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

Started Nov 1, 2014 | Discussions thread
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onasj OP Forum Member • Posts: 91
[Part 2 of Review] Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

I finally had a few moments to compare, side-by-side, the Sigma 150-600 S and the Nikon 300/2.8 VRII (with and without the TC20eiii teleconverter). I know the dpforum readers include some very picky people, so I'll state up front that there are many, many ways you can compare two lenses, especially two zooms, and since I have two real jobs and not enough time in every day, I picked just one of them.

The set up:

- D810, ISO 200, auto2 WB, 1/250 s, VR off, 3 s exposure delay to minimize vibration, on a sturdy tripod, with two SB910 speed lights illuminating a complicated silk tapestry. I tried to shoot perpendicular to the tapestry, but did not use a laser jig... just a bubble level and my eye. The distance was 9.0 feet, which is fairly close to the minimum focusing distance (8.53 feet) of the 150-600 and of the 300/2.8 (7.5 feet). I chose this distance because I suspected that the Sigma 150-600 suffers from rather strong focus breathing at the shortest distances, which is indeed the case as you can see.

- The Sigma was shot at 300/5.6 (wide open), or 600/6.3 (wide open). Three RAW photos, all defocused first, and I picked the sharpest of the three, converted to JPEG using default ViewNX2 settings.

- The Nikon was shot at 300/5.6 (two stops from wide open), or with the TC20eiii at 600/6.3 (1/3 of a stop from wide open). Three RAW photos, all defocused first, and I picked the sharpest of the three, converted to JPEG using default ViewNX2 settings.

Summary of results:

1) The Sigma has significant focus breathing at 9 feet, such that instead of 300 and 600 mm it feels like you are shooting at maybe 250 and 500 (just my very rough guess; I'm sure someone can calculate the exact ratio from my files below). I assume the focus breathing goes away by mid-range (about 20 feet), but this is worth keeping in mind.

2) As you might expect, the 300/2.8 (11 elements) lets much more light through than the 150-600 (24 elements). I shot these photos with TTL at ISO 200, but even so I had to drop the 300 mm Nikon photo by -0.7 EV and the 600 mm Nikon photo by -0.3 EV to get the images to be comparably exposed to the Sigma ones, because my speedlights were maxing out already in the Sigma shots.

3) Also as you might expect, the 300/2.8 VRII, which is one of the sharpest lenses ever made for the F-mount, at f/5.6, which is pretty much its sharpest aperture, and no TC, *handily* beats the Sigma at 300 mm and f/5.6 in terms of sharpness, both in the center and especially in the corners. That's not to say that the Sigma is a poor performer, but rather that the Nikon is just a stellar performer. Corner performance for the Nikon is almost as good as center performance. Which is really an Otus-esque achievement (and at almost $6,000, it comes at an Otusesque price too)!

4) At 600 mm f/6.3 in the center of the image, it's a much closer fight. Somewhat to my surprise, the Nikon 300 + TC20eiii still wins by a hair, in my opinion. Focus breathing aside, it's more contrasty and sharper, especially beyond the center of the image. This was a surprise because when I handhold the Sigma at 600 I feel my keeper rate is higher than with the Nikon + TC, but that could reflect better/different VR, different technique (better holding position for the "smaller" Sigma vs. the longer Nikon + TC), or other factors. At the edges and corners, the Nikon's advantage over the Sigma is greater still.

So overall, it's not a shock that $6200 > $2000, but the Sigma holds its own with the venerable Nikon gear. If I needed the absolute best IQ at 300-600 mm, didn't need the zoom, and/or needed corner and edge sharpness, I would bring the Nikon 300 and a small army of TCs. If I needed to travel "nimble" (not that either of these setups is that nimble), or needed the zoom, or didn't care about edge sharpness, I would bring the Sigma. Of course you can buy the Sigma 150-600 S + a new Nikon D810 + a new Sigma 50/1.4 Art for the price of the Nikon 300/2.8 VRII + TC20eiii, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Also, the 100% crops below hide the fact that printed at a normal size or viewed at a typical crop on a monitor, these lenses behave rather similarly. I can tell that the edges of the Nikon frames are noticeably sharper than those of the Sigma frames even at a 20% full screen size, but besides that observation and the focus breathing issue, the picture quality for practical purposes is similar between the two set ups.

100% crops of the Nikon 300/2.8 @ f/5.6 (left), and the Sigma 150-600 @ 300 mm and f/5.6 (right), center region:

100% crops of the Nikon 300/2.8 + TC20eiii [600 mm] @ f/6.3 (left), and the Sigma 150-600 @ 600 mm and f/6.3 (right), center region:

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