Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

Sigma's Art and Sports lenses have been big hits in the marketplace and certain is that my attention was captured when the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens was announced. Getting a 500mm focal length with an f/4 aperture and decent image quality equates to buying an expensive lens. However, that this lens is priced at only 2/3 as much as the Canon version and less than 60% of the current Nikon option was part of the captivation. Keep those price differences in mind as you read this review.

Though it has a much lower price, the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports is a pro-grade lens and is built for such use.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens on Tripod

Focal Length

When you need to frame a subject tightly and can't get closer, due to physical barriers, a subject that does not tolerate closer or for safety reasons, you might want a 500mm lens. When you want to capture a compressed look from a distant perspective, you might want a 500mm lens. When you want to create a very strong background blur, making a subject stand out from even a busy, otherwise-distracting backdrop, a 500mm lens might be just what you need.

While a 500mm lens has a wide variety of uses, assured is that, for the reasons listed in the previous paragraph, wildlife and sports will be at the top of the most-frequently-used-for list with most other 500mm uses being employed much less frequently.

I recently posted an article comparing Canon's 500mm and 600mm f/4 lenses and someone considering the purchase of the Sigma 500mm f/4 lens might find that discussion interesting as focal length selection is part of the topic. In this article, I provided the highly-generalized suggestion that APS-C camera owners choose the 500mm focal length over the 600mm option. The primary reason for that advice is because APS-C sensors are smaller than the full frame alternative and using the 1.6x angle of view factor means that 500mm frames similarly to 800mm on a full frame lens. Quite often, the 500mm APS-C angle of view is narrow enough to tightly frame sports and wildlife subjects and 600mm (with a 960mm full frame equivalent focal length) becomes too narrow. The 500mm focal length option is also considerably smaller and lighter than the 600mm equivalent.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Below View

Max Aperture

While an f/4 aperture may be considered only moderately fast on a wide angle or normal lens, it is very fast for a 500mm lens. Sigma's enormous and incredibly-high-priced Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG IF Power Zoom Lens is the only 500mm option with a wider max aperture (as an aside, check out the entertaining reviews left for this military-like beast). The bottom line is that practically no one owns an f/2.8 500mm lens and the f/4 aperture found in this lens is otherwise as fast as it gets for this focal length.

Wide apertures are useful for stopping action in low light and for creating a strong background blur. This lens does a great job at the latter and can handle sports and other fast action until the sun sets. While a 500mm f/4 lens can be used after sunset and under the lights, you will likely find the ISO setting required for action-stopping shutter speeds to be overly noisy.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Angle View with Hood

Image Stabilization

With the image being magnified so much, the view through a 500mm lens often appears very shaky when being handheld, and though large and heavy, this lens can be handheld for (photographer-dependent) periods of time. The size and weight of this lens may add some shake-reducing inertia, but ... for me, these factors are big enough that they seem to increase the shakiness of this lens. That is where the Optical Stabilization feature comes into play.

This lens has a 4-stop-rated OS system. Handholding this lens long enough to capture the hundreds of sample images needed to test out the OS assistance was ... a good physical workout. What I learned is that I can get a very consistently sharp images at 1/50 second shutter speeds and still mostly sharp images at 1/40. Results at 1/30 were mixed and a low percentage of sharp images were captured at speeds as slow as 1/10. For me, I'm seeing between 3 and 4 stops of assistance.

This is a quality OS system with the scene in the viewfinder remaining steady (not jumping around). A click can be heard at startup and shutdown and a light whirring sound is heard during operation.

I'll talk more about the Sigma USB Dock later, but the dock permits this lens' OS to be further configured to one of three settings described by Sigma as:

Dynamic View Mode – This mode offers a recognizable OS effect to the image in the viewfinder. This helps to ensure the composition of images quickly.

Standard – This is the default setting. The OS effect is well-balanced and suitable for various scenes.

Moderate View Mode – This mode offers an excellent compensation of camera shake, and achieves very smooth transition of the image in the viewfinder. The composition of the image remains natural even when the angle of view keeps changing.

Sigma suggests that OS be turned off when photographing with this lens tripod-mounted. Minimally, OS causes the subject framing to move around when this lens is held still enough.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Vertical View

Image Quality

When you are carrying a 500mm lens with the size and weight influenced by an f/4 aperture in such, you are likely intending to use the lens at f/4 and that means wide-open image quality is paramount. I'm happy to report that the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is very sharp from corner to corner at its widest aperture. There is a slight improvement in sharpness garnered by stopping the lens down to f/5.6, but a slightly brighter image and increased depth of field are the biggest differences.

That's the good news and before I explain myself, let's look at some real-world images. For accurate outdoor image comparisons, I prefer clear skies. In addition to providing unchanging lighting conditions (lighting affects appearance of the results), direct sunlight affords shutter speeds high enough to ensure that motion blur, caused by either the camera/lens moving or the subject moving (if it is not rock solid), is completely avoided. However, when the sun is directly lighting the subject and surrounding area, heat waves quickly become an issue at this focal length and this means that more-distant subjects readily show distortion that is especially noticeable when comparing images. Thus, they are not suitable for comparison, especially at narrower apertures with longer shutter speeds.

I tried many comparison tests for this lens, but settled on the following and share these with your understanding that there is some heat wave impairment going on here. These images were captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R camera, processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (very low) and cropped to 100% resolution. The following examples are from the center of the frame.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

The f/4 image in the center was included to illustrate feather detail at f/4.

The last set of images shown above were captured indoors under direct sunlight coming through a skylight. Now you are wondering ... why is the f/8 sample so much softer? That is a clue to another issue that is better-illustrated in the set of examples below.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Focus Shift Example

What we are seeing here is focus shift. At f/4, the center of the plane of sharp focus runs through the intended subject. At f/5.6, the center of that plane has shifted in front of the subject and it continues to move forward as the aperture narrows at least through f/11. I provided an outdoor example followed by an also-sun-lit indoor example shown at 100% and then 50% resolution (to include more of the ruler in the frame). I didn't include the f/11 results for the Datacolor SpyderLensCal samples, but the shift continues forward outside of the cropped area.

As discussed, one of this lens' intended uses is for sports and it is a member of the Sigma Global Vision "Sports" lens lineup. When using lenses such as this one for sports, I usually use the widest aperture available and in that case, focus shift is of little or no consequence. I also frequently use a wide open aperture for wildlife photography, but ... not always. Especially if photographing a very close subject, I sometimes want more depth of field than f/4 provides and in these cases, the focus shift is going to be a problem. In the field, I didn't find the focus shift at f/5.6 to be bad, but a higher majority of my f/8 images were slightly soft.

Corner sharpness is often a differentiator between lenses and the Sigma 500 Sports lens performs very well in this regard. Do sharp corners matter in a 500mm lens? For most sports and wildlife uses, usually not. But, having sharp corners can still make a big difference in some images including when part of the subject and plane of sharp focus meet in the corner.

Expected is that this lens shows some vignetting when used on a full frame body at its widest aperture. The 500mm Sports lens has about 1.5 stops of vignetting in the full frame corners, an amount that is sometimes noticeable, but it is not a strong amount. At f/5.6, about 1/2 of the shading clears and about .4 stops remain at f/8. Few people are going to be able to detect the approximately .1 stop of corner shading that remains at f/11.

As normal, an APS-C format camera will avoid nearly all of the shading with a seldom-noticed .6-stops present in the f/4 corners.

Lateral (or transverse) CA shows as different colors of the light spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Quality prime lenses generally have low amounts of LatCA and while this lens has some of this aberration, the amount is low.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

Shown above is a 100% resolution image cropped from the extreme top-left corner of an EOS 5Ds R frame. There should only be black and white showing in this image and, mostly, that is what we see.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.

In the samples shown below, look for the silver bracelets to show highlight-fringing colors other than silver with color differences in the foreground vs. background.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

Some of these aberrations are present at f/4, but they are not strong and they clear substantially at f/5.6.

The above illustration provides one more look at the focus shift issue. Notice that the foreground details sharpen up more than the background details as the aperture narrows.

We do not do standardized flare tests for lenses over 400mm as that has proven damaging to the camera and you should never look at the sun through the viewfinder when using a telephoto lens. Immediate and irreparable eye damage can occur. However, this lens seems to handle bright lights quite well, showing relatively low amounts of flare.

The 500mm f/4 Sports lens has a very slight amount of pincushion distortion. The amount is low enough that very few subjects will make it apparent.

Evaluating bokeh, the quality of the background blur, is always challenging and with a telephoto it is perhaps even more so. Depending on the background, telephoto lenses can create ugly backgrounds, such as making double lines out of small limbs. But, this focal length is long enough that more often the background is completely erased into a beautiful blur.

Here are a pair of samples showing out of focus specular highlights produced by the 9-blade rounded aperture stopped down to f/8. The first set is from the background and the second is from the foreground.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Bokeh Example

Typical concentric rings can be seen around the borders of specular highlights with the centers very smoothly rendered.

Overall, the image quality of this lens is very high, high enough to compete very well at this price point. However, the focus shift issue is an optical drawback that must be take into consideration depending on the intended use of this lens.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Top View

Focusing

It doesn't matter how well a lens performs optically if the photo is out of focus. Sigma's Sports lenses always get Sigma's latest-generation AF systems and, with the optional (highly recommended) Sigma USB Dock, this AF system is very customizable.

The 500 Sports lens' AF system is driven by Sigma's HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) and it internally focuses very quietly. Focus speed is decent in the default "Standard AF" mode, but program one of the two custom modes for "Fast AF Priority" (via the dock), switch to that programmed mode and watch this lens focus extremely fast. The third AF speed option available via a programmed custom mode is "Smooth AF Priority". The latter is described by Sigma as "Priority smooth autofocusing. Offering a slightly slower but very smooth autofocus, ideal for use with video." While I did not find the smooth mode to be drastically different from the standard mode, the fast mode was very noticeably faster, with subjects locking into focus nearly instantly.

When reviewing the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, I asked I asked Sigma why the faster AF speed was not selected by default. Their response indicated that the faster setting comes with a "slight risk of decrease in accuracy". The slower "Focus accuracy-priority" speed setting yields a higher accuracy rate while the "Standard" speed is a better general purpose setting. I was led to believe that the slower speed setting may be a better choice in low light. I programmed custom switch 1 for fast and custom mode 2 for smooth. While capturing video in Movie Servo mode may benefit from smooth, I haven't felt the need to use the smoother mode beyond testing it.

Since AF performance, especially accuracy, is critical for a long focal length wildlife and sports lens, I spent a solid amount of time testing this lens on both Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and 5Ds R bodies. What I learned is that, using the center AF point, both of these cameras focused accurately with decent consistency. Consistency is of primary importance as this lens' focus calibration can be adjusted in-camera (if that option is available) or via the dock.

While the dock allows adjustments to be made at 4 focus distances, it does not permit adjustment by aperture to correct the focus shift issue. The other issue not accounted for by the dock and Sigma Optimization Pro software is varying focus calibration by AF point. While the center AF point on my 5Ds R provided good performance, all 4 mid-periphery AF points I tested were not quite as consistent as the center point and all four front focused. That means that I needed to calibrate for one or the other. I thought about calibrating the peripheral points for f/4 which would cause the center AF point to be slightly back-focused to account for focus shift when stopped down. I could then use the peripheral points with f/4 and the center point for f/5.6 and narrower.

My 1D X II proved more consistent across focus points, though some calibration was needed to offset a relatively minor front focusing issue. So, this problem is not likely universal. Another advantage of USB Dock compatability is that this lens' firmware can be updated if Sigma determines that AF performance can be enhanced.

With the camera in AI Servo continuous AF mode and tracking action, this lens turned in decent results with a good percentage of in-focus images.

To (potentially) reduce autofocus hunting, autofocus distances can be limited using the focus range limit switch. Distance ranges provided are 11.48'(3.5m) - 32.80'(10m), 32.80'(10m) - ∞ and the full range. Using the dock and a custom mode, the autofocus range can be customized as desired.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available in AF mode (this feature can be disabled using the dock) and manual focus override (allows AI Servo AF to be overridden by turning the focus ring even during continuous AF) is another switch option in addition to MF. Four AF function buttons located at 90° positions toward the objective end of the lens can function as AF lock/stop buttons. Focus at the desired distance, press one of the buttons and press the shutter release whenever desired, perhaps after recomposing. This is a feature I commonly use to capture a portrait or still scene while shooting action in AI Servo mode. This feature can also be useful in similar scenarios when a focus point is not available close enough to a frame border.

Another AF feature found on this lens is focus preset/recall with an optional audio beep confirming either. That feature is probably self-explanatory, but perhaps an example of its usefulness may be helpful. Envision photographing birds from a blind with a preferred perch in front of you. The birds may land at various other photogenic locations, but the perch is popular and ideal from a composition standpoint. Slide the preset/stop switch to preset and store the focus distance by pressing the set button (after focusing on the perch of course) and, when a bird lands there, recall the stored focus distance by pressing one of the four AF function buttons to immediately return focus to the preset distance – on the perch, ready for your composition to be dialed in.

A distance scale is provided in a window and as usual, the scale shows both feet and meter increments. The meter numbers, in a bolder, brighter font, are more easily visible than the notations in feet, even in bright light.

This lens has an extra-large focus ring that is very smooth, is nicely-damped and with 180° of rotation, is easy to precisely manual focus at all distances. Subjects change size quite noticeably as focus is racked – and they go in and out of focus very quickly.

With a 13' 1.5" (3.8m) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance), this lens has an unremarkable 0.15x MM (Maximum Magnification). Though many lenses have higher MM specs, they are not 500mm f/4 or similar lenses – the 0.15x number is normal for this lens class.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens38.4"(975mm)0.31x
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens78.7"(2000mm)0.15, 0.21x
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens129.9"(3300mm)0.13x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens106.3"(2700mm)0.17x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens118.1"(3000mm)0.15x
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens145.7"(3700mm)0.15x
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens177.2"(4500mm)0.15x
Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S VR II Lens76.8"(1950mm)0.27x
Nikon 500mm f/4E AF-S VR Lens142.8"(3630mm)0.14x
Nikon 500mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens151.2"(3840mm)0.14x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens102.4"(2600mm)0.20x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens110.2"(2800mm)0.20x
Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens157.5"(4000mm)0.15x
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens86.6"(2200mm)0.26x

Note that this lens autofocuses slightly closer than specified if the MF ring is turned to the full MFD extent prior to focusing with our test measurement being 132" (3341mm). When using a full frame lens, there is about 9" (23cm) of framing width at MFD.

As usual, Extension Tubes can improve the MFD spec, though at the expense of long distance focusing. With a large focal length lens in front of them, extension tubes do not dramatically reduce the minimum focus distance, but the change can be enough to enable a small bird or similar subject to be more-tightly framed. ETs are worth having available for such needs.

Mounting a teleconverter behind the Sigma 500mm f/4 Sports Len will make a much bigger difference in the MM values. This lens is compatible with the Sigma TC-1401 1.4x and Sigma TC-2001 2x Teleconverters, respectively generating a 1.4x and 2x increase in both focal length range and MM values.

With teleconverters installed, a lens' max aperture becomes narrower. With a 1.4x teleconverter mounted, this lens becomes a 700mm f/5.6 Lens and with the 2x in place, this lens becomes a 1000mm f/8.0 Lens, with Optical Stabilization remaining functional and the MFD remaining unchanged.

Here is an example of what these focal lengths look like:

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Focal Length Range Example

I know, the moon is not considered a sports or wildlife subject, but ... my other available subjects would not remain still enough for me to swap teleconverters in and out. Funny was that even if nearly asleep, our black cat would bolt at the presence of the big, same-colored lens in the same room and the dog was also afraid of the big lens. Maybe I need to talk to Lenscoat about a camo lens cover?

While the magnification benefits of teleconverters are quite attractive, there are some downsides to their use. As is often the case, this lens' image quality takes a hit with the teleconverters in place.

The 1.4x reduces wide open image sharpness somewhat, slightly increases LatCA and slightly reduces distortion. Stopping down to f/8 improves sharpness with the 1.4x, but only modestly so. Using the 2x results in noticeably further-degraded image sharpness with LatCA showing increased visibility. Stopping down from the f/8 wide open aperture results in little improvement in sharpness and the effects of diffraction begin competing against such at this point. Note that many cameras are not capable of autofocusing using conventional phase detection AF (through an optical viewfinder) when using a lens and teleconverter combination with an f/8 max aperture. Live view AF is often available through f/11.

Using teleconverters typically impacts AF performance, but the 500 Sports lens handles teleconverter use quite well. In good light, I noticed only a mild decrease in AF performance even with the 2x mounted. Focus hunting becomes somewhat more common, especially in lower light levels. Using the focus limiter can help in this regard as avoiding large focus distance changes is often key.

Build Quality & Features

As expected for a Sigma Global Vision Sports lens, this lens sports a pro-grade build quality and looks great as well.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Product Images

The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is constructed of lightweight, yet strong magnesium alloy. It feels solid and all moving parts have a high quality feel to them.

While this lens has only one rotating ring and is fixed in size, there are plenty of moving parts including many buttons and switches. Most of these were already discussed in the AF and OS sections of the review. Note that the grooved surface near the front of the lens is for grip only and is not rubberized.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Side View 2

Especially valuable for a lens primarily designed to be used outdoors is weather sealing and this lens has it. The dust/splash-proof construction includes rubber sealing at the mount along with O-rings and seals at switches, rings and other components. In addition, a water and oil-repellent coating is used on the front and rear elements. Although the camera protects the rear element when in use and the hood does the same for the front element, being able to quickly clean a lens in the field is sometimes important. A strong wind can blow rain and dirt beyond the coverage provided by the hood and the rear mount cap cannot always be immediately installed.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Mount

I often test similar lens coating features by pressing a body-oiled finger (the sides of the nose are a good source for this) directly onto the lens. In this case, the oily print did not stick very well to the lens and what did stick easily wiped clean with one wipe of a microfiber cloth.

While lightweight parts are used for this lens, there is no getting around the substantial weight (and size) required to be a 500mm f/4 lens. Here is a comparison table of manufacturer size and weight specifications for a selection of telephoto lenses.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens56.1 oz(1590g)3.7 x 7.6"(94 x 193mm)77mm2014
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens127.8 oz(3620g)5 x 14.4"(128 x 366mm)DI 52mm2013
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens8.49 lbs(3850g)6.4 x 13.5"(163 x 343mm)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens11.85 lbs(5370g)6.4 x 13.7"(163 x 349mm)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens7.04 lbs(3190g)5.7 x 15.1"(146 x 383mm)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens8.54 lbs(3870g)5.7 x 15.2"(146 x 387mm)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens8.65 lbs(3920g)6.6 x 17.6"(168 x 448mm)DI 52mm2011
Nikon 500mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens137 oz(3880g)5.5 x 15.4"(139.5 x 391mm)52mm2007
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS Sports Lens101 oz(2860g)4.8 x 11.4"(121.9 x 289.6mm)105mm2014
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS C Lens68.1 oz(1930g)4.1 x 10.2"(105 x 260.1mm)95mm2015
Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports Lens116.8 oz(3310g)5.7 x 15"(144.8 x 380.3mm)DI 46mm2016
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC G2 Lens71 oz(2010g)4.3 x 10.2"(108.4 x 260.2mm)95mm2016

For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Though heavy, this lens can be handheld for periods of time, and of course that length of time varies significantly based on the strength of the one doing the holding. That said, I recommend avoiding handholding any lens this large and heavy as much as possible. Even if you can handhold it, your body may later cause you to regret doing so. Use a strong monopod or tripod and your body will thank you.

As considerable as this lens' weight may be, it weighs noticeably less than the 600mm equivalent.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Compared to the Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens

Shown above and below are visual comparisons between the current Sigma and Canon 500mm f/4 lenses. Although these lenses are similar in size, they are shaped somewhat differently and feature completely opposite paint colors.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Compared to the Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens to other lenses.

The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens' tripod ring deserves some discussion. This is a substantially-sized, very smooth-functioning, non-removeable ring that is very solid – there is very little flex or vibration. The locking knob is also large, nicely rounded and smooth functioning with a smooth lockup and no slip-stick behavior when partially tightened. When locked, this ring is locked very tightly.

There is plenty of room for fingers above the foot under the lens and, although the shape of the foot isn't the most comfortable I've carried a lens with, it has a rubberized surface for an enhanced grip. You see a Wimberley P50 Lens Plate in many of the product images on this page. This tripod has two threaded inserts, allowing direct attachment to a tripod head or monopod head with either thread size, or to a lens plate using both for twist avoidance (this is important).

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Tripod Foot

The Wimberley plates come with 1/4 threads, so a 3/8" to 1/4" brass reducer bushing is required for this setup. Better would have been for Sigma to incorporate the lens plate feature into the foot of this ring and apparently, that option exists:

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Optional Tripod Ring Foot

New and unique to this tripod ring is the click on/off switch as seen below.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Tripod Foot Switch

Common is for tripod rings to either have click stops indicating precise 90° rotation positions or to have completely smooth rotation. Both options have benefits. If your tripod is precisely leveled, the click stops help you (quickly) keep the camera perfectly level in either orientation. If the tripod or monopod is not exactly leveled (I sometimes tip my monopod when following action), the rotation stops can become a nuisance. With this lens, Sigma lets you can pick the ideal option for the situation at hand. The feature works great and I like it a lot.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Neck Strap

The tripod ring has a pair of attachment loops used for attaching the included neck strap. Having the strap attached to the tripod ring is preferable as the camera can rotate freely without wrapping the strap around your neck as can happen when the strap is attached directly to the lens barrel.

Included in the box is a large, very protective lens hood. This hood is constructed primarily of carbon fiber for an excellent strength to weight ratio. It easily installs tightly onto the lens using a metal locking knob and the rubberized end reduces the chance of slipping when sitting upright and also protects the hood and surface it is sitting on. The end of the lens itself is similarly rubber-coated.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Filter Holder

When lenses get this large, front filters are not usually an option. Sigma provides a 46mm drop-in filter system for this lens, removable with a partial turn of the filter holder knob. While I would like to see the filter cover fit more snugly over the opening, the system seems to function adequately.

Included is a WR Protector filter that is accounted for in the optical design of the lens, meaning that image quality will be degraded without an appropriate filter in place. An optional WR Circular Polarizer RCP-11 is (or will be) available with external adjustments made available. Front filter threads, approximately 130mm in size, are also included and are designed to hold the optional Sigma WR Protector LPT-11 filter.

Also typical for lenses of this size is the included padded-nylon wrap-around lens cap that is perhaps more aptly called a hood cap. This cap has a hard end that protects the front element while the rest of the cap is flexible.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Box

This lens comes in a very large box and in the box is a large backpack that practically deserves a review of its own. Browse through the product images below to familiarize yourself with this useful accessory.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Case Demonstration

Overall, the case seems huge, but the bottom is sized for the reversed hood to fit with about 1" (2.5cm) of dense padding surrounding it inside of the case. The rest of the case is vertical from those dimensions or about 11 x 11 x 22" (28 x 28 x 56cm) overall.

A lens manufacturer provided room for a camera in the case! Too often a nice lens case is provided with a large lens, but the camera is not accounted for, meaning that another case is required if there is need/want to carry the lens mounted (frequently there is this need). Sigma provides a set of foam filler padding to accommodate just the lens, or the foam can be removed to provide room for even a pro-size body.

A top handle makes lifting the case or carrying it upright easy. A set of lightly-padded, heavy-duty adjustable shoulder straps are provided and they are surprisingly comfortable for the simplicity of their design. The strap covers are not rubberized. If carrying much weight any distance, I highly recommend using the shoulder straps for even weight distribution. Your body will thank you later.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Angle View

Sigma Global Vision and the USB Dock

Sigma's Global Vision lenses get a classification of "A", "C" or "S", representing a primary Sigma-intended use of "Art", "Contemporary" and "Sports". A full description of these categories can be found in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens press release.

Sigma has been introducing some great Global Vision lenses, but I still don't like the narrow categorization structure. This of course is a "Sports" lens and as such, gets an "S" stamped in a classy chrome circle on the lens barrel. I expect this lens to be used at least as much (if not more) for wildlife and perhaps should have a "W" stamp instead or in addition to the "S".

Sigma Dock

A great feature of the Global Vision lenses is compatibility with the Sigma Dock. The dock, working in conjunction with the Sigma Optimization Pro software, allows the lens' firmware to be updated (bug fixes, compatibility updates, feature enhancements, etc.) and allows precise autofocus calibration at four distances. FTM focusing can also be disabled/controlled via the dock and the custom modes can be programmed (AF speed, focus limiter range and OS settings).

Here are some screen grabs showing some of the Dock's functionality.

Sigma Dock Examples

Price and Value

The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is a very expensive lens. That is, until you compare it to the Canon or Nikon equivalents. Its price tag then appears to be a bargain.

The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon F and Sigma mounts and the Canon and Sigma versions can be used on a Sony E-mount camera body via the Sigma Mount Converter MC-11. This lens qualifies for Sigma's Mount Conversion Service in case you change your mind later.

My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer electronics and algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Usually a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer via a firmware update, but this cannot be guaranteed. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Compatibility with the Sigma USB Dock is risk reducing as Sigma can release firmware updates for dock-compatible lenses. Included is a 1 year limited warranty.

The reviewed lens was obtained online/retail.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Side View

Alternatives to the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens

If you can't afford the price of this lens, you need to consider a wider focal length or narrower max aperture model. Consider the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens and Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens as good alternatives.

If the budget is solid, the Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens is a step up from the Sigma. The Canon vs. Sigma 500mm f/4 image quality comparison shows the Canon having a slight advantage that increases with-teleconverters in the picture. In most other regards, including build quality, the Sigma appears about equal with the Canon. The big difference remaining is focusing. As discussed, focus shift is an issue that needs to be considered when making this purchase decision and the Canon lens delivers an even better accuracy consistently.

I have not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the Nikon 500mm f/4E AF-S VR Lens, but expect it to perform similarly to the Canon.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Top View with Hood

Summary

The Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens takes one into the big leagues of sports and wildlife photography at a fraction of the price of the previous options, those by Canon and Nikon.

Overall, this lens is a really nice one. The build quality appears military-grade, ready for heavy duty outdoor use. The features list is about as long as they get and adequate accessories are included. Though some focus shift is present, the image quality coming from this lens – especially when used wide open at f/4 – is ready for a 2-page spread or a wall-sized cutout and the background blur that 500mm f/4 can produce practically cuts out the subject in-camera.

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My Recommended Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my own purchases. Get your Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens now from:

B&H Photo
Adorama
Amazon.com
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Rent the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
Do you need/want the Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens for only a short period of time? Or, would you feel more comfortable buying after having a hands-on trial period? Consider renting. Renting is fast and easy. The rental companies I recommend below are excellent to work with. Schedule your rental now:
LensRentals.com
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