When I bought this lens I was looking for something to let me get closer to wildlife,
and give me good image quality all at a reasonable price (about £699 - £900). Having
used the Sigma for several months, I have found it’s benefits and it limitations.
The build quality and feel of this lens is excellent, I have trudged for miles with
it either in the backpack or swinging round my neck. I have been out in very hot
and cold weather and have not had any problems. I have bought the green lens camouflage
cover (lens coat) to help protect it. The only part of the lens which shows wear
is the tripod mount, the paint has worn away on the base. It is a heavy lens, so
you may appreciate using it with a monopod or a clamp in a bird hide.
I have used this with the Nikon d2xs as this camera has an excellent motor drive
for autofocus. It has worked reasonably fast with this lens, however to get good
auto focus performance you do need a medium to high end digital SLR, I also used
this lens on the Fuji S5 where the autofocus was not usable and I had to manually
focus the lens. It is a heavy lens but with careful management can be used hand
held for short periods of time. I also use it on a bean bag in hides and in the car
where it has produced excellent results. It has also had some major advantages over
the larger prime lenses, here are a few:-
The lens diameter (86mm), some of the bird hides on reserves have very small viewing
windows and the larger prime lenses will simply not fit through.
It is more compact in the 50mm position than equivalent primes and will therefore
fit into my standard backpack with my other lenses. If I’m going on a 10 mile (or
more hike) I can take it with me, providing flexibility on the move for that unexpected
photographic opportunity (no more moans when I see that perfect shot in the middle
of nowhere, but simply don’t have the right lens to do it justice.)
Do I use it at anything other than 500mm? Yes, there have been occasions where I
was just too close and there wasn’t time to grab another camera or change the lens,
I could just back off and continue shooting. On one occasion I was in a wooden hide
and the sunset over the water was a shot too good to miss. I usually use my Nikon
12 -24mm but in this instance the focal length was too far away (all I could see
was the edge of the hide and not enough of the sunset.) So I set my Sigma on 50mm
pushed it through the view window and got the shot.
The lens is an unusual diameter so filters can be costly. I bought the UV for my
lens and to enable me to use polarisers etc I just bought an adaptor for my Lee Filter
set. This cost about £30.00, I can now use my existing circular 100mm polariser and
all my other filters on this lens.
Image Quality and Teleconverters
In terms of image quality as long as the animal or bird fills at least a quarter
of the frame it will look great . Teleconverters are NOT an option the glass is simply
unable to give good results when stretched beyond the 500mm focal length. I have
tested it with the Sigma 1.4 TC, the auto focus no longer works and the image quality
is less than acceptable (I sold my sigma teleconverter ). To get optimum quality
with this lens you will need a hide to get closer, I have found the car to be very
useful as most birds will completely ignore it. I use my beanbag and just sit and
wait for that ‘perfect’ moment. If you need more than 500mm(750) you will need a
prime that allows teleconverters or the Sigma 300 - 800mm (Sigmonster).
Using it with my D200 it is equivalent to 750mm on a 35mm camera. The F stop (at
anything but 50mm) is 6.3, at a reach of 750mm that’s not bad for a sub £1,000 lens.
This flexibility has made it an invaluable part of my kit bag.
The image quality will never compete with a professional prime lens, but for the
money, if used within it’s limitations it can still produce great images for a very
reasonable price. For best results use with a camera body that has a good motordrive.