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

Started Nov 1, 2014 | Discussions
onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s
19

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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Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor Veteran Member • Posts: 5,014
Thanks.

Interesting comments comparing it to the Nikkor 300 f2.8 - I've been a little bit underwhelmed by the performance of the Nikkor and 2x converter, at least at infinity. I normally shoot the 300 with the 1.7 converter as that seems to perform a little better, at least with my copy. 

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Dr Bob
Dr Bob Senior Member • Posts: 1,319
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Onasj

It was really interested to read your mini review and intially was surprised it has not generated a huge response - as this is a topic that will be of interest to many. Is the lack of interest due to the lack of images? I am often critical of posters not posting .nef shots to compare sharpness (as looking at jpegs on this site is very hit an miss due to the site resizing images and loosing sharpening) but in this case I would love to see some jpgs to get an idea of colour, contrast, bokeh etc.

I find you dropbox link great for the .nef but I would prefer to spend a short amount of time looking at this and hence did not download the image and import it to my viewer to process myself. If you process a few images and post I think you will get a lot of responses.

....having said that, in the time I have spent writing this, I could have downloaded .......etc.

Thanks for posting - an interesting read.

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borno
borno Senior Member • Posts: 1,179
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Thanks for the teaser. : ) I am hoping my pre-order canon mount gets filled soon. I used to use a 300mm f2.8 and 2x or 1.4x quite a bit mostly on a crop sensor and was hoping this one would be as good or better. Hope to get it while the eagles are active anyway. : )

Nice kitty too!

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heisoktoday Forum Member • Posts: 72
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

onasj, Thank you very much for your post. It is very helpful.

Do you anticipate using an extended lens plate for the tripod foot to give more balance?

OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Unfortunately the tripod collar foot does not have arca/Swiss bevels so one needs to attach a plate to the bottom of the foot for tripod mounting. The foot has three standard screw holes so I simply mounted a long Sirui plate to the bottom. It's impossible to perfectly balance the lens on a tripod of course because the center of gravity moves forward a lot (several inches or more) when the lens zooms to 600 mm from 150 mm.

OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
[Part 2 of Review] Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s
5

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:

Eric Glam Forum Member • Posts: 63
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

onasj,

I took the RAW shot of the cat you posted, and gave it a slight grade.

Hope you don't mind. Here's the result:

http://s29.postimg.org/urg1cqij9/D4_S_ISO22800_Sigma150_600_quality11.jpg

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Rick Knepper Forum Pro • Posts: 14,636
Hmmm
4

Dr Bob wrote:

....having said that, in the time I have spent writing this, I could have downloaded .......etc.

When I do comparisons, I post RAWs only. It cuts way down on the trolls.

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Rick Knepper, photographer, shooting for pleasure. It is better to have It and not need It than need It and not have It. Mystery Gardner: "Rick, you have a passion for photography but not a position. That's a good thing." Various RAW comparisons at Link below. Includes 5D3 vs D800E (new uploads), 5D3 vs. 6D, Zeiss lenses etc. https://app.box.com/s/71w40ita6hrcfghojaie

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PatMann
PatMann Senior Member • Posts: 1,458
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

(comment on OP's Review part 2) Thanks for these samples.

Measuring the images, I get about 250mm actual at 300mm set and 465mm actual at 600mm set at this distance for the Sigma, on the assumption that the Nikkor and Nikkor + TC are spot on for focal length. That means the long end is about half way between the 300 + 1.4 (420mm) and 300 + 1.7 (510mm) TC at this distance.

For those planning to use this for birding to replace a 300mm + TC (or to compare to an 80-400), it would be nice to know whether the transition past 1.7 TC equivalence is closer to 20 feet (small birds) or 100 feet (bigger birds).
--
Pat

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OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Thank you Eric! I don't think that test shot was worthy of your time (my cat has bed head and the warmth of the interior lights versus the daylight from the window creates unintentional multicolor lighting), but I appreciate your skill and effort at post processing.

lac111 Veteran Member • Posts: 3,305
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s
1

Thanks for taking so much time to share the technical info and your observations. I'm a fan of Sigma lenses, have a few. Pretty much always built like a tank, thus heavy. This one will be too heavy for me.

Will be interesting to get some shots of fur or feather detail, and of course direct comparisons with it's less expensive Tamron rival. I suspect the Sigma will beat it, so some major decisions involving compromise for people.

Disappointing about the level of focus breathing, so not really 600mm anymore than the latest Nikon 80-400mm is 400mm.

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Lora
Profile is wrong, I've been on Dpreview since June 2006.

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Bjorn_L
Bjorn_L Veteran Member • Posts: 5,770
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s
1

Dr Bob wrote:

Onasj

It was really interested to read your mini review and intially was surprised it has not generated a huge response - as this is a topic that will be of interest to many.

The comparison to what the shooter had (in this case a 300 f/2.8) is interesting and well done but I think the low response is people are waiting to see how the Sigma stacks up to its competition not a pro lens, this would be the well-received Tamron 150-600 which is also praised for its sharpness and is also weather sealed etc, and the Tamron is around 1/2 the cost.

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fpapp Regular Member • Posts: 187
Tripod collar

The the OP.

one of the reviews I read said the tripod collar isn't removable. Is this true?

Thanks

California Hank Junior Member • Posts: 34
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Good job, onasj!

Great comparison to the 300 2.8. These are exactly the comparisons i'm after--300 2.8, 400 2.8, 500 f4, 600 f4--and not just sharpness, but also bokeh.

The diff magnification is a bit of a confound, but in time, things will become clearer...

Best,

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Hank Smith

jeetsukumaran Forum Member • Posts: 66
Re: [Part 2 of Review] Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Thank you so much for this excellent review! Really appreciated it.

(1) You alluded to the poor edges and corners at both 300mm and 600mm. Could you elaborate? Would you consider the corners/edges useable if there were any features/detail there, even if they were not of primary interest (e.g., background leaves/trees/bushes)? Or distracting enough that they might need to be cropped out?

(2) What happens to the corners/edges if the Sigma were stopped down to, say, f/11? Could the Sigma be considered a decent landscape lens?

(3) Speaking of stopping down, how would you think the Sigma would behave if it was stopped down a notch, e.g. to f/9 or f/10?

Very interested in any opinions or insight or even data that you have!

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OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
Re: [Part 2 of Review] Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

jeetsukumaran wrote:

Thank you so much for this excellent review! Really appreciated it.

(1) You alluded to the poor edges and corners at both 300mm and 600mm. Could you elaborate? Would you consider the corners/edges useable if there were any features/detail there, even if they were not of primary interest (e.g., background leaves/trees/bushes)? Or distracting enough that they might need to be cropped out?

At most distances and for "real" subjects, the edges and corners should be fine.  The corners will be vignetted up to about 1 stop wide open, but that's fine.  Some additional use suggests to me that much of the softness I saw in the edges and corners was likely from field curvature, which seems to be more pronounced at short subject distances, rather than from intrinsic optical flaw.  So if you are shooting a test pattern on a wall, you can see some edge/corner softness.  But if you are shooting three-dimensional objects, the edges and corners look fine-- it's just that the focal plane might shift a bit relative to the center.  Since the focal lengths are so large for this lens, depth of field is quite shallow (if I remember correctly, at 9 feet, 600 mm, f/6.3, the depth-of-field is something like half an inch!), and thus flat objects that are in focus in the center may not be in focus at the edges.  When shooting outdoors, street, sports, etc.-- pretty much anything other than test patterns or squared-up buildings, I doubt you would fine the corners unacceptable.

(2) What happens to the corners/edges if the Sigma were stopped down to, say, f/11? Could the Sigma be considered a decent landscape lens?

I haven't tried landscapes with this lens.  At 150-600 mm, the landscapes would probably be more like "natural subject portraits" than traditional landscapes-- depth of field will not be very generous.  At f/11 on a 36 MP sensor diffraction starts to (slightly) limit resolution.  My guess (purely a guess) is that if you are a 36 MP pixel peeper you won't be thrilled with landscapes from this lens, but if ~16 MP "landscapes" with limited depth of field is your goal, it will probably do a good job.

(3) Speaking of stopping down, how would you think the Sigma would behave if it was stopped down a notch, e.g. to f/9 or f/10?

I haven't had time to do stopped down tests but that's next on my list.  At 150-600 mm, even f/5-6.3 isn't allowing a lot of light in however, so my guess is that most people will shoot this lens at f/8 or wider.

Very interested in any opinions or insight or even data that you have!

jeetsukumaran Forum Member • Posts: 66
Re: [Part 2 of Review] Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

Once again, thanks! Appreciate you taking the time to assess the lens and share your findings with the community!

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monographix
monographix Regular Member • Posts: 484
Re: Sigma 150-600 S First Impressions and Mini Review on D810 and D4s

• Just a tad off-topic question Onasj, about the Sigma USB dock. Does it need any usual camera-on-tripod-live-view-focus-shooting-a-calibration-target etc style procedure (you mention focal etc) or it can work (calibrate) independently just connected to the pc and the lens ? (and how is the relation with the specific camera body involved in this?) Thanks.

• We are eagerly waiting for the breathing results at 600mm ...

• Do you happen to have maybe access to a D7100 ? ....

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OP onasj Forum Member • Posts: 91
Re: Tripod collar

fpapp wrote:

The the OP.

one of the reviews I read said the tripod collar isn't removable. Is this true?

Thanks

You can unbolt the foot of the collar (it's bolted on with two small hex-head bolts) but I don't see any way to remove the collar itself.  I haven't tried any disassembly steps, however.

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