Up until just recently when we poor, hard working photographers thought of zoom lenses we were usually thinking in terms of 24-70 mm, 70-200 mm or even 100-400 mm in focal length but in the last few years, much, much longer focal lengths have been creeping in to the zoom lens line-up… lenses that I have termed the “Super Zoom”.
Sigma Imaging brought out the 300-800 mm “Sigmonster” a while ago but at £5,500 retail price it was out of reach for many enthusiast photographers, never mind professionals but seeing a gap in the market, Sigma have been bringing out very reasonably priced large zoom length lenses such as the excellent Pro build quality 150-600mm F5-6.3 “Sport” DG OS HSM which Sigma UK were very kind to send me to try through my friends at Ffordes Photographic of Beauly for a much more reasonable £1,200 rrp with the even more affordable “Contemporary” version of this lens for around £750 or so. Sigma describe these lenses as “hyper-telephoto zooms” and I certainly won’t argue with them.
Carole Pearce on a recent camera tuition day with me learning how to photograph Bottlenose dolphins using the “Sport” version of the 150-600 mm Sigma lens coupled to a Canon 7D MKII camera body.
Now although a confirmed Canon prime lens man through and through, every now and again you sometimes need a specific lens for a project and I must admit, two years ago I ordered up the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 DG OS HSM Lens along with the matching Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter as I was needing to be able to compose shots a bit more for some jobs in low light than with the prime lenses that I normally work with. I was amazed at both the optical quality (with & without teleconverter) and the build quality of this chunky little beast so was expecting good news when I unpacked the 150-600. I wasn’t disappointed. Build quality is definitely up there at pro level with water resistant switches that have a nice positive feel to them – very little chance of knocking one to the off or on position accidentally. A rubber gasket at the camera/lens coupling for rain shower resistance and a front element coating that sheds dust, rain and grease completes the pro-level attention to detail. Everything just feels “right” with nothing wobbly or lacking in engineering integrity – even the lens collar has a lovely robust feel to it with 90 degree indent stops. A well engineered, solid lens hood completes the lineup and you are good to go in most weather conditions.
Bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point, Scotland. Harsh back-light didn’t phase the 150-600 mm Sport – Canon EOS 7D MKII 1600th sec at F6.3 200 ISO +2/3rds stop+ EC, Focal length 320 mm
The shape, size and natural markings of the dorsal fin of a Bottlenose dolphin – part of the science of studying dolphins is to be able to tell them apart – this is how we do it. Canon EOS 7D MKII 1600th sec at F6.3 320 ISO +2/3rds stop+ EC, Focal length 560 mm
Without having much time for doing any sort of auto-focus micro-adjustment before the demo day at Chanonry Point I simply connected the 150-600 to my Canon 7D MKII and started taking shots of the dolphins that I study in a variety of light conditions ranging from dull and grey to hard, bright sunshine and was very pleased with the auto-focus reaction speed and the Optical Stabilisation operation, much like what I remember with the Sport 120-300 F2.8. I managed some good frames of dolphins being dynamic right away, with sharp images that had good contrast and nice colours and when you are photographing fast moving dolphins for a living then that is a pretty good start! Setting up the lens on a tripod and gimbal, you will maybe find that you need to spend time re-adjusting the balance point when you have extended the lens right out at 600 mm as it does affect the balance a fair bit but once you get it set up properly it feels fine, with a good amount of friction on the zoom plus a handy built in zoom lock too. It is a chunky lens, no getting away from it, with 24 high quality glass elements inside this beast it couldn’t be anything else really but at just over 2.8 kilos without a camera attached it is not too much to carry around for a days wildlife shoot – and that’s the beauty of it – it can be used for a whole range of subjects from near (2.6 metre minimum focus distance) to far, far away – even better if you couple it up to the dedicated 1.4 extender, the TC- 1401 for even more reach at 840 mm all day, every day.
All said, this is a great value for money, general purpose wildlife lens that will delight with its optical quality and sheer quality of build. A wise move is to purchase the USB docking device that allows you to adjust the AF and OS parameters to your own liking and set them through your computer – Canon and Nikon take note… this is a very useful tool to have !
My thanks to Sigma UK and Ffordes Photographic for letting me have this lens to try for a short period – these new generation of Sigma lenses are fantastic and I have no hesitation in highly recommending any of them for either enthusiast or even professional use in virtually any weather conditions.
Charlie with the 150-600mm Sigma Sport DG OS USM “Hyper-telephoto” zoom lens coupled to a Canon EOS 7DMKII DSLR body – photo by Alister Bowie of Ffordes Photographic.
Charlies new highly acclaimed hard backed book “On A Rising Tide” recalls over 20 years studying and photographing the resident Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth. Available from book shops and his own website www.charliephillipsimages.co.uk priced at £19.50 +p&p