Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Started Nov 1, 2014 | Discussions thread
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onasj Forum Member • Posts: 97
Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s
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I was fortunate to receive my Sigma 150-600 S yesterday; here are some first impressions:

1) It's a beast, but a manageable one if you are used to lugging around a 300/2.8. In fact it feels virtually identical in size and weight as my Nikon 300/2.8. It's a bit more unwieldy than the 300 prime because when the focal length isn't locked, the lens will extend from end-to-end on the weight of the glass at the end. It can be shot handheld, just as the 300/2.8 can, with some effort and practice.

2) It's very well designed. The zoom locks "hard" at 150 mm for transport, and "soft" at 180, 200, 250, 300, 400, and 600 (which also correspond to all the markings on the barrel). The soft locks are designed to prevent zoom creep from gravity, but also to be overcome by a firm twist or push/pull of the barrel. This works quite well, though I wonder if repeated use of the soft locks will eventually wear the mechanism down since it feels like the soft locks involve the lock switch sliding part-way towards lock (while the hard lock slides all the way). When shooting you can zoom the lens by pulling and pushing the barrel instead of twisting.  You can assign two custom modes to the lens using the Sigma USB dock. Modes can include autofocus range (< 10 m or > 10 m), autofocus speed (slower or faster; presumably slower is more accurate). There are also two OS (aka VR) modes. The manual is poorly written and it's not clear what the difference between the two OS modes really is, though OS 1 appears to behave more like Nikon's "active" VR mode based on my tests. The tripod collar works very well and gives sharp images on a tripod even at 600 mm, VR off, 1/10 s with no obvious shake. (Sorry RRS!). It's as if actual photographers designed this lens

3) It's a pleasure to calibrate, even if it takes all day. Those of you who use software such as Reikan FoCal know that calibrating a lens that doesn't AF well, or suffers from poor optics (bad CA, etc.), is a massive headache. So it was a good sign that the calibration with FoCal on a D810 went very smoothly. Still, it takes forever to do a full calibration because there are 16 (!) AF adjustment values that you can write into the lens's firmware, representing a matrix of four focal lengths (150/250/400/600) and four distance ranges (~3 m, ~6 m, ~15 m, and infinite distance). Compared with the 35/1.4 Art in which many copies were difficult to calibrate because some distances needed back focus adjustment while other distances IN THE SAME RANGE needed front focus adjustment, my copy of the 150-600 was much better behaved, needing only relatively minor AF fine tune correction. My D810 needs at default +2 correction for a "perfect" lens, and the 150-600 mounted on this camera needed at most a +8 AF fine tune value among all distances and focal lengths tested, with an average of about +5. Which is quite good in my experience. However...

4) ...For reasons that I can't understand, Sigma's USB dock + Sigma Optimization Pro software requires values for AF correction that are about TWICE that of the Nikon AF fine tune values. This is very different than the case of the 50/1.4 Art and the 35/1.4 Art, in which every 1 unit of Sigma dock correction corresponded to 1.4 units of Nikon AF fine tune correction. In other words, if your 150-600 needs Nikon AF fine tune correction of say +5, then you'll need to set the Sigma dock correction value to +10. Which is odd because the Sigma values still only span -20 to +20. Meaning if your lens requires more than +10 or -10 Nikon AFFT correction values, then you will need to combine both Sigma dock correction and Nikon AFFT correction to optimize your lens. In case most copies of the 150-600 are similar (which was the case with the 35/1.4 and the 50/1.4), here are my final Sigma correction values for my D810. Since my D810 needs a +2 AFFT correction, you should subtract FOUR from each of these values, then add TWICE your camera's base correction AFFT values if you want to try these correction values with your Sigma dock and your 150-600:

150 mm: +14/+16/+18/+18

250 mm: +12/+11/+11/+11

400 mm: +6/+6/+6/+6

600 mm: +6/+13/+18/+18

These values not only resulted in qualitatively more accurate AF, but also resulted in LensAlign results that were perfectly zeroed at all 16 focal lengths and distances tested.

5) On a more important, less geeky note, the sharpness of this lens, especially after calibration, is very impressive for a zoom super telephoto. At 600 mm it seems substantially sharper to me wide open than my Nikon 300/2.8 + TC20eIII wide open (though f/6.3 vs. f/5.6). For all but the edges and corners it is very sharp at 150 and at 250 and 400 and 600-- no obvious weak spots-- even wide open. Stopped down to f/8 it seems somewhat sharper yet, though it's really good enough wide open that I don't see myself stopping down for better optics.

6) AF is quite good. Not quite as fast as my 300/2.8, but close. Accuracy and lack of hunting see similar to the Nikon 300/2.8, which is quite a strong endorsement. Using the focus limiter switch for near or far distances helps with speed and accuracy, though if you forget to switch it off you'll scratch your head for a bit if you shoot your next subject at a different focal length until you realize the switch is still set.

7) There is virtually no CA or distortion visible. Like with the Otus, it looks like the designers of the 150-600 designed to accept vignetting as a trade off for other optical benefits. Which is a good choice in my opinion.

8) Bokeh is really outstanding. Much better than I was fearing from such a complex lens with 24 glass elements in 16 groups! See the shot below of a window screen in the background just a few inches away from the subject.

9) Comes with a cloth "bucket"-style lens cap, not a hard plastic cap, just like the Nikon 300/2.8. The black zip-around semisoft case with padded strap (and the white outer box for that matter!) are both well designed and beautiful.

10) This lens is a natural fit for the D4s. The lack of wide apertures plus the focal lengths mean that you will likely be shooting with higher ISOs than the D810 can comfortably offer, in my experience, unless you have the best light or slowest subjects. Plus when shooting mobile subjects at such long lengths, a higher frame rate is extremely useful.

11) Why on earth did Sigma put the zoom ring towards the end of the lens and the focus ring towards the camera body? I guess they thought users aren't likely to do much manual focusing with a 150-600, so the hand's natural resting position should be near the zoom ring, but still... this is very confusing given that every other lens I own is the other way around.

Overall, I think this lens will be quite popular. Assuming it is as weatherproof and sturdy as Sigma claims, it could become a classic for sports and wildlife use.

Traditional cat photo under difficult conditions: handheld, AF, 600 mm, 1/250 s, modest light, ISO 22000, in front of a window screen (which you can barely see thanks to the nice bokeh), D4s. Raw NEF file here for people to overanalyze:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fio5s6cgcnvi5di/_D4S6449.NEF?dl=0

Nikon D4S Nikon D810
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