Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

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Antal I Kozma
Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Hi to all,

Due to a stupid accident my Nikkor 500mm f4E FL is history now. I am about to replace it. However, I am debating whether I should replace it with the Sigma 500mm f4 Sport lens. Simply because of the significant price difference.

I have read Brad Hill's excellent article about the Sigma 500mm f4 Sport vs Nikkor 500mm f4E FL. He choose the Sigma over the Nikkor, found the two optically equal for his wildlife photography. Since then he sold the Sigma 500mm to make place for his latest tool of choice, the new Nikkor 180-400mm f4 1.25x TC lens.

So, logic would dictate that if the Sigma 500mm f4 was good enough for Brad then it should be equally good for everyone else invested into nature photography. I agree with this line of thought. However, I have had second thoughts about the Sigma after reading reports about AF inconsistency in burst mode. Brad also made a passing note about some out of focus images when shooting bursts. Apparently his lens in his application was not badly affected so he kept the lens and used it for over a year.

My primary interest within nature photography is small songbirds. Like warblers, vireos, phoebes, etc. I find it more challenging to show fine feather detail in these small birds than in bears, which I also photograph. Also, my main birding kit, up till now, was the Nikon D500 + 500mm f4E FL, very often paired with Nikon's 1.4x TC III. I was absolutely satisfied with the performance of the 500mm Nikkor wide open, with and without the TC. So, to me the Nikkor is a known and tried tool. I also need the "reach" of the 500mm with the 1.4x TC on the D500 or cropped D850.

I also need to mention that f4 is my preferred aperture for birds. A 500mm f4 with the 1.4x TC is still plenty fast at f5.6 for bird photography under often poorly illuminated environments. Therefore, the Nikkor 500mm f5.6 PF lens is not in my interest for bird photography since with the TC it slows down to f8 which in return affect AF performance and subject isolation. Warblers and such are extremely agile birds and top tier AF performance is needed to get most of the shots in focus. At lest that is how it works in the environments I often photograph.

No back to the question. How is the Sigma's AF consistency for birders chasing warblers, kinglets, etc. in the woods and shrubs? I'd like to hear from those fellows who have been using the Sigma for some time. Does it still exhibit focus shift when shooting a burst? Brad asked Sigma whether they would have a remedy but they apparently never answered his question straight in a meaningful way.

I would not mind getting the Sigma over the Nikkor, resale value is not my consideration. I rather would invest the savings into a D6 or something else. However, if in doubt then I will fork out the high price for the 500mm f4E FL. I do not want to take chances on saving a few thousands but not getting the tool that I would be satisfied with.

Thanks in advance for all Sigma 500mm f4 Sport users who can report on the lens regarding to AF performance and optical quality.

Best to all, AIK

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ARClark
ARClark Veteran Member • Posts: 3,943
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Antal, you’ve already received comments from me on the Nikon forum, but thought you might find this thread of interest.

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/60596707

Alan

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Maleza Junior Member • Posts: 27
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens
1

I had a similar dilemma last year and decided to go with the Sigma. So far I have taken more than 10.000 shots with and without the TC 1.4 mounted (the Sigma version, I think the Nikon version doesn't fit with this lens, but I am not sure). All I can say after 7-8 months and so many photos, this lens is fantastic. It is sharp from f4 (of f5.6 with TC). Maybe it is slightly sharper on bigger numbers, I read about it, but I cannot see any (noticeable) difference.

AF is snappy and accurate, no doubt. One more thing, I have never had the Nikon counterpart, so I cannot make a comparison with it. But comparing it with some other lens I used to have, it is very fast and very accurate. There are some cases with not so good light when the lens tends to hunt for the subject (even if the focus point is on the subject) but to be fair, in some cases the switch for distance was in the wrong position. In some of them, I can blame the lens, but they are more exception than the rule or pattern of behavior. In all other situations, the focus is spotless. I haven't noticed the behavior of the focus shift in burst mode. When I have a sequence of the same bird in flight, I usually keep only one photo, the best one, and discard the rest of them. Some of them are sharp, some are not, but these soft ones are rather stressed than with missed focus.

Of course, I have a lot of bad photos, soft or with missed focus, but in almost all of these cases, it was me. Not the camera (D500), not the lens either. Many of the soft ones are stressed. When the stabilization is turned off, using it with or without a tripod, is really tricky. Especially on 700mm even with the shutter speed of 1/2000 or faster, it is kind of a matter of luck to get sharp photos. With the stabilization, it is a completely different story, and I keep it on even when I use it on the tripod. As you can see from my photos, my subjects are not so steady, so I cannot afford to aim for more than a few seconds and cannot really compare the different settings with the same scene. If you want to see something particular, please tell me and I will test this case.

I am pretty much satisfied with the lens, but it is me, and as I've already said, I've never had the Nikon version and cannot compare these two. So, without any knowledge and opinion about the Nikon 500mm f4, all I can say is that the Sigma is a fantastic lens, capable of any wildlife situation. For the most missed shots, bad shots, soft shots, I can blame myself and my technique at the first, and then the lens.

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Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Maleza wrote:

I had a similar dilemma last year and decided to go with the Sigma. So far I have taken more than 10.000 shots with and without the TC 1.4 mounted (the Sigma version, I think the Nikon version doesn't fit with this lens, but I am not sure). All I can say after 7-8 months and so many photos, this lens is fantastic. It is sharp from f4 (of f5.6 with TC). Maybe it is slightly sharper on bigger numbers, I read about it, but I cannot see any (noticeable) difference.

Hi,

Many thanks for your detailed post. Nice work.

Best, AIK

 Antal I Kozma's gear list:Antal I Kozma's gear list
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Old Greenlander Senior Member • Posts: 4,267
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Antal,

I use Sigma 500/4 / Nikon, but for large birds that are easier than small ones and I don’t use TCs

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Old Greenlander
"I show the world the way I see it"
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Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Old Greenlander wrote:

Antal,

I use Sigma 500/4 / Nikon, but for large birds that are easier than small ones and I don’t use TC

Hi there,

Nice images. For birds, like herons and egrets 500mm is fine. I used to use the 300mm PF with and without 1.4x TC to photograph these birds in the marsh from my kayak. Some egrets and herons tolerate your quiet presence in a kayak and let you get relatively close. Others take off on first sight of approach. I never figured out the personality differences between the "easy going" and "photographer hater" birds.....

Now, warblers, vireos, kinglets, marsh wrens are very small birdies. For example, the head of a white egret is larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or a Nashwille Warbler. For those little guys my favourite set up is a 500mm f4E FL + 1.4x TC III on a D500 Nikon. Even then, some cropping is often needed.

Anyhow, I would love to see a 600mm f5.6 PF lens from Nikon. That would easily become the "resident lens" on my D500 for small bird photography. It would give me a very light and still long reaching tool.

Best, AIK

 Antal I Kozma's gear list:Antal I Kozma's gear list
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Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Old Greenlander wrote:

Antal,

I use Sigma 500/4 / Nikon, but for large birds that are easier than small ones and I don’t use TCs

Hah, my apologies. My previous response was a mistake. There is another thread about the "might exist one day" 600mm f5.6 PF lens and I mistakenly responded to you believing that we were in that thread. Hmmmmm............ old and careless.........

As of your Sigma images, they are of excellent quality. Thanks for showing them. A question, have you ever experienced focust shift with your Sigma when shooting a burst sequence? There are a number of birders who complained about out of focus images when shooting a burst. The reports indicated that one in focus image was accompanied with two out of focus ones in repeated sequences. This is the only thing that holds me back from ordering the Sigma. Sigma is very mum about this. Brad Hill, a very well known nature photographer, asked Sigma about this and got a cloudy answer from them. All they said that they know of Nikon lenses that do the same.

Anyway, I am still sitting on the fence. It is kind of dead season now in my neck of the woods so I can get by with whatever I have on hand. Plus, I am in the midst of building a cedar strip canoe that I'll take out for longer trips in the fall. So I am OK to wait a bit to replace my lost Nikkor 500mm f4E FL. I may take a chance and get the Sigma, the cost savings is very tempting. However, I am a bit nervous about the reported AF inconsistency. Apparently it is a sample variation issue. Unless it has something to do with setting up the lens correctly with the Sigma Console.

Anyhow, thanks for chiming in and showing those convincingly nice images.

Best, AIK

 Antal I Kozma's gear list:Antal I Kozma's gear list
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Old Greenlander Senior Member • Posts: 4,267
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Antal

I have primes 300 & 500 and zooms 100-400II and 150-600S in Canon and Nikon and Sigma

I have good cameras but not single digit bodies

What I found after a few hundred thousands of BIF pictures is that for me looks like a myth an average of 90% pictures in focus in a burst

Who gets that, hats off

Just my two cents

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Old Greenlander
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Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Old Greenlander wrote:

Antal

........................

What I found after a few hundred thousands of BIF pictures is that for me looks like a myth an average of 90% pictures in focus in a burst

Who gets that, hats off

Just my two cents

Thanks for the info. It is reassuring that you get an excellent in focus rate, especially in BIF. Hats off............  

The reports about out of focus images were not related to BIF.  Just to burst shooting static birds. The findings were that in a sequence one image was in focus then two out of focus then repeat and repeat..... So, in a nine frame burst there were three in focus and six out of focus images.

Now, as we know it doesn't need to be too much of out of focus difference to loose the "sharp eye" shot. A relatively minor change in focus distance can ruin a bird image when the eye is out of focus.

All this said, whether the issue is related to not tuning the lens's Af properly in the console that I do not know. So I likely will take the chance and get a Sigma for myself before the fall bird migration season kicks in. I am very meticulous with my equipment and look after properly fine tuning the AF on my lenses. So, if the reported AF issue is related to bad AF fine tuning then it will not affect me.

Anyway, we'll see how things will turn out. I'll get the Sigma unless Nikon comes out with a surprise move and gets a 600mm f5.6 PF introduced............   Which doesn't seem likely, no credible news leaks about such lens coming any time soon.

Thanks again for your positive report on the Sigma. I trust your opinion.

Best, AIK

 Antal I Kozma's gear list:Antal I Kozma's gear list
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Old Greenlander Senior Member • Posts: 4,267
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Antal I Kozma wrote:

Old Greenlander wrote:

Antal

........................

What I found after a few hundred thousands of BIF pictures is that for me looks like a myth an average of 90% pictures in focus in a burst

Who gets that, hats off

Just my two cents

Thanks for the info. It is reassuring that you get an excellent in focus rate, especially in BIF. Hats off............

The reports about out of focus images were not related to BIF. Just to burst shooting static birds. The findings were that in a sequence one image was in focus then two out of focus then repeat and repeat..... So, in a nine frame burst there were three in focus and six out of focus images.

Now, as we know it doesn't need to be too much of out of focus difference to loose the "sharp eye" shot. A relatively minor change in focus distance can ruin a bird image when the eye is out of focus.

All this said, whether the issue is related to not tuning the lens's Af properly in the console that I do not know. So I likely will take the chance and get a Sigma for myself before the fall bird migration season kicks in. I am very meticulous with my equipment and look after properly fine tuning the AF on my lenses. So, if the reported AF issue is related to bad AF fine tuning then it will not affect me.

Anyway, we'll see how things will turn out. I'll get the Sigma unless Nikon comes out with a surprise move and gets a 600mm f5.6 PF introduced............ Which doesn't seem likely, no credible news leaks about such lens coming any time soon.

Thanks again for your positive report on the Sigma. I trust your opinion.

Best, AIK

Rent one for a week

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Old Greenlander
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Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Old Greenlander wrote:..................

Rent one for a week

Vistek, my preferred Canadian supplier, offered me to get a sample copy from the Canadian Sigma distributor for a few days. I decided not to take the offer.

Why? I told them that if I was satisfied with the lens I would buy it immediately. As it turned out that could not be arranged since the copy I would have received was the demo copy that Sigma Canada uses on their trade shows. I could have it to try it out but then I would need to buy a different retail copy.

I have no doubt that the lens is as good as gold if the particular copy is free from the reported AF issue which people put down to sample variations. Therefore, trying out a demo lens would not assure me that the particular copy I'll purchase will be free from the claimed AF inconsistency.  Trying out one which is good but getting a different copy that might be totally different wouldn't do me any good.

You see the Canadian dealers all say that the lens is "special order particularly for the buyer" and as such cannot be returned for refund. If a copy is not up to snuff then the issue needs to be dealt with Sigma through a warranty claim. Which can be a bothersome back and forth issue.

So, I likely will take the risk and buy one before the fall songbird migration season starts. If I am lucky then all is good. If not then we'll see............ 

I hope that the reported AF issue and sample variation affects only a small percentage of the lenses. Therefore, I believe that taking a chance is not a huge gamble. I am quite capable of ironing out the nitty-gritty of focus fine tuning and generally getting the best out of my lenses. So we'll see.......

Best, AIK

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FSPhoto Forum Member • Posts: 50
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

Lensrentals offers you the possibility to buy the lens you have rented

Antal I Kozma
OP Antal I Kozma Veteran Member • Posts: 3,195
Re: Question about the Sigma 500mm f$4 Sport lens

FSPhoto wrote:

Lensrentals offers you the possibility to buy the lens you have rented

I am in Canada, Lensrentals is in the US I believe.

Thanks though, appreciated.

Best, AIK

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