pressure applied when locked at the widest angle focal length. Unlike most lenses, the 150-600mm Sports Lens can be locked at any marked focal length. While the lens cannot be locked at any of the in-between focal lengths, the marked focal lengths will lock in place until a modest pressure is applied to the zoom ring or the end of the lens (or the switch is moved to the unlocked position). The lock will not support a camera resting on top of the lens when sitting upright – the lens will retract in that situation.
The lock switch along with a host of other switches can be seen in the image below.
Aside from the lock switch, 3-position switches are standard. It is easy to misposition a short-throw 3-position switch such as these, but Sigma has done a nice job with the solid clicks these firm switches provide. Very nice is the white backgrounds on two of the switches, visually indicating set positions.
I'll talk about the Custom switch under the dock subheading below.
This is a big and heavy lens. It can be handheld, but it is most comfortably used with support. Here is a comparison chart to put everything in perspective.