The Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG HSM is a often overlooked super-telephoto lens targeted at Nature and Sports photographers that want a fast and sharp 500mm lens for almost half price compared to the Canon or Nikon counterparts.

The lens itself is among the lightest 500mm primes on the market weighing around 3.15kg´s. It does not have built in optical-stabilization (IS, VR or similar) although this is not important for Sony and Four/thirds users.
The lens could benefit it though although I could imagine the cost would raise quite a bit.

The handling of the lens is second to none. The rubbed focusgrip is buttersmooth and you have fulltime manual focusing without disabling the focus engine.
The lensfoot is designed to fit in your hands and is on par or even better than the Canon or Nikon alternatives – The lens is perfectly balanced on a Gimbal head.

Sigma incorporated their HSM focus motor which combined with the built in selectable focus limiter is very fast – Perhaps the quickest focusing Sigma lens.
The selectable focus range is more useful than you would think. Partially because you´ll be able to select a shorter focusing range fitting the subject you´ll be shooting and also because this shortened focus range makes focusing a lot faster compared to focusing throughout the whole range.

The selectable range is :
4 to 8 meters
8 to infinity
and 4 to infinity

Equally important is the lens ability to acquire and maintain the focus which is superb with the bare lens and very good using a teleconverter. Overall this makes Servo focusing a lot easier.

The lens shows good sharpness from the biggest F4.5 apparture to excellent sharpness at F8.0
To demostrate I used the lens on a tripod, mounted on a Gimbal head locked down along with a Canon 40D:

The following shots are straight from RAW – These are 100% crops. No sharpening, contrast or any other editing have been applied. The images have been resized slighty to fit the blog.

Aperture : F4.5 – Focuspoint is right at the point of the bill. Good sharpness but could benefit from USM.

Aperture : F5.6 – Noticeable sharpness increase but also overall DOF.

Aperture : F6.3 – Excellent sharpness. Note the increased DOF.

Aperture : F8.0 – Super sharp. Post processing USM isn´t really needed. Remember this is a 100% crop.

Results with 1.4x teleconverter

Comming in a near future…
 

 

 

Conclusion

Overall the Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG HSM lens is a great super-telephoto 500mm prime with rewarding sharpness, colors and contrast. The very fast HSM focusing motor makes the lens a joy to use for action photography such as birds in flight (BIF) or sports.
The sharpness is quite good at F4.5 and increases a lot stopped down. I´ve been using this lens along with a cheap non-reporting Tamron 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverter with great results. The light weight makes this lens handholdable although a Gimbal head and a solid tripod is recommendable.
My only very small nit is the very short lenshood. I believe contrast could be better wide open with a longer hood but then again I´m sure Sigma knows their stuff.
So if you´re into the market for a fast prime and can´t afford the expensive F4´s (with builtin IS or VR) or don´t feel you need the slightly faster aperture or IS for that matter the Sigma is the way to go.

Highly recommendable

Oystercatcher: Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG HSM + 1.4x Teleconverter @ F8 – 50% crop

Author

Nature lover turned 35, Avid Nature Photographer and fan of all things living. Every second spend outside with or without a camera is a second for me to grow and learn. Got question, requisitions or just in for a chat shot me an E-mail or connect me on Facebook or Twitter

27 Comments

  1. Roger Williams Reply

    Tobias, did you lose autofocus capability with the 1.4x or 2.0x converters? If not, did you have to modify the converters to retain autofocus?

    Thanks for your response. I’m seriously considering this lens in place of the much more expensive Canon 500mm f/4.0 IS lens.

    roger

  2. Hi Roger

    You will loose autofocus capabilities with a Canon or Sigma converter so if you happen to own one of these there´s always the infamous tape-pin trick you mention yourself.

    Tobias

  3. Tobias,

    Thank you for this review. I’ve been looking for a good, independent review of this lens as I’m considering buying one as I can’t bring myself to part with the kind of money Nikon want for their 500mm f4.

    Adrian

  4. Hi Adrian

    You´re welcome – It´s my pleasure.
    I´m sure the Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX is the way to go for you then.

    Tobias

  5. Hello, this is probably the best review of the sigma 500/4,5 i´ve found so far.
    and it would be even more interesting if you could publish some 100% crops taken with and without 1,4x (2x) on a target with a little more contrast och sharpness than the teddybear :).

    I´m just about to buy one but want to be sure :P.

    //jonas

  6. Well Tobias, I went out and bought one. I have a Nikon x1.4 TC which I’d previously modified and the lens will still autofocus OK. I must admit, I have not used it in anger yet but I’m sure it will give good results. You should ask Sigma for commission.

  7. David Johnson Reply

    Hi everybody. I have an almost new Sigma 500/4.5. At first I tried it with a Kenko Pro 300 1.4x converter, and my Nikon D200, it would not auto focus at all.
    Going on other peoples experience I bought a Nikon TC14eii and modified it to make it fit the Sigma. Still using it with the D200, it tries to AF in good light but never locks on, just chatters at near the focus point. It will lock on with a little manual help, but a bird in flight has usually gone by then.
    Can anybody suggest what is wrong?
    Dave

  8. David Johnson Reply

    Thanks Tobias. I cant see that on the Sigma site. Maybe I need to try other bodies, higher end ones maybe? It would probably be cheaper than going to Nikon or Canon 500 f4’s !!

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  10. Tobias,
    Great Review…. im also considering this lens and you also mentioend that it worked on 1.4TC, {tape trick} on XXD body. how is the AF , low light? is it fast, i previously owned a canon 100-400 , and Kenko 1.4TC, but seldom use the TC, sinc it always hunt.
    Do you experience hund on S500 wiht 1.4TC on low light?

    Thanks,
    Edwin

    • admin Reply

      Hi Edwin

      Thanks.
      It is inevitable that the lens would have a tendency to hunt more when coupled with a teleconverter. That being said I found quite a difference depending on teleconverter. The Kenko Pro series seems to be the best with very little hunting but it also depends on what body you´re using.

      Tobias

  11. Tobias,
    Thanks alot for the quick response, im using a Canon 40D, with my previous Canon 100-400, the Kenko 1.4TC is frustrating.. so i seldom used it.
    If from your experience , like the BIF shot above.. with great IQ and acceptable AF… i
    Thank you again…

    regards,
    Edwin

    • admin Reply

      Sure no problem Edwin.
      If you find the combination unsatisfying I would definitely recommend upgrading to another body. Perhaps a 1D series which are down in price if you´re aiming for the Mark 2 series.
      Its worth mentioning a good friend of mine is using the 40D and Sigma 500mm with a 1.4x teleconverter with great success.

      Tobias

  12. Debapratim Saha Reply

    Hi friends! This review is really helpfu for me. What do you think does it work with tc1.4x to a canon 7D without taped pin trick?

    Regards.

    • Tobias Reply

      Hi Debapratim

      I believe the only series the support autofocus past F5.6 is the 1d series which means you´ll have to do the tape trick.
      Tobias

  13. Debapratim Saha Reply

    Thanks Tobias, what do you feel about the fungal affinity to its optics? Does weather sealing help in this regard ( as canon has)? If a lens get affected by fungas after cleaning (servicing), lens coat degrades…how do you compare Sigma with canon in this respect? How long one can use this lens in good performance? Actually I am planning to buy one…

    Kind regards.

    • Tobias Reply

      To be honest with you I don´t think you´ll gain anything fungus wise by choosing a weather sealed lens. I believe fungus occur due to bad storage in moist conditions rather than use in harsh conditions. No weather sealing would help in this regard.
      Therefore I suspect you could, like with any other lens that has been taken good care of, use it for your lifetime if that should be the case.
      A friend of mine has one which is 6 or 7 years and it still looks and functions as new.

      Tobias

  14. Debapratim Saha Reply

    Thanks Tobias for your logical sugesstion,waiting for review results with 1.4x tc…..again ,which brand tc will result the best?
    Regards.

    • Tobias Reply

      I suspect either the Kenko or the Canon would be the better choice.

      Tobias

  15. You have mentioned about the use of TC-1.4, TC-2 and you mentioned that there is lose of focus with Sigma or Canon, is it different with Nikon, TC-1.4 or TC-1.7 ?

    I am planning to buy the Sigma 500MM F4.5 to be as an addition to my Nikon F2.8MM VR which I just bought last October/

    Thank you

    • Tobias Reply

      Hi Rashed

      Thank you for the comment.

      Unfortunately I´m able to help you with the question because I don´t know the answer , although I could imagine it was the same. – Perhaps another one could supply you with the answer.
      The 2.8mm sounds nice and incredibly wide 🙂

      Tobias

  16. This looks very promising! It seems like I might be getting it, and I’m looking forward to it. Good review!

    Have you had any instances of CA or LoCA?

    If you do what you mention to retain AF with a 1.4 teleconverter, do you lose the aperture information, or just retain AF? Do you know any teleconverters that would work on Pentax? Cause that’s what I’m using 🙂

    • Tobias Reply

      Hi Alexander

      I´m glad you found it useful!
      I believe I didn´t notice any type of CA while using the lens.
      About the use with the 1.4x TC.
      Well it depends on what body you´re using. I can´t say I´m an expert in Pentax since I really haven´t used one extensively but it you have a body that supports AF beyond F5.6 it will retain all connection and info between body and lens.

      Tobias

  17. Thank you for the answers. If it’s as sharp as I think it is, a bit of cropping won’t be too bad, though I do have a couple of old 2x converters to test it with, but they’re all manual so I’ll need an aperture ring, I guess it doesn’t have that though.

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