Sigma has two super telephoto zoom lenses in their current range. Lately I've been putting the less expensive and smaller model through its paces.
Sigma has two 150-600mm telephoto zooms in their current range. Both have the same maximum aperture range (f/5 to f/6.3, depending on the amount of zoom being used). Both are autofocus and have vibration reduction (or Optical Stabilization, as Sigma calls it). And both are available with Canon, Sigma, and Nikon F mounts.
I’ve previously reviewed the Sports lens. The one I’m looking at here is the one in their Contemporary range, known formally as the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens.
The short version is that the one in the Contemporary range is smaller and lighter, and its autofocus and stabilization systems aren’t quite as good. But it is also about half the price of the one with the Sports badge.
The PR teams for camera manufacturers love a good acronym or three. The formal name of this lens is the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens. Here’s what all that means, decoded:
Overall, I’ve found the optics to be good but not dazzling.
Sharpness. It’s sharper than I expected, even at 600mm. Here’s an example of a standard hand-held shot in bright sunlight, with the original shot first and then zoomed in at 100%. (You can also download the original here.)
Overall, I found the sharpness a pleasant surprise, even wide open. You’d expect some softening in a long lens like this, and there is certainly some, but overall the sharpness is pretty good, especially for a lens in this price range. Here’s a high-resolution shot taken hand-held and wide-open that you can download to see at original resolution. And here’s another. (I haven’t applied any sharpening to these when exporting from Lightroom.)
Vignetting. With a lens like this you’d expect vignetting at large apertures. It definitely has that. It’s relatively strong wide open, but what’d a bit surprising is that it stays up until pretty small apertures. It gets gradually less obvious as you make the aperture smaller, but it’s still fairly pronounced at f/14 and it’s not until f/20 that I’d say it’s all but gone.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I haven’t applied any post-processing to increase the contrast or exaggerate these–they’re right out of the camera and were taken of a clear blue sky.
The good news is that, if you’re using Lightroom, there’s already an official Lightroom profile for this lens that works very well in removing the vignetting and correcting the relatively small amount of distortion. Here’s an example:
The zoom ring is large and smooth and is near the front of the lens. It goes the opposite direction from the way I prefer (ie. it rotates counterclockwise to zoom in), but that’s easy to get used to. When you zoom, the barrel extends further but doesn’t rotate, so you can safely use filters where rotating matters, like graduated neutral density filters or circular polarizers.
Zoomed in to 600mm, the angle of view is 4.1°. Zoomed out to 150mm, it’s 16.4°.
Here are some practical examples of what that means. The left shots of each are at 150mm, with the right shots zoomed into 600mm.
Some of the most common uses for a lens with a long focal length like this is either sports or wildlife. Both benefit from a fast focusing mechanism.
The focusing on this lens is less impressive than on its older sister. I found it to be a little sluggish, with a bit of a lag before it gets going. You can speed up the searching a bit by using the focus limiter switch (options are full, 10m to ∞, and 2.8-10m).
It’s also a bit hesitant in its locking and doesn’t lock on as surely as other lenses (I was using on a Nikon D810, for reference).
But then it also costs half as much. But if you’re planning on using it for sports or wildlife, you’re better off going with the bigger, more expensive sister in Sigma’s Sports range.
It has autofocus (AF), full-time manual focus (MF), and manual override (MO) modes that you control with a switch on the side of the lens barrel.
The minimum focusing distance is a shade over 9 feet.
To my mind, this is the weakest area of this lens. I simply didn’t find the vibration reduction system to work very well at all. It simply doesn’t seem to be the right match for the focal length.
Vibration reduction is designed to counteract the slight shaking you get when shooting handheld. It might only be a small amount of shake, but at long focal lengths it’s amplified many times over. With an effective, modern vibration reduction system, you can often get an extra 2-3 stops before the shaking starts noticeably blurring the photos. In my experience, I wasn’t able to get anywhere near that–perhaps 1 stop at most.
Sigma calls their vibration reduction system Optical Stabilizer. Sensibly, they don’t make any marketing claims with this lens that it will give you an extra such and such number of stops. And in my experience, it simply doesn’t work as well as the systems on other lenses. It wouldn’t surprise me if they used an older, cheaper generation of OS technology on this lens, but I don’t know that for sure.
There are two OS modes. Mode 1 is the standard OS mode for general use. Mode 2 compensates for vertical shake and is useful for subjects moving across the frame. If you’re using a tripod you should turn the OS to off (Sigma specifies this–on many other new lenses it doesn’t matter).
It comes with a dedicated lens collar with a standard 1/4″-20 socket. The collar is removable, so you can take it off or replace it as need be. In theory, you could also swap it out for one with a different kind of a attachment plate, like an Arca Swiss style, but I’m not aware of anyone making third-party collars for this lens yet. (and universal mounts like this one won’t work well with lens because of how much of the barrel extends in the zoom range).
It also comes with a dedicated lens hood (model number LH1050-01). It’s plastic and cylindrical, and as usual for a long telephoto, pretty long. For convenience, you can mount it in reverse, in which case it doesn’t block use of the zoom ring or other controls.
I have no complaints in this area. It feels solid in the hand and there’s no slack in the zoom or focus rings. It’s not a ruggedized lens, which is to say that it doesn’t have the special built-in measures to protect against water or dust that some lenses have (including Sigma’s other 150-600mm).
Sigma has to two telephoto zoom lenses in the 150-600mm range. Both have the same maximum apertures (f/5-6.3).
Putting aside the significant price difference between the two lenses–which, admittedly, is a crucial factor–the Contemporary lens is better suited to everyday photography, including travel or landscape photography. Most people probably aren’t going to use a large lens like this for street photography because of its bulk and it is most definitely not remotely discreet, but in theory you could use it for that. It packs a lot of magnification power in a smallish (well, relatively) package that’s more convenient to haul around all day than some of the other lenses at these focal lengths.
This lens will work quite well for casual sports or wildlife photography. But if you’re earning income from those types of shooting and your budget extends to it, the other model that Sigma puts out, its 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, offers faster focusing and better optics, but also comes in a larger, heavier lens with a higher price tag.
It comes with a dedicated plastic lens hood (model no. LH1050-01 and a padded softcase. There’s a lens color attached that has a regular 1/4″-20 tripod socket.
Sigma has created a docking system for many of their newer lenses that allows you to connect the lens to your computer via USB and update things like firmware and create custom combinations of lens settings. (You have to
buy the dock separately.)
It’s a clever idea, but it’s also one I’ve never felt the need to explore much. And I also don’t like the idea that you might need to buy another, separate accessory just to get a lens working as it should from the get-go. So I haven’t tested it out with this lens.
Even if I haven’t necessarily been blown away by the performance of this lens, it has to be put in two pieces of perspective. Firstly, for its focal length is a pretty compact lens. So it fits in my camera bag and doesn’t break your back lugging it around all day. More important, though, is the price.
The closest direct competitor to this one is the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens, which is priced and spec’ed almost identically. I used one of them a while back but never got around to writing a review. I personally prefer the way the Sigma handles and performs, but that’s very much a subjective preference. Objectively, there’s not all that much between them–they’re both very capable lenses for the price point.
And the price point is key here. That these lenses come in sub-$1000 is crucial, because many of the others in this super-telephoto zoom category are at least double that. And when you compare a sub-$1000 lens with one that’s double that or more, it’s not really a fair fight.
There’s no question that you can get better optical quality, faster performance, and much better vibration control in the more expensive lenses. You only have to look at Sigma’s 150-600m Sports lens, for starters. So if you’re looking for optimum quality and speed for something like professional sports or wildlife photography, this probably isn’t the lens you want. But if your budget simply can’t justify spending $2000 (or much, much more) on higher-end glass, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens is a versatile and very capable lens that can help you get the kind zoom reach that usually costs much more.
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