Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro
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May 2, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
Sigma announced the 150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO at the 2010 Photokina, though it wasn't until later in 2011 that the lenses actually started shipping. The new 150mm is a redesign of a previous version, primarily by adding optical stabilization (OS) technology, but also completely redesigning the layout of lens elements and adding rounded diaphragm elements to make up the aperture.
The lens is designed to fill the 35mm frame, and on sub-frame camera bodies, provides an equivalent field of view of 240mm (Canon) or 225mm (Nikon and others). The lens is available in Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony mounts.
The lens takes 72mm filters and comes with several accessories: a lens hood, hood adapter for sub-frame bodies and a removable tripod mount. The lens is available now for around $1,100.
The Sigma 150mm ƒ/2.8 OS provides good results for sharpness, but to achieve the best results you will have to stop down a little. Considering the lens is intended for macro application, you'll probably be stopping down anyway, to get the most depth of field possible. Our test results were more or less consistent between the test on the sub-frame Canon 7D and full-frame Canon 1Ds mk III.
The 150mm isn't its sharpest wide open - overall it's acceptably good, and in fact the center is just slightly softer than the corners when used wide open at ƒ/2.8. Stopping down to ƒ/4 provides a considerable improvement in sharpness, providing very good results in all but the extreme corners. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 provides almost edge-to-edge tack-sharpness on full-frame - on sub-frame, it's indeed tack-sharp, as the sub-frame sensor doesn't see the softer corners of the lens. On full-frame, you'll have to stop down to ƒ/8 for the very sharpest results.
Diffraction limiting creeps in at ƒ/11, but the impact on image sharpness is minimal; it's a bit more prominent at ƒ/16 and certainly visible by ƒ/22.
The lens provides excellent resistance to chromatic aberration across all apertures, and the results are consistent between sub- and full-frame camera bodies.
There is little corner shading to speak of with the lens mounted on the sub-frame Canon 7D; at ƒ/2.8, the corners are barely a quarter-stop darker than the center. In our view, nothing to write home about.
On the full-frame Canon 1Ds mk III, corner shading is a bit more prominent, but not excessively so: at ƒ/2.8, the corners are just over 2/3 EV darker than the center. At ƒ/4, this differential drops to 1/3 EV, and by ƒ/5.6, the corners are not appreciably darker than the center of the frame.
The Sigma 150mm offers distortion-free images, when mounted on either the sub-frame Canon 7D or full-frame Canon 1Ds mk III.
With HSM focusing, autofocus is moderately fast and near-silent, and results can be overridden by just turning the focusing ring. It took just over a second to go through the lens' focusing range - as a macro lens, there is a lot of focus travel. The front element does not turn during focusing, making life a little easier for polarizer users.
The Sigma 150mm provides excellent macro performance, offering full 1:1 (100%) macro reproduction, with a minimum close-focusing range of 38 cm (15 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
The Sigma 150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO is a fairly heavy optic (1,180 gm / 41.6 oz). With this much weight, the OS is welcome for short hand-holding stints, but you'll want to invest in a tripod for any serious macro work. The lens is finished with Sigma's matte grey texture and offers a metal mount, and 72mm filter threads.
The lens is a complete redesign of the previous version: it now features 19 elements in 13 groups, including 3 SLD elements. There are now nine rounded diaphragm blades instead of nine straight ones, to improve bokeh performance. Sigma has added optical stabilization, very useful for when you don't want to bring a tripod into the field. All of this adds up to a significant weight increase over the previous model of this lens - up 285 grams (10oz).
The lens offers three control surfaces of note: in addition to the focusing ring, there is a small panel on the side of the lens which features a switch to enable or disable autofocus, and a switch to enable image stabilization in mode 1 or mode 2, or disable it completely. There is also a focus limiting switch, offering options of macro distance (38cm - 53cm), longer distance (53cm - infinity) and the full range (38cm - infinity).
The lens also provides excellent scales. There is a distance scale in feet and meters, as well as reproduction ratios as the lens is focused towards its close-focusing distance. However, there are no depth-of-field indicators, nor is there an infrared index marker.
The focusing ring for the lens is very nice - an inch and three-quarters wide, composed of rubber with deep ribs. Manually focusing with the ring is a pleasure - not to stiff, and not to easy. There are no hard stops at the close or infinity ends: an increase in resistance lets you know there's no point to focusing further.
Sigma's OS (Optical Stabilization) technology operates well in this lens, which in our testing provides 3-4 stops of stabilization performance. It makes a slight whirring noise when it's activated.
The lens is compatible with Sigma's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters and ships with a circular lens hood, ribbed and painted a smooth black on the interior to reduce any flare. Sigma also includes the HA 780-01 subframe hood adapter, which is intended for use when the lens is used with (obviously) sub-frame cameras such as the 7D. Without the adapter, the hood adds around 3 inches to the overall length of the lens; with the adapter, that goes up to almost six inches!
Sigma 150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG HSM APO ~$-
Sigma offers a variety of macro lenses, in different focal lengths - 50mm, 70mm, 105mm, 150mm and 180mm. The previous version of the 150mm ƒ/2.8 didn't have OS, but it was notably sharper, becoming tack-sharp by ƒ/4, even on full-frame. Same excellent results for distortion and vignetting, and even less chromatic aberration - if you don't need OS and want the 150mm, a good copy of the previous version is an excellent value.
Canon 180mm ƒ/3.5L Macro USM ~$1,450
Canon doesn't have a 150mm macro lens - their equivalent offering would be in the 180mm range, and it does not feature image stabilization (keep in mind it was released in 1996). That said, it does offer a 1:1 reproduction ratio and USM focusing - unfortunately, we have not yet tested this lens.
Nikon 200mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF Micro Nikkor ~$1,500
Nikon also doesn't have a 150mm macro, and the closest comparable would be its 200mm ƒ/4. Similarly to Canon, it does not have VR (it's an older design, released in 1993). We haven't yet tested it on a full-frame body, but it had excellent results on the sub-frame D200, with exceptional sharpness, resistance to chromatic aberration, zero distortion and minimal corner shading.
Pentax 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro SMC P-FA ~$850
The Pentax 100mm provides an equivalent 150mm field of view on its sub-frame bodies, but we have not yet tested it.
Sony 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro ~$750
The Sony 100mm provides an equivalent 150mm field of view on its sub-frame bodies; there is no 150mm macro lens in the Sony lineup for full-frame. The 100mm offered excellent performance on the sub-frame A700, and very good performance on the full-frame A900.
Sigma has a good habit of identifying gaps in other manufacturer's product lines, and offering lenses to meet these needs. None of the majors offers a 150mm macro lens, or a lens in that range with optical stabilization. This optical stabilization works very well in our testing, though the lens itself weighs over two and a half pounds, meaning you probably won't want to rely on hand-holding all day. For what it offers, it's an excellent value.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
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