Photography Times Review: Sigma 150-500mm HSM OS

September 06, 2010

Animals and birds are fairly sensitive species and quite susceptible to being alarmed by a human presence. Photographing wildlife would not only require the photographer to be cognizant of the behavior of such subjects, but would also entail a safe-enough distance that would cause no alarm to them.

In technical terms, the latter translates to using a lens which can zoom long enough to photograph wildlife from a sufficient distance. And so it was time for me to move ahead from Nikon 70-300mm to my Sigma 150-500mm telephoto zoom lens.

The Sigma 150-500mm HSM OS has a maximum aperture ranging from f/5 (at 150mm) to f/6.3 (at 500mm) - which means it lets through a decent amount of light, though lesser than my 70-300mm which has a maximum aperture of f/4.5.

The lens is made of a special low-dispersion (SLD) glass which means it is designed to minimize color aberration. It has a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for a seamless autofocus on cameras that support the HSM. To me the most important feature was the Optical Stabilzer (OS) - which would automatically correct disturbances caused by lens vibration.

I put it to field test on a rather cloudy day, with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. My first attempt was to understand the zoom range. I mounted the lens on a tripod and zoomed all the way from 150 to 500mm. The zoom was smooth though a tad stiff. There is a nifty zoom-lock switch which can lock your zoom so you won't accidentally disturb your composition. I set the aperture at f/8 because, theoretically, long range zoom lenses tend to be sharpest at about 2 f-stops lower than their maximum aperture.

The image at f/8 was sharp. The colors were rich with no noticeable aberrations. I shot the photograph of this Bengal White Tiger and was impressed with its sharpness - which was a lot more than my lowly 70-300mm. The whiskers were clearly visible considering the heaviness of the tress and rocks in the background.

A few minutes later the sun went down leaving a patch of dark clouds overhead - and the images suddenly seemed to become less sharp. I had to increase aperture to f/6.3 to improve the sharpness. The lens is not at its best while shooting in low light situations.

Autofocus was fast and quiet. With the lens mounted on the tripod I had OS switched off, and the lens handled the images quite well. In fact, the user manual recommends switching off OS while mounted on tripod.

I switched on the OS, pulled the camera away from the tripod and held the 8 lbs object (the lens alone weighs about 4.2 lbs) and focused on a vulture flying high up. I took a few shots barely managing to hold on to the weight. The images were fairly sharp and vibrant. The OS was noisy with a constant sound of twitching of the lens-internals, but it worked like a charm.

The lens is compatible with Sigma's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, but I'm yet to test the lens with the teleconverter installed.

Would the Sigma 150-500mm OS HSM compete with a Nikon 300mm (or the 600mm) telephoto? Not even close. Those are high quality telephoto lenses providing extremely high quality images with none of the hassles seen with the Sigma lens. But the only downside is their cost - the latest Nikon 300mm VR II costs over $6000.

For about $1000 (on the Sigma 150-500mm lens is an excellent bang for the buck. It has its share of limitations when compared to telephoto lenses from Nikon or Canon, but, with a range up to 500mm and producing enviably sharp images, the lens has now become an important addition to my gear.

Vidhya is an Independent Artist and a student of New York Institute of Photography. Twitter. Facebook. Facebook Photography Page. LinkedIn.
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Photography Times Review: Sigma 150-500mm HSM OS


Author: Vidhya


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