The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens review was created simultaneously with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens review. It is very unusual to be reviewing two just-released lenses from the same manufacturer that share the same focal length range and the same aperture range. Even many of the features of these lenses are shared, including the extensive switch functionality and the OS feature. So, you will recognize some content shared between these two reviews.
As much as the Sports version of this lens is about build quality, the Contemporary lens is about light weight and lower price. Which is more important and what are the other differences? Good questions.
The primary feature shared between the Sigma 150-600mm lenses is the focal length range. In this very important regard, these two lenses are the same and have the same uses.
Having the 150mm portion of the focal length spectrum covered is a great asset of this lens, but for those only needing the wider angle range of this lens' focal lengths, there are many other options available and some may be preferable for one reason or another.
When the focal length needs extend beyond 400mm, the options quickly narrow and the prices ascend rapidly for most of those remaining. Until recently, there were no major brand name DSLR zoom lenses that extended to 600mm (aside from the huge and very expensive Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO IF HSM Autofocus Lens). The 150-600mm Contemporary Lens is now the third such lens, joining the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens and Sigma's other offering, the already-mentioned 150-600mm Sports variant.
One exception to 150-600mm lenses being equal in regards to focal length is when the specified focal length numbers have been rounded significantly. Long focal length range lenses gain suspicion just for being that.
Using an unscientific methodology involving relating the distance measurement to a properly-framed ISO 12233 enhanced resolution chart relative to framing distances of the Canon and Nikon 600mm prime lens, I estimated that the Tamron 150-600mm option came within 95% of the 600mm prime figure or roughly 570mm. The two Sigma zooms frame the test chart at a similarly-slightly shorter distance than the Tamron, bringing the rough focal length estimate down to slightly under 560mm. However, the Sigma lenses have less pincushion distortion at 600mm and this distortion difference could easily be the reason for any difference in the test chart framing distances between these lenses. Suffice to say that the Sigma lens' 600mm is a very long focal length and it is sure to bring a smile to your face.
There is a very good chance that wildlife and sports are your photographic pursuits if you are interested in the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens. While this lens has other very good uses, sports and wildlife frequently have subjects that are not more-closely approachable and longer focal lengths become a requirement instead of a luxury.
While this is the "Contemporary" variant of Sigma's 150-600mm lens (vs. the "Sports" model), I used this Lens at several spring sporting events I was covering in recent months. This focal length range can capture team award photos at 150mm and moments later capture distant track and field participants tightly framed as they cross the finish line or jump over their bars and hurdles. All of this while keeping the photographer far out of the way. I didn't make an effort to get credentialed for one tightly controlled event and from outside of the waist-high track perimeter fence, the 150-600mm Contemporary lens allowed me to frame the participants tighter than any of the credentialed photographers could from inside the fence with the lenses they had (mostly 70-200s and a 300mm).
One occasional downside of being farther away is that obstructions can come between the photographer and the subject. Sometimes, focal length-limited photographers competing for the same image are the problem. Sometimes, it may simply be trees that get in the way.
From just behind the goal line, half of a full sized soccer field can be covered by the 150-600mm range using a full frame body (and the action on the other half is easier to see by simply watching through the lens). When the action approaches, zoom out and with this wide zoom range, a choice of camera orientations is often available. When using a prime lens, the distance to the subject often dictates the selection of camera orientation (to avoid cropping the subject too tightly). This focal length range permits ideal framing over a significant range of subject distances, requiring less image quality-detrimental and modestly time consuming cropping in post.
Want close-ups of dangerous sporting activities? This lens may have your name on it. The discus throw is one such event I photographed with a 150-600mm lens. Shooting the thrower through the protective cage does not generate good imagery. Shooting this event within the landing zone is ... dangerous to both camera and photographer. With 600mm available, I was able to shoot tight images of the throwers without subjecting myself to potential injury.
I would take my chances with an errant discus throw before risking my life to an oncoming race car. Auto racing is another sport where close proximity photography is not recommended (outside of the pits at least) and in this sport, 600mm can be golden.
Wildlife is often difficult to approach and in this situation, long focal lengths rule.
If you live in the right location and have landscape that is attractive to wildlife, you might be surprised at how many great wildlife images you can capture from inside the house with a lens such as this one. Mother raccoons have huge appetites while feeding their young, bringing this typically nocturnal animal out in the middle of the day in search of food. Once the raccoon was spotted from inside the house, I grabbed the 150-600mm Contemporary lens mounted to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and slowly opened a window. You are looking at the best result of this short session.
Bird photographers never have too much focal length and having a zoom range to work with means that even large and close birds and other wildlife can be framed environmentally, showing the ideal amount of landscape along with the animal.
Ever visit the zoo? With all of the fencing and concrete, it is easy to take poor quality zoo photos. Having these long focal lengths to tightly frame the animals with is definitely an advantage.
Are you interested in air shows? This focal length range is perfect for capturing multiple plane formations as well as distant single aircraft. That this lens is relatively light makes handholding these overhead shots easier.
There are many other photographers who can make use of this wide 4x focal length range. Photojournalists with restricted access to their subjects, paparazzi and law enforcement groups will all find this focal length range useful. Portraits, especially the tightly framed variety, are on this lens' capability list.
Landscapes are another subject included in this lens' capabilities. Long focal lengths are great for making colorful sky photos from even modestly nice sunrises and sunsets. Compressed mountain landscapes can be especially nice.
Place an APS-C/1.6x FOVCF camera behind this lens and the angle of view becomes equivalent to a 35mm 240-960mm lens. Those extremely narrow angles of view move this lens' uses more deeply into the sports and wildlife range. Framing small and distant subjects large in the frame is (relatively) easy at 960mm, but help steadying the camera will be appreciated for good composition.
Here is an example of the 150-600mm focal length range as seen by a full frame camera:
While long focal lengths will make you want to photograph very distant subjects, under some situations, too-distant subjects should be avoided. Haze can reduce contrast and heat waves/shimmer can quickly destroy image sharpness by micro-distorting details. While haze is primarily limited to affecting long distance photography, heat waves can affect even close range photography.
Shooting subjects on a track (the kind that people run on and the kind that people drive on) frequently results in heat wave distortion affecting the final image. Artificial turf also generates lots of heat wave distortion on a sunny afternoon. Note that heat waves can negatively impact AF performance as well.
Want very long focal lengths in a zoom lens without a large size, heavy weight and high price? Your options are probably all variable max aperture lenses. Like the majority of zoom lenses with focal lengths reaching over 200mm, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS Lens also has a wide open aperture that narrows as the focal length increases. When using these lenses with a wide open aperture, exposure settings will change as the lens is zoomed from 150mm to longer focal lengths. Cameras in auto exposure mode will automatically account for the narrowing max aperture, but manual mode requires a manual exposure adjustment when using wide open apertures (unless auto ISO is being used or an in-camera function accommodates the changes).
Here is what this lens' max aperture step down looks like in relation to a handful of other comparable lenses:
|Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens||70-103mm||104-154mm||155-228mm||229-300mm|
|Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens||70-84mm||85-134mm||135-224mm||225-300mm|
|Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens||100-134mm||135-311mm||312-400mm|
|Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens||80-134mm||135-249mm||250-400mm|
|Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens||150-173mm||174-312mm||313-500mm|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports||150-184mm||185-320mm||321-600mm|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C||150-179mm||180-387mm||388-600mm|
|Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens||150-225mm||226-427mm||428-600mm|
Stepping down to a max f/5.6 aperture only 30mm into the 450mm overall focal length range and to f/6.3 at 388mm places this lens among the slowest/darkest lens available in terms of max aperture (and viewfinder brightness). Among the 150-500 or 600mm options, this lens is one of the brighter options, but the 1/3 stop differences will not likely be a decision factor for most.
Being realistic, the Sigma 150-600mm lenses, even the one with "Sports" in its name, are not going to be your best option for capturing low light action. When the sun sets or the clouds roll in and the aperture is limited to f/6.3, you will be reaching for noisy-high ISO settings to get the 1/1000 to 1/1600 shutter speeds often necessary to stop action.
The track sample photo shared above was captured late in a mid-spring afternoon under a bright but cloudy sky. This 450mm image required ISO 1600 to get an ideal 1/1600 second shutter speed. While ISO 1600 is not bad on a 1D X, the light conditions were not bad on this day. On a cloudy evening or after the sun sets, ISO 6400 and above is not unreasonable to expect.
Don't underestimate the shutter speed required to stop motion at 600mm. An in-action subject that was photographed at 300mm will need a significantly faster (figure 2x) exposure duration when photographed at the same distance (same subject framing) at 600mm due to the subject crossing twice as many pixels in the same time period. Because reaching for higher ISO settings when shooting fast action is frequently necessary, the narrow aperture may be the biggest detriment to final image quality when using this lens in comparison to a wider aperture prime lens option.
Wider apertures greatly increase the size, weight and price of the lens, so as with most products, there has been a tradeoff made. This is the lightest 150-600mm lens available at review time, though it is negligibly lighter than the Tamron option.
With the sharpness-reducing effects of diffraction kicking in with some strength at f/11 through f/16 (depending on the DSLR being used), there is a somewhat narrow range of ideal apertures available for optimal use in this lens. Fortunately, those remaining apertures are quite useful.
Optical stabilization can greatly increase the versatility of most lenses, and when the focal length increases to 600mm, especially on an APS-C body, OS can save the day by virtue of the stabilized viewfinder alone. Framing a subject properly at 600mm handheld requires steady arms, but OS reduces the steadiness requirement to include a much greater segment of the photographer population. Sigma has not published the optical stabilization system rating for this lens, but I would be surprised to learn of a less-than-four-stop rating being introduced today.
With good form and stable footing, I could get mostly-sharp handheld results down to 1/15 second at 150mm (using a full frame DSLR) for about 3 1/3 stops of assistance over handholding a 150mm focal length in general. The keeper rate quickly dropped at longer exposure durations and beyond 1/10 second exposures, a very low percentage of images were sharp. One image in 16 was sharp at 1/5 second.
Longer focal lengths with their greater magnification require faster shutter speeds to deliver sharp handheld results than their wider angle counterparts do. At 600mm, the 150-600 Contemporary gives me mostly sharp handheld results down to 1/50 second for about 3 2/3 stops of assistance. The keeper rate was about 75% at 1/40 with sharp images captured sporadically at longer exposure times.
As is common for stabilized telephoto lenses, the Sigma 150-600 features mode 1 (normal) and mode 2 (panning) options. Using the Sigma Dock, this lens' OS can 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.
The lens comes with "Standard" selected by default. I primarily used Standard mode for my testing (and off while shooting sports), but I prefer Dynamic View Mode for subjects that are not moving quickly.
Some clicks are heard at OS startup and shutdown, but the operational hum is quiet. There is sometimes a small amount of jumping seen at OS startup and shutdown and subject framing drifts a small amount during OS operation (turn off OS when using a tripod). The end results from this lens' stabilizer are good – OS is an important feature for this handholdable long lens.
A 500mm or longer lens priced as low and weighing as little as the 150-600mm Contemporary historically tells me that I should not count on the long focal length image quality being good. If the Tamron 150-600 hadn't paved the way, my expectations from this lens would have been considerably lower. Having just reviewed the Sports variant, I had another very good 150-600mm image quality experience on record. But that lens was priced nearly 2x higher, making expectations for the Contemporary lens to be much less. Fortunately, I walked away from the image quality testing with very positive results – results that contradict the price and weight.
Image sharpness, a combination of contrast and resolution, is generally the most preferred lens image quality attribute. Testing sharpness is usually the first test we conduct. Starting at 150mm with a wide open aperture, this lens delivers sharp results across the entire full frame image circle. Results remain similar until a modest reduction in sharpness is seen at 400mm. A very slight decline continues through 500mm and more degradation is seen at 600mm where I would call the sharpness "OK".
Stopping down to f/8 only generates a noticeable improvement in sharpness at 600mm, especially in the center of the frame. As the focal lengths are decreased, the f/8 improvement declines, but becomes less-needed. The difference at 300mm is very slight and moving wider than 300mm, the f/8 difference becomes almost negligible even though f/8 represents more than one stop of aperture reduction at these focal lengths (vs. 2/3 stop). The primary improvement at f/11 is seen at 600mm and the small improvement is mostly isolated to the full frame corners.
As I said with the "Sports" lens, I'm not going to contend that this lens competes at the level of the most-elite zoom lenses available today in terms of sharpness, but it does perform reasonably well and especially well for having such a wide range of very long focal lengths, for its light weight and for its relatively low price point. I'll add many comparisons in the alternate lens section at the end of this review and there is of course more to image quality than sharpness.
Full frame camera owners will see just over 2 stops of vignetting in image corners when using this lens with a wide open aperture at 150mm. The corners brighten to about 1.8 stops of shading at the focal lengths where the max aperture drops to f/5.6 and f/6.3, basically from 180mm and beyond. These amounts are moderately noticeable. Wide open corner shading variation over the focal length range is quite low.
Vignetting may be noticeable, but it can sometimes be a positive aspect of an image, drawing the viewer's eye toward the brighter, more-centered subject. I'd of course rather have the option to add vignetting in post than for removing it to be my only option. The downside to removing vignetting is potentially increased noise levels in the portion of the image that is brightened.
At f/8, a seldom-noticed about-.7 stops of corner shading remains at 150mm. The shading drops to about half a stop at 180mm, but gradually increases to about .8 stops at 250mm and then holds similarly throughout the balance of the focal length range.
APS-C format body owners will not notice vignetting when using this lens, regardless of aperture setting.
Expect to see a modest amount of CA (Chromatic Aberration) in the mid and peripheral image circle at the wide end of the focal length range. The CA diminishes to negligible in the mid lengths (around 400mm), but becomes modestly noticeable again as 600mm is reached. As with the Sports version of this lens, for the uses I've had for this lens, I seldom encountered strong effects of CA. With the right software (not Canon Digital Photo Professional), CA can be nicely corrected in post processing.
For the worst case 150mm full frame corner CA example shown below, I intentionally went looking for strongly contrasting lines running tangential to the image circle.
It is a telephoto lens with long focal lengths and a large element count, so one should expect to see some flaring if a very strong light source enters the picture (such as the sun). For safety reasons (my own and the camera's), this lens was not flare-tested beyond 400mm. The amount of flaring seen in the tested range was normal.
The 150-600 Contemporary lens shows a slight amount of pincushion distortion that is rather consistent over the entire focal length range with the least amount of distortion present at 600mm. If sports and wildlife are the subjects, the distortion will probably not be noticeable in most images. This lens performs very well against other zoom lenses in this regard. Removing distortion can also be easily done in post, but ... stretching portions of the image is destructive at the pixel level. The software we have today is very good, but ... it is still using computer algorithms to create detail in some areas.
The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens' bokeh, the quality of the background blur, appears good/normal. The 9-blade aperture creates out-of-focus specular highlights that look like this:
While this lens is not going to create a background blur as strong as a 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4 lens can create, the long focal lengths do not have a problem creating significant blur. Sporting venues are full of distracting background elements and the blur capability becomes even more important in these situations. Here is a 600mm f/6.3 example:
Lenses with extreme focal lengths or an extreme range of focal lengths often show shortcomings in their image quality. While this lens is not the ultimate performer in this regard, it is definitely a contender among the 150-600s and other long telephoto zoom lenses.
Driven by Sigma's HSM (Hypersonic Motor), the Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens is fast-focusing out of the box. I say "out of the box" because the focus speed performance attribute can be configured using the Sigma Dock. Basically, the slower (Sigma references "smoother" instead) the lens focuses, the greater the chance that the lens focuses accurately.
The default "Standard" option is designed to provide a balance of speed and accuracy. By configuring one of this lens' two custom modes (switch selectable), faster (Motor's drive speed-priority) and slower (Focus accuracy-priority) focus drive speeds can be selected. You may find the slower speed to be the better low light option while the faster speed may prove great for your high contrast in-action subjects under bright light.
Place a clearly delineated subject with good contrast on a focus point and this lens locks focus very quickly in "Standard" mode and even faster in "Motor's drive speed-priority". The differences between the three focus speed modes is noticeable, but I used the Standard mode for most of my testing based on the expectation that Sigma made this the default mode with good reason.
As great as fast-focusing lenses are to have, focus accuracy is always more important. In the field AF accuracy on both the 5D Mark III and 1D X I was using the lens on has been reasonable and that includes AI Servo performance at several sporting events I captured with this lens. Reasonable, but not perfect was AF Consistency. In four separate controlled AF test sessions, I found some focus accuracy inconsistencies especially noticeable at the wide end of the focal length range.
So, I theorized. The 150-600mm Sports lens showed very good focus accuracy. The same company introduced both lenses at nearly the same time, so the same AF technology and algorithms were available for each. The Contemporary's AF speed seems slightly faster than the Sports model and Sigma indicates that faster AF speed reduces focus accuracy. Thus, I theorized that changing the Contemporary's AF speed to the slowest option might bring my accuracy results from this lens up to what I experienced with the Sports version.
I configured Custom Mode 2 for "Focus accuracy-priority" and retested AF accuracy. Unfortunately, this test proved my theory to be incorrect, showing the worst 150mm AF accuracy of the four tests. Here are 100% crops taken from the center of the last six 150mm test images.
The in-focus hit rate shown here was consistent throughout this test. Often (but not always), 600mm images will have shallower depth of field, requiring better AF accuracy. While some focus accuracy inconsistency shows in the 600mm tests, the inconsistency is less significant than at 150mm. A lens that consistently focuses in front of or behind the subject can be calibrated, using the Sigma Dock, Sigma Service or a camera with AFMA capabilities, but an inconsistently-focusing lens is a bigger problem. If you encounter this issue, the best solution may be to take extra insurance shots.
A lens with the max apertures this one has does not require as much focusing precision as a 400mm f/2.8 lens for example, and overall, this lens' in-focus hit rate was reasonable. Again, AI Servo results were similar with a majority of images being properly focused.
Note: Sigma has announced a firmware update for this lens. "It is expected to increase autofocus speed by approximately 20%, to a maximum of 50%, during normal shooting as well as when using “Speed Priority” set through SIGMA Optimization Pro." [Sigma]
By reducing the focus distance range the lens has to hunt through to find the correct focus distance, this lens can potentially lock focus faster. The focus limiter switch is designed for this purpose. Select between 32.8'(10m) - ∞, 9.2'- 32.8'(2.8m - 10m) and the full range of focus distances. Don't like any of those options? The dock can be used to create your own focus limit ranges, instantly selectable using the Custom Mode switch on the lens.
Focus calibration issues can cause miss-focusing, which can strongly impact image quality. I did not have focus calibration issues with this lens, but if encountered with your lens and camera combo, the dock can be used to correct this problem. With dock compatibility, consistent front or back focus issues can be corrected in the lens at 4 focus distances for 4 focal lengths (150mm, 250mm, 400mm, 600mm).
The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens focuses quietly (unlikely to scare off your wildlife) with the typical shuffling of lens groups being just-audible in a very quiet environment. This lens focuses internally and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available. The front element does not rotate with focusing.
This lens is very close to being parfocal. With Live View at 10x, focus acquired at 600mm remains nearly ideal while zooming out all the way to 150mm. Videographers especially appreciate parfocalness in a lens, and they will also appreciate the lack of focus breathing this lens shows. Subjects come into and go out of focus very smoothly and stably with little or no change in their apparent size.
The 150-600mm Contemporary Lens' focus ring is rather small and with only a small amount of raised ribbing on it, it is not the easiest to locate by touch. The 150° of rotation is great for precise focusing at the wide end, but rather fast for 600mm adjustments. An advantage of a fast rate of focus change is that fast moving subjects are easier to track (but doing so requires skill). At times, this focus ring has exhibited an aggravating amount of slip-stick behavior that, when combined with the fast rate of adjustment at 600mm, resulted in a frustrating manual focusing experience. As I'm verifying this experience prior to posting the review, the lens is working reasonably well and slip-stick is not as big of an issue. Perhaps there are specific conditions that cause the slip-stick behavior or perhaps that issue has smoothed itself out with use.
A considerable number of focus distances are marked in ft and m inside the focus distance window. As clued by the focus limiter switch settings, this lens has a 110.2" (2800mm) minimum focus distance (MFD). At 600mm, this distance provides a moderate 0.20x maximum magnification (MM). Our MFD test showed that we could manually focus this lens down to about 90% of the rated MFD and in the field use has verified that noticeably more magnification is available by using manual focusing (see chipmunk image below).
|Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens||47.2"||(1200mm)||0.21x|
|Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens||38.4"||(975mm)||0.31x|
|Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens||78.7"||(2000mm)||0.15, 0.21x|
|Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens||68.9"||(1750mm)||0.20x|
|Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S VR II Lens||76.8"||(1950mm)||0.27x|
|Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens||86.6"||(2200mm)||0.19x|
|Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens||102.4"||(2600mm)||0.20x|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens||110.2"||(2800mm)||0.20x|
|Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens||106.3"||(2700mm)||0.20x|
With three different 150-600mm lenses coming through the lab as of review time, one might get the impression that lenses of this focal length range must have the same MM. The following image features a 4" (102mm) peony flower captured at 600mm and MFD with the "Sports" version of this lens. The same image could be captured with the Contemporary lens and its matching 0.20x MM capabilities.
This lens will not be confused with a macro lens, but ... it can fill the frame with moderately small subjects at close distance. Here is a Contemporary lens-captured eastern chipmunk at (or very close to) the maximum manually-focused MFD:
For a modestly shorter MFD and a correspondingly higher MM, use extension tubes. The loss of infinity focusing is a notable penalty to using extension tubes.
For a more significant magnification at any focus distance with no change in MFD, mount a Sigma Global Vision Teleconverter behind this lens. The addition of a Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconverter creates a full frame 210-840mm f/7.1-f/9.0 OS lens. Magnifying the image by 1.4x noticeably impacts image quality. Wide open 840mm f/9 sharpness is not good. Stopping down to at least f/11 improves results to almost bare lens at 600mm f/6.3 image quality. The 1.4x increases CA modestly and also increases barrel distortion slightly. The latter is actually a positive change as it reduces the native pincushion distortion.
Only cameras with f/8 max aperture-capable AF systems (including the Canon 1-Series, 5D III, 7D II) can autofocus the w/1.4x combination and only the center AF point is available. Focusing remains quick, but focus hunting becomes more common.
Use the Sigma TC-2001 2x Teleconverter to create a 300-1200mm f/10.0-13.0 OS Lens. While the focal length range on this combo looks amazing, the resulting image quality is ... downright ugly. Even stopped down 2/3 of a stop to f/16, the results are only marginably usable (being kind) with diffraction also impacting image sharpness at this point. CA is again increased slightly and distortion remains similar to the with-1.4x results. With an f/10 max aperture, this combo will not autofocus on any DSLRs using conventional phase detection AF and the viewfinder becomes very dark.
Use the image quality and distortion tools to see the results of the with-extender combinations with your own eyes (links provided at the top of this review).
While this lens is not built close to the military-grade-like Sports version of Sigma's 150-600mm lens and despite the light weight, it has a nice build quality. Primary lens barrel construction is of Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) materials. TSC combines the characteristics of metal and polycarbonate and has the thermal expansion/contraction properties of aluminum. "Since thermal shrinkage is low, [TSC] has a high affinity to metal parts ..." [Sigma] and permits size reduction in other mechanical parts including the zoom ring. TSC also has a considerably higher elasticity compared to Sigma's other products and high precision TSC molds are easier to create.
Here is a look at the various positions of this lens:
Most of the very large lenses available today do not extend, thus the site's standard large lens images do not maximize the views of extending lenses. This lens, reaching a long 13.66" (424.0mm) at the full 3.15" (80.1mm) extension with the hood installed, is too large to be contained within the site's smaller format lens product images. Because it is interesting to make comparisons between this lens and the smaller lenses, the 150-600 Contemporary is included in both of the site's product image comparison tools. That some of this lens' images are cropped in the smaller lens format sample set is expected, but I still find the inclusion of value.
The 150-600mm Contemporary is reasonably tightly built with a slight amount of play in the extended barrel.
I already mentioned that the focus ring is not the easiest to locate via tactile methods, but the large zoom ring is the complete opposite. This lens design definitely prioritized the zoom ring. The crisply-ribbed, substantially sized rubber zoom ring is reasonably smooth with some slip-stick when fine adjusting. Rotational resistance is rather smooth. This ring's 146° of rotation provides a nice rate of transition between focal lengths. The zoom ring rotates in the Canon-standard direction (opposite of the Nikon standard).
Prefer a push/pull functioning zoom lens over the rotational design? This lens can be used in that manner. While some twist-zoom lenses can be extended and retracted by pushing and pulling their objective ends (including their hoods), Sigma makes this option official by providing a rubberized surface toward the end of the lens, facilitating push/pull zooming. This design works well for pushing the lens to a longer focal length, but ... retracting works best if more end of the lens surface is grasped (including the back of the hood). Both zoom methods have advantages and disadvantages, and your zoom method can be instantly changed at any time.
This lens is advertised as having a dust & splash proof "mount". While this is better than not having a sealed mount, dust and moisture should be avoided when using this lens. The front and rear elements of this lens receive a water & oil repellent coating.
While extending/retracting the lens in the direction that gravity is pulling makes the zoom ring easier to turn/push/pull, the difference in rotational pressure required is relatively nice. No great effort is required to zoom to 600mm while following a bird in flight.
Gravity zooming will happen when carrying this lens, especially with the focal length set to the wide end. If the lens is pointed downward and some movement is happening (such as walking), the lens will gradually extend to a longer focal length. To prevent this effect, Sigma provides a zoom lock switch.
As with most lenses having a zoom lock switch, this lens will not extend even with pressure applied when locked at the widest angle focal length. Unlike most lenses, both of the review-time-current Sigma 150-600mm lenses can be locked at any marked focal length. While the lens cannot be locked at any of the in-between focal lengths, the marked focal lengths will lock in place until a modest pressure is applied to the zoom ring or the end of the lens (or the switch is moved to the unlocked position). The lock will not support a camera resting on top of the lens when sitting upright – the lens will retract in this situation.
The lock switch along with a host of other switches can be seen in the image below.
Aside from the lock switch, 3-position switches are standard. It is easy to misposition a short-throw 3-position switch such as these, but Sigma has done a nice job with the solid clicks these firm switches provide. Very nice is the white backgrounds on the AF and lock switches, visually indicating their set positions.
I'll talk more about the Custom switch under the dock subheading below.
Sigma has obviously made lightweight a priority for this lens. Even though it packs a 50% longer focal length, the 150-600mm Contemporary lens weighs only about 12oz (340g) more than the Canon 100-400mm L II and Nikon 80-400mm AF-S Lenses. This lens can easily be handheld and used in this way for long periods of time. I'm not saying that you will not eventually get tired of holding this lens, but I am saying that most people will find it very usable handheld in many situations.
Here is a comparison chart to put everything in perspective.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens||37.1 oz||(1050g)||3.5 x 5.6"||(89 x 143mm)||67mm||2010|
|Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens||56.1 oz||(1590g)||3.7 x 7.6"||(94 x 193mm)||77mm||2014|
|Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens||127.8 oz||(3620g)||5.0 x 14.4"||(128 x 366mm)||DI 52mm||2013|
|Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens||55.4 oz||(1570g)||3.8 x 8.0"||(95.5 x 203mm)||77mm||2013|
|Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S VR II Lens||118.6 oz||(3360g)||4.9 x 14.4"||(124 x 365mm)||mm||2010|
|Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens||67.1 oz||(1900g)||3.7 x 9.9"||(94 x 251.5mm)||86mm||2008|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS HSM Sports Lens||101.0 oz||(2860g)||4.8 x 11.4"||(121.9 x 289.6mm)||105mm||2014|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C||68.1 oz||(1930g)||4.1 x 10.2"||(105 x 260.1mm)||95mm||2015|
|Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens||68.8 oz||(1950g)||4.2 x 10.1"||(105.6 x 257.8mm)||95mm||2013|
|Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens||74.1 oz||(2100g)||5.0 x 9.2"||(128 x 232.7mm)||DI 52mm||2014|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens||135.9 oz||(3850g)||6.4 x 13.5"||(163 x 343mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens||112.6 oz||(3190g)||5.7 x 15.1"||(146 x 383mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens||138.4 oz||(3920g)||6.6 x 17.6"||(168 x 448mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Nikon 500mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||137.0 oz||(3880g)||5.5 x 15.4"||(139.5 x 391mm)||52mm||2007|
|Nikon 600mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||178.6 oz||(5060g)||6.5 x 17.5"||(166 x 445mm)||52mm||2007|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
While many combinations of lenses can be positioned next to each other using the site's Product Image Comparison Tools, here is a visual comparison that I wanted to see:
Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens
All of these lenses extend significantly and the addition of their hoods significantly increases their overall size. Use the site's tools to make specific comparisons.
The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens' tripod ring is included in the box. While this lens will be handheld a lot, it will also be commonly used on a tripod or monopod. Balancing a long lens over a tripod ring works much better than the torque-inducing camera body mount option.
Sigma has done a nice job of balancing functionality with light weight on this tripod ring design. While a firm squeeze can cause the ring to flex modestly, it is quite solid for its size.
The tripod foot has one 1/4" threaded insert attachment point. If attaching a lens plate to this foot (or any other single-insert foot), a model with anti-twist nubs should be selected. My choice for this and similar lenses has been a Wimberley P30 Lens Plate. A lens plate such as this one sliding in a clamp provides a range of options for balancing the lens.
The tripod ring lock knob is positioned low on the lens. I find this location to be not as optimal for use as the higher-mounted lock knobs such as that on the 150-600mm Sports lens, but it is easier to rotate the foot and knob out of the way when not in use. The tripod ring is relatively smooth with only minor slip-stick behavior showing just before fully tightened. Detents are not provided at 90° rotation settings as with some higher grade options. The tripod collar has a single attachment axle at the back of the foot for mounting the included neck strap.
Want to shed another 3.7 oz (130g)? Remove the tripod ring. By loosening the lock knob, rotating the ring to the indicator mark and pulling rearward, the tripod ring slips off of the back of the lens. A camera cannot be mounted while removing the ring and the collar mounting bolts used by the ring are then exposed. Sigma has addressed the exposure issue by providing a comfortable silicone/rubber-like protective cover as seen below.
This ring is a great idea. A firm aligned-press installs the ring and it stays in place nicely. Removal of the tight ring is a bit challenging.
Even the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens' included LH1050-01 Hood is carefully designed for light weight.
While it is not flimsy, this plastic hood is significantly different than the Sports lens' very solid metal hood. This is a bayonet mount (push on and twist to lock) style hood with a flat front that permits the lens to be carefully placed upright on a smooth, level surface (ideal for resting arms). Molded in ribbing at the end of the hood adds a grip surface to facilitate installation and removal. The ribbing also aesthetically enhances the hood.
This lens utilizes 95mm screw-on filters. While not as large as the Sports lens' 105mm filters size, there are not a lot of other lenses to share 95mm filters with. Large filters are also more expensive than smaller filters.
The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens ships with a nice zippered, padded nylon case with a removable shoulder strap (shown below) that attaches to the sides of the case.
As with the rest of Sigma's similar cases, I would find a few additional inches of length useful, allowing a mounted DSLR to fit inside.
Sigma's Global Vision lenses (this is one) get a classification of "A", "C" or "S", representing a primary Sigma-intended designation of "Artistic", "Contemporary" and "Sports". A full description of these categories can be found in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens press release.
As I've overstated, I am not a fan of the rather narrow categorization structure. This lens gets an "C" stamped in a classy chrome circle on the lens barrel. While "Artistic" and "Sports" give direction toward their suggested use, "Contemporary" is more vague. Are not all lenses being newly introduced "Contemporary"? What happens when "Contemporary" lenses reach 10 or 20 years of age? While it is currently "Contemporary", this lens works nicely for sports photography and is at least as well-suited for wildlife photography, which lacks its own category. There is no reason why artistic images cannot be captured by this lens.
I have also not been shy about stating that I am a fan of what Sigma is doing with the Global Vision lineup. Just don't limit the lens' use to their letter designation.
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 for four focal lengths. The following screen captures were made with the Sports version of the lens sitting in the dock, but the Contemporary version has the same options.
The second row of options illustrate what is available for programming into the C1 and C2 Custom switches. These settings become immediately available at the throw of a switch. I currently have Custom switch 1 programmed to "Motor's drive speed priority" and "Dynamic View Mode".
While this is not a cheap lens, it does wear a very good value price tag. Though priced just above of the Tamron option, it is practically half the price of the Sigma Sports option. An in-the-field failure of one of the less-ruggedly built lenses may leave you regretting the decision to save money up front. The shoulder pain caused by the heavier Sigma option may leave you regretting not having the lightweight option.
The Sigma 150-600mm OS Contemporary Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Sigma mounts. This lens qualifies for Sigma's Mount Conversion Service in case you change your mind.
My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. 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. Sigma USA's 4-year warranty is superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (Sigma's international warranty is also 1 year).
Unlike the Sports version of the 150-600, the Contemporary hit the market and became readily available, showing in stock from day 1. Obtaining a retail copy of this lens for review proved easy.
The 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens was Sigma's prior entry into this lens class. Comparing the Sigma 150-600 Sports to the Sigma 150-500 OS shows the new lens having a very strong advantage at the long end. I would rather have any of the 150-600mm lenses over this earlier model.
Sigma produces one of this lens' strongest competitors, the as-frequently-referenced Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens. The Sigma 150-600 Sports vs. 150-600mm Contemporary lens comparison is an interesting one.
I expected the "S" version to be superior optically, but that is not completely how the results turned out and when discerning between the two lenses, Sigma USA states: "Exemplifying the outstanding performance of the Contemporary line, this lens offers the same high optical performance in a lightweight package ideal for a wide variety of photographic scenes." At first glance at the image quality results, these two lenses may appear to share the same optical construction, but a look at the internals shows the elements and groups counts being different. The max aperture step-down, as shared in the table early in this review, is also different with the "C" having a slight advantage.
Looking at the wide open aperture image quality results, I see the "C" lens having a very slight advantage in the center of the frame at wider than 300mm focal lengths and at 300mm, the "C" wins more noticeably overall. At 400mm, the two are very similar with the "C" having a slight edge in the corners. The differences at 500mm are not going to show in real life images. At 600mm, the most important focal length for a significant percentage of the target market for this lens, the "S" has an edge. Stop down to f/8 and image sharpness across the entire focal length range isn't a factor in this lens selection decision.
The Sports lens has slightly less distortion and slightly more flare overall.
Here is a list showing differences between Sigma's Sports and Contemporary versions of the 150-600mm lenses:
I can tell you from many hours of use of both lenses, the Sports model is built for professional use and the Contemporary model is the much more comfortable handheld choice.
The "Which is better?" question is frequently being aimed at the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens and the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens, the first major entry into the 150-600mm lens category. These two lenses are direct competitors, sharing many features including USD/HSM AF, OS/VC, build quality and lightweight design. From the image quality perspective, here is the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary Lens vs. Tamron 150-600 VC Lens comparison.
At the wide end of the focal length range, the Sigma is sharper with a wide open aperture. The Tamron is 1/3 stop wider at some of the comparison focal lengths (200mm and 400mm) and to be fair, I am comparing those focal lengths at the widest equal aperture. At 200mm, these two lenses are very similar in sharpness wide open. At 300mm, I'll give the Sigma a slight advantage and at 400mm through 500mm, the slight advantage swings to the Tamron, though the Sigma's corners are better at 500mm. At 600mm, the Tamron has a very slight center-of-the-frame advantage and the Sigma has a larger corner-of-the-frame advantage.
Stopping down to f/8 reduces most of the sharpness advantages one lens has over the other. The Sigma has sharper corners at 150mm and 500mm, but the Tamron has sharper corners at 400mm. The Sigma is noticeably sharper at 600mm, especially in the mid and peripheral portions of the image circle.
The Tamron has slightly stronger pincushion distortion and has more noticeable CA. The Sigma has more vignetting with a wide open aperture, averaging roughly .5 stops of stronger corner shading over most of the focal length range except at the 600mm end where the difference is only about .2 stops. Stopped down to f/8, the vignetting difference at the long end remains small, but the Tamron holds an edge in the wide end corners. Corner shading differences at f/11 are not going to be noticeable except perhaps in 300mm corners.
This image quality comparison does not place either lens with a clear lead and either lens can be justified, perhaps with decision emphasis being placed on the focal length expected to be most-valued. Here is a list showing additional differences between the Tamron and Sigma Contemporary versions of the 150-600mm lenses:
Which lens is better? I don't think that there is a right or wrong answer here, but I lean toward the Sigma, partially because these lenses are going to most frequently be bought for and used at the 600mm focal length and, at least at f/8, the Sigma holds the optical advantage at 600mm.
Another comparison that some will consider relevant is the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary compared to the Canon 100-400mm L IS II Lens. The Canon is lacking a significant 200mm on the long end, but this lens is Canon's longest small-form-factor zoom and it is a very impressive performer. The Canon bests the Sigma in sharpness and contrast over the entire shared native focal length range. Add a 1.4x to get the Canon up to 560mm the Canon is still at least as sharp, though the extended Canon lens has a narrower max aperture at 560mm (f/8.0 vs. f/6.3). The Canon has wider native apertures than the Sigma. The Canon has a significantly higher MM (0.31x vs. 0.20x), is smaller in size and is modestly lighter in weight. The Canon is significantly more expensive and focuses more accurately.
Use the site's various tools to make your own comparisons, including with the many lenses I did not specifically include here.
Looking for a lens that will bring your subjects in close without spending a huge sum of money? Want to be able to carry long focal lengths for long periods of time without significant fatigue? This lens may have your name on it.
There will be a lot of parents chasing their kids through life with this lens mounted, there will be a lot of wildlife looking into this glass and there will be great amounts of sports action followed through this lens. Excepting some focus inconsistency, this lens performs very well both physically and optically. The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens provides a great range of very long focal lengths in a relatively light weight and low-priced package, making it well suited for a wide variety of "Contemporary" uses.
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