Early spring morning, one of the greatest things is getting up early and going to one of your favorite photography locations.
This year I did just that, feeling special not only cause I knew it was one of these mornings where most things would fly, the weather was the nicest for the past 4 months but also because I couldn’t wait to give the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens a whirl for the money.
Full disclosure; I didn’t buy this lens. It’s an off the shelf sample and I’m not paid to write a review for the lens nor do I gain anything to write a positive review. These are all my personal opinions and your’s may vary.
Interestingly the buzz about this newest Sigma Sports line lens died quickly after lunch. As a true wildlife photographer lens you would think there was a lot more of these in the field but I rarely see any – Or let me rephrase that; I’ve never seen anyone use it. And that’s despite receiving praised reviews it’s a bit of a puzzle.
So off I went lugging this beautiful fallos over my shoulder safely mounted on the stunning Zenelli CARBON ZX Carbon Fiber Gimbal Head and with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II strapped it’s back. I heard a number of birds singing in the distance but they weren’t the subject I was going for this morning. In fact the bird I aimed to photograph doesn’t even sing – The most you’ll hear is the males farty sounding mating call. The common Goldeneye and what better way to capture the stunning beauty of this duck than with the cream of the crop Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens. And luckily I did succeed!
It’s not the lightest 500mm F/4 lens you’ll come by but it’s a huge step over the older 500 F/4.5 from years past
So what to think of this lens that has gone past everyone’s nose into über ninja mode where no-one and their mother know or knew anything about it?! It’ll bet you see fewer of these in the field than almost any other Sigma branded long lens perhaps with the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 APO EX DG as an exception..
BUT it’s actually quite good. Strike that it’s actually REALLY good, NO it’s actually AWESOME with a few exceptions. In fact it’s so good you’ll be hard-pressed to tell if this wasn’t a OEM version (Canon or Nikon branded).
It might set the record for being the lens with the most amount of buttons and toggles with total of 11 (13 if you include the knob and the de-clicker for the tripod-foot)
You’ll notice right away Sigma went all in on this Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens as a symbolises class, heft and brilliant ideas. From focus recall buttons in the front (or switch focus mode depending on how you configure your camera body) to the various OS (Optical Stabilization) and the class leading CUSTOM settings toggles and button.
The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens carries it’s weight not-so-lightly as it is (not by far) the heaviest prime 500 f/4 on the market but only by a few hundred gram, which can seem like much but when you’re past kg’s their almost all the same. In a blind test I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Coming from a consumer grade ultra-zoom it’ll seem like the heaviest thing ever and vice versa if you’re a used to shoot with 600 F/4 or a 800 F/5.6 probably with the exception of the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM (as of today)
The first 15 minutes took the next they slowly but surely thought that I have in fact transformed myself into a pile of grass and rubble
So there I was back at the lake setting up my small bag-hide getting ready to photograph the common Goldeneye. I knew from past experiences that if you give them time they’ll come right up next to you but at the same time knew it’ll take some time and it would be a wise to bring a lens extender for the first couple of hours photography.
So arriving at the site, swiftly threw on the bag-hide then the waiting game started. The first 15 minutes were without any action what so ever.
Firstly the birds were startled over this strange man disappearing into a large piece of camouflage looking cloth, but as the first 15 minutes took the next they slowly but surely thought that I have in fact transformed myself into a pile of grass and rubble – A good thing for me at least.
I saw the small group of Tufted Ducks approaching and hoped they would ignore the big piece of glass slightly protruding out of the pile of rubble (my hide). I had them and everyone-else fooled, close by birdwatchers included – SUCCES!
Another 20 minutes past by and I thought that maybe just maybe, the Goldeneyes were scared off by my tactics until suddenly the male, slowly but surely glided past my sight of vision and travelled across the camera viewfinder. NOW it’s beginning to look like christmas as Bing Crosby back before travelling by plane was a common thing.
FOCUS darn it FOCUS
Happy as a camper I imitate noticed the female too much closer to what I would call photo distance with the 1.4x Sigma Teleconverter TC-1401 and I started pressing the backfocus button. Do note I’ve configured the camera-body to have different focus modes depending on what button I press. The usual backfocus button have I configured to what Canon call’s “FOCUS CASE 2” with some tweaks meaning it’ll ignore the most obstacles and try to keeps focus on the subject as long as possible and focus within a large zone. If you don’t take opportunity of your camera’s various custom modes and button configurations perhaps it’s about time you should.
Knowing that the zone was covering a great deal more than the bird I concluded unwisely the camera should be able to figure it out. Armed with this piece of photographic equipment a focus task easy as this should be a breeze. Calm waters and a bird with contrasting plumage should be a walk in the park – So I thought!
The Goldeneye couple continued their small swim towards me. SLAP – SLAP – SLAP, in focus, backfocus, frontfocus
It didn’t take more than a couple of seconds to discover that was not the case. With the advanced continuous autofocus engaged, the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens plus Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter TC-1401 focus rapidly and constantly. Unfortunately to my surprise also imprecisely. I noticed one frame in focus, the next frame completely backfocused, the next frontfocused and then in repeat in an obvious pattern. Must be an error was my first thought as powercycled the camera to no avail.
The Goldeneye couple continued their small swim towards me. SLAP – SLAP – SLAP, in focus, backfocus, frontfocus.. I reached for the button on the lens barrel which protruded the bag-hide all while hoping the subjects wouldn’t take notice. They didn’t.
You see I’ve configured the button on lens barrel (if such exists) to only shoot IF and only IF the subject in 100% in focus. Equally the camera is, when a lens barrel button is pushed, configured for one focus point only as well and complete ignore all obstacles. You can’t get any more strict focus mode on a Canon camera. It’s truly a brilliant way to swiftly switch from birds in flight with the back focus button engaged to a very slow moving and stationary subjects only. I have to stress if you have yet to customize your camera please consider doing so as you’ll be saving a lot of time in the heat of action as well at least give yourself a lot more opportunities.
Back on subject literally and this I too discovered this focus tweak didn’t do any favors. With my go to lens the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II there’s clearly a BIG difference and even sometimes the camera refuses to shoot even when I think it’s in focus.
Not the case with the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens plus Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter TC-1401 as it kept clicking away like crazy. SLAP – SLAP – SLAP, in focus, backfocus, frontfocus – What the h***?! Unexpected behavior…
Now the birds where so close they were filling more of the frame so in a rapid move that didn’t disturb the birds by yours truly and I swiftly with elegance of an elephant removed the Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter TC-1401 and BAM. The “issue” was gone and things were making sense again. The culprit was the teleconverter and one which I should have suspected earlier.
I must admit I thought and hoped for a better focus precision with the teleconverter mounted, so have that in mind if you’re pondering to buy this otherwise excellent lens.
An essential buy with the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is the Sigma USB dock. Besides it gives you the ability to microadjust focus way beyond what a normal person would find just too much, you can temper with both OS (Optical stabilization) modes and even more so focus speed.
It’s really going from good focusing speed to world class – the difference is VAST!
Beforehand I would rank it pretty good but not 500mm f/4 prime good more like 70-200mm good. With speed priority it’s 300mm F/2.8 fast (or EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II <- don’t tell Canon cause they’ll just ramp up prices on this otherwise a steal of a lens)
Focus speed takes a toll with the Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter TC-1401 but as written in the last paragraphs focus speed would be the least of your worries. Besides it’s not that big of a speed decrease but it’s noticeable.
All in all a fast focusing lens. Supply with the USB dock and you’ll get a very fast focusing lens in return.
Forget the performance with the Sigma 2x Teleconverter TC-2001 😉
Pixelpeeping for days
It’s a common fact that a lens is only useable if you’re happy with your pixel peeping results. Who gives a flying bird if it’s superb in everything else.. – Sharpness is king. Well sort of but for all you pixel peepers out there I’m more than happy to report it’s OEM quality and I’ll swear on the eyes of my child (Borat reference) you will never ever be able to tell on from the others. The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is a optically superb lens! Dead sharp wide open and I’m not too sure you’ll gain anything by stopping down. With the added Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter TC-1401 sharpness a minimally reduces (as it would be a on lens in the class) and you could easily (focusing issues aside) shot this wide open everyday with or without the TC-1401 with little difference in terms sharpness.
I find the contrast slightly lower than the Canon counterpart (Canon lenses are often quite contrasty) which gives a worse JPEG image but with almost no difference if you’re shooting RAW. Often does lower contrast lenses look better into the shadows or highlights but tend to give a flatter image.
Download the samples here:
Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens samples on Onedrive
Prior high-end lenses from Sigma like the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO IF had a very warm color tone (suitable for nature photography) but the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens shows a very neutral color-tone. (I tend to like warmer colortones more than most)
In terms of colors I couldn’t see a difference when using either teleconverter.
Forgot the 2x extender or to be specific the Sigma 2x Teleconverter TC-2001, the lens isn’t up to the task a delivering acceptable results unless you stop down beyond what most would use and the focusing leaves much desired. I’m sure it’s the same with the Canon branded one. – Leave it home or in your backpack and only use it for those rare occasions.
I did find the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens less sharp at larger distances than the Canon counterpart (in where Canon usually excels) so it was as I suspected and better than the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO IF.
All in all a strong optical performer MUCH better than previous renditions and all the other tele-lenses Sigma has ever made.
In short if you think an equal OEM (Canon or Nikon or perhaps even Sony) is out of your reach then the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is an easy buy. It’s really that sharp and if you’re in a region where you’ll never or seldom use a teleextender it’s a gem of a lens as it offer ultra fast focus speed, super sharp images and a plethora of options for your shooting style.
I’m a bit disappointed about teleextender (or teleconverter, which name is it anyway..) performance and I find it hindered the lens more than I would like to.
All in all great lens ALMOST as good as the OEMs in some areas and BETTER in some.
Sigma if you can please firmware update the lens for better extender performance so we can use this otherwise great lens to its full potential.