Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
Lab Test Results
by William Brawley
At this most recent Photokina tradeshow, Sigma introduced a pair of updated full-frame supertelephoto zoom lenses: the 150-600mm ƒ/5-6.3 'Sports' and a smaller, lighter 'Contemporary' version. We had a brief weekend to experiment with the Sports version, but now we've been able to get our hands on the Contemporary model for a longer span of time and run it through the paces here in our test lab.
As the lighter weight version of Sigma's pair of 150-600mm lenses, the Contemporary still uses a similar construction to its larger sibling as well as other recent Global Vision lenses with a combination of metal and proprietary "Thermally Stable Composite" plastic with metal-like qualities, which is all finished in a sleek matte black. The 150-600mm Contemporary lens features an optical layout consisting of 20 elements in 14 groups, with a single FLD and three SLD glass elements, and has weather-sealing around the lens mount (a noted difference from the Sports version, which is sealed throughout the barrel).
Available at this time for pre-order in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts, the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary ships with a soft case with its own strap, a removable tripod mount with another strap that hooks to the tripod foot, a large barrel-shaped lens hood, tripod mount protector as well as front and rear lens caps. The lens has a pre-order retail price of $1,089. It should be noted that a Sony A-mount version was also mentioned during the initial product announcement, but this version has since been removed from both Sigma's website and online retailers.
Overall, the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary is a nice, sharp lens that produces very good images. As with most long telephoto zoom lenses, they tend to be sharper at the shorter focal lengths, and that's the case here with the Sigma -- though it's not a severe drop in sharpness at the longer focal lengths by any means. On a full-frame camera, at 150mm, the lens displays really good sharpness wide-open, especially in the centers. The corners here show some degree of softness, but overall it's not too bad. Stopping down actually did not increase sharpness -- in the center and corners -- to a noticeable degree, and starting around ƒ/16 or so, softening caused by diffraction comes into play slightly.
At the other major focal length points that we tested (200mm, 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm), we observed a similar pattern of sharpness like we saw at 150mm. Wide-open shots looked good, though stopping down slightly did show a minor improvement in sharpness unlike at 150mm. Diffraction, again, starts coming into play around ƒ/16 or thereabouts.
At 500mm and 600mm, we begin to notice a more significant decrease in sharpness compared to the shorter focal lengths. Wide-open at 500mm on a full-frame camera, both the center and corners approach three blur units on our graphs. Stopping down a couple stops improves center sharpness to a degree (ƒ/8 @ 500mm or ƒ/11 @ 600mm looks the best), but we don't see the same critical sharpness that we observed at the shorter focal lengths. Overall, 500-600mm image quality is certainly not bad and for the price, the Sigma lens offers an outstanding bang for your buck when you consider the 500-600mm lenses from Canon and Nikon hit into the multiple thousands of dollars range.
Moving over to a sub-frame camera the story looks even better, especially at the sub-500mm focal lengths, since you're using smaller image circle. Wide open at 150mm, the lens displays excellent corner and center sharpness. Our blur graph is practically entirely flat, and images look very sharp. Stopping down does little to improve both corner and center sharpness, however, and like the full-frame results, we see diffraction limiting softness start to take hold around ƒ/16 and smaller. Between 200-400mm, we see similar impressive results, and stopping down slightly improves image sharpness some, though we see diffraction, again around ƒ/16 and beyond, softening images slightly.
At 500mm and 600mm, we see similar behavior to full-frame cameras: decent image quality, but not critically or tack sharp images. Based on our graphs, we do see slightly sharper results, and stopping down does improve sharpness to a degree. In fact, at 600mm and between ƒ/8 - ƒ/11, image sharpness is quite good.
Chromatic aberration is well-controlled overall on the Sigma 150-600mm C lens. On a full-frame camera, we see the strongest CA at 150mm and then again at 500-600mm at smaller apertures, with slight cyan and magenta fringing appearing on high-contrast edges, mostly out in the corners. We observed the least amount of CA once you zoom to 300mm, with the average CA being very minimal, and the corner CA picks up again slightly as you zoom out to 600mm.
On a sub-frame camera, we see a mostly similar pattern to CA as on the full-frame camera, though to a slightly lower degree since you're using a smaller image circle of the lens. Interestingly, we see a larger increase in CA at 600mm when stopped past ƒ/8.
Not surprisingly, vignetting is very minimal, if practically nonexistent, at most focal lengths and apertures on sub-frame cameras, however we do see it more strongly on full-frame bodies. At 150mm, wide-open, on a full-frame camera, we do see relatively strong corner shading -- between 0.5EVs and 0.75EVs of light falloff. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 minimizes vignetting to around 0.5EVs, which is around the maximum vignetting we found at the other focal lengths. Around ƒ/8, vignetting between 150-200mm falls well below 0.25EVs, while the longer focal lengths stay around or just under 0.25EVs. Stopping down further continues to minimize vignetting for all focal lengths.
Being a telephoto lens, we didn't expect to see much in the way of distortion, and indeed that was the case. On a full-frame camera, there's a very minimal amount of barrel distortion at all focal lengths (and all to the same degree). Predictably, on a sub-frame camera, we see even less barrel distortion at all focal lengths -- just hovering over the zero mark.
Autofocus on the Sigma 150-600mm C lens uses their Hyper Sonic Motor for fast and quiet focusing. In our testing, the Sigma lens autofocused very quickly and accurately. The lens is compatible with Sigma's USB Dock accessory, which includes the ability to fine-tune the AF system with AF Microadjustments should your copy need slight tweaks with your particular camera. Full mechanically-based manual focus is available at the flip of a switch on the side of the barrel, though you can also opt for "MO" mode, which allows for on-demand, manual focus override in any focus mode (single-shot or continuous AF). There's also a straight "AF" mode, which doesn't allow for MF override while continuous AF is in operation (though override still works in single-shot). The lens also features a three-position focus limiter switch: "Full" (which ranges from about 2.8 meters to infinity), or limited focus at 10m to infinity or just between 2.8 meters to 10 meters.
This lens is not designed, nor suitable, for macro photography. With a minimum focusing distance of 2.8 meters (or about a couple inches past nine feet), the Sigma 150-600mm C lens maintains a 0.2x (1:5) magnification ratio.
Build Quality and Handling
We had an in-depth hands-on report with the larger, heavier "Sports" version a while back, and whereas the "Contemporary" models is noticeably lighter and smaller in comparison, it's still a large and heavy lens at a bit over four pounds in weight, about 10 inches in retracted length and four inches in diameter. The lens extends significantly as well -- about 3+ inches -- when zooming to 600mm, which makes it even more cumbersome to shoot with handheld for extended periods of time -- it moves a lot of weight further out in front and away from your center of gravity. If you're already accustomed to long, heavy supertelephoto lenses, shooting with the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary might not be too difficult, but if you're stepping up beyond say a 70-200 or compact telephoto "kit-type" zoom lens, this Sigma could take some getting used to.
In another minor complaint about handling, the tripod mount included with the lens is much shorter than the one offered on the bigger Sports version. We would've liked this longer tripod mount included with the Contemporary model as well, as it helps provide a fuller, more balanced area to place your hand while shooting. Plus, the longer mount would also help when carrying it around. A number of older Sigma supertele lenses had contoured finger grips on the underside of the tripod mount, and that would have been a nice feature to have here, as well as on the Sports model. Mounting this lens to large, heavy 1D-series bodies or other full-frame cameras with battery grips can be a handful to carry around and shoot with for extended periods of time. A tripod or monopod would be a worthwhile accessory to bring along when shooting with this lens, regardless of camera body.
The optical construction consists of total 20 elements in 14 groups, including a single FLD and three SLD glass elements with a 9-bladed circular aperture diaphragm for pleasing background blur. The lens is compatible with teleconverters, however both Sigma-brand extenders as well as the Canon ones we tried do not allow for autofocus on any body (1D-series or otherwise) -- It's manual focus only with teleconverters.
Moving on to build quality. We mentioned earlier that this lens -- being part of Sigma's new Global Vision design process -- uses a combination of metal and Thermally Stable Composite material for the barrel construction. The lens feels extremely solid and well built and finished with a high-quality smooth, matte black exterior. The Contemporary model of the 150-600mm lens is the more consumer-oriented, less pro-level lens, and as such doesn't feature as thorough of weather sealing. The lens features a rubbery gasket on the lens mount and the front element has water and oil repellent coatings, but otherwise, the lens is not weather-sealed like the Sports version, so be sure to cover the lens if you're out in inclement weather.
The large, two-inch wide zoom ring is covered in a deeply-grooved rubberized grip. The rotational feel is very smooth, though with a brand new lens, it's quite stiff and definitely takes a little oomph. As on the Sports version, Sigma provides a zoom lock at 150mm to prevent lens creep, since there are a number of heavy elements that extend as you zoom. You can also engage the zoom lock at each demarcated focal length, of which there are eight.
The manual focus ring, however, is rather thin. It sits a bit behind the zoom ring towards the camera, which makes it a little awkward to manually focus and handhold the lens since now your grip on the lens is more unbalanced with a lot more weight held out towards the end of the lens. The focus ring has soft stops at either ends of the focusing range; it'll rotate indefinitely but with more resistance. Finally, at the very end of the lens barrel, right behind where the hood attaches, there's a smooth non-rotating strip of slightly-grippy material that provides a nice solid area for a comfortable, well-balanced grip on the lens.
In terms of buttons, switches and other external design features, the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary has a fairly standard array for a long telephoto lens. There are eight marked focal lengths behind the zoom ring, and there is also a covered focus window to help with manual focus. As mentioned above, there's a selection of switches, too, along the left-hand side of the barrel. From top to bottom, there's the 3-way focus switch for full-auto, manual override and manual focus modes. Below this you have the focus limiter switch and then the mode switch for the Optical Stabilizer. Selecting "Off," predictably, disables the Optical Stabilizer, which Sigma recommends when using a tripod or monopod. Mode 1 is the general, all-purpose stabilization (with corrections both vertically and horizontally), while Mode 2 is for panning motions, such as during birds in flight or automotive photography, for example.
Speaking of Image Stabilization, the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary's OS system is absolutely stunning. Be sure to click over to the IS Test tab for the full results, but suffice it to say, we were able to get an impressive keeper rate at 600mm all the way down the 1/15th of a second! However, we did notice some odd, rather distracting jitteriness and twitching of the OS system, that's particularly visible at the longer focal length. It can be difficult to keep the focus point on a small subject; you really notice the focus point jumping and fidgeting around while the stabilization system is active.
The most obvious alternative is actually the similarly spec'd Tamron 150-600m ƒ/5-6.3 VC lens. Matching closely to the 150-600mm Contemporary's size, weight and price, the Tamron is a nice alternative. We haven't tested the Tamron version, yet, but others report pleasing results, plus, at the time of this review, the Tamron is the only one offering a 150-600mm lens for Sony A-mount cameras.
Then, of course, there's the beefier, heavier, more expensive "Sports" version of the Sigma 150-600mm. We haven't tested the Sigma 150-600mm ƒ/5-6.3 DG HSM OS "Sports" in the lab yet, but we did have a weekend hands-on with the lens. The images we shot were very sharp, but this larger, heavier version might be intimidating for some. The $2,000 price tag -- while much more affordable than a similar lens from Canon or Nikon -- is certainly not affordable for all budgets and is almost twice the price of the Contemporary version. The Sports model is fully weather-sealed, however, and Sigma states this "professional-grade" model should offer increased image quality.
Having an all-in-one lens that ranges from 150mm all the way to 500mm or 600mm is quite the versatile lens. If you don't need that much telephoto reach, though, but rather superior low-light capabilities or increased subject isolation and faster shutter speeds, the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 Sports lens is a sure-fire alternative. The professional-grade sports and wildlife lens is slightly wider with 120mm on the short ends, but doesn't offer nearly as much telephoto reach. The ƒ/2.8 aperture trumps the variable ƒ/5-6.3 of the 150-600mm lens for low-light shooting and thin depth of field shooting. The lens, however, is significantly larger and heavier than both the Contemporary and Sports versions of the 150-600mm lens at over six pounds -- and much more expensive at around $3,600.
The Sigma 150-600mm ƒ/5-6.3 Contemporary is a very good lens, with an outstanding performance to dollar ratio. It's a great bargain, given both its versatility and the prices for the alternatives from the major manufacturers. While image sharpness on full-frame cameras aren't super tack sharp, especially at 500-600mm, if you factor in all the cash left in your bank account as opposed to purchasing a 500mm or 600mm prime lens or something like the Canon 200-400mm ƒ/4 lens, you'll be thoroughly impressed and chuckling all the way to the bank. On a sub-frame camera, image quality improves slightly, especially for corner sharpness. Other optical factors were impressive, and the build quality was equally so, as is the amazing optical stabilizer.
Though the Contemporary model is not as weather-sealed as its "Sports" sibling model, it still weather-sealed at the lens mount and weighs significantly less. Supposedly there's an increase in image quality with the Sports model, but we're not yet sure if it's worth the extra $1000 in price or added weight and bulk. All in all, the Sigma 150-600mm ƒ/5-6.3 Contemporary is a very good lens and a fantastic value for an all-in-one, super-versatile nature and wildlife lens.
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.
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by baobob (1 reviews)very good value, not tooheavy, high usability in the field hand held, nice builtno WR, MF ring too narrow, collar tripod too short
This lens is actually a bargain ; it will deliver excellent results even at 600mm to the condition of a steep learning curve and an intensive practice.reviewed February 2nd, 2016 (purchased for $1,050)
Once it's done, the lens is easy to handheld shoot
It's advisable to get the Sigma USB dock and use some customization settings especially the one that completely reduces the distracting jitteriness and twitching of the OIS, same for AF set priority to precision, and other AF micro adjustment if needed
Most pleased with it : highly recommended 4.5/5 !!
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Zadaki (3 reviews)Decently sharp at 600mm! Really excellent at 400mm, focussing accurate on CanonTripod foot could be larger
Superb value. Bokeh not in the class of lenses costing triple plus.reviewed September 6th, 2015 (purchased for $820)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by asulea (12 reviews)very good stabilization, color and contrast, quick focus, sharpness.
Better then Sigma 150-500mm.reviewed July 23rd, 2015
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Canonist (1 reviews)Quick focus, portability, sharpness, colors, stabilizerManual focus ring too stiff, stabilizer drifts off focus point
Rented for 4 days from Lensrental.com, $67.91, shot lots of hiking/wildlife/nature/zoo pix, almost all hand-held (on Canon 70D). I'm no bodybuilder but had no problem with weight - when walking the support came from my Kinesis (kgear.com) chest-worn holster, ideal for support and quick-draw action shooting, for which this lens is perfect. Lens feels solid. The focus-distance limiter worked well to prevent focus hunting. Focus ring too stiff for fine adjustments on tripod with 1.4x and 2x units - maybe just on this almost-new unit? This would need to be fixed before I could be happy with a purchase. Overall a steal at this price!reviewed June 23rd, 2015