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

Started Nov 1, 2014 | Discussions thread
OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 97
Review Part III: Tests at longer distances (Very surprising... WOW!!!!!!!!)

Review part 2 (see my post above) was based mostly on close-distance shooting (9 feet), exposing the substantial focus breathing of this lens and some field curvature that degrades edge and corner sharpness.

Tonight I tested focus breathing, sharpness, and comparisons to the Nikon 300/2.8 VRII + TC20eiii at a longer shooting distance of 40 feet. The results are very different than the results of shooting at 9 feet.

Methodology: D810, tripod, two speedlights, ISO 200, 1/250 s, 300 mm @ f/5.6 and 600 mm @ f/6.3 for both lenses. Both lenses have been thoroughly AF-calibrated by Reikan FoCal for maximum sharpness. I used AF to focus on the target in the middle of the image. Then without adjusting the focus, I panned the tripod to the right or to the left to being the target to the left edge or the right edge of the image. I then compared target size and sharpness in the center vs. left vs. right for the Sigma vs. Nikon at both 300 mm and 600 mm focal length (3 x 2 x 2 = 12 test images; the sharpest of three was chosen for each). Shot as lossless 14-bit raw NEF files, converted for dpreview posting by ViewNX2 using default highest quality settings. Link to NEF raw files appear at the end of this post. For the ultrageeky, the precise real-life length of the double-arrowed line at the top of the target is 118 mm. As before, the Sigma images are a bit underexposed due to the lower level of light transmitted through its 24 elements, versus the Nikon's 11 elements.

1) Focus breathing: as anticipated, there is much less focus breathing by 40 feet. Both 600 mm and 300 mm on the Sigma 150-600 vs. the Nikon 300 (+TC20) are nearly identical in actual focal length. The Sigma images remain a bit smaller at 300 mm, but it takes a side-by-side comparison at 100% to really notice. At 600 mm, the Sigma gives images that are 94.2% smaller in linear dimension than the Nikon 300 + TC20. Which is also pretty hard to notice unless you have a side-by-side comparison (see the images below).

2) Sharpness (really, field curvature): WOW!!! The Sigma does MUCH better at this distance than at 9 feet. In fact I'm absolutely stunned by how sharp and CA-free the Sigma images are. Everything shown below are 100% crops. At 300 mm, f/5.6, the wide-open Sigma is almost as sharp in the center as the Nikon 300/2.8 @ f/5.6 (where this lens has legendary sharpness on a D810). At the edges it's a draw: on the left edge, the Sigma is noticeably sharper than the Nikon, while on the right edge the Nikon is sharper than the Sigma. At 600 mm, f/6.3, the Sigma is simply razor sharp, and at center, left, and right, EASILY beats the Nikon 300 + TC20eiii in sharpness. I can't emphasize enough how impressed I am to see 100% crops at 600 mm from a wide-open zoom lens.

3) Chromatic aberration: The Nikon without the TC has virtually no CA. The Nikon with the TC has noticeable (though not horrible) CA. The Sigma doesn't have any significant CA at either focal length.

These results also explain why in Part I of this review, I stated that my early impression from using the lens in a non-testing environment was that the Sigma at 600 mm was significantly sharper than the Nikon 300/2.8 + TC20eiii. That's because it is, at "normal" supertelephoto shooting distances.

Overall conclusion from Part II and Part III: at short distances (9 feet, very close to the minimum focusing distance), the Sigma 150-600 suffers from substantial focus breathing and field curvature that makes the edges slightly less sharp than than the center. At longer distances (40 feet), focus breathing is almost nonexistent, field curvature largely disappears, and sharpness, especially at 600 mm, is simply incredible for a $2000 supertelephoto zoom lens. A secondary conclusion, for the reviewers out there, is that your conclusions will depend strongly on subject distance.

For all images below, the Nikon is on the LEFT side, and the Sigma is on the RIGHT side (easy to remember because the Sigma image is slightly smaller and darker).  All images are 100% crops!

300 mm, f/5.6, center:

300 mm, f/5.6, left edge:

300 mm, f/5.6, right edge:

600 mm, f/6.3, center:

600 mm, f/6.3, left edge:

600 mm, f/6.3, right edge:

Link to all files, including 12 NEFs and 12 converted JPEGs:

Hope this is helpful to people considering this lens.

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